Before we get into the experience regarding the Snow Leopard Trek, I need to take a moment to explain the inner workings of my mind. Imagine the pink panther and its quirky soundtrack. Without any dialogues, the silent cartoon has moved millions of people around the world with its interesting visuals and sound effects. That was what my first peek into the world of wildlife at Ladakh was like.
I felt like a cartoon character coming to life when I stepped into Hemis national park. The life and landscape in the forests of Ladakh were different from the regular stuff I had seen on the National Geographic and Discovery channel. The terrain was dry, barren, and partially frozen (peak winter season).
My fellow trek mates’ experiences were no less. They were telling me that they felt like they had walked into a Sci-fi movie or a part of Mars. When did they ask me how I felt?
I replied – “I think I have stepped into a comic book or a sequel to the animated movie Rango 2”.
This is because every scenario I had enjoyed viewing growing up: the chase sequence, glowing eyes, ominous sounds, evil laugh, sneak attacks, sleeping/snoring, hide and seek, eating continuously and teeth shattering came to life in this remote corner of the deserted island I had spent a good portion of a week in.
1. The chase sequence like "Scooby-Doo" –
In our 7 days and 6-night program, we waited for 6-7 hours hoping to catch a glimpse of the Snow Leopard every day. We used to keep our eyes peeled open to spot any source of life moving around. It was tough to find even a single bird around. So, even the slightest of moments elicited disproportionately high hope and excitement from us.
Sometimes, this movement we spotted would have been a small bird or goat far away. By the time we reached the spot, the bird/goat often moved farther away.
The entire process was like chasing a ghost. We would frantically move from one spot to another and squat and duck in weird positions to spot things around us.
2. Glowing eyes like “Adams Family” –
Peeing in the open space, late in the night is a part of the trekking experience most of us are familiar with. You have to wake up, wear your head torch and walk towards the toilet tent in subzero temperatures. This experience only gets more interesting on the snow leopard expedition. The forests of the Hemis National Park are home to the brown fox.
So, our walks in the night towards the toilet tent were often accompanied by mysterious growls, cries, and spotting of a pair of glowing eyes in the wild. The brown foxes are highly inquisitive by nature. Although they are harmless to humans, it easily takes 2-3 days to get used to them.
3. Ominous sounds that accompany demonic woods in “Disney Movies” –
The winds of the Rumbak valley are highly deceptive. In the viewpoints of Tarbung valley, Husing point, and Rumbak village, they blow at 60 km/hr. When they pass through the cracks of hollow rocks, shrubs, and bushes, they create an ominous tune that is guaranteed to give you the shivers.
4. Evil laugh like the “Skeletor” –
We all know the famous villain from He-man, the monstrous Skeletor, and his evil laugh. In wildlife viewing, waiting is a part of the trek. Sometimes, even after waiting for several hours, you might not spot a single soul. That was frustrating for me and I felt the mountains and the clouds were taunting me with their evil laugh at the end of every long wait.
5. Sneak attacks like "Spider-Man"
This place is a paradise for photography lovers. Getting the right frame and facing the unpredictability of the terrain is something we always keep in mind. So, most of the time we try to be alert and place our camera in position. But, the wildlife of the Hemis National Park somehow chooses to make their appearance while striking dramatic poses at the exact same time when we decide to rest for a few minutes. When we try to reach our camera, they run away.
6. Sleeping or snoring like in Tom And Jerry
In Tom and Jerry, Tom has an iconic style of sleeping and snoring. He lets out a bubble from his nose and snores in rhythm. You can experience the same effect in tents. With more time in hand, an afternoon nap will automatically hit you after lunch. At high altitudes, people tend to snore for more oxygen and this scene was one of the funniest experiences I faced because everyone in my team had a different style of snoring.
7. Hide and seek like “Looney-Tunes” –
The landscape of the Hemis National Park is usually desolate except for one distinct bird of the Rumbak Valley. That’s the beautiful Eurasian Magpie. Eurasian Magpies have a funny voice and often sing to play with you. When you go near them, they tend to fly away. But, when you move away from them, they will fly close to you before gliding away with the wind. When you try to spot them again, they will reveal themselves and let out a funny sound again.
8. Eating continuously like “Kung Fu Panda” –
Here's a warning to all of you. Unlike most treks that are tedious, the Snow Leopard trek feels more like a vacation. Spotting a snow leopard requires patience. You need to wait long hours in cold temperatures on the outside. To keep you warm, hot food is continuously brought to your viewpoint. If you are conscious about calories, then you need to keep a check on what you eat. If you don't, then your six days tend to run in a non-stop flavorful loop of munching and eating.
9. Teeth shattering effect like “Daffy Duck”-
Ever watched the episode where the daffy duck gets frozen and its jaws start shaking so vehemently that its teeth shatter and fall?
Even if not Daffy Duck, you are likely to have witnessed a similar scene in several cartoons. The temperatures on the Snow leopard expedition evoke such reactions from you when you don’t layer up appropriately.
My team and I never really got to spot the Snow Leopard this time. But the expedition was still a unique experience nevertheless. We got to witness other life forms in the wild and got to learn a lot about snow leopard tracking. I gained many perspectives and it was hard to not appreciate the smaller things in life after the expedition. This episode will remain a classic in the collection of my memories.