In December, I trekked the Indian Himalayas for two weeks in search of snow leopards with Spanish couple I didn’t know, a tour guide, and five local trackers. It was as cold as you can imagine – reaching temperatures of -35° F at night. We slept in tents on frozen ground, and in homestays with thin mattresses and thick blankets. We had no indoor plumbing – pit toilets and no showers – for two weeks. We wore layers upon layers of clothing, sweating in the sun as we hiked nearly vertical trails during the day; toes going numb inside sweaty socks that froze soon after the sun slipped behind the nearby ridges.
This was my Christmas and my New Year for 2017.
My present was delivered on the third day. A snow leopard. The build-up to the sighting was screenplay perfection. Our trackers spotted a blue sheep (the snow leopard’s favorite prey), dead on the ridge above our camp. They inspected the frozen carcass and found no obvious signs of trauma, just a dribble of blood at the corner of his mouth. Certainly within the realm of possibility of a snow leopard kill. Later, a local reported snow leopard tracks on the road leading to our camp. Trackers dispersed across the valley, scanning the rocky ledges and cliffs with spotting scopes. We sat quietly scanning, until one of the trackers came running down a steep hillside, and delivered the news: a snow leopard.
We watched him for four days, as he stayed to feed on the frozen carcass, fully within view.
This experience is certainly once in a lifetime, and something this cat lady and wildlife advocate will never forget. But, beyond being able to watch one of the world’s rarest cats in nature, I was able to immerse myself in a culture that I would most certainly never have seen otherwise.
This part of India is very unique. It is surrounded by and influenced by China, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Unlike the rest of India, the people believe in Buddhism, and the monasteries and shrines that dot the landscape are reminiscent of Nepal. Yet the culture and architecture is modern, bustling, and similar to southern India.
The landscapes are stunningly beautiful, and my photos are filled with natural rock references useful for our work.
While this trip was fulfilling a highly personal desire to connect deeply with nature, it also provided insight into cultural references we can use for story and habitat development. And, it shaped me as a person—making me more independent, strong, and able to withstand more than I could ever imagine. It is the type of trip that exemplifies the GO! program, and I am just so thankful that I was able to do it with PGAV’s help.