One beautiful summer morning in Yala National Park, home of the Sri Lankan leopards, was the destination. Peculiar yet majestic beasts(contradicting much?), these leopards, well I label them as moody, only when they want to show their presence in front of humans , they budge or it is like spotting a fish in an empty fish tank, nowhere to be seen, lost within the green webs of the jungle and beyond.
We reached the home of the leopards at around 11am. Duty beckoned for the guides who in their own right did not know the location of the leopards. Well why else would we be on a safari? Anyhow , that aside, although as a family , we were on a vehicle which was assigned to us, the environment was however quite claustrophobic because of the sheer magnitude of people who turned up to spot the leopards that day. And we set out. For a brief period of time, there was not a hint of the big cats. Then at around 12:30 pm , our guide got a call, with a whoop of delight, jumped from his drivers seat, confused us as to what was going on and step on the gas was what he did. At a small site covered with 5-7 trees which somehow made a canopy, believe it or not, everyone! ; almost everyone who came to Yala that day was there , silent as the grave, looking at a couple of leopards sitting on a tree branch and 20 minutes passed by in a flash.
My father being the adventurous man he is, decided that we would go in a different direction , get up close and personal with the animal. At around the 15 minute mark at the first sight, we left on my father’s command to the guide in search of new patch.
At around 2:00 pm, with the sun beating down on us , at a crossroad somewhere near the apex of the national park, apart from the nauseating smell of the water buffalo, our guide with the experienced nose, caught the leopard scent and we just stood still. Five whole minutes passed and nothing happened, not a hint of movement. Suddenly, there was a stir in the nearby plants and there we saw, a mere 10 feet away, staring away into the proud eyes of the creature.
Soon another one joined and the death stares followed back and forth. To our surprise, our guide was as elated as us ,promptly telling my father “You are lekki Saar, you is spot leoperd”. We were taken aback and I remember that I was mumbling away at the sight of the hosts. The fur, the glint in those eyes and the pride with which the animal carried out the conversation left to wonder in awe. Time stood still ; it really did.
Regardless, 15-20 minutes later, we left reluctantly; a heavy heart. Those 15 minutes, ten feet away, conversing with 2 Sri Lankan leopards, is something that will stay close to me for a long time to come, the contents of the conversation? Even today, I fail to comprehend what that was about.