I am forever humbled when I bear witness to the sheer expanse of the Himalayas. To stand amidst these skyscrapers of geological history is a privilege I have enjoyed for over a decade. However, as a natural history photographer, the one enigma that continues to fascinate me the most through all these years is the 'Grey Ghost of the Himalayas' – the Snow Leopard.

A master of camouflage, nine out of ten times you encounter this spectacular cat, you think you are gazing at a stationary rock before the slightest movement makes you realise that you are witnessing one of the most charismatic species of the Himalayas. While their camouflage abilities are to be admired, it is also the biggest challenge of working with Snow Leopards. The Snow Leopard loves its cover, and its coat helps it blend with the habitat flawlessly.

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A Snow Leopard pauses for a second in the vast, snow-laden terrain of the Himalayas. Prey is hard to come by here, and why these cats require large areas to roam. Male Snow Leopards need areas as vast as 200sq.km. while females need roughly half of that.
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The image shows how well Snow Leopards camouflage against their habitat. They hide in plain sight when they stalk their prey, emerging only to make the kill.

As a photographer, isolation of the subject from the background is key and that can only happen when the cat walks on snow. It is these uncertainties and challenges you face that pull you back to the subzero temperatures of the upper Himalayas in search of this mysterious feline.

It is said that Snow Leopard imagery is not for the faint-hearted. I would add that it is not for the weak-headed either as Snow Leopard documentation is also a mind game and not just a mere display of physical endurance. They tend to sleep through the day and have very short time frames of movement. That doesn’t mean the Snow Leopard won’t act during the day, like all cats they too are unpredictable. Patience is the keyword; even when your fingers are freezing and the frigid winds shut down your brain, you have to brave your heart and soldier on – all in pursuit of that one moment.

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Snow Leopards have their own personal snow boots in the form of fur-covered feet. Their wide paws enable them to walk over rocky surfaces as well as on deep snow. Additionally, their front legs are shorter, which helps them to manoeuvre the hilly landscape.

White is an astonishing colour; the starting point of an easel. When I experience the grandeur of this white canvas, of the snow-covered Himalayas, creativity for me as a visual artist flows from all corners of my viewfinder. The sheer presence of that mighty predator on the sheet of white – however small or big it may be in the frame – is an ever aspirational and quintessential image.

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Ibex and Blue Sheep (Bharal) form the primary prey base for the Snow Leopard. The cat also feeds on smaller fare such as marmots, hares and pheasants.
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Snow Leopards have powerful legs that help them traverse rugged mountainous terrains easily. They can actually jump as far as 50 feet. Apart from their strong legs, their tails also aid them with balance.
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Snow Leopards regularly patrol their home range that can extend over hundreds of square kilometres. To communicate, they leave scent marks by claw raking, urine spraying or rubbing their cheeks and head on rocks and trees.
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Snow Leopards need vast snowy mountainous terrain to survive. Apart from human encroachment of their habitat, climate change poses a significant threat to them. It has been noted that up to 30% of their habitat in the Himalayas could be affected by climate change.