The Snow Leopard Lodge experience
Not so long ago the very notion of venturing into Snow Leopard country in search of this magnificent cat seemed the most forlorn of forlorn hopes. The inhuman scale of snow leopard country combined with the legendary elusiveness of the cat made it one of the most difficult animals to track in the wild. But that has all changed dramatically in the past 20 years or so.
Unlike the increasingly isolated Protected Areas of the rest of India which are becoming islands within a sea of humans, Ladakh with its vast swathes of wilderness and tiny human populations reverses this situation. It means that all of the Ladakh Trans-Himalaya is essentially a wildlife sanctuary.
Ulley and Mangyu are both situated within a network of valleys that are well-connected by motorable roads. This allows us to cover a hugely greater area with our own dedicated vehicles than is possible on foot thus increasing our chances of tracking snow leopards. Tracking involves several levels of input – direct sightings by villagers which are reported in; snow leopard calls and the alarm calls or evasive behaviour of prey species; the behaviour of scavenging birds and animals – vultures, crows and magpies; foxes or wolves – converging on a particular spot that may indicate a kill; the hard won experience and knowledge of our expert trackers and spotters of the habits and movements of individual cats; and most effectively the visual confirmation of the presence of a leopard through actual tracks in the snow. All of these inputs are constantly collated and processed by Norbu and his team. Satellite teams operate in other valleys and villages creating an information ‘network’. But all of this effort simply serves to narrow down the area of search.
Snow Leopard country is precipitous, treeless and VAST. Sightings can take place over a kilometre away. Of course you need good optics and at the Snow Leopard Lodge we have some of the best in the world by way of the top model Zeiss telescopes and binoculars. But the actual spotting still needs to be done by human eye – and that is where all the skill and almost inhuman levels of focused concentration of our expert spotters comes to the fore. Watching Norbu scanning a distant ridgeline through a telescope is an experience in itself. You see his entire body go still; every fibre of his being is focused through the eye-piece. Snow leopards rarely sell themselves cheaply. They make you work for every single sighting! Some of our best sightings have followed only a momentary glimpse of the top of a head or the swish of a tail from behind a rock. And then a game of patience ensues. The entire experience is in itself an almost spiritual connection with this indescribably beautiful landscape and its wild inhabitants.
Booking in at the Snow Leopard Lodge is the simplest way of looking for snow leopards allowing you complete flexibility as to the number of days you want to spend and requiring none of the elaborate preparations that are needed to camp out with all the problems of cold aggravated by altitude. Add to this the exclusivity of the location which makes for a truly superb high-altitude wilderness experience.