I never felt my heart racing so badly, before that I learnt the presence of leopard around me. My right leg was on a rocky edge, and left one in air trying to shift left side of the sharply inclined rocky slope of the forest. I was holding a deeply rooted shrub with my right hand, which was eventually bearing my entire weight, and protecting my camera with the other hand. It was getting tough for me to balance myself on one feet over that slope, but there were dry leaves all over beneath my left leg. To let remain the silence, I couldn’t place my leg on those leaves as I was trying to hunt down the whereabouts of the wild feline.
It was 8:00 AM, and my friend (and fellow photographer) helped me handing over a bottle of water to put in the rusk bag I packed to carry along, for the forest. I had no idea about the forest we were going to visit but still was excited because it was the very first visit of me to Kumaun region. Kumaun have been always in my fantasy due to the fact that once this piece of land was shared by both man-eater tigers and the legendry James Corbett. The stories written by Jim has always inspired me towards the richness of Kumaun forests. However, my expectations were really low because we were going to the China peak (or Cheena Peak) and the forests around, which is a tourist place.
We left quickly and managed to board the very first ropeway trip from Mallital up to Snow view point which is at height of 7504 feet above sea level. The breath taking panoramic aerial view lasted no longer than 2.5mins. We took some breath and started our trek towards China peak.
My throat was begging for some water, whilst cold wind was wiping up my sweat from my forehead and cheeks. My eyes were in continuous hunt to see any trace around which can confirm (or nullify for that matter) what I was assuming. I was losing hold of the shrub which was bearing all my weight. I had to search for an alternative immediately else I may drill down the steep slope from where I had no hope of being traced out any soon. Honestly, more than being traced out, I was worried about what could happen to my bones.
I was much informed, to get some packed food for the trek, which we wanted to have once we started feeling exhausted. I saw a tree trunk which had made a cave like space. I was curious enough to get a deep look hence I crawled into the trunk along with a torch (which I always carry). It was so dark that even the torch light failed to provide me a decent view of entire cave. I was hoping of bats if not anything else could have taken a shelter, but fund none. There were no traces of any animal, bird, or reptile, except of enough ants.
|Taking some breath after continuous walk uphill|
We started having our food in there, and made sure we were leaving nothing behind. I carried all remains in my bag, and started marching ahead. Suddenly I saw a tiny thing jumped as 20 times as his size and landed in front of me. Had quite a time photographing the small lizard, and then continued further.
Meanwhile, my friend was as still as any statue. With his eyes, and eyebrow he asked me.. what next? I had no clue, except that I was feeling a leopard next to the huge rock I was inclined to. Before I could think of anything else, we heard another sound next to the rock. It was the sound of the animal jump. While the feline was jumping, I had a glimpse of the tail. I had no clue what to do next, as it was evident that now the animal shall be showing any time. Seeing the tail, and the landing sound, I was sure that it was not an adult, which was a big risk. Now I was more concerned about his/ her mother being around. How the animal would react and of course what should be mine, was the next thought. I was hardly balancing myself, with all such thoughts running in my mind.
I started making tough sounds, chat loud, and more loud, gradually. Loudly, I asked my friend to start descending immediately. He had a good ground to move around, so he started finding a way to descend making loud sounds. He found his way, and stepped 4-5 step in no time. With help of trees around, he helped himself go much beneath. Once I saw my friend went down quite a good distance, I was relaxed a bit and placed my left leg on the ground available. I also found my way out to descend immediately keeping a continuous eye around the rock and continuous loud sound. Making loud sound while descending, make the hiding animal know that you are going off. And we climbed down too fast, but the animal didn’t show up any more.
|Deep in forest just before reaching the top to the rock|
Whilst, I was mourning the chance to be on top of the mountain (we were trekking for so long) by just few steps, I also did not have a wish to disturb/ interrupt the wildlife habitat for sake of our thrill, moreover to be attacked. But just the feeling of being so close to a leopard took me to entirely different thrilling level which neither I can narrate, or even forget for my life.