What is it like living at more than 4000 meters? Cold!
The adventure when living in the high, cold, tough conditions cannot be compared with anything else …
… so let me start by saying that our Snow Leopard Safari was physically and emotionally tough – and worth every second!
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.
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 …
… 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!
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 …
Off to Japan next …