Pali, India

Photo: subhadipin via freeimages.com
Photo: subhadipin via freeimages.com

You’re in the middle of nowhere. Actually, you’re surrounded by tall grasslands. Mustard fields, granite boulders, and deep gorges are in the distance. Jodhpur and Udaipur are both about three hours from here. The inhospitable Thar Desert isn’t far away. Pakistan is beyond that. So why would you travel to western India? To see leopards.

You’ve spent the last few days touring Rajasthan, the largest state in India. You visited Ranakpur’s temples. The Jain temple, which was completed in 1458, is made of white marble. It’s supported by nearly 1,500 unique pillars. The smaller, eastern-facing Sun temple has intricate sculpture work. Then you went to the Kumbhalgarh Fort, a Mewar fortress also built in the 15th century. The walls of the hilltop fort extend for 36 kilometers, making it the second-largest wall, after the obvious one, in Asia.

Then you arrived at the Jawai Leopard Camp, where nine tents sit near a winding, sandy riverbed and kopjes. The luxury tents have an Art Deco vibe: stainless steel furniture with black-and-white decorations, plus pops of red. They also have air conditioning, large decks, and endless views. You were welcomed with champagne and an umbrella to protect you from the hot sun. You cooled off in the pool. You ate a picnic lunch by the shallow lake. You walked through the bush with a red-turbaned Rabari herdsman, who pointed out flamingoes and cranes, hyenas and a jackal. And you waited for dusk.

Photo: Heman kumar meena (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Heman kumar meena (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
When the sun begins to set, board a four-wheel-drive Jeep and head away from the camp. Your guide quickly spots an Indian great horned owl. You’re still focused on one of the largest owls in the world when leopard tracks are spotted. You grab a pair of binoculars and brace for a leopard, but the tracks disappear. You stop for tea and a quick snack, though you’re eager to continue. The people you met earlier at the pool saw five of the large cats this morning. They must still be in the area.

You’re starting to get discouraged when the Jeep suddenly stops. The guide raises his finger to his lips to quiet everyone and then points off to the right. Three Indian leopards are ripping apart what appears to be a goat. You feel bad for the helpless creature, though you’re fascinated at the same time. You watch the leopards—which have long tails, short ears, yellowish eyes, and gorgeous coats—devour their dinner. You only turn away when, one by one, they slowly walk through the tall grass and disappear. That’s why you visit western India.

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