In January 2018 I led a small group photo tour to remote Ladakh in northern India. 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 knew were in the area but that are so hard to spot. That winter the snow cover was low and so our chance of an intimate encounter was reduced because the cats almost certainly were higher up the slopes because the lack of snow meant their main prey the Himalayan Blue Sheep or Bharal would be higher up too.
With help from our dedicated small team of local wildlife spotters we got lucky on our sixth day of searching and we were thrilled to watch through spotting scopes and binoculars a Snow Leopard and her two cubs hunting on a hillside across the valley. They chased a small herd of Bharal but were ultimately unsuccessful in their hunt.
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.