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
g. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the natives and their cuisine, while staying
h. Native experiential lodging in the homestays
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… 🙂