Deep in the heart of Ranthambhore, lies Telan Pacheri. A dark, wooded part of the forest surrounded by towering cliffs, under the shadow of a 1000 year old fort. Three paths, two that come down the cliffs and a third that leads deeper into the forest meet here. Rocks, banyan wines and the occasional cacti make visibility extremely difficult.
In the many years that I have been visiting Ranthambhore, the frantic alarm call of a sambhar, a langoor or a peacock has always echoed against the cliffs. Each time Mohan, a Ranthambhore veteran would say it is the resident leopard – that is spooking the animals. And each time, he would drive off. For leopards are seldom seen in daylight.
But then things changed – we had been on the trail of a tiger family for hours. Driving up the hill and charging down, pausing to check for pugmarks or the sound of a deer calling – to no avail. The sun was up, negating the chances of any further tiger movement. Disappointed, we headed back.
Suddenly, the guide in the Gypsy ahead whispered ‘Baghera’ – the local word for a leopard. We peered through the thick vegetation – not being able to make out anything. Necks craned, fingers pointed in ten directions. A movement, caught the corner of my eye.
There he was, brilliantly camouflaged in broad daylight. The ruler of this mystical part of the forest – The Ghost of Telan Pacheri.