Jaipur, India’s Pink City houses magnificent pink buildings of global fame. Dating back to a few centuries, The Pink City has drawn tourists from all over the world who flock in large numbers year after year to see, experience and marvel at the amazing Rajput Architecture. What this city isn’t very famous for is a small forest patch measuring no more than 25 sq. km. and home to more than 30 Leopards.
Haha Mahal (or) Palace of Winds
If anyone mentioned India’s Pink City, everyone who’s been to Jaipur would definitely remember and recollect the beautiful Hill forts of Amer, Nahargarh and Jaigarh, the flamboyant City Palace, Jantar Mantar, the Palace of Winds or the Hawa Mahal, Jal Mahal, luxury hotels, the likes of Rambagh Palace and Jai Mahal Palace, delicious street food, Dal, Bhatti, Churma, Laal Maas, handicrafts, carpets and the list goes on. And they probably did go on a safari looking for tigers and other wildlife in Ranthambhore, not too far from here. But wait, there is one more hidden gem within the city and not so popular among travellers and tourists and I wonder how many people have heard of this place – Jhalana Leopard Safari Park.
Measuring an area of under 25 sq. km., Jhalana is located at about 7 km away from the Jaipur International Airport. The small park located on the foothills hosts a healthy breeding population of Leopards numbering over a 30 individuals. Being in such close proximity to a bustling city like Jaipur, it is surprising to hear that there have been no fatal attacks of leopards on human beings. I have been in Jaipur over a dozen times since its the most convenient airport to fly to enroute to Ranthambhore. But some how, I neglected this park and had never visited until November of 2018 when I was in Jaipur heading to Pushkar for Camel Fair.
A friend of mine who at that time was studying in Delhi and myself spent a few days in Pushkar and our way back home, I decided to pay a visit to this place. Leaving Pushkar after brunch, I reached Jhalana in our zoom car. Parked outside the gate and hoped into a gypsy and off we were into the park at around 3:30 pm. The Jungle was quite until 5 pm except for a few Nilgai that we saw. We drove back and forth with no signs of Leopards. Just then, a Langur’s alarm call caught my attention and the tracking began. It was my friend’s first safari and he had no clue what my guide and I were talking about. We were debating the direction from which we heard the alarm call as it was far away. Somehow, came to conclusion and drove towards the temple. On the hill, the monkeys were going beserk when this young Leopardess sitting on a tree jumped down. She strolled right towards my Gypsy, came on to the road and crossed over into the park. What a sighting it was. When we though the drama was over, it had actually just begun. The time was close to 5:30 now and drove back into the park. She was stalking deer and charged. Unfortunately winters get dark early and I did manage to take a not so clear video of the chase.
In May the next year, I hosted 2 guests on a private safari in Jhalana. We went on an evening safari the previous day and saw a Leopardess with 3 cubs. The next day, we went on a full day safari and in may the mercury was well over 43 degrees during the mid day hours. At noon or just after, turing a corner, there a Leopard walking towards the waterhole, quenched its thirst and walked past my vehicle flicking its tail and settled down under a tree. It was lunch time and best part of Jhalana is that the gate is not far from even the deepest end of the park. Just 10-15 minute drive at the most and phones are reachable. Wondering what we did for Lunch? Swiggy! Ordered from one of the nearby restaurants and they delivered food to the gate from where we picked it up. I don’t think there is any park in the world where you can sit watching a Leopard and also order for your favourite food to be delivered right to you.
Just last month, one my way to Ranthambhore, I flew into Jaipur arriving at 1:45 pm. Starting soon after would still be late for the afternoon safari in Ranthambhore. A safari in Jhalana before heading out was the best option to not waste time. Our safari operator was informed to pick us up and we had a Gypsy waiting in the airport. The safari in an open vehicle started right from the arrivals. Stopped for lunch at the Gold Souk Mall and headed to the gate soon after. The sun had begun to set and the cats seemed to be away. As we were heading back, at the same water hole where I saw the Leopard in may, there was this Sub adult male. He was nervous initially and slowly walked away into the bushes behind. For any Big cat Lover, Jhalana is a must visit place. For the many times I have been there, the Leopards of Jhalana have never failed to bless me with their appearance.
Author: Gaurav Ramnarayanan