Belmont Club

The Leopard In the Yard

Imagine a monster more dangerous than any that Hollywood scriptwriters could conceive. Silent, intelligent and capable of killing hundreds of people without even being seen. A being able to terrorize thousands of square miles of populated area, who had been able to defy local law enforcement, the army of the greatest empire on earth — everyone and anyone for that matter — for such a long time it was conceded there was only one man in within two thousand mile’s radius who even had the remotest chance of stopping it.

Here is how this strange battle began in actual fact. The real life version of Alien vs Predator vs The Colonial Marines.

During the hours of sunlight life in that area carried on in a normal  way. Men went long distances to the Iwaars to transact business, or to  outlying villages to visit relatives or friends; women went up the mountain-  sides to cut grass for thatching or for cattle-fodder; children went to  school or into the jungles to graze goats or to collect dry sticks, and, if it  was summer, pilgrims, either singly or in large numbers, toiled along the   pilgrim routes on their way to and from the sacred shrines of Kedarnath  and Badrinath.

As the sun approached the western horizon and the shadows  lengthened, the behavior of the entire population of the area underwent  a very sudden and a very noticeable change. Men who had sauntered to  the bazaars or to outlying villages were hurrying home; women carrying  great bundles of grass were stumbling down the steep mountain-sides;  children who had loitered on their way from school, or who were late in  bringing in their flocks of goats or the dry sticks they had been sent out  to collect, were being called by anxious mothers, and the weary pilgrims  were being urged by any local inhabitant who passed them to hurry to  shelter.

When night came, an ominous silence brooded over the whole area — no movement and no sound anywhere. The entire local population was  behind fast-closed doors and, in many cases, had sought further  protection by building additional doors. Those of the pilgrims who had  not been fortunate enough to find accommodation inside houses were  huddled close together in pilgrim shelters. And all, whether in house or  shelter, were silent for fear of attracting the dread man-eater.

It was during one of the intervals of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen  of the Guard, which was showing at the Chalet Theatre in Naini Tal in  1925, that I first had any definite news of the Rudraprayag man-eater.

I had heard casually that there was a man-eating leopard in Garhwal  and had read articles in the press about the animal, but knowing that  there were over four thousand licensed gun-holders in Garhwal, and  host of keen sportsmen in Lansdowne, only some seventy miles from  Rudraprayag, I imagined that people were falling over each other in  their eagerness to shoot the leopard and that a stranger under these  circumstances would not be welcome.

On my return home I found a letter from Ibbotson on my table.   Ibbotson, now Sir William Ibbotson, and lately Adviser to the  Governor of the United Provinces  had very recently been posted to  Garhwal as Deputy Commissioner, and one of his first acts had been to  try to rid his district of the man-eater. It was in this connection that he  had written to me …

My preparations were soon made, and by travelling via Ranikhet, Adbadri, and Karanprayag, I arrived on the evening of the tenth day at a road Inspection Bungalow near Nagrasu.

Thus began an epic confrontation between an extraordinary but unassuming man named Jim Corbett and a larger version of something nearly all the world loves, but which in the case had already eaten 125 men.  For Corbett it was one among many of the services he performed for India, in which his family had lived for 3 generations. He is remembered by Indians as a sadhu. That’s only natural. What he was up against, we can all agree, was nothing less than a god.


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