Ghost of the Himalaya

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March 23rd 2015
Published: December 29th 2015
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Deli to Hemis NP

Last night we transferred all unnecessary gear into one case and left it at the hotel in Delhi, we entered the car taking us to the airport at 4 am packed breakfast in one hand extreme cold sleeping bags in the other, we arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our early morning flight. The flight to the Himalayan city of Leh took a little over an hour and a half, the views of the mountain peaks projecting through the clouds were truly breathtaking. We were met at the city's tiny airport by Tharpa our guide who showed us to our hotel, the temperature is -8 degrees but the sky was clear and there was no wind so the cold was not too bad. Leh has a particular Tibetan feel about it, clean fresh air and garbage free streets were certainly a pleasant change. We are under strict instructions to take it easy today as the air is thin and we must acclimatise as quickly as we can so after arriving at out hotel we had a hearty breakfast and retired to our bed till around 1 pm. At 2pm Tharpa arrived and we went into the main shopping area to wander through the few shops that are open in winter in search of more cold weather gear, there wasn't a great deal to choose from but I did purchase a sheepskin hat and a fleece. We then walked slowly back to the hotel to ensure we did not get short of breath or a headache, Tharpa arrived at 4 pm so we went to visit Shanti Stupa which sits prominently on hill overlook the town before travelling to a local restaurant hidden away in the old towns back alleys where we had some wonderful vegetarian momo (dumplings) and broth, I couldn't help ordering more, momo has been a favourite of mine for many years and it is especially good when it costs $3 to feed three people.

I slept in my jocks last night the cold is not bad in our room as there is heating, the bathroom however is like a freezer and I couldn't get the water to work perhaps the pipes are frozen. After another big buffet breakfast we ambled slowly back up the hill to the market again to purchase a few bits and pieces and to go to the chemist, drugs are very cheap here and prescriptions are not necessary it seems. The rest of the morning we spent sitting outside in the pale sunlight drinking tea and chatting to various people at the hotel, before heading off with the guide a little after lunch to doing some bird watching on a nearby river where we encountered a rare Ibis bill and a Mountain weasel, the weasel was fascinating to watch as it fished in a small stream, after a few minutes it darted of with a large fish lodged in its jaws. The rest of the day was spent resting until dinner time and our large dish of non-spicy food including vegetables cooked in butter. After dinner we prepared our luggage and watched cable TV, we head off into the National Park tomorrow morning.

The day dawned cold and clear, after an icy shower we headed down to an excellent breakfast before being picked up by Tharpa just after 9 am. We travelled for about 45 minutes down some windy mountain roads, admiring the stunning views until we hit the rocky dirt roads on the edge of the park, we are still not sure how the
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Tibetan style Mosque
Suzuki swift made to the mouth of the Husang Valley. Here we were met by a group three ponies and some little donkeys who it seems will carry our gear up to the base camp, we set off first but were quickly over taken as we walk slowly to avoid altitude sickness, soon we rounded a bend in the trail and there was our camp, colourfully draped in prayer flags streaming in the breeze. Our camp crew set up our much to small tent while we ate biscuits and drank green, we then set up our sleeping bags, before having some lunch in the warm midday sun. Around 2.30 pm we went on our first hike, we both put on our layers of cold weather gear before following our guide Dorjay up the path toward the surrounding hills. It wasn't long till we spotted our first wildlife, small partridge type birds called Chuukars, it was amazing how fast they moved across the ground. It was not long trill we saw our first snow leopard sign, foot prints and claw marks but no leopards yet, we did see blue sheep and a golden eagle which was pretty cool. We turned to camp a little before 5 pm spotting a woolly hare along the way, it is getting much colder now so we are rugged up in our fleeces, it was freezing and we couldn't stop shivering so we moved into the cooking tent by the heater. After a huge dinner we retired to our tents and sleeping bags, I am too long to lay out flat in the tent and as a result I had an horrendously uncomfortable night.

I requested another tent the next morning and asked Dorjay to pinch a portaloo off another group who are leaving this morning so at least we can sit in comfort, as we ate a very western breakfast in the cooks tent. It was soon time for another hike up a long valley, we both struggled to breath so it was going to reach how hill top viewing area, Dorjay spotted a Lammergeier soaring over a mountain peak, some snow-cocks and more blue sheep. We arrived back at camp around midday I was exhausted from lack of sleep so I crawled into my new tent while Ruth chatted to our crew, it was toasty warm in there so I stripped off and slept. I woke for another big lunch and a visit from a large local yak who loves apples, it was then time to head off in to the mountains again in search of leopards. As we were leaving a donkey arrived with my sleeping tent and a large dining tent with a heater which will certainly be more comfortable on cold evenings, we saw plenty of leopard sign including territorial markings and paw prints but no sightings of the big cat yet. In the afternoon we set off up the lovely Rumbak Valley crossing a frozen river (amazing I have never seen one before) before following an age old path along the cliff face when a family of Blue sheep crossed the path in front of me moving up from the river and making their way slowly up the steep mountainside, it is amazing how such large animals can be so nimble. Next we sighted our first Pika, which is guinea pig type rodent that lives in rock fells, they move so quickly that they were difficult to photograph particularly with my camera malfunctioning in the cold. As the skies began to darken we returned to the camp site for dinner, our new tents were up and we were able to read while we waited for dinner in our new dining tent, dinner was huge and extremely tasty as usual.

My first night in the new tent was much more comfortable and I slept quite well, tea was brought at 7 am, the wet ones have frozen and my roll on deodorant exploded this morning, nice big breakfast then we were off to Tarbung Valley, again we crossed the frozen river before walking slowly up hill for several kilometres, in the thin atmosphere it was really tough going when we stopped on a hill top we were just below the snow line. Not much to see other than bidlife here, Yellow billed choughs, a Golden eagle and the odd Lammergrier; around midday we began the walk back to camp the terrain is difficult here as we followed a tributary back towards the main river. Dorjay pointed out some camera traps set up by the BBC, it took us five times longer to cover the distance to the camp than it would at normal altitude, lunch was hot and my tent was warm so I took another nap. In the afternoon we climbed high up the Husing Valley and immediately encountered a large herd of Blue sheep they were so close I couldn't help but get some good photographs. I was sure we would encounter a leopard today but alas it was not to be, we spent several hours standing on a freezing ridge-line before one of the lads brought us hot tea and cake.

Back to the Rumbak Valley this morning the walk was mostly flat so it was not strenuous, we crossed the river twice which I always enjoy before coming across a frozen waterfall which is another first for me, we also saw a very rare White browed tit warbler, a Griffin vulture and various others we had seen previously. Ruth thought she spotted a Leopard today but it was not to be so after the snowball fight she made one instead out of snow, Dorjay thought it was very funny. The trek back to the camp took about an hour and was very pleasant as was the stroll Ruth and I took up the valley before another amazingly sumptuous dinner.

Slept poorly last night and had a huge nose bleed this morning the high altitude plays havoc with me, no sooner did we walk out of camp we spotted fresh leopard tracks, our guide zoomed off to a high point and we followed slowly behind, he is extremely excited as are we, three hours standing in the freezing wind soon dampened our optimism and we were both a bit depressed by the time we stumbled back into camp. Dinner consisted of a very strange but none the less yummy pizza, later Ruth hanged me at Hangman for the first time. Cold night, my water bottle froze solid, during breakfast we heard a landslide on a slope close to camp, we do not know what triggered it but a Blue sheep may be the likely culprit. We were heading toward the Rumbak Valley when Dorjay sighted more tracks heading toward the Husing so we went that way instead climbing to a high rise overlooking the valley, it snowed today, my first snow ever quiet an interesting experience, particularly as the sky was clear and blue. We remained on the that hill till early afternoon, it was the coldest day so far, on return to camp we discovered a new group was arriving and were setting up camp nearby. Six days with out a leopard sighting.

I am trying to stay positive but each day with out a sighting makes that more difficult, cornflakes and pancakes for breakfast this morning, then off to Rumbak Valley, easily my favourite destination, today we turned left where the valley forks and continued on to the charming and remote Rumbak Village. Tibetan Buddhist architecture graces the small village which has a population of about 30 families, we stopped for tea and biscuits at the lovely warm Dhung Guest house, while Dorjay disappeared to make a call on the village satellite phone, we purchased a number of felt animal figures including snow leopards. We left the village and walked back down the valley to the fork and moved up to high ground here we had lunch and remained till early afternoon before beginning the trek back to camp, on arrival I found a German in our toilet, I will have to do something about that as there is no door and I dont want these people walking in on Ruth. We took an evening walk down the trail towards Tarbung Valley before dinner. Before bed as I guarded the toilet I saw a Stone Marten staring back at me from down near the river, very exciting.

Friday morning and we see a wolf print as we head back up to Tarbung Valley, wind chill is certainly a factor here, three hours with out a sighting was enough, the trail here is dangerous especially when we are tired and returning to camp. After lunch Ruth and I went to the rock slide up Rumbak Valley to watch the Pika, unfortunately even the Pika are remaining unseen today. Later in the evening I tried to lure out the Stone Marten with food but that was also a failure. The final full day started with another huge breakfast although suppliers are running out and many of the little extras have disappeared, I stiff climb up the mountainside followed by four hours of boredom still failed to find a snow leopard, after lunch we set out again in a futile attempt to see a ghost cat, and futile it was although we watched a family of Chukars jumping up a hillside, sighted a Pika and more wolf prints. I think even the chef feels our pain as he made us a lovely farewell cake with leopard paws on it for dinner.

Final day dawned clear we packed up our gear then had one last breakfast before walking the one and half kilometres out to the road by 10.30 am we were on the way back to Leh, disappointed but also elated as we had just spent ten days in the Himalayas, in extremely cold conditions soaking up nature. On arrival in Leh we prepared our gear for our departure the next day, checked in then went to the markets to purchase some nice souvenirs, and pick up some other bits and pieces before returning to the Mahey Retreat. We sat on the lawn in the sunshine drinking strong bad Indian beer until Tharpa arrived to join us around 3 pm we chatted for a few hours then went and had our first showers in ten days before finally making management understand that Indian food was not high on our list of priorities, so eggs and chips it was.

After breakfast we travelled by taxi to the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport for our flight back to Delhi, we had comfortable seats at the front and enjoyed the views of the Himalayas from the air, we were met at Delhi airport and transported to our hotel, On arrival I headed off to get a haircut, shave, pizza and other supplies before settling in for a good nights sleep. In the morning we changed hotels I booked a room the previous day for six hours, so we we went out for breakfast before spending the day lazing about. At 6 pm we returned to the Hotel Almondz where we were met by our driver and were taken to the airport. We boarded our flight to Singapore a few hours later, it was a pleasant flight and we were glad to finally leave India.

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31st December 2015

This is on our short list. Wow, great blog.

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