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OT: Tell us a bit about yourself...
Tsering Angmo: I was born in Rumbak village inside the Hemis National Park in Ladakh. Traditionally, my family members are livestock herders. I am currently completing a Bachelor of Arts degree from Punjab University, while working full time.
OT: How did you end up in the travel industry?
Tsering Angmo: It all began in the sixth grade when Rinchen Wangchuk and Jigmet Dadul from the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC) visited my village to talk to us about the importance of wildlife. At the time, I thought it was hilarious that they got so excited when they spotted a bharal or ibex, as these were animals we saw every day! But their visit sparked my interest in nature. In Class 10 and 12, I attended the Nature Guide Training Courses run by Rinchen and Jigmet. They encouraged me to pursue a career as a nature guide but my family was apprehensive — how would a young girl climb mountains and accompany guests into the wild on her own? After a few successful trips, my family developed faith in my abilities.
OT: Your first experiences on the job?
Tsering Angmo: I accompanied two foreign visitors into the Hemis National Park on my first trip. I was very nervous as my English wasn’t very good and I thought, “What will I do if they ask too many questions!” But once I reached Hemis, I realised it wasn’t so difficult — this was home. My guests were delighted when I identified marmots, an endangered Tibetan argali and fresh snow leopard scats. I learnt a lot too — they showed me how to differentiate between male and female birds.
OT: What are your favourite spots in Ladakh?
Tsering Angmo: My favourite region is near Tso Moriri and Tso Kar between June and September. On a single trip, I spotted 48 bird species, including black-necked cranes, orioles, ibisbills and Tibetan sandgrouse. I also saw voles and a five-member wolf pack. My other favourite is the Phugtal monastery in Zanskar, for its isolation and beauty.
OT: The best part of your job?
Tsering Angmo: Using my nature guide skills to teach Ladakhi children about their environment and its importance. At first they hated wolves and snow leopards, as they knew that these predators attacked livestock. But through field trips and animal-inspired games (Pin the Tail on the Snow Leopard and Fauna Bingo), their enthusiasm grew. They now go home and teach their parents about Ladakhi animals and the environment!
OT: Has the attitude in your village changed too?
Tsering Angmo: There have been many changes in Rumbak since I trained as a nature guide in 2005. The youngsters who received training take visitors for multi-day nature hikes, while other families rent camping grounds and pack horses. SLC also helped us start homestays under the Ladakh Himalayan Homestays banner as long as we promised not to kill snow leopards and wolves. My ama-lay [mother] and sister-in-law run our homestay and we get income from trekking groups. All this has helped compensate us for the livestock losses we incur due to snow leopard and wolf attacks. I remember when I was younger, our whole village used to search out wolf dens and kill the cubs. But since the homestays and nature guide programmes began, not a single wild animal has been killed. In fact, we Rumbak residents now feel these predators are the ornaments of our mountains as they have brought us livelihoods.
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