Saturday, April 25, 2009

After Schan Euphoria!

I was literally bouncing as i walked back to Rumbak. Still unable to believe that i actually saw a
Snow Leopard in the wild!! That too out in the open, on the snow for such a long time! I know
about many people who have come back without even a glimpse of one..after trying very hard.. and a few who, after many trips or after weeks of hard walking, having caught a fleeting glimpse of one, disappearing into rocky terrain. And i saw my Snow Leopard
on my third day in Hemis !! This cannot get any better! I felt so blessed!! All the overwhelming
wishes by well-meaning friends and family brought me such luck!!
Rumbak Village
Such a pretty village of only nine households and such simple and wonderful human beings !! I stayed in one of the houses with the 'Goba' family and will always remember their simplicity and warm hospitality!

Praying at the Rumbak Gompa!

I had prayed at every available Latho (small Buddhist shrine) or Gompa ( a Tibetan temple) to see the Snow Leopard! (like as kids we used to pray only during exams!). This Gompa at Rumbak was special and i went there straight after the sighting to offer my thanksgiving prayer!

Tsering Dorje with his sheep at his house!
Just watch how his Sheep love him!! They mobbed him for something in his hands and afterwards he took us inside his house for a drink of Chang to celebrate the Schan sighting!

Latho at Rumbak displaying Bharal heads.

Dolma, my hostess with her cute son Stanzin Namgyal!

My Homestay
I had a small room for myself and Namgyal. It was basic but comfortable. It can get quite cold at nights (-10 to -15 C!), though there was a 'Thap', a firewood heater, which keeps going for an hour or so after you settle down in your sleeping bag! We had all our meals in the family kitchen. The atmosphere was warm and the meals were hot and delicious. These homestays are organised by an NGO, Himalayan Homestays, who have managed to convince the locals of Hemis N.P to protect the Snow Leopard, so that visitors from all over the world will come to see it and they in turn will get income from homestays and other services offered to these eco-tourists. This has been a successful programme, demonstrating a clear and a positive link between wildlife conservation,communities and eco-tourism. I was so happy to experience this first-hand. Do visit their website: for more of this inspiring conservation story.

Another view of the beautiful Indus, on my way back.

A lady from Zanskar selling apricots etc in Leh.
I got back to Leh after spending one more day in Hemis. I considered going to the Sham area, where Himalayan Homestays have another circuit, but the 5000m+ altitude and continued snowfall discouraged me and i decided to return home to Bangalore. I spend a whole day exploring Leh town and meeting friends at the Snow Leopard Conservancy, who had organised my entire trip. They were thrilled that i saw my Snow Leopard. I committed to contribute to their Training programme of Local Guides, as a token of my support for the good work they have been doing for the conservation of the Himalayan wildlife involving the local commuinities.
This lady from Zanskar was seling apricots and walnuts from her area and i bought some from her..notice her classic Aryan build and looks!

School-girls spinning prayer wheels in Leh.

Flight back over the mighty Himalayas!
I returned from Ladakh enchanted by the magic of the land and it's people. And of course, Blessed and mesmerised by the Snow Leopard!! I am already planning a trip back to Ladakh in 2010 (July-August). It will be a three-week expedetion, with the first week exploring the Snow Leopard habitat in the Sham Valley area with Himalayan Homestays. The second week will be exploring the Tso Moriri area, an high altitude lake on the Tibetan border, for wildlife like Kiangs, Tibetan Wild Dogs etc. The third week will be to climb the peak of Lungser Kangri,which is a magical 6666 metres high!! Our Guide will, of course, be Tsering Namgyal!! He is from this area and is basically a mountain guide. Like-minded friends are welcome to join! I will be announcing the actual dates and some more details a year in this space..there are limited spaces !!
I love this 8th century Tibetan poem:
This center of Heaven
This core of the Earth
This heart of the World
Fenced around with Snow
The headland of all Rivers
Where mountains are High and
The land is Pure.

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