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Our Wild Classroom

I was up at 5am, that too without an alarm! Forests can do things to you, and surprisingly our 'civilized' bodies somehow adapt very soon. It took me a second to realize where I was, waking up to the sounds of birds is pure bliss.

I was at our camp bordering the Panna Tiger Reserve. I stepped out of the cottage and took a massive breath, could feel the difference, deep cleansing.

I just closed my eyes to listen to the morning news, a peacock was calling out in the distance while the Savannah Nightjars were ready to call it a day, spreading the news of the night before they would become invisible to the naked eye.

Half a dozen Green Bea-Eaters were already setting their industries running and Woodpeckers were already up and about.

There are 2 ways of living, one can step out and not hear or see a thing or one can experience all this. Of course it needs re-learning, I say re-learning because we have and yet had all these senses but over the period spent in our civilized world and our concrete jungles, we become opaque to the beauty around us.

But once we learn how to see and listen again - we can truly enjoy what we have been missing.

This is where I usually head out to whenever I need to find myself. Mukesh was walking towards the cottage with my morning cuppa, by now I had moved to the hitherto empty platform looking out for any signs of travelers going back home.

Today there was only one, a lone Egyptian Vulture who had decided to spend the night next to our camp, maybe it had a late evening party.

As I sipped my tea, I informed Mukesh that I would be going out now and asked him to let our Naturalist know, he nodded. He knew my schedule well, that I would now head out to catch the early morning action.

We crossed the temple and headed out towards the river bank, my aim was to capture raptors which are usually active near water bodies. A trio of Pied Kingfishers were busy in indulgence making plenty of noise taking turns swooping down and diving, touch n go.

A lone Painted Stork stood in deep meditation, Open Billed Storks had started circling the water body, a few Purple Herons here and there. A band of Cattle Egrets in full breeding plumage seemed to be sitting in an ice skating rink – for a second I almost forgot that they were on water.

As we trudged along, treading carefully not to disturb the peace and quiet with clumsy steps, here we reached a tree where another neighbor had signed an autograph.

True wonders of nature, these sloth bears - I mused to myself. A reluctant species which totally likes solitude and prefers to be left alone, in case disturbed will not shy to even attack tigers, and tigers in return do respect them, any guesses why? Just look at the signature - will erase any doubts.

And there it was a majestic Crested Serpent Eagle, sitting high amongst the cluster of Neem, Sagwan, Mahua, Tendu and Tamarind. It had seen me long before I did and before I could think of getting some closer shots it flew away deeper.

Now I was in stealth mode, being very careful so as not to make too much noise and not looking in the direction of the bird.

And that’s when we heard it - a distinct Khokhorrr by the Langur, we stopped in our tracks. The alarm was repeated consistently, I had identified the location of the sound and now I could see it.

It was looking down at the forest floor, all my thoughts about the Eagle flew away with it for here was a situation which needed every bit of senses to be on high alert. In the rocky riverbed where we were, there was a distance of around 150-200 mtrs between us and the langur and whatever it was that it was looking at, was in this patch. Luckily for us, we had a big Arjun tree for cover and we stared back into the cluster of dried leaves, rocks and trees ,trying to pick up any movement, a slight flick of the tail, a corner of the ear …something at least. I had my camera ready. So far we had not seen anything, but the calls continued and since there was nothing else except the monkeys and us, it meant only one thing - we were being watched.

I totally believe and depend upon intuition, many a times we get a feeling of being watched and you look around and you will find someone staring at you. I know this a little too well and I get uncomfortable and I could feel that now.

There are times when you are excited about doing some things and then are times when you regret having ever thought about doing something like that - this was the moment. Thoughts racing in my mind on what should or can be our next step.

I was thinking and telling myself, that of course it was observing and probably waiting for us to leave, but the fear of the unknown and the unseen is the highest.

We kept looking in the direction of the call and still couldn’t see anything, just then we heard some loud flaps coming from the river bed and there flew 2 Greater Adjutant Storks and King Vulture, their presence was guarantee that there was a kill in the river bed.

And then it was over, the bad feeling went away and the Langurs stopped their alarm calls.

It probably took more time to type this than the sequence of events at that time, 5 seconds max is what we needed to look at those majestic birds and our quarry was gone, using the distraction to its full advantage.

This is how keen animals are in trying to stay away from us!

Now even the langurs joined us on the rocks and that gave a huge sense of security yet disappointment, that the animal in question was well beyond reach.

We took a few minutes here to relax our sprayed nerves, it was astonishing to experience how we both reacted to the situation - it is extremely important to keep calm quiet and focused because that will help you think clearly, a scared mind makes mistakes, unnecessary sound will prevent you from listening.

As we walked towards the source of the monkeys attention, it became all too clear - a Leopard.

We had come within 100mtrs on foot to one of the most elusive animals to be found in the wild and yet did not even see the tip of its tail.

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