GYAN on The Snow Leopard Expedition…In search of the Grey Ghost

Come winter and the the primal need to feel the cheer of the snow in the mountains sets in. It is a pleasantly lingering caress in the heart for any traveler and mountain lover.
If you have not been to Spiti in the winter and not witnessed the wonder that is Spiti covered in white, then my friend, this is it…You have to head out this December/January/February/March and experience Spiti in its best avtar. This is the time when the extremely shy Snow Leopard, also known as the Ounce is likely to be spotted.

Some of the highlights of the trip:
a. Snow Leopard excursion in the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary
b. Spotting exotic fauna
c. Drive through the snow covered valleys of Spiti, Kinnaur, Sarhan
d. visit to some of the highest villages in Spiti
e. visit to ancient monasteries in Dhankar, Tabo etc
f. insight into the daily lives of the local tribes and how they survive the
cruel winters
g. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the natives and their cuisine, while staying
with them
h. Native experiential lodging in the homestays

Short Itinerary:
Day 1: Shimla – Rekong Peo
Day 2: Rekong Peo – Kibber
Day 3: Snow Leopard sighting in Kibber
Day 4: Snow Leopard sighting in Kibber
Day 5: Snow Leopard sighting in Kibber
Day 6: Kibber – Rekong Peo
Day 7: Rekong Peo – Shimla

The elusive Snow Leopard is the native of the mountain ranges of Central and South East Asia, spread over a range of about 2 million sq. km. spanning The Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir, Tein Shans and Altai mountain ranges.
The SNow Leopard is listed as a vulnerable species as the global population is estimated at 10,000 mature individuals.The Indian Snow Leopard is estimated to be roughly 200 – 600 individuals living across 25 protected areas. The cat inhabits alpine and subalpine zones with altitude ranging between 3,000 mts and 4,500 mts. This zone ranging from Afghanistan to Mongolia and Western China. The cat has been spotted in AFghanistan, China, Bhutan, India, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Tajakhistan, Uzbekistan and Burma. In Indian Himalaya Lippa Asrang and Kibber wildlife sanctuary and Pin Valley in Himachal Pradesh are known as the home of Snow Leopards.
A Snow Leopard is an extremely shy carnivore and the highest probability of spotting it is in the peak winters (January to March). As this is their mating season, they are likely to venture out often. In summers, they retreat above the treeline into the high altitude alpine meadows and rocky areas
Snow Leopard preys mostly on Blue Sheep and Ibex and supplementing their diet with other livestock such as Marmot, Pika, Hares, Rodents and Birds. The cat can camouflage so easily that it is easy for it to disappear. Local often refer to it as “The Mountain Ghost”.
Our adventure will begin from the beautiful locales of Shimla. Of course, there is always the option of customizing it from Delhi or Chandigarh or from where ever you want to. The trip will officially begin from Shimla and then move on to the extreme landscape of Spiti. We will drive through this harsh terrain in luxury SUVs and with a back up emergency vehicle. As the conditions are harsh and unpredictable, it would be a good idea to keep a couple of buffer days in your kitty. In these few days, we will drive through the home of some rare fauna ranging from exotic birds, reptiles and mammals which include Tibetan Wolves, Snow Finches, Eurasian Golden Orioles and Red-fronted Rosefinch etc.
After visiting some of the ancient villages of Kinnaur and Spiti, we will either stay in Kibber or chicham, both ancient high altitude Spitian villages. We will be staying in a clean, warm and cozy homestay with the local families and trying out the local flavours of Spiti.
The next few days we will spend in the able company of some very experienced guides and spotters who have been trained by NFC and are natives of this region and that pretty much makes them an expert by default. Some of them have even had the good fortune of sighting the Mountain Ghost in their own villages or while grazing their livestock or have even had their livestock hunted down by a hungry cat in search for food.
The spotters and guides are equipped with walkie talkies which makes communication easy. Early in the mornings, they will scout for locations along the ridge lines and the gorges of Kibber National Park where the cat is likely to be spotted. Our entourage will leave early in the morning for these locations and spend the day hiking through the snow in search for the elusive Grey Ghost. We will find a different grand spot every day where we can pitch our sit-out tent and a warm lunch with soup will be served there.
The staff is highly trained and comprising of NFC trained guides and spotters, high altitude drivers and ports, and a great chef with an efficient kitchen staff to pamper you and to cater to all your needs. All the evenings in the homstay will be very interactive and an eye-opener with great stories from your hosts and the staff.
This is an absolute must do, people. If you want to see the Snow Leopard in all its glory, then this is the expedition to be on… 🙂

An Experiential Stay – dA Kkoott – Camping in the Wild

We at Mountaineerz subscribe to the school of thought that it is only when you explore, that you evolve.

dA kkoott offers a well rounded and a completely off-the-radar experiential stay coupled with hiking & exploratory experiences along with a variety of adventure sports.

dA Kkoott is just a short distance away from dA Base – Mountaineerz, Haripur, Manali. You can easily locate Mountaineerz on Google Maps and drive up to Manali from Delhi or Chandigarh or from where ever you like. It is quite a stretch but quite a ride too. The Grand Trunk Karnal highway connects Delhi to Manali via Chandigarh. The distance of over 560 Km of mettle highway leaves Delhi and passes through Haryana, Punjab and finally enters Himachal Pradesh. You pass through some significant northern cities like Panipat, Kurukrshetra, Ambala, Chandigarh, Bilaspur, Mandi and then crossing over the River Beas to Manali. A cheaper and comfortable way to travel is to take an overnight Volvo bus form Delhi or Chandigarh. If you take the Volvo, it would be a good idea to de-board at Patlikuhal bsu stand, which is about 16 Km short of Manali on the main highway. This is closer to dA Base – Mountaineerz in Haripur and somebody from Mountaineerz can also pick you up and drive you to dA Base. You can also choose to fly to Kullu-Manali airport in Bhuntar (about 36 Km from dA Base) and hire a cab from there or request Mountaineerz to arrange for your pick up.

Normally, when we have guests over, we arrange for them to be received by us in our vehicle and be driven to dA Base – Mountaineerz, as some guests are new to the area and worn out after an overnight journey. People are charmed when they reach dA Base – Mountaineerz, nestled in an apple orchard in a serene village and yet on the road, which makes it very easy to access. The army of puppies awaits to welcome them eagerly and luckily for us, so far we have always had dog and animal lovers visiting us. There have been a few who had their initial fears of the canine breed which these guys were very smart to obliterate by showing their people skills.

When we set out to develop dA Kkoott, The idea was to evolve an experience that would encompass the feel of the raw Himalayan village life but surrounded in intelligent luxury. And, from where I stand, even a bowl of hot soup, hot water and a comfortable bed to sleep in is what I call Super Luxury…. just kidding. dA kkoott has much more to offer than just these. dA Kkoott is a traditional himachali wood and stone home which is in an apple orchard in a village called Soil in the Kullu Valley. From dA Base – Mountaineerz, we drive up to the last road head and can comfortably park the vehicles in the common area in the village. Soil is the oldest village of the kullu valley and boasts of a rich heritage. They worship the same deity, Rishi Jandagini, as the locals from the village of Malana. This trail also connects the Kullu Valley with Parvati Valley and you can reach Malana, though it is a very challenging trek. The trail passes through this charming village and as you walk, you will have to negotiate friendly and hospitable locals, beautiful smiling children, cheerful cattle, small streams, temples and awesome himachali culture. It takes about 45 min of medium paced walking through the village and the forest. You walk all along the stream to reach the wooden cottage. There are two comfortable rooms with a tandoor there and are surrounded by a big balcony which opens into the forest. On the ground floor, there is a common hall and a sitting area, which, when we are with our friends and family, use it to cook as well. We have camping tents and sleeping bags there along with all the necessary equipment for camping, if any one wants to experience camping.

There is something for everyone here. If you are part of the breed that cannot survive without a fix of adrenaline at least once a day, then there are some awesome trials that you can wander on and you will be rewarded with some to-die-for sights and sounds. If you trek for a few hours from dA Kkoott deep in to the jungles of the Pir Panjaal range (which is also home to dA Kkoott), you will reach a very well hidden and a mammoth waterfall. Even most of the natives of the village of Soil have not been fortunate enough to see it. It is quite a hidden gem. The trail that one has to follow to reach the waterfall is rather treacherous, yet accessible with use of skill, wit and basic knowledge of walking the mountains.  Last time I went to the waterfall was with a group from Chennai. And, was it an experience! We happened to be hosting this event with a management company from Chennai. The group was a heterogeneous mix, with some people with great spirit and trekking experience and an undying thirst for adventure and some people on the exact end of the spectrum. You can only imagine the tension and madness that ensued.

dA Kkoott which you get to experience in summer season is completely different from dA Kkoott in winters or monsoons. In summer time, dA Kkoott is a reservoir of flora and fauna which, I may proudly say, is exotic and native of this region. This area is very fertile and great for organic farming and growing exotic flowers and vegetables. We have a kitchen garden here along with the wild vegetation bounty from which we get the supplies in summers. This is also a very popular activity with people who visit us. There are people who actually love getting their hands dirty and enjoying picking out the fresh vegetables which they themselves like to cook at dA Kkoott. Obviously, support from Mountaineerz is always there. There is a particular kind of wild fern that grows in the area and is extremely tasty when cooked. People go out during their day hike and come back to dA Kkoott loaded with the fern (lingdi) for dinner. As a group, it is a great way to connect because it involves everybody contributing to it. In winters, we have crazy amount of snow here. So, long live the tandoors! Also, it is a great time to go for a short day snow hike. Some people love exploring the wild in tough conditions and this forest has a lot to offer in terms of a winter snow experience. Or, you can choose to chill by the tandoor in the cozy rooms with a mug of coffee and music. The view in winter time is just surreal. There is no other word for it.

When I chill at dA Kkoott, a normal day there begins early as the rays of the sun seep up the mountain. The sun rise at dA Kkoott is a surreal experience in itself. After mugs and mugs of roasted Indian strong black coffee, I am kept rather busy by Troy (my Labrador) and also my shadow on all the treks and Simba and Pasha (my Himalayan Shepherd crossed with St. Bernard), who have been promoted from the status of “guest puppies” to the “Star Attractions” at dA Kkoott. When these dudes start chasing the birds there, it is pure madness. We go for a short stroll to the stream and hope that we are lucky to catch some rainbow trout. In the evenings, we BBQ the catch of the day along with potatoes and chicken for the non-veg pallet. Chopping wood for cooking and fire in hamaams and tandoors is an activity that every one has to contribute in. There are so many survival and life skills you acquire and hone on once you live in the jungle.

When chilling at dA Kkoott, you will realize what the word retreat means. It takes you away into a peaceful realm and you never want to go back. Lying in the hammock, as you flip through the pages of your favorite book, you will feel how time can stand still in the jungles and how silence is the only thing louder than words here.