Mrs. Sharma had told us as soon as we arrived, “You know, my son, Vivek? He is 32. He will take you on laipard spotting in the evening. It is so good na, only two days ago we had honeymoon couple staying with us and they saw laipard in forest. They had camera also and they were so happy, you know. Vivek – he will take you in his car in the evening.” When R and I returned from our adventures of the day Mrs. Sharma was waiting. “ Beta, if you get ready quickly, Vivek will take you out today because tomorrow na, we are going for dinner party”. So R and I dutifully trudged off, gulped down tea and reported back for the promised ride. Five minutes of waiting,Vivek lumbered gently up and the tour was begun.
Our vaahan was a nice little Maruti zen – which gave me hope! On the drive into the IVRI campus, which was the ‘jungle’ the leopard chose to hang out at, Vivek told us a little about himself. Five years ago, when he and his mom were on a gifted holiday to Mukteswar, they decided it was a good idea to set up something. So Vivek quit his job in the merchant navy, put all his life’s savings into buying up some land and constructing a cottage in Mukteswar. Vivek continued with his anecdotes of living ‘the simple life’ in the hills, little asides on his neighbors and past guests, commentaries on land prices in the kumaon and of course, what an amazing place he and his mom run throughtout the drive.
The IVRI campus seems tame for the most part but there are spots where the dense tree cover closes in on all sides or where a rock juts out onto the narrow road, that make one think a leopard will leap out any minute. We ended the drive at the PWD which offers a panoramic view of the hills. Even during the day its obvious that the hills of Kumaon have been well conquered by humanity – the eye cannot look far without finding some habitation or denuded hill side, but at night the true extent of our conquest becomes clear. Lights dot the hillside everywhere till it looks like the stars themselves have come down.