‘A leopard does not change its spots’
It's not an Indian politician, it does not change its party, views and ideals every once in a while. Luckily, it does not change its spots like us humans. Belonging to the big cat family, it is extremely comfortable in its skin....and what a skin!
Different from a tiger, it does not have stripes, it has small spots which look like roses and are therefore called rosettes. Leopards are killed very often for their skin - women like to wear them and men like to flaunt them on walls - pretending to be who they are not and scared to meet their own eyes in the mirror. Are these people simply wolves in sheep’s clothing or are they sheep in wolves’ clothing?
As wildlife enthusiasts, we have often visited sanctuaries and seen big cats whose whereabouts were scoured aforehand by forest rangers. Visiting a forest as a tourist and living in the forest as an inhabitant are two entirely different things. There is no aphrodisiac which gives you a high such as a chance and surprise sighting of a wild animal and that too a big cat!
We had been delayed in Siliguri and hence were coming up around 9 p.m. I remember clearly it was a no moon night. We were in the forested part of Selim Hill Tea Estate in Darjeeling enroute to Second Chance House. The headlights of our trusted Innova cut through the monsoon mists and we suddenly saw a long, thick rope sticking out of the bushes... or was is it a huge snake? We stopped the car and peered out through the windows. The driver, a local from those parts, was the first to recognise this Lord of the jungle....it was the tail of a Leopard.
Its face was hidden in the bushes. We were dead-locked in a hypnotic, who will blink first, gaze. Unlike the other big cats, the leopard does not have yellow eyes, it has deep, blue/green eyes. I felt like it could see through me and delve into the depths of my soul. Nothing was hidden from it. Gazing into its eyes was a spiralling moment where you felt like you were face to face with the maker and it was judgement time. Those few seconds spanned my entire life span of not just this birth, but many births before that.
The first of us to recover from that moment of reckoning quickly took an amateur picture which we later converted into a postcard sent to all Dorje Teas members. Unlike Ruskin Bond’s No Room for a Leopard, we have enough and more room for the Leopard at Selim Hill Tea Estate in Darjeeling.
No wonder, Waghoba (a tiger/leopard diety) is so fervently prayed to by ancient tribes of India. It is a complete all-rounder.....an expert tree climber, a skilful swimmer, a fast runner, soft on its paws yet quick on the hunt....very private in nature and a good guide to the bio diversity of an area. At Selim Hill in Darjeeling, the leopard seems to be our very own Wolf Totem (Novel by Jiang Rong).
The setting sun in the horizon, with it colour palette of red, orange, rust, gold and black reminds me of the Leopard. My cup of Dorje Teas Kukicha seems to bear resemblance to this enigmatic creature - bold, rustic and extremely healthy!
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