Monday, 28 March 2016

Quest for the Snow Leopard - part 1 getting there!

2 years in the planning myself, Gina Nichol, Tom Bird and a group of friends, Derek & Tracey Barber, Steve Hinton, Alex Bevan and Dave Palmer all set off on our journey to Ladakh, India. After 1 night in Delhi we flew to Leh and soon arrived at our very comfy hotel for a day of acclimatization
At 3500m that's about 11500ft and a rather pleasant temperature of just minus 6 degrees we took a slow walk around town seeing a few commoner species such as the Robin Accentor , Great Tit and the common Hill Pigeons.
 Robin Accentor
The first of what we expected to be many curry's.
Later in the day we made a short drive to an area beside one of the rivers that flows near town. High on the list for most people was the unique looking Ibisbill and it didn't take us long to find 5 birds feeding along the stony river.
With the Ibisbills seen well we searched the roadside scrub finding Water Pipit, and literally dozens of White-winged Redstarts.
That was enough for our first day, remember we were supposed to be acclimatizing!
After a good nights sleep in a very warm hotel, we awoke to find it had snowed during the night, and this was the first major snow for the town for quite some time. Wth our cold weather gear on we set off in the minibus towards Hemis national Park. Along the way we witnessed several slow motion accidents because of the snow and icy roads. Out of town we made the hair raising journey up into the mountains along winding roads covered in snow with hundred foot drop offs just in case we didn't make a bend or two!
Our first stop beside the National Park sign found us a group of 12 Ladakh Urials (Red Sheep) not an easy animal to see. There were 9 males in the group making for an impressive show and a good start to our trip.
Continuing on we eventually came to a stop where we were met by a host of Donkeys waiting to carry all our equipment and luggage up the mountain. They were only small Donkeys so we all felt very sorry for them. Nevertheless it had to be done and we would have died if we had to carry any more than our binoculars and scopes.
Dave scored a success when he got put on one of the Donkeys! It took the rest of us about 3 hours to walk up to camp through stunning scenery where every rock and crevice could have been hiding a Snow Leopard.
Nearly there!
So by mid afternoon we eventually reached the area we were to camp for the next 8 or 9 nights.
The Donkeys had made it long before us and our superb team of cooks and spotters had already set up camp with hot tea and coffee and a cooked lunch waiting for us.
All around us were Chukars
That's the end of part 1 - see second post part 2

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