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Meeting The Grey Ghost

After spending almost 3 months on the road, crisscrossing- from the Saal forest of central India to the Snowcapped mountains of the Himalayas to the dry deciduous forests of Ranthambore, followed by the jungles of Kanha and Nagzira. Missed out on an annual trip to Kaziranga as the park was shut by officials. I am now enjoying a forced break in break due to the lockdown in the country followed by an outbreak of Covid 19. These are challenging times for all of us personally as well as professionally and I hope and pray for the wellbeing and safety of you and yours.

I am pretty sure that most of you are utilizing this time to finish some long pending jobs/ learn something new in addition to routine daily chores/ work from home. To be honest I mostly practised the art of doing Nothing :) and worked as and when required only. Taking this opportunity to get back to writing blogs- something which I have not done in recent times.

After much research/ following up/ anticipation/waiting and preparation I finally landed at Spiti Valley in search of Grey Ghosts. It was our first-ever snow leopard expedition so both excitement and expectations were pretty high. On the very first day of our arrival at Spiti, we were blessed with the sighting of a male leopard on kill- what a start I must say. Did spend almost the entire day watching this old male as he guarded his kill on a mountain slope. From a photo perspective, it was not such a great photo opportunity o but who cares, a first is always special.

I had the opportunity to watch this old male with distinct facial markings on multiple occasions over the next 3 weeks. As per locals this male aged 10+ years approximately, was sighted very frequently around Kibber (our base) and was the father of most of the cubs in the area. Words may fail to describe him but he probably had seen it all change of weather cycles over the years, fought and defeated intruding males, explored and expanded his territory year after year. Signs of ageing were visible on him and most trackers anticipated that this probably was his last season and he might not be sighted next season. Little did we know that this prediction will come so soon, few days after my return from Kibber he fell off from cliff in the gorge while hunting an ibex, resulting in the death of both ibex and this old male...End of an era in the valley. I will miss his presence next season when I return.

Another highlight of the trip was the sighting of mating pair of leopards, having missed them the previous evening we planned to return to the same area the try our luck. Early morning snowfall was not encouraging however we decided to go anyway instead of waiting in our rooms. Reaching the location after a long drive through heavy snowfall and a steep hike from our drop point, our hearts were filled with joy when our tracker after scanning the gorge through his binocular pointed towards a cave- said Shen (snow leopard in local language). Still getting used to tracking the ghost with perfect camouflage in a similar backdrop I took a while to figure out two grey dots barely visible at the opening of the cave across the valley. It was still snowing and as per our guide, the chances of them coming out were very bleak, something none of us wanted to hear at this point of time after having crossed so many hurdles. Almost after 1 hour of no activity they suddenly came out of the cave, first the female and then the male and they started mating in the open. Like all cats the intercourse was brief however the female was slightly more aggressive towards the male post mating (an interesting observation for me). This behaviour continued for the next 5-6 hours while we watched them sipping chai and eating from a safe distance ensuring the cats were not disturbed. Someone up there was watching out for us as this interaction turned out to be one of the best behavioural observations of the trip. First a male on kill, now a mating pair our guests were getting greedy for more.... the illusive mother and cubs what else?

Luck was definitely on our side next morning as well when Tenjing our lead tracker radioed back -- 'cubs being sighted at a gorge 3 km from our camp'. We were on the move in no time and reached the spot after 45 minutes of hiking through knee-deep soft snow. Cubs were sitting in the open, Mother was probably away resting/ hunting somewhere. Initially, there were only two cubs and soon the third one joined in, it was such a joy watching little fur balls exploring the territory boldly and confidently the entire day. While the cubs were starting to get playful, we had to return to the camp as the sun started to set and sighting time was over.

Needless to say, that group was thrilled with all these sightings across 8 days of their stay at Kibber and we descended back to Rampur as I had to welcome group II at Rampur for Snow Leopard Expedition: II

While group one was smooth sail group II had its fair share of adventures - a landslide delayed arrival at Kibber by a day and a half as we are forced to stay on the way before roads were reopened, an avalanche on our way delayed our journey back to Rampur as well. The second batch had some great sightings as well mostly of the old male on several occasions during our stay. Mother and cubs had ventured far away from the valley and remained elusive for the rest of our stay.

All in all, we had sightings of 8 different individuals during our maiden expedition to Snow Leopard along with sightings of Red Fox, Golden Eagles, Lammergeier, snow cocks, chukar partridges, snow finch, herds of blue sheep, Ibex etc.

Already looking forward to the snow leopard expedition scheduled in Feb 2021, drop us a mail at info@tigerwalah.com if you wish to join. Check out the detailed itinerary in our fixed departure tours section here.


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