Friday, April 24, 2009

Sighting of the Snow Leopard!!!

Trailing the Rumbak shepherds
It was the morning of 9th March 2009. It was such a beautiful Hemis day. Overnight, there was a lot of snowfall. Namgyal and i had decided that the strategy for the day would be to follow the shepherds of Rumbak village... as at times the Snow Leopards are known to be attracted by the presence of domestic Sheep and Goats. The Ladhaki people have a strong sense of community and follow a simple system of sharing work by which all the Sheep of the village are taken for
grazing everday only by two persons of the village by rotation..instead of individuals taking out their own Sheep. This automatically gives people free time to take up other work and gives the every individual a sense of responsibility for the whole community. It really saddens me that we in the urban landscapes have forgotten such simple ideas which re-inforces the fact that man is after all a 'social being'.
Walking in the Snow-covered terrain
It was an amazing experience for me to walk in the snow..i slipped and fell many times on 'hard ice' and it was tough going but great fun! We walked along talking to the two shepherds amidst bleating Ladhaki Sheep and Goats..the talkative of the two was Dorje, who retired from the Indo-Tibetan Border Force and is a Black-belt in Karate etc. We soon left the shepherds and got into a narrow valley called 'Tsatlung' to explore the habitat furthur on our own.

Scanning the rugged montains
Namgyal and i settled down with the scope after a while to scan the vast and desolate terrain. As i braced against the chilly winds and gazed at the towering mountains surrounding us, it struck me how impossible it is to look for a small animal like the Snow Leopard in such a vast landscape!
Namgyal spotted a herd of 5-6 Bharal on a distant slope..struggling to find food by digging up the snow! Even through my Binocs, the Bharal looked like Ants!! Without them, they are like tiny specs on the mountain and a non-naturalist can never find them! I spotted my own Bharal with my naked eyes and Namgyal was very impressed!


Bharal or Blue Sheep!
Bharal are hardy mountain ungulates and biologists are confused whether they are true Goats or Sheep. They are the most abundant prey species found on the rugged Himalayan ranges and the primary prey for the Snow Leopards. These females are the only ones i could see close enough to photograph with my 400mm lens! (photographed on another day!).


Golden Eagles !!
Apart from the Snow Leopard i was really hoping to see these amazing raptors of the high Himalayas, the Golden Eagles! I caught my first glimpse of these two sub-adults soaring grace-
fully in the air in circles!! These magnificent birds are the largest resident Eagles we have in the
Indian sub-continent and are such a treat to watch them in flight!

After an hour or so of scanning, we decided to re-trace our steps through the Tsatlung valley and resume our search in the main valley. As we walked back, we ran into Dorje and his companion. Dorje asked for Namgyal's binoculars to scan a slope for what he thought were fresh Snow
Leopard tracks..meanwhile, i put my back-pack down and started to take some pictures.
Dorje returned the binocs to Namgyal and after 5 minutes asked Namgyal to check a suspicious
'stone' on the ridge, which was looking like a 'Schan'...in seconds both shouted in unison,
'Schan,Schan'!!


The Grey Ghost of the Snows, the Snow Leopard!!!
I dived to get my binoculars and i just could not believe what i saw through them!! Here is a
Snow Leopard looking down at me..with it's deep, reddish eyes!! It was sitting like a Sphinx!!
I was actually seeing a Snow Leopard in the Wild!! I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself several times..and the tears in my eyes did not help one bit!! A Snow Leopard for heaven's sake!! I did not know what to do..should i get my big lens out? If i waste valuable time in doing that..this mythical creature may vanish! Meanwhile, Namgyal set up the scope quickly.And when i saw the beast through the scope, i almost fainted at it's sheer beauty and presence!
I somehow summoned courage to ferret out my lens;fix it to my camera and take these pictures.
The Schan actually sat there in the same position (the distance would have been at least 300-400 metres!) and kept looking down at us..sometimes in the direction of the distant herd of Bharal..it twitched it's forelegs..swung it's impossibly long,furry tail twice...shook it's head a few times and even yawned once!! It's the real animal, you clown!!
I clicked only a few pictures and mostly saw it through the spotting scope. It sat and sat..for a
good twenty minutes !! And finally, it vanished quickly over the ridge..after holding it's tail up-
wards, tantalizingly for a few seconds!! Gone!! Did i actually see a Snow Leopard or was it an
illusion?!


Searching in vain for a second glimpse!
After getting back my normal breathing and a quick thank you+high fives, Namgyal and me walked as fast as we could to the main valley to try and catch another glimpse of the world's most elusive Wild Cat..as we were hoping it would walk up along the ridge to the far side. We panted and struggled our way there in about half-an-hour(in normal elevation it would have taken 5 minutes of running!). We scanned through our scope intently..a couple of Red-billed choughs flying over the rocks gave us hope..but it was'nt to be...the Cat decided to be elusive...!!



Celebrating with Ladhaki chai!
We again ran into Dorje and his companion..and we joined them at their modest fire..and drank
some Ladhaki chai to celebrate the amazing sighting of the Schan!! Dorje is the man who made
this dream come true for me!! I hugged him..but had to politely decline his offer of drinking
some 'Chang' (local liquor) with him! I had to walk back to Rumbak! But i promised him that i will join him for a drink at his home later in the evening!













11 comments:

nikhil said...

u are the best guy i ever seen

Himanshu Rathore said...

snow leopard!!! crazy sighting sarath it doesn,t get better than this!!

Tall Stories said...

wow!congratulations.i can understand you cried.

Suhas Anand said...

good lord !!..you are blessed !..What more do you want in life ?! :)

RDx said...

Crazy crazy stuff !!!! I got tears just reading thru ...almost as if I was there !!!!! You made my day !!! WOAH !! YOU SAW A SNOW LEOPARD !!!!!!

Ravi Maganti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ravi Maganti said...

Very intense description of 'the' experience sir. I enjoyed reading the blog. Very apt observation of city folks who have forgotten about sharing and responsibilities.

Pankil Desai said...

Very well put... Had an awesome time reading it... Can understand your tears bro, i too would have if i ever got such a sighting of the most elusive cat of all..

Karun Verma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karun Verma said...

Sarath you had such a fantastic sighting of SNOW LEOPARD...........
I know how difficult it is to see a SCAN in wild............
I am telling u from my own experience
U r one of the lucky one on earth to see this elusive and mystical creatue...............
Sarath u r our DUDE

Kashish said...

Sir I think you are very lucky to see the snow leopard.
Really wanted to know where did you manage to see. Which area longitude or altidue.. if you could share it with me. or mail me. I'm 19 years old and want to be a wildlife photographer so if you could share some information it'll be of great help.
My email address is kashishmalhotra1@gmail.com