Words SAMARPAN BHOWMIK
With wildlife numbers across the world depleting at an alarming rate, we might soon be at a stage where the only place we see animals would be on our screens. It is up to us to ensure that we coexist with our fellow inhabitants and protect their habitats. There are still some pockets where animals live without encroachment into their habitat. Bera, a village in Rajasthan, is an inspiring example of sustainability, where humans have coexisted peacefully for centuries with one of the most elusive animals in the world – the leopard. Around 150km from Udaipur, visitors to this tiny village are almost always likely to spot the apex predators. The settlement is small, just a cluster of houses, roads lined with acacia trees, and a shop or two.
Base yourself at Leopard’s Lair Resort, which is some distance from the village, at the edge of Jawai Dam. Aside from accommodation, the resort also organises various activities such as hikes, safaris to see the leopard, picnics by the dam, visits to villages of the tribes that live in the area, and barbecues by starlight.
The safaris begin at the crack of dawn, with jeeps carrying people into leopard territory on a bumpy and dusty ride, past little villages where the residents live in absolute harmony with animals that most would consider a threat. The bush lands of Bera are mostly dry and the massive boulders dotting the landscape hide an enormous network of caves and passages underneath. This geography is advantageous to the big cats, who can drag prey into the fissures and cracks in the hollow hills, and emerge from or disappear into them at will. It also makes the entire exercise of trying to spot them even more exciting.
The astonishing thing about these leopards is how differently they behave from those in national parks. While those animals are mostly solitary and reclusive, here, in the absence of other bigger predators such as lions or tigers, or threat from humans, the leopards roam free and without fear. Often, entire families comprising males, females and cubs can be seen stalking about. Of course, they’re still predators, and spotting them isn’t exactly easy or a leisurely activity. This is despite the heavy concentration of the predators in these parts. So, be patient and carry lots of tea or coffee.
Walking around these parts isn’t as dangerous as you would expect, at least not in the daytime. It probably has something to do with the fact that the leopards are used to seeing people around and don’t care to add human to their diet. On foot, you could even spot some other wild inhabitants of the area such as pythons and nilgai; or the remnants of an ill-fated animal that was spotted by leopards before it could spot the spots.
When you’re done with the safari, head to Jawai Dam. There’s some wildlife to spot here as well, such as the crocodiles in the lake and the various species of migratory birds that visit during the winters.
If you’re visiting around the time of Holi early next month, the colourful celebrations continue for nearly a week in Bera and are not to be missed.
A trip to Bera will not only rank as an unforgettable experience but also go towards educating people that it is possible for humans to peacefully coexist with animals. We have just one planet among all of us, and maintaining the delicate ecological balance will stand all of us involved in good stead.