In January 2018 I led a small group photo tour to remote Ladakh in northern India on behalf of boutique operator Crooked Compass. We went in search of the elusive ‘ghost of the mountains’, the Snow Leopard.
Our experience was much more than just about looking for wildlife. We also spent a day wandering the narrow lanes of Old Delhi and two days visiting Buddhist monasteries in the beautiful but arid Indus Valley while acclimatising to the moderate altitude of the high plateau surrounding Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
After only a short drive and hike into Hemis National Park we set up camp in the mountains near the village of Rumbak from where we spent 8 days making daily forays into the valleys hoping for a sighting of one of the beautiful wild cats that we know are in the area but that can be so hard to find. This winter the snow level remained high and so our chance of an intimate encounter were reduced because the cats almost certainly would be higher up the slopes without snow to force them lower in search of their main prey the Himalayan Blue Sheep or Bharal.
With help from our dedicated small team of local wildlife spotters we got lucky on day 6 and were thrilled to watch through spotting scopes and binoculars at a distance, as on a hillside across the valley a Snow Leopard and her two cubs were unsuccessful in a hunt, chasing after a small group pf Bharal.
The photo of the Snow Leopards that I have included in this photo series doesn’t do justice to the excitement of what was a rare and privileged wildlife experience. The cats were all but invisible, well camouflaged against the mountain slope as we watched them for an hour. Only as they crossed a ridge and disappeared out of sight were they clearly seen through my camera viewfinder against the blue morning sky.