Continued from Lady in the Golden Triangle…
Destination #4: Ranthambore National Park
After visiting the Golden Triangle, I ventured further into Rajasthan in search not of great palaces or towering forts, Buddhist enlightenment or Hindu gods, but of a rare beast that lives deep in the jungle. I was looking for a tiger.
Ranthambore National Park is best known for the 20-odd tigers that live within its boundaries. My purpose in visiting Ranthambore for two days was to see one of said tigers (just one, that’s all I asked!).
I had read somewhere that if a person goes on two days of safaris in Ranthambore and doesn’t see a tiger, she is exceedingly unlucky. Having been born with the worst luck in the world, I should have realized that I would be one of the very few “exceedingly unlucky” people. I didn’t. As with the few times in my life that I’ve stupidly bought lottery tickets, I learned my lesson the hard way.
Needless to say, I did not see a tiger.
I saw something that might be even better.
I saw a leopard. Kill. A baby monkey. And I got a picture of it right as it happened. AMAZING!!!
Those that have been on safari before know how exceedingly rare it is to see a leopard. I’ve never seen one on any safari I’ve been on, and my driver in Ranthambore had never seen one in his four years of driving two safaris a day (that’s over 2,000 safaris!). Seeing the leopard was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Here’s how it happened: we were driving into the jungle when suddenly we saw a group of monkeys in a tree on the right side of the road. With fangs bared, they were jumping up and down, screaming what our guide called a “warning call”. Our driver stopped the jeep directly below the monkeys. They were so agitated that I was worried that one of them would jump into the car.
Preoccupied with the monkeys, I didn’t bother to look for the object of their fury. Seconds later, the driver stood up and yelled “LEOPARD!” I looked to my left. For a split second I saw a massive leopard curled up in a tree.
Just then, the leopard leapt out of the branches and into the tree next to it. As the spindly branches started to crumple under the weight of the huge cat, it jumped over to the next tree, which was also no match for the leopard’s mass. As the tree collapsed, the leopard leapt one final time into a solid tree with several monkeys in it.
As the monkeys tried to move away, the leopard snatched their baby in its powerful jaws. Not waiting for their simian retaliation, it jumped down from the tree with the monkey in its mouth and fled over an embankment to the ravine below.
I stood awestruck in the aftermath of the chaos. I had never seen a kill before, and to see one with a leopard and a monkey was amazing. The one thing that I didn’t anticipate, however, was the reaction of the rest of the monkey family to its smallest member being plucked out of the tree and whisked away in the jaws of a giant cat.
While the baby was carried off, the rest of the monkeys were screaming and baring their teeth. After it disappeared, two adult monkeys, one male and one female (the parents?), went to the tree where the baby had been killed and started making a low moaning noise. My anthropomorphic tendencies couldn’t help but interpret it as a mourning cry. As they scanned the horizon for a glimpse of the leopard, they heaved their heavy sighs for almost a quarter of an hour, and were still ‘crying’ as we drove off into the jungle.
The next day I once again went on safari hoping to see a tiger. I did not. But the memory of the leopard (and the photo!) were enough to satisfy me, not to mention provide a good story to tell the people I met on the train as I journeyed deeper into the Land of Kings.
To be continued…