It’s not every day you set out in search of snow leopards and see one on your first day, but that’s exactly what one of our groups experienced! Take a look at one of our adventurers’ photos from our Snow Leopards and Tigers of India journey.
Our trip with Wilderness Travel was mainly focused on searching for snow leopards in their natural habitat. After a long day of traveling and acclimatizing to the altitude (we’re at 13,000 feet, after all), we were ready to begin the search.
Luckily, we saw our first one within one hour of reaching our accommodation in Ulley, a village of five households in Ladakh. We had just arrived and sat down for lunch when our local guide said, “grab your cameras and binoculars—someone just saw a snow leopard cross the road in front of them!” After a ten-minute drive later and a lung-busting walk up a hill, we got our first glimpses—a paw here, a back there, occasionally a face as he lazed in a sunny spot. You can see how camouflaged they are against the rocks.
Three hours later, we watched as our snow leopard left its spot and ascended to the ridge, disappearing over the top. It was a thrilling start to the rest of the adventure.
When you’re in this elevation, what does the fashionable snow-leopard tourist wear? Everything! Temperatures while we were in Ulley ranged from -13°F to 50°F, but were generally around the 30s in the middle of the day.
While snow leopards will eat anything they can catch, including birds, picas, and marmots, their main food source in this area are two wild sheep species: the Asiatic ibex and the Ladakh urial. You’ll notice that there appears to be pretty much nothing for them to eat at this time of year. These sheep will actually dig in the ground (and through the snow if needed) to feast on buried roots.
Even when you are not searching for a snow leopard, you always have the stunning scenery of the Himalaya.
Ladakh is more similar to Tibet than to most of India in its culture, which is heavily Buddhist with a significant Muslim component. We visited this Buddhist temple adorned with intricate details and surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags.
After three snow leopard sightings in six days, we headed down to Kanha National Park in search of tigers.
They proved to be quite elusive, but the deer and birds were plentiful.
We were delighted to come across a dhole (Indian wild dog) while leaving the park one afternoon. Normally they run in packs so we are not sure why this one was all alone.
After numerous tigerless trips into the park, we finally got a nice view! From this point on, we saw tigers on every excursion for the rest of the trip.
On our last morning during our final game drive, the Forest Service escort who is required to accompany all visitors let out a scream—”Aaaaaapppp!!!” I looked over to my right, and not six feet from my wife, was a tiger walking out of the woods towards the jeep. I was looking right into its eyes. For the next five minutes, we had this magnificent creature to ourselves. No other cars, no other people. We were stunned. What a way to cap off a wildlife journey!
—Text and photos by WT adventurer Kit Sheffield, Snow Leopards and Tigers of India.