Let me be truthful – there’s only a trip or two that I’ve ever done, short or long, where I’ve travelled to keep an appointment with a single animal. Panthera uncia was different. Better known as the Snow Leopard in simple English, no Indian animal has ever come close to being as enigmatic. I’ve always dreamt of the day when the Grey Ghost would saunter across the road in front of me during one of my numerous trips to the Himalayas. Writer Peter Matthiessen’s words rung true on every one of those journeys –
Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn’t that wonderful?
Finally, in March this year, I decided to undertake a journey focused solely on the Snow Leopard. I travelled for four days from the plains of Chandigarh through the foothills of the Himalayas at Shimla, through most of Kinnaur district and then into the high Himalayas of Lahaul and Spiti, before arriving at the tiny village of Kibber, situated at an altitude of 4,270 meters (or 14,200 feet) above mean sea level. It was winter, with temperatures dropping below -20C. A blanket of white spread out over the mountains and the valleys below. This was the home of the elusive Shen (as the Snow Leopard is known locally). And for the next seven days, it would be mine.
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