First big cat sighting!

After many Safari's in Nagarhole and driving through various Tiger sanctuaries, I finally saw my first big cat, albeit, in an unconventional manner.

Thoughts of wildlife sighting was not on my mind when I booked the overnight K(erala)SRTC bus from Bangalore to Nilambur, to go and see my daughter participate in the CBSE South Zone Swimming competition for 2013. I knew that we were going to pass through Bandipur but since that would be around 2am or so, I never really expected to be up at that time. However coinciding circumstances conspired to enable it. One, the uncomfortable seats ensured that I would not get into any deep sleep. Two, the midnight stop at Gundlupet for Coffee gave me the required stimulant to wake me up fully. Feeling fairly alert, I inquired at the hotel on how far we were from Bandipur. Informed that it was just 10kms, I decided to stay awake and test my luck on any wildlife that were either nocturnal or were also having difficulty sleeping.

After we entered the reserve forest area, I could see that to sight anything I needed to be upfront. I took a chance and asked the conductor if I could settled near the driver. Surprisingly, he nodded without any reservation. Good. I found it fairly comfortable to sit on the steps next the driver and get as best a view as I could from the vehicles headlights. I settled in quickly with my hands around the bars for support in the severely rocking bus as it navigated around the potholes on the curvy forest roads.

With delight, we quickly saw many herds of the Spotted Deer and pairs of Sambar as well. They all looked up alertly watching as we noisily trundled along.  I could also see Hares many times, as they hopped to the side as soon as the headlights hit them. A lone tusker stood stoically on side of the road at one point. Suddenly, the driver called out "Huli, Huli", as we saw a shadow move across the road about 100mtrs ahead. I sat bolt upright with eyes wide open trying to make out the details from the large dark shadow. As we closed in, it moved to the side and I was able to just catch sight of a fully grown cat which now sat next to the road in a depression staring as we went past. The spots could clearly be seen now and so it was a leopard and not tiger. Did not matter to me at all as it was still the First Big Cat sighting! It was a wonderful feeling to finally see one of these sleek and powerful animals in the wild, even for a few seconds.

So, for all of you having to travel by night bus through Kerala, if your seats are bad and the bus is rocking too much, instead of complaining, take a chance and sit up front and maybe you will also be rewarded!