About Me

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Hyderabad, AP, India
I used to be a bit of a drifter, still am partly, but life is getting more and more organized recently due to a special someone. I love playing and watching cricket, I have recently realised that I have a very big interest in wildlife and birding. I work for a blue chip company. I am well and truly blessed! No complaints there :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bera - where leopards hunt in the darkness!

From Bera


Bera, a beautiful albeit slightly dusty little hamlet around 140 kms away from Udaipur is one of the very few places in India where one can see a leopard (panthera pardus) in all its full glory from relatively close quarters. I have had my fair share of ill luck in sighting and photographing this spotted enigma with a trip missed here and an opportunity missed there, so when the chance to go to Bera to see my first leopard in the wild presented itself, I jumped at it with all gusto.

After an early morning flight from Hyderabad in to Mumbai and a pre-lunch flight in to Udaipur, I reached Bera at around 4 PM completing a 2.5 hour drive through Sirohi and Pindwara. The road to Bera is excellent up to Pindwara, but the last 40 odd kms are not the best... I completed a sumptuous lunch at Leopard’s Lair, the place I was checked in to stay and got ready just in time for the evening safari. I met Thakur Devi Singhji, my host and the resort owner, one of the most knowledgeable leopard enthusiasts one would come across and he gave me a brief around the history of the place and all the different initiatives taken by him in ensuring the safety of leopards in the region. There is no notable prey base in this region barring a few chinkaras and hares, and the leopards are heavily dependent on domestic cattle for sustenance. Earlier any leopard kill in the region would be poisoned by the shepherds and a leopard that returns to partake in the meal would meet a gory but inevitable death, but Devisinghji and his son Shaileshwar Singh (an aspiring rally car driver) started compensating shepherds for their losses and this has drastically reduced the number of such cases over the last few years. The very survival of the leopard has only been possible due to the commendable effort put in by Thakur Devi Singhji.

We headed to a hillock locally called Liluada on our first safari of this trip. The keen eye of local spotter Samparkanji picked up our first leopard for the day in the form of Zara, the residing leopard princess of Bera. She was peacefully sunning herself on top of the hillock and I started photographing my first leopard in the wild!

First Leopard in the wild!!
From Bera


After about 20 minutes of photographing and just observing her in wide-eyed wonderment, we were greeted by the site of another leopard peeping out from behind the bushes. This was Zara’s kid Vivaan aka Charger. I just could not contain my excitement and went berserk with my camera shooting both the beautiful leopards until the sun went below the horizon and I could shoot no more...

Vivaan aka Charger
From Bera


Charger and Zara
From Bera


With the darkness of the night enveloping us, we spent a bit more time near the hillock with the hope that one of the leopards would come down to hunt and we could possibly photograph them from close quarters, but that was not to be on this particular night.

The timing of my visit was in the transition period between winter and summer in the north and as a result the nights were chilly but the days were adequately reminding us the onset of a brutal summer. Leopards during this period prefer to spend most of the time inside caves which are relatively cooler and the only chance to see and photograph them is either early in the morning or late in the evening. With this knowledge we started relatively early for our next day’s safari to the same location as the previous evening. This time around we saw Charger at a slightly closer distance than the previous evening.

Charger early the next morning
From Bera


Though Charger is now apparently better habituated to vehicles, he still did not like spending too much time with us this morning. He made a beeline for his cave around the circumference of the hillock and we had to really focus our binoculars on the rock face to follow his movements.
That we were even able to see him was only possible due to the Thakur’s keen eye and knowledge of the leopard’s movement. The cat was so beautifully camouflaged and was in its element!

Camo King!
From Bera



Before long he decided to lose us completely and went into the thick scrub to never show up again. We waited until it became too hot and the chances of any of the leopards coming out from their comfortable caves diminished. We decided to sit the rest of the day out at the comfort of the resort and beat a hasty retreat back to the aptly named Leopard’s Lair.

In the evening we decided to start a bit earlier to try and get some birding action at Vellar village near Bera. The village boasts of a smallish water body that supports a fair amount of migratory and endemic bird life. As soon as we entered the lake bed we spotted a flock of lesser whistling teals and Comb ducks. The group took flight due to a local fisherman’s approach and flew right over us giving us a good opportunity to photograph them in flight.

Lesser Whistling Teals
From Bera


Comb duck
From Bera



The lake also is home to plenty of crocodiles (some reputed to grow as much as 12-14 feet) and we caught a couple of the smaller ones sunning themselves out in the open. In addition to this we also saw a flock of sandpipers, black-tailed godwit and a beautiful juvenile painted stork.

Crocs of Bera
From Bera


Black-tailed Godwit
From Bera



Juvenile Painted Stork
From Bera



After spending close to an hour at the lake we headed back to Liluada to try our luck with the leopards once again. At the hillock we were greeted by the news that a big male leopard (locally called Cut Ear due to a nick in his right ear) was seen sunning outside a cave but had decided to get back inside just a few minutes before we arrived at the location. We were understandably disappointed but decided to wait it out at the same spot with the hope that he would come out eventually. He did not come out but Charger did and what a sight it was! For the first time spotlights were put into use and we were able to see Charger up on a rock behind some scrub. The whole setting was surreal and I was extremely thrilled to be able to get a passable shot even though I was shooting at 3200 ISO! However, Charger decided to move on in search of his next meal and we had to be content with the all too brief but thrilling encounter!

Charger at night!
From Bera


With a leopard sighting and some photography opportunities in all 3 of my safaris so far, I was expecting more on the 4th safari next day morning. This time we were heading to a different part of the countryside to a rocky area near the village of Chamunderi about 20 kms from Bera. This place was reportedly home to 3 leopards and a striped hyena. Shaileshwar, who I had already mentioned to be an aspiring rally race driver showed no hesitation in driving up the steep hillock to get us to a vantage point from where we could see the rest of the countryside for any signs of wildlife. However, nothing was visible - not even birdlife - and we had to return back empty-handed ruminating on the first disappointment of the trip.

In the evening we once again went back to Liluada and after about an hour of waiting behind the hillock, we heard news that one of the leopards had made a kill of a stray goat near the hillock and thus started one of the most thrilling encounters I have ever had in my life in the wild.
We proceeded in a great hurry to the area where the leopard was sighted. Zara was sitting on a rock very close to the road when we arrived. Within minutes she was joined by Charger who immediately started gorging on the kill without worrying about the kill actually belonging to Zara. The next 1 hour we spent so close to both these leopards and there were a couple of instances of madness that I should recall here. The first one was when the jeep had to be restarted to position ourselves better but the self starter would not work and all 3 of us in the jeep had to get down and push the jeep along to start it in pitch darkness with 2 leopards only about 30 odd feet from us. The second was when the jeep was finally started but was vibrating badly enough for me to be unable to get a decent shot, I had to get down from the jeep tripod et al and shoot from the ground with the leopard only about 20 feet from me. At that moment due to the adrenaline rush, I did not think much about it, but later when the entire thing sank in, I did feel a bit uneasy that I had taken such a risk. Never again I suppose!


Leopards in the night, best experience in the wild!
From Bera


From Bera


From Bera


From Bera


From Bera


From Bera



After this unbelievable stroke of luck I was bursting with joy and was chattering away like a kid in a candy store! From not having photographed a leopard in the wild ever to have shot one from as close as 20 feet was something even beyond my 'wild' imagination.

I had one more Safari to complete the next morning but I knew that nothing could equal the sightings from the previous night. We headed once more to Liluada and saw Zara walking in to the distant hillock away from her cave. However, she disappeared behind a clump of rocks soon. After Zara, it was the turn of Cut Ear to put in a brief appearance outside his cave for a brief while but he too disappeared after the sun came out to beat down strongly.

Zara walks away as if to say goodbye!
From Bera



After this last safari I journeyed back to Udaipur to catch my flight back to Mumbai and from there on to Hyderabad. Like most other trips of mine in search of wildlife, this one was also organized by the friendly and knowledgeable folks from Jungle Lore and as always it was a pleasure to travel with them! Thanks Gaurav and team :)

The best time to visit Bera is between November and March when the weather is the best in this region and leopards spend most of their time out in the open to enjoy the soft warmth of the winter sun. Udaipur is the best transit point for folks traveling from outside Gujarat and Rajasthan and has good connections with Mumbai and Delhi. The alternative is to fly in to Ahmedabad and drive 5-6 hours through Mount Abu up to Bera. One can also take an overnight train from Mumbai to Jawai Bandh, the railway station nearest to Bera.

Hope this has been a enjoyable and informative read, looking forward to hearing from you! Please do write to me at ajsportatgmail.com for more information. Cheers!!

11 comments:

  1. Great shots and a very good documentation ... Will definitely plan for this place :) Thanks....

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  2. Very nice writeup, throroughly enjoyable!

    One minor correction, the ducks labeled as Ruddy shelduck are Whisting ducks
    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-QHAhMUKWGH8/T4rTADaouTI/AAAAAAAAD0M/wa78Iw6H8ss/s640/_MG_0829.JPG

    Stint is in fact a godwit
    https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-WtRYoEDAVLo/T4rTGy88LLI/AAAAAAAAD1I/KqYi0pTdM70/s640/_MG_0865.JPG

    Cheers,
    Hayath

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting piece.
    Noob Question: Zara, Charger - did you name them or in places like these, they are already named and easily identified..?

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  4. Wonderful write up and very good pictures , thoroughly enjoyed reading it . TFS .
    Hemant Krishnani

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  5. Magnificent luck or the Leopards are really raining out there. Superbly crafted script and some rare and not normally seen composed photographs. Thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to Bera.
    Pranay Chandra

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  6. Wow.. a fantastic report and lovely images... :) Stay tuned for my leopard series... :)

    Regards,
    Angad Achappa

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  7. Wow, out of this world experience.....20 ft away....on land......photographing a big cat. You must be double blessed. Nice report and lovely images.
    Regards,
    R.Pradeep Kumar

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  8. Wild Experience in the night ! IT'S AMAZING . GOT TO KNOW ONE MORE NEW PLACE TO GO IN FUTURE. THANKS

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  9. Amazing.Such incidents happen once in a lifetime.Nice description.

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  10. Looks like an amazing place....I am not sure whether it is right to use flash for photography at animals!!

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  11. Very well documented. these trip reports may include other details like the tariff for stay and safaris for others to plan.

    ReplyDelete

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