At the time, I described it as a Natgeo moment, the type of stuff I had only seen on National geographic growing up. Obviously since then, I have had numerous such sightings but at that time it was all new to me.
It all started on an early morning safari at Ranthambore National Park. I had been tracking this young male tiger that was often sighted in the ‘Bhokola’ area of the reserve, so I asked my safari driver to drive straight there ignoring other wildlife that we may encounter on the way. 30 minutes or so later we had reached ‘Bhokola’ and there was pin drop silence so we parked our safari vehicle in one corner and waited. A few minutes later my guide whispered ‘leopard’, and surely there was one on the base of a nearby tree. As exited as I was, I held my nerve and asked my driver to approach the animal so I could get some images. As he turned the engine on, the leopard ran into the thicket. What a bummer I whispered. There was no sign of my tiger and now I lost the opportunity to photograph a beautiful leopard in one of Ranthambore’s most picturesque and iconic locations.
While all this was going on in my head we saw the leopard briefly through the dense foliage only to disappear again. A moment or two later from roughly the same area out came a tiger. This left me and my team perplexed. I wondered if we were imagining things. One moment we see a leopard and the next a big male tiger. We started to discuss and solve this mystery when we realised what had actually happened. When we reached ‘Bhokola’, the leopard was on his way back from a nearby waterhole and was about to climb up a tree where it had stashed a monkey kill. The starting of the engine must have startled the leopard and it ran into the thicket where it must have seen a male tiger approaching. The leopard got nervous and for good reason, tigers will kill leopards on sight to eliminate competition, so it ran up a tree (not the tree with the kill). The tiger without a care in the world, lay under the same tree and proceeded to take a nap. We sat barely 20 meters away overwhelmed at the whole experience. I knew I could not possibly get the tiger and the leopard in the same frame as the tree was too tall so we waited hoping for some action. A few hours passed and nothing happened and as we approached time to conclude the morning game drive, I could only wonder about the fate of the poor leopard.
On reaching my lodge, I had a shower, ate a light lunch, recharged my camera batteries and was ready to head back into the bush. A soon as we entered the park gates, we rushed to the same location to see what had happened. On reaching there we realised that the status quo was maintained. The leopard on the tree, the tiger at the base of the tree and the monkey kill on another tree. The only guys that were getting some action were the mongoose that was snacking away on the unattended monkey kill. I knew I could not do much so I decided to photograph the leopard as is. I asked my driver to position the safari vehicle so I could get a clean shot and I took a few shots. I have seen hundreds of leopards in the wild but to watch the expressions of this leopard and to be able to capture it was simply awesome. A few more hours passed and it was time to end the evening drive and nothing had still happened. I got a few images but not the stuff I had hoped for. I was imagining photographing a fight between the tiger and leopard and what not. I returned to my lodge a bit disheartened but soon forgot about the whole thing.
Next morning, I wanted to go back and see if the tiger or the leopard were still in ‘Bhokola’. I wasn’t too optimistic though. On reaching ‘Bhokola’ there was no sign of the tiger and the leopard as I had imagined. I instructed my driver to drive us to another location to see if we could sight the young tiger that I had been tracking the day before. As we drove off I could see some movement from the corner of my eye, so I asked my driver to stop. It was the same leopard. I was glad to see the leopard. I took a few pictures and left the leopard as I felt the commotion from the day before had caused it a great deal of stress.
As a wildlife photographer I have photographed some beautiful wildlife in India, Africa, Japan and numerous other countries but at the end of the day, its not the images, its the experiences, experiences like this that will stay will stay with me forever.