#Leopards & Shepherds in Bera, off the grid India
Continuing my Adventures For Solo Travelers Sight Inspection
The “Bera Bond” is a startling discovery of a little known leopard colony in the remote forests of Rajasthan. It’s a village where people and leopards have peacefully coexisted for over a century. Had it not been for leopards, the place would have been hidden from human eyes. Wildlife photographers and nature researchers have come from around the world here and I am thrilled to arrive to see if there’s truth behind the story. It’s the most remote place I’ve been in all my travels and was told I am the first American. I sense that this hidden gem will soon be trending on travelers’ bucket list. Many of our AFS exotic travelers would love this place and if worthy, I’ll arrange a group tour to beat the masses of thrill seekers to come.
The leopard population is thriving and expected to grow. The cats coexist here with the primitive Rabari tribe. Mustached tribesmen in turbans rear camels, sheep and goats. But it’s a matriarchal society where women manage all affairs. There are around 11,000 Rabaris in 10 villages and a close-knit community. The remarkable coexistence with leopards stems from a deep spiritual connection forged over 200 years. Rabari’s revere leopards as angels and worship them. These leopards live in rock caves and sometimes prowl in temples. Tourists may be shocked to see a leopard moving freely around a temple, even as priests do their daily rituals unfazed.
My colleague Smita and I are hosted with a stay at the beautiful Cheetagarh Resort near Jawai town. At 4 PM, we meet our expert naturalist guides for a drive in search of sloth bears, hyena, crocs, over 2000 species of birds here and leopards. As our jeep climbs straight up and over sheer rock out crops and cliffs, we were terrified. This made Dune bashing in Dubai seem like kids play. The driver kept insisting it would be safe so we just held tight to the hand bar. We spotted nothing until 7 PM when 2 trackers on scooters with their dogs lead us to caves in the east. It was a glorious site at sunset in these mountains to spot several leopards and their cubs! India has around 14,000 leopards and countless tigers. But here is the world’s highest concentration of leopards in just 72 sq miles. I ask our guide Jain WHY? He says “Here leopards have shelter in caves, food, water, no predators and can live in harmony with the locals. There have been no attacks on humans. There is a unique man-animal dynamic as these leopards adapted to the presence of humans. Rabari’s now welcome visitors which brings them income as trackers. I wonder what the future will bring to the culture of this remote tribe. Bera’s story, still unfolding, sends us a powerful message about respect and tolerance between all living beings .”
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Terry Pawelko