Category Archives: Himalayas Snow Leopard Safari

Himalayas Snow Leopard Safari: Exhilirating Experiences as we Track Snow Leopards

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Himalayas Snow Leopard Safari: Exhilirating Experiences as we Track Snow Leopards

 

We spent 9 days in the mountains at over 3900meters, very well cared for by our guides, and enjoying some wonderful experiences.

We spent every day in search of Snow Leopard tracks in the surrounding areas.

It was great fun and a wonderful adventure to set out each morning with great anticipation as we tried day after day to find the elusive ‘Grey Ghost’. It was great fun and a very rewarding experience in every way, especially as we were aware of the cats’ proximity, and actually found tracks very close to our camp on a number of occasions.

Each day as we continued to search for the cats we were exhilarated by the sense of adventure, the grandeur of the surroundings and the numerous chances we had to encounter the iconic Blue Sheep.

We had limited success this year … the guides told us that the ‘Blue Sheep’, the major diet of the Snow Leopard, remained way up in the higher altitudes of the mountains because of the warmer conditions, instead of venturing to the lower slopes of the mountain in search of warmer conditions.

We searched the hillsides with our field scopes for the cats, or their tracks – or any other sign of their presence – maybe even the remains of a kill.

On the fourth day we had some luck! We sighted a Snow Leopard that we watched for a while on a ridge not that far away, and as we watched, it moved up and across the ridge and disappeared from view. We contemplated the feasibility of following the cat, but the ridge, although not too far distant, was a good two hours away in those conditions.

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Two days later the leopard was back in our valley, and when we awakened we found the tracks very close to our tents. We followed the tracks – and what an experience it turned out to be. Following fresh leopard tracks in thick snow in the Himalayas is an indescribable event, and a memory that will last me a lifetime! We followed the tracks for five kilometers, taking three hours for the trek before we lost the track! But the memories and photographs!

And each day brought new thrills. The terrain in that area is just breathtaking, and although we had limited luck with the leopards, we had plenty to photograph. Not only the scenery – Blue Sheep, Bearded Vultures – all against the stunning backdrop.

When we returned to Leh on the ninth day, we found that our flight was delayed. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy some luxuries that we had all but forgotten about way up in the mountain slopes. First, we were warm! Oohh, what a pleasure! And a HOT shower with running water, no less! We settled in, cleaned up, warmed up, enjoyed a hot meal, and left in good spirits.

Looking forward to the 2017 trip …

Himalayas Snow Leopard Safari

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Himalayas Snow Leopard Safari

Report from the Snow Leopard Safari in the Himalayas – Ben Cranke

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I am sending a quick message from Leh, high up in the Indian Himalayas, while we have a momentary wifi connection – it is very sporadic here.

We will soon leave on our quest to find the beautiful and elusive Snow Leopard – aptly named the Grey Ghost by the locals.

 

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Our two days here in Leh were to acclimatize to the conditions and rarefied atmosphere at about 3700 meters above sea level … compare this with Johannesburg at a mere 1700  above sea level!

While we were here resting and acclimatizing, of course being a group of photographers our cameras were out and ready for action. After visiting a very picturesque monastery in a staggeringly beautiful spot, we decided to try our luck and go in search of a very rare local bird – the lovely Ibisbill! And can you believe it – we spotted four of them!

This morning we will soon set off for a 30 minute car trip to a road head where we will unpack our gear onto donkeys and start our walking trek (that sounds so much easier than the arduous reality that awaits us!) into Hemis National Park and to our base camp where we will spend the next 8 nights. From there we will venture out each day in search of the magnificent Snow Leopards.

As there is no wifi connection deep in the Himalayas, you may expect news again in 9 days time …

 

Life at 4000 meters

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What is it like living at more than 4000 meters? Cold!

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The adventure when living in the high, cold, tough conditions cannot be compared with anything else …

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… so let me start by saying that our Snow Leopard Safari was physically and emotionally tough – and worth every second!

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The scenery is quite staggering. As you emerge from your small 2-man tent each morning you find that the sheer beauty, grandeur, silence -and cold – combine to literally take your breath away.  

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Massive mountains seem to rise at incredibly steep angles and as you look at them you realise that that is where you will venture higher and higher today to find your prize … Panthera Uncia, or Uncia Uncia – the mystical Snow Leopard.

We were incredibly lucky, with no fewer than six sightings on different days of two of the elusive, shy animals.

Our most outstanding moment was as we ventured down the Rumback valley …

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… on our way back to camp … we came across a young Snow Leopard killing a Blue Sheep about 40 meters from where we came to an abrupt stop.

What a magnificent sighting! The leopard was about 18 months old, and just learning to hunt for itself. When it realised that it had company, it leapt onto a rock in plain view, giving us more than three hours of unrivalled pleasure as it groomed itself, dozed, yawned, peered around and then groomed some more.

Finally, it stood up, stretched, and started to take a leisurely walk along a scree slope, contact calling all the while. Although already larger than his mother, the young male still depends on her when he hunts and his calls to establish contact with his parent echoed and mingled in the otherwise quiet area with the clicking of our cameras.

Our delight and satisfaction as we returned to camp, memory cards filled, for our final night up on the mountain and our hike down the mountain to Leh the next day seemed to pass in a blur of memories, reminiscences, and just knowing how lucky we were!

Before we return to Leh, I need to mention that not only did we have the amazing Snow Leopard sightings, we also saw two Himalayan Wolves, Blue Sheep, Lammergeyers, Golden Eagles, Chakra Partridges, Snow Cocks, and Red and Yellow Billed Chough. But of course the greatest prize is always the Snow Leopard.

Back in Leh, the luxury that awaited us at the Grand Dragon Hotel was almost overwhelming after the deprivations of the previous tented days … and that warm shower! Aaahhhh!

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We arrived back in Delhi very early in the morning and decided to hop on a bus to visit the Taj Mahal! What a contrast to the previous days – and a fitting farewell to India …

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Off to Japan next …

From Vibrant Delhi to Serene Leh

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From Wim

After threading our way through the narrowest of mountain passes which only very few very skilled pilots are able to negotiate, we arrived at Leh.

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What a total contrast to Delhi. Not only have we left the warmth of the city to enter a frigid zone … But the whole atmosphere could not be more different. Where Delhi was loud, bustling, busy and totally chaotic, Leh exudes serenity. Peace reigns, and the heavy overnight snowfall seems to have blanketed any small sound. 

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We leave in the morning for the higher regions … to our base camp … where the newly fallen snow will hopefully contain leopard tracks …

Snake Charming in Delhi

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From Snake Charmer Wim

Delhi is really something else! Vibrant, noisy, chaotic, colourful and loud are just a few adjectives that spring to mind when thinking of this city like no other.

We arrived early this morning and after freshening up and a quick meal we felt more than ready to take on the bustling world around us.

Off to Old Delhi which we took in ‘at leisure’ (not a word for this area) in rickshaws. Somehow we traversed the  jostling and seeming directionless but always hectic roadways (I am polite when I call them that), and suddenly arrived at the famous Red Fort.

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The Red Fort was built by Shah Jahan in 1648 when he moved from Agra to Delhi and is considered his finest creation. Being the home of the Mughal Emperors and therefore the seat of government, it was the Red fort that determined Delhi as the capital city.

We spent a wonderful afternoon in the pandemonium of the old city, where amongst other delights we tried our hand – or pungi – at snake charming.

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The cobras responded a little reluctantly to the sounds we coaxed from the pungis, …

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… but for us the experience of our close encounters with these dangerous serpents is a memory we will look back on for years to come.

Tonight we are off to savour some of the flavours that the city has to offer and early in the morning we leave for that incredible flight up to Leh …

Himalayas!

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The Himalayas! 
The very word conjures up visions of high mountains, high altitudes, cold, remoteness, mystique – and of course our goal … to see a Snow Leopard.

After last year’s amazingly successful venture (8 sightings of 5 different Leopards!) to photograph the rare, elusive and exceedingly shy Snow Leopards, this years ODP Safari guests could barely wait for the time to come for their departure.

Our group will arrive in Delhi tomorrow and then travel way, way, up – up – up to Leh where we will remain for a few days to acclimatise to the extreme altitude.

                         Wim van den Heever-003

At 3524 meters (more than11000 feet), Leh is higher than most of us venture in a lifetime.

                                      Prayer Flags

Once we have acclimatised to the altitude … oh, and the cold which is -30C today … we will continue our journey to our base camp way further up the mountain – in Snow Leopard World …

                                                                 Snow Leopard