More elusive than the tiger, leopards are one of the toughest big cats to spot. But if you are passionate about these enigmatic creatures, here are a few places in India to visit.
Far from the madding crowd of tourists and safari canters, this is an uncharted leopard terrain, unknown even to the locals. A few dry, parched zones of Rajasthan have become thriving spots for leopard sightings. The journey starts from Taalvraksh (while coming from Delhi), which is just 20 km from Sariska Tiger Sanctuary in Rajasthan. The place has become a safe haven for leopards, which have migrated here from Sariska, thanks to territorial tiffs with the tigers. A small area of dense forest covering, with little water available, has made the place a good leopard habitat.
Next, you can visit Siana in Jalore district, a small hamlet bordering the great Thar Desert. The village of Siana is featured in David Attenborough’s epic The life of Mammals. The rocky desert hills of Siana are still home to a number of leopards other than chinkaras, Indian striped hyenas, desert fox, civet cat and jungle cats. The place offers a farm stay with homegrown food, safaris and a tour of the village where you can see carpenters engaged in making wooden handicrafts, leather embroidery and potters wheels.
Last but not the least, on the list is a place called Bera near Jawai Bandh, one of western Rajasthan’s largest reservoirs, which is abuzz with flamingos, geese, cranes and other migratory birds. Equidistant from Udaipur and Jodhpur ( 4 -5 hours by road), it is an hour’s drive away from the Jain temple at Ranakpur. Unlike Taalvraksh, Bera is not home to a few nomadic leopards, the place is full of the cat, camouflaged under big rocks. The location boasts of quite a few comfortable camps, some in luxury category with private viewing decks! Most of them offer specialized safaris with experienced guides, who will help you track down the stealthy beast and other wildlife, like sloth bears, wolves and hyenas.
Best time to visit:- winter, since the cat strolls out and basks freely under the winder sun.
The iconic image of a leopard resting on a silent tea branch that we often see in magazines was perhaps shot in the lush backwaters of the river Kabini in southern India. Snaking its way through the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Kabini forms a spectacular backdrop to abundant wildlife, especially leopards. The Kabini forest Reserve in Karnataka is rather unique since all three predators – Tigers, leopards and Dholes (Indian wild dogs) coexist here. The leopards spend a large part of the day on trees and come down mostly for hunting. They are so well-camouflaged that even the most trained eye misses them from a distance. The Kabini Forest Reserve is also partially the largest refuge of the endangered Asiatic elephant. On a boat safari of the reserve, one can spot them by the waterfront along with other animals like gaur (Indian bison), spotted deer and wild boar.
Best Time to Visit: Between October and May.
BORDER OF MP, MAHARASHTRA
The fabled forest immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli Land in Pench, makes for intriguing jungle safaris. Located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, Pench National Park is known for a variety of wildlife and more famously for the Royal Bengal Tiger. However, leopard sightings in this park are stated to be among the best in India. Though known to operate mostly in the peripheral areas of the park, leopards are also seen in the deep forest area. So don’t always keep your vision fixed at ground level, keep a watch on treetops for unsuspecting leopards taking a nap. Birding enthusiasts must pack appropriate binoculars and amateurs should carry birding books since the forest boasts of around 200 different species of birds, including barbets, wagtails and blue kingfishers.
Best time to visit: November to June
There is one more place in central India that brags of a high leopard density – Satpura Tiger Reserve. Most travelers, who’ve been here to seek tigers, have come back jubilant over chance leopard sightings, the possibility of which is terrific, both inside the park and in the buffer zone, which is accessible on night drives. This relatively new, little-known scenic reserve also has the distinction of being one of the few national parks offering walking and kayaking safaris! Other than offering abundant wildlife, its forest clad hills, steep gorges and creeks makes for a picturesque outing.
Best time to visit:- November to June
JAMMU AND KASHMIR
A trek to the higher regions of Ladakh has become synonymous with searching for the elusive snow leopard. Leopards are hard to spot and snow leopards top that list. These reticent creatures love their cold habitat and come into sight only during their mating months, when they are on the move. Various organizations have vowed to protect this endangered animal and have started treks in the area, led by a Ladakhi snow leopard expert who tracks the snow leopards movements with the help of local villagers. In support of community-based ecotourism, these organizations make travelers stay with the local herders in the warmth of their traditional Ladakhi homes with comfy beds and gratifying meals.
Best time to visit: February and March, the snow leopards mating season.
AROUND THE WORLD
Asiatic leopard sightseeing’s can be fantastic in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Boasting of one of the world’s densest leopard populations, Yala is also inhabited by herds of elephants, sloth bears and crocodiles.
Finding the elusive leopard can seem like a tall order, but not in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Stay in one of the many gorgeous luxury camps and lodges with excellent guides at your service.
The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in Botswana is a place full of predators, roughly 200 cheetahs, 450 lions and 150 leopards dominate the sand dune-ridden landscape!