Culture & Society

My Date With A Snow Leopard In Lahaul Spiti

Snow leopards are seen mostly in the winter months of December to March when the valley receives snow and they come out in search of prey in the white landscapes

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Snow leopard spotted in Lahaul Spiti Photo: Forest department, Lahaul Forest Division
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Beyond the Atal Tunnel in the beautiful Lahaul Valley, there is an elusive animal called the snow leopard. The craze for just catching a glimpse of this beautiful animal can be seen with the tourists coming to the valley in temperatures ranging from -10 to -20 degrees Celsius.

People wait for hours, days, and even weeks just to catch a glimpse of it. In the early morning hours of March 18, I received a call from Divisional Forest Officer Aniket Wanve informing me about a chance to sight the beautiful animal near Jobrang – a quaint village with its breathtaking landscapes. Jobrang is an hour’s drive from Keylong—the district headquarter.

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The information was thrilling indeed. Sighting snow leopards is the rarest of the things even as the district has often been in headlines for the population of snow leopards not only surviving but also increasing.  

Snow leopards are seen mostly in the winter months of December to March when the valley receives snow and they come out in search of prey in the white landscapes. The animal is rarely spotted and hardly photographed.

Usually, one has to rely on locals, known for their deep interest and love for the wildlife. They often keep scanning through the mountains; the carcasses of Ibex and the presence of Himalayan Tahr. It’s an indicator of the snow leopard's presence around them. I never wanted to miss this golden opportunity.

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We left Keylong to visit Jobrang, carrying our cameras and binoculars to capture some memorable moments, and also preserve the event. The locals and forest division had already set up cameras and binoculars to spot the beautiful animal.

As the excitement was growing, the animal did not make us wait for a long time. Approximately, after an hour of waiting, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful snow leopard through our cameras and binoculars. Our hearts were filled with joy and exuberance.

With all cameras in action mode and hearts pounding, we scanned the majestic, elegant and quiet creature emerging against the snowy shadows in the mountains. With bated breath, we watched this animal navigating the rocky terrain with effortless grace. Every movement was a testament to its adaptability to the habitat of the high altitude district.

We saw the animal approaching the carcass of an Ibex. The first sight was of its beautiful tail, then we could see the animal feasting on the Ibex.

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Snow leopard spotted in Lahaul Spiti Photo: Forest department, Lahaul Forest Division
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It was around 1 pm in the day and the sun was bright and warm, braving a mild chill in the air, we spent around three hours observing the movement of the snow leopard—the elusive cat as many call it. The scene was like watching a finest wildlife film straight from the authentic sighting place.

Sighting the animal through the bushes, snow, and rocks is a tough task. But we were lucky to observe it moving across the snow, feasting on the ibex and drinking water, playing like a kid, all alone like a king or the prince of snow. Lucky are those who could sight it live; blessed were we who could see the beautiful animal. We were also impressed by the beautiful long tail of the snow leopard, which helps it balance amidst the difficult terrain of mountains.

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We also witnessed the camouflage of its beauty, which left us unsighted many times. The beautiful head, eyes, and face left us awestruck. As I pen down this article two days after the sighting, we also received information that a mother and a cub were sighted in the same area. This reinforces the importance of habitat protection and environmental conservation in areas like Lahaul Spiti, where every stakeholder including the District Administration, Forest Department, locals, and tourists, must collaborate to keep the environment clean and protect nature in its natural habitat.

Lahaul Spiti District is one of the largest districts in the country area-wise and one of the smallest population-wise. It is a district with a rich culture, heritage and biodiversity.

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Earlier, the district used to remain disconnected for more than 6 months as Rohtang Pass (13,059 feet) would be officially closed after heavy snow.

But now with the construction of the landmark Atal Tunnel Rohtang, the valley is open for most parts of the year. Throughout the year, tourists flock to the district, eager to witness the snow and pristine forests along with the snow leopard, Ibex, Himalayan Tahr, and Red Fox. Travelers visiting Leh have to pass through Lahaul, connecting Leh via BaraLacha La pass, and those visiting Kargil pass through Shuinkula. The key tourist destinations include Sissu, Tandi Sangam, Trilokinath, Chandratal, Key Monastery, Tabo, Hikkim, Chicham Bridge, and Jispa Village.

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Rahul Kumar, is 2016-batch IAS officer currently posted as Deputy Commissioner, Lahaul-Spiti

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