Residents of a remote village in Vinchhiya taluka in Rajkot gave up their plans for Bhim Ekadashi, ignored warnings of police and crowded around a farm well for two days to get a glimpse of a leopard which had fallen into it.
The excitement was palpable among the villagers ever since news spread of a leopard having been spotted in the well of a farmer from Gundala on Sunday morning. Hardly anyone from the village had seen a wild leopard and hordes of residents of Gundala-Jas and more than a dozen surrounding villages thronged the spot where the big cat was trapped.
“I had heard many times that a leopard was straying around my village, but never saw it. I have not seen a leopard even in a zoo,” said Nanji Bhusadiya, 59, a farmer from Gundala-Jas. He had reached the spot early on Monday morning to see the leopard. Manju Handa, a farmer from Dadli, a nearby village, had come to watch the leopard with her husband Hirabhai.
“Actually, we were on our way to another village, but my husband brought me here to see the leopard. I felt that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity as I had seen the animal only on TV,” she said.
Police had been called to manage the crowd. They even resorted to mild lathicharge to stop the advancing hordes. Hundreds of villagers kept on coming to the field well past midnight, requesting forest rangers on duty for a glimpse of the animal. Since Monday morning, the police let villagers watch the leopard on the condition that they would not hang around afterwards.
This led to a stream of visitors to the spot. The crowd watched from the top of boulders, through hedges of cacti and atop hoods of tractors.
As rescuers pulled the tranquilised leopard out of the well, they charged towards the cage before it was covered with a cloth to shield the animal from the heat.
Bhim Ekadashi is a festival when villagers enjoy mangoes and men gamble for two nights. Policemen said the leopard had attracted more people than gambling.
The nearest recognised habitat of leopards is Madav Dungar Reserve Forest in Surendranagar district, 60 km north of Gundala-Jas. But elders in the village said the Hingolgadh sanctuary was home to many leopards 50 years ago.