Himalayan Grey Ghost
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
In the humdrum of life, man often forgets to acknowledge the aesthetic appeal of nature. We seek for a wake-up call to understand the true essence and meaning of this magnificent phenomenon called nature.
What better way to enjoy nature than to go on an escapade to the mountains afar, that echo the music and rhythm of creation?
As an enthusiastic and avid traveler with a passion for photography, I had been to a village called Kibber nestled high in the Spiti Valley in the Himalayas at 4270 meters in northern India for Snow Leopard Sighting for the last two years,one of the best place to sight Snow Leopard in its natural habitat. This blog is a personal account of the travel expedition experience.
During the month of February, the Kibber village is engulfed with snow and this is in fact the best time to see the Snow Leopard. Journeying through the Spiti Valley of Himalayas, the scenic Kibber village is situated in the fringes of the Sanctuary with less than 500 inhabitants and a simplistic lifestyle mirroring the pace of their environment, cultivating crops in summer and herding the animals in their own peaceful way. The humble abode of the villagers added to the encompassing aura of mystery and tranquility of the valley.
Of all the iconic animals in the valley, one might wonder what really makes this Snow Leopard special and stand apart?
It is the spotting of a Snow Leopard itself.
The Snow Leopard is on the Red List of Vulnerable creatures and spotting them in the vast mountains is like searching for a needle in a haystack. It has striking features highlighting its fierce eyes and spotted face. The animal stays majestic with an off-white and greyish coat of fur speckled with dark spots making it blend well with the background. It looks mysterious carefully treading every step it takes which makes it elusive. The thrill of even spotting one of them and to click pictures was indeed a dream worth to struggle for. It’s for a reason they rightly call it,
“The Himalayan Grey Ghost.”
The sighting of this elusive species require an extensive combing operation in the Snow Clad Mountains and does involve trekking .In fact, Being on a trek is not easy at all.
Surprising obstacles and captivating vistas catch the trekkers off guard. The trek as such carries the explorers on its own course bringing in an element of thrill and suspense.
‘Nature, at its best teaches patience’
Typically we start our day soon after breakfast, mostly by 8:00 AM. Yes, of course porters carry our heavy photography equipment. The most difficult challenge is all but facing the harsh weather as the temperature fluctuated between -10 ºC to 0 ºC in the morning and dropped down to an alarming -25 ºC at night. Higher altitudes also implied low oxygen level. We trek on some days few kilometers, on some other day a challenging route.On some excruciating days, our treks have to be cancelled due to heavy snow fall.In our search,it is not just Snow Leopard,we also come across Ibex,Red Fox,Alpine birds,Himalayan Griffon Vulture to name the few.
In one of the days,after a tiring trek of not being able to sight a Snow Leopard sighting we were returning to the camp feeling quite demotivated.With the sun fading away on the other side of the mountain and stillness all around;we discovered something that enthralled us. It was a kill of a leash of Red foxes lying amidst a blanket of snow. To them it was just another day, another meal; but to us, it was a moment to grasp in the cycle of life.
For us to spot a few of the Red foxes feasting on a dead sheep’s carcass, after an exhausting, day-long trek in search of Snow leopards, was a captivating memory. Red foxes are typically seen as shy creatures, and they choose to live away from human attention. Occasionally, they do make a trip to the village in search of food and we were excited to snap that moment, while the foxes were getting ready to feast on their kill.
Having the opportunity to look at these Red Foxes,Ibex or Blue Sheeps in the snow-capped mountains were adventurous and exciting. But the path to witness the moment of triumph and survival of the Snow Leopards was indeed difficult.
It had almost been two days and we still couldn’t get a glimpse of the Grey Ghost. Our efforts seemed futile, but nature made us persevere by distracting and enticing us with the lush meadows covered glittery snow.
"Chance indeed favours a prepared mind"
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect; the setting was blissful, and the treks of our guides had finally paid off one afternoon. We got ready to observe the Leopards and capture this memory. There it was near the Chicham Bridge, gently lurking around in watchful strides a 10-year old male Snow Leopard. It took strong steps forward to hide its kill in the gorge.
Just as how it looked satisfied with its prey for the day, our thirst was quenched after looking at this majestic yet sober beast.
Here is another Snow Leopard with the kill,taken in 2017.
The reason of our successful expeditions have to be attributed to the guides and porters who worked tirelessly, enthusiastically and with all patience to show us the Grey Ghost of the Himalayas.
Amidst freezing cold temperatures and snow storms, they bravely carried out the combing operations from early morning trekking for 20 or 30 km, or carry our equipments during the trek(which could weigh 10-20kgs easily) and ensuring safety of every participant during the trek. But for them, we wouldn't have a chance to sight the Snow Leopard. Indeed, they are the real heroes of this exploration.
Treks, Travels like these help us to understand and appreciate the splendor and beauty of these serene surroundings. Although we had to return to our everyday bustling activities, we took back refreshing and captivating memories that last for a lifetime.
To stay motivated and in high spirits is extremely tough in Himalayan photographic expedition, but it was worth the struggle.
Intrigued to experience this escapade? Join us on our next Snow Leopard Expedition which takes place from Feb 24th-March 5th, 2019. Do inbox me for further details.