The Day A Leopard Ate The Boss For Breakfast – Almost!

Leopard

The time came for us to leave Kaziranga in Assam and take the 6-7 hour drive into the hills of Nagaland for our next stop in Kohima.

However our dashing and fearless tour leader, Rohan (rumored to be the inspiration behind the Jason Statham – Transporter films), had a little detour planned for us. While out “networking” the night before, he had bumped into some staff from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and using his considerable silver tongued charms had managed to wrangle an invite for all of us to visit.

Kaziranga Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation

The Centre does a lot of great work, rescuing, sick, injured and orphaned animals, nursing them back to health, before releasing them back into the wild.

A young volunteer gave us a tour explaining what they were doing and the processes involved, before finally leading us to the leopard enclosure where 3 leopards were being cared for, one baby and two adults.

The Boss, unable to contain her excitement upon spying the ‘big fluffy pussycat’ had to be restrained from putting her hands inside the enclosure to pat the animal. After all what use would The Boss without hands be to me? Who would massage the knots out of my tired shoulders after a day spent thumbing through the books on my Kindle?

One of the adult leopards was quite docile, but the other was angry and distinctly annoyed at our presence, constantly pacing back and forth in it’s enclosure, snarling away.

After a few minutes spent taking photos and marveling at the majesty of these big cats, we prepared to leave and it is then that I witnessed a sight, the memory of which has woken me on many a night, bathed in sweat and shaking with fear.

The Boss strayed a couple of feet too close to the angry leopard and in a split second the cat had covered the 10 meters from the other side of the enclosure in a single silent bound. Thankfully the first the Boss knew of it was not a pair of sharp incisors sinking into her neck but the sound of a huge adult leopard bouncing off the wire link fence that made up the leopard’s enclosure.

The speed and sheer power of the cat’s movement was an incredible sight to behold as I stood frozen in awe, The Boss making her exit as fast as her gazelle like legs would allow.

I will never forget that sight (the leopard, not the Boss’s legs) and it has given me new-found respect for this majestic animal.

A change of underwear all around, we thanked the staff and headed off on our journey to Kohima.

Close Encounters in Kaziranga!

Dawn, Kaziranga National Park

Dawn, Kaziranga National Park

The elephant pauses to grab a trunkful of elephant grass and stuffs it into it’s mouth. Breakfast on the move.
From my vantage point on the elephant’s back I scan the surrounding grass lands for signs of movement, hoping to get a glimpse of the One Horned Indian Rhino that Kaziranga National Park is famous for. I’ve never seen a Rhino in the wild and I am desperate to see one up close.

We had arrived in darkness, late the previous night, from Guwahati, and this morning is the first chance we get to take in the surroundings. It gets light early in these parts and we sacrificed a full night’s sleep to ensure that we could be in the park early enough to view the wildlife at the optimum time before the animals retreat from the heat of the day.

The elephant’s rolling motion resumes and we pass silently through the grass, in places the grass long enough to brush against our legs high up on the elephant’s back. The air is cold and crisp, the sun’s rays not yet strong enough to burn off the early morning mist still clinging to the ground.

I glimpse an ear flickering in the grass ahead and as we slowly approach we spot a Sambar Deer grazing in the thick undergrowth. It seems unafraid, perhaps unable to distinguish the humans astride the elephant, and as we move closer we see that it is in fact injured, a big wound in it’s side. The unfortunate result of a lost sparring match with another deer. The mahout explains that sadly it may not live for long. Kaziranga has one of the highest concentrations of tigers in India and a wounded deer will be easy prey.

Sambar Deer, Kaziranga National Park

Sambar Deer, Kaziranga National Park

We move on and the elephant grass gives way to an open plain filled with deer. All different types and sizes, Sambar, Swamp deer, Muntjac, Hog deer. Hundreds of them moving slowly across the grassland, pausing now and then to graze on the sparkling dew-covered grass, but ever watchful for signs of predators.

The tranquility is disturbed by the sounds of shouting and banging of drums from a distant village. A rhino has strayed too close to the houses and the villagers make as much noise as possible to send the rhino back into the park. We spot it in the distance moving slowly back into the grasslands and the mahout urges the elephant towards it.

By the time we get close, the rhino has disappeared into the thick elephant grass and we move slowly and silently forward, breaths held in anticipation, eyes feverishly scanning for signs of the great beast.

And there it is! Staring back at us from amongst the grass, clouds of steam billowing from it’s nostrils. A strange conglomeration of parts, plates of armor and lumpy skin, all combined into the oddest looking creature I have ever seen. It’s like something left over from prehistoric times, unusual to look at but at the same time magnificent. Even from our perch high on the elephant it is obvious that it is a huge animal, filled with power. We take photo after photo trying to capture it in all its glory, while it stands and looks placidly back at us, chewing grass while a group of Mynah Birds stand line astern on the prominent ridge of it’s backbone.

One Horned Indian Rhinocerous, Kaziranga National Park

One Horned Indian Rhinocerous, Kaziranga National Park

Eventually tiring of us and our stage whispers, it turns and moves off into the undergrowth eventually disappearing from view, leaving us to excitedly discuss what we have just seen.

Our day is complete.

The first time any of us have seen a Rhino, and the first time for some of us to ride on an elephant.

NOTE: Our trip to Kaziranga was made possible by the awesome team at The India Trail

Grazing Deer, Kaziranga National Park

Grazing Deer, Kaziranga National Park

Reconnecting with Nature at The Tamara Coorg

A sharp crack fills the air as if the sky is being rendered in two. A deep rolling boom follows and water starts trickling through the trees to fall on the balcony suspended above the coffee plantation.
We are in a little slice of heaven, a retreat from the chaotic madness of the Indian cities, set high on a tree-clad hillside in a 176 acre coffee estate, far from the teeming crowds, the constant honking, the diesel fumes, the dust filled air.
My wooden cottage juts out from the hillside, on stilts 20-30 feet above the coffee plants below. The French windows open wide, the fragrance from the acres of white coffee blossoms below filling the room. Honey Bees pausing from their work of pollination fly into the room , take a couple of laps, before heading back outside into the soft rain now percolating through the shade giving silver oaks, jackfruit and rosewood trees towering above.
It’s our anniversary, and to compensate The Boss for another year tolerating my foibles, my idiosyncrasies, my moods, I have taken her away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the drudgery of the daily routine, and we have come here to The Tamara Coorg.

We left Bangalore early yesterday morning in an effort to beat the traffic but it seemed like everyone had the same idea, the roads filled with cars, each crammed with extended family members, brothers, sisters, their wives and husbands, and children sitting on laps or standing in the passenger foot well clinging on to the dash-board.
As is usual in India the drivers dispensing with all safety considerations, instead focusing on beating the car in front, a subconscious urge to arrive first overriding any thoughts of self-preservation or protection of loved ones.
Seven hair-raising, butt clenching hours later we turned off the main road for a 4 km drive up a single lane concrete road winding up into the hills. We wound down the windows and turned off the a/c to allow the fresh air and bird song into the car.

Greeted with garlands of jasmine and glasses of cold coffee we were then, formalities over, transported further up the hillside by electric buggy to our room.

The Tamara Cottages

Each cottage is built from imported Canadian pine and stands high on stilts reminding me of my childhood in New Zealand where ‘Pole Houses‘ are common given the hilly terrain. Not a tree was cut down to build each cottage and every effort has been made to retain if not improve upon what was there before construction. This is refreshing in India where the calls of commerce usually override any concerns for the environment.

After freshening up we walked 500 meters up the hill-side to the open air restaurant called The Falls, for lunch where a lovely buffet was served. The sky opened up and rain poured from the heavens, the smell of the wet jungle wafting through the dining hall.

Retiring to our room we sat, stomachs full, and looked out over the lush green hills, listening to the rain and the distant rumbles of thunder. Reveling in the tranquility, the peace, the satisfaction, that only being in a natural environment can bring. Thoughts of the city far away, our eyelids grew heavy with sleep, as we relaxed and breathed in the pure air, gazing out on the now mist shrouded hills that form the landscape of Coorg.
As evening approached the temperature dropped and the rain eased off, the sound of falling water replaced by birdsong, the shrieks of Mynahs, the pu-cock call of the Barbet, and the musical warble of the wrens and tits flittering from tree to tree.

We headed back up to the restaurant for dinner where a candle-lit corner table awaited us, specially decorated in honor of our anniversary. A chance remark to the executive chef at lunch time regarding Coorgi food, resulted in a dish of Pandi (Pork) Curry with Akki Rotis (rice bread), a dish this region is famous for, made especially for us. What followed was a lovely meal, accompanied by the sounds of crickets in the trees nearby and the twinkling lights of fire flies, like little fairy lights in the foliage above.

Returning to our room after dinner we found another surprise. Housekeeping in our absence had decorated our bed with flowers in the shape of a heart.

Rising before dawn the next morning we hiked high into the hills, accompanied by the resort guide, a local man with an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and their calls. Climbing high into the hills, the sounds of civilization soon replaced with the staccato hammering of woodpeckers, and the strangely human tune of the Malabar whistling thrush. Flattened bamboo and piles of dung marked the path of the wild elephants that had passed through before us, and our guide stopped frequently to show footprints of deer and other wild animals.

Cresting the final ridgeline we halted in our tracks, stunned by the view that opened up before us. Jungle clad hills and valleys still shrouded in morning mist and clouds stretched out before us as we gazed awestruck at the beauty before us. Unusually for India not a sound or sign of human habitation reached us as we sat perched high on the hillside, cool breezes wafting over us, birds of prey hurtling past us in a break neck dive into the valley below.

Coorg Landscape

In a grassy patch just above the tree line on the hillside below us a movement caught our eye. Looking closer we spied three Sambar deer, heads swiveling in our direction, ears erect, as our excited whispers somehow reached them. Watching as they moved gracefully across the hillside and back into the jungle we said an inward prayer of thanks to the universe for allowing us to reconnect with the natural wonder of our beautiful planet. A connection that sadly we have lost in our so-called civilized city lives.

Coorg Jungle