I saw a leopard! Ironically, it was casually striding across the road on the way to Tiger Fort… so I guess I saw a very confused leopard.
I’ll start from the beginning of the story. Our trip to Tiger Fort was thanks to the amazing planning and hosting abilities of our friends Manish, Ritika, Priyanka, and Avnish. It is not actually open for dinner but Ritika seems to be able to make anything happen so she figured out how to transport some of her own cooking, some catering, and some drinks all the way up to the top of Jaipur so that it was waiting for us when we arrived around 9PM.
While the incredible evening was under orchestration high above the city, Manish and Ritika drove us around to see the nighttime sights of Jaipur. I think they wanted to buy some time for Priyanka and Avnish to organize dinner at the fort and politely trick us into waiting a little longer to eat dinner since Indians eat at what seems to us like a ridiculously late hour. We began unloading our millions of questions about India. Alicia and Ellen asked about the long strings of individual plastic packages that hang for sale in almost every outdoor stand—we always laugh at them because they look so similar to condom packages! As it turns out this is “beetle nut;” bags of tiny seeds for chewing. Manish and Ritika called them a mouth freshener… I’m not convinced that is accurate. When we asked, “What do they taste like” Manish swerved to the side of the road and bought a pack. The best I can say is: they are not that bad. Ellen suffered the taste a little less elegantly and yelled: “I’ve eaten mothballs!” It took her a good fifteen minutes to recover and I don’t think her tasting bravery will ever return to normal.
When we reached the fort only a few other people were wondering around. Wine and Igli were set out as a welcome.
Igli are tiny pancakes of rice that get dressed with coconut chutney. I have a strange dislike of coconut but I liked the little snacks anyway. And how could you not enjoy appetizers served in an empty ancient fort above the pink city? Impossible. We also had sweet rolls made from gram flower (chick pea flower). Those were my favorite but probably only due to the strange coconut prejudice.
The appetizers and drinks went on for a while and I spent most of my time expressing my extreme excitement and gratitude and admiring the relationship between Priyanka and Avnish. They got married about a year ago and to use their explanation, “it was an arranged thing.” Apparently, Ritika met Priyanka in the gym and picked her out for Avnish—I am sure that story is an oversimplified and joking version of what really happened but that’s all I’ve been told. It’s really wonderful to watch how well the two women get along and how much the couple, Avnish and Priyanka respect one another. One part of me is incredibly envious of their lives in a large family house, the home of their husband’s father, where they are constantly surrounded by the love of friends and family. And I’m envious of what appears to be an easy balance in all of their relationships, an active appreciation and reciprocation of the simple joy of company.
Eventually, we came down from the breezy highest point of the fort where there is a terrace for drinks and enjoyed shelter from the now slightly cold night. We ate in what is usually the lunch restaurant but long since closed for the day. We reminisced about seeing the leopard and teased Priyanka because she has been trying to see one for years. When everyone was full and tired and we piled back into the cars. With our eyes peeled for wildlife we headed back down the hill. No more leopards were waiting. I guess it was once in a lifetime.