When Philip suggested Kaskond, I readily agreed. What drew me in were the leopards. “It’s good to have you along,” he said. “Last time I went this way alone and heard a leopard growling nearby. It was scary.” As much as I feared meeting one in the jungle, for I’m no Tarzan to tame a wild cat, the opportunity to see one on our trek led me on, and I agreed.
The Bhagwan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary in Mollem, Goa, is known for its big cat. But, hunting, loss of habitat, and aggressive eco-tourism have reduced their numbers and those that remain are elusive, whether out of compulsion born of fear of humans or out of an ingrained nature I cannot be very sure.
After we entered Kaskond by a side entrance along the highway 4A that runs on through Anmod in the Western Ghats mountain ranges, to Belgaum in Karnataka, I stopped and held my breath. Ahead lay a jungle path covered with leaves. Silence hung in the air. No wind stirred in the trees, and the birds were quiet. The sun had kept out that morning and low light had turned the atmosphere surreal. The shadows the jungle threw fell weakly along the leafy path, and the thought that a leopard might be lurking round the corner heightened my anticipation. We stood side by side, and I took the picture posted above.
As I stood there, staring at the leaves that covered the road that narrowed further on, and the bends hidden from view in the undergrowth and bamboo, I knew I must take this road, and so we walked, passing leopard droppings by the dozen, and 'bumping' into Giant Wood Spiders' webs that stretched across our path. Though it wasn’t until much further that the road diverged, we kept up on this one. The leaves were moist from the morning dew, and lay silent, in peace from prying feet. As we walked on the road, stepping lightly on the leaves, they whispered jungle secrets and tempted me with what the bends in the road ahead might reveal, and I hoped the road would never end. Looking down at the leaves as we walked in silence I was reminded of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken . . .
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.