We were hiking in the Aravali hills, near Jaipur. The weather was great for outdoor activity. Although we were supposed to cover a scheduled trail, but we ended up on a steep descend through a seasonal waterfall, due to time constraints. Because we are seasoned for such “off-trailing” we didn’t have any problems in navigating through huge stones and boulders.
Just when the steep descend was over, we saw Girdhari standing on a huge rock, from a distance.
I waved him Hi! He acknowledged it by waving back.
On reaching closer, I initiated a small conversation.
What are you doing here?
I came to check if there are any women from the nearby villages out to cut forest trees (It’s a punishable offense). Usually, a number of women come here in the morning.
So, are you a shepherd ?
No. I’m Government employee. It’s my job to ensure the safety of this forest area.
By then, he got off the huge rock and was walking along with us.
Now, he was leading the conversation.
You shouldn’t have taken this route to get down.
There are 30-35 panthers in this forest. The route you just used to descend is where they frequent. It would have been safer to take a longer route over the hills.
Oh!….we were short of time.
With this, my mind was visualizing the image of a “left-over” goat leg we saw during the descend. Back then, we had not connected it with the left overs of a Panthers meal.
I was back in leading the conversation.
So, do these panthers attack humans too?
Yes, they do…If they are in a group. A lone panther usually refrains from doing so.
What do these panthers eat? I asked.
Goats, usually!… They are easy prey and available in plenty around these villages. Sometimes cow or buffalo too!
How long have you been protecting these forests?
Around ten years…I guess!
What trees grow around here?
Lot of Kadamba trees
Whats’ your name?
we bade goodbye to him promising to see him on our next visit to complete our unfinished trail.
I was thankful for two things that day…. One, a chance meeting with Girdhari and this conversation (we had with him). Two, for walking out of “panther zone” without any encounter!! Next time, when we’re hiking in this area we know whom to turn to for information….!!!