Chamba, Uttaranchal, is a rare but enchanting tourist destination at the Shivaliks of the Tehri- Gharwal region of the Himalayas. The natural beauty of this place would even move the hardest hearts. The snow clad Himalayan peaks standing proudly and mightily at the horizon and on the other side a small sleeping civilization in the valley, and along the slopes of the hills. A brief drive north- westwards from Chamba takes you to another spot in the Gharwals- Dhanaulti. I and my parents were returning from this place when we encountered something that was truly wild yet beautiful.
We drove through the roads that whirled uphill and downhill. They had frequent sharp turnings; and thus we could not predict what awaited us beyond these turnings. The sight was revealed once you drove around the turns. The distant hills appeared as if they had been covered with textures of green with dusty brown patches, owing to the densely forested slopes with stretches of barren lands on them. The road ran through a dense undergrowth and there was a turning ahead. We were casually sitting, hardly expecting that something so magnificent was awaiting us just around the corner. Then the sequence of our actions happened so rapidly that we could not even afford some time to pinch ourselves and ensure that we were not dreaming. The sight before us could not be missed by anyone. Our driver pressed the brakes. The wheels of the car shrieked due to the sudden interruption, and so did we, but with surprise.
From a hill along the road, a powerful, muscular and majestic wild leopard launched itself and leaped half way across the road, and then marched swiftly to the other side. What captivating grace and charm it carried! Its sleek body and bright yellow jacket spotted impressively. Its muscles, that stretched and unstreched in its every charismatic movement. We were rubbing our eyes in disbelief, still suspecting if it was a simple cat or a leopard. The leopard revolved around a milestone at the other side of the road, and then looked at our car. It stared with its gleaming eyes, masked with false innocence. The innocence could send any fool out of the car for a better shot, and finally he may be a relishing meal for it, if he had been hungry. We could not risk our lives of course. Immediately, I reached for the camera, and while focusing on it and adjusting the zoom, it jumped downhill. It again emerged from behind the milestone. We did not know what had brought it back, maybe because it had its nest at the other side, maybe because….. It had found us to be ideal meals…. Or maybe…. I stopped thinking at once for if I continued I may have had worse thoughts. The leopard then gazed at us again; and we gazed at the leopard again… It continued looking at us. We continued looking at it. I was sure that I had encountered a leopard for the first time then, and maybe it had encountered a human for the first time too.
Then it dived back. No other car drove past while this had occurred. We were extremely lucky. What an experience. After departing from Chamba, we went to Haridwar where we were received by my cousins who had been expecting us there while we were away at Chamba. We narrated the unforgetful encounter. We were going to tell them that it had occurred when we were returning from Dhanaulti, and my cousin interrupted to announce- “The Hindustan Times… I ran an eye over it this morning. Some lady in the Tehri region….. Yeah somewhere near Dhanaulti or something like that…. She had a critical encounter with a leopard.”
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