What makes anyone wake up early morning, for a sight of the snow leopard in the Himalayas amidst the cold altitudes, the tough treks, with likelihood of actually seeing nothing, and maybe, an adventure waiting to happen? It is the presence and voice of David Attenborough that encourages one to take the plunge. After all, it seems so nice and easy when he narrates the story. Eventually, we did venture for the trip
Goaded by our intrepid wives, we “soft” men had to relent eventually to buy warm clothing for the journey and get through flight bookings for the adventure.
It was told to us that viewing snow leopards could only be done in the winters, when the weather draws them down, following the blue sheep, their favourite dinner, from 15,000 ft. to about 12 -13000 ft.
Landing at Leh, I was pleasantly surprised – the Hotel was really nice with all the right facilities, and the guides were gung-ho about the adventure too. What’s more, it was cold but in the warm clothes,-10 degrees seemed all right. The next morning, I complained about a slight headache and then ended up in hospital bed for the whole day strapped to an oxygen cylinder owing to altitude sickness! I was the only one in the group to get admitted at a total cost of 13 rupees – about 15 pence for the day.
But the oxygen did the trick. We spent the next couple of days trekking for leopards without climbing much higher. Within the next overnight stop, the guides spotted a family of leopards in the distant mountain. As they pointed out, everyone in the group got excited. I was lost at first, but then I was searching in the wrong direction. I saw the family of leopards through the spotting telescope – a family with two cubs – a terrific sight!
It was a truly emotional moment for us; since we had spotted 4 leopards in only our first trek!After the sighting, I could bear with unheated huts, natural toilets and -15 degrees of cold. Returning back to our comfortable hotel, we realized that the sighting merely whetted our appetite more such adventures.
Back to Leh and on the following day, we ventured on a trek deep into the high altitude Himalayan National Park. After a drive into the area with no roads, we trudged uphill for about 20 kilometres. With low oxygen, it was difficult but we were surprised watching local kids playing football. The guides were excited as we neared the homesteads as someone apparently sighted a leopard up front and urged others in the group to hurry.
There indeed was a leopard that had just killedone of the blue sheep. I didn’t join the group and preferred to rest at the “basecamp”. But I quickly regretted it, since the pictures that my wife brought back, were absolutely stunning.
The village consisted of only 9 homes and ourgroup mingled with them. A wonderful family, who used their traditional log stove, and prepared food for us, made us feel at home. The village generator that was used from 6 pm to 10.30pm was used for generating lights. The whole group could gather in one of the homesteads for dinner. Several storieswere exchanged and provisions were brought from Leh that was miles away on a train of ponies while the domestic yaks provided them with daily milk.
With clear air and no ambient light, the night sky was a sight to behold – unbelievable. And we had a memorable stay at the homestead despite the temperatures reaching -30 degrees at one point.
The snow leopard that had killed its prey went to a safer spot the next day, away from the wolf packs. We spotted it resting, getting up, stretching, looking around, and even continue to eat the flesh. For the next few days, we could see it enjoying itself from a distance of 150 yards away. We also spotted the giant eagles and the vultures, especially the lammergeier vulture with its 9 foot wingspan living almost entirely on bones.
It was all an unforgettable experience– the people, scenery, the animals and birds, and of course the 5 snow leopards – the adventure is something, no one should miss.