Rumbak Valley and the search for a Snow Leopard

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November 7th 2015
Published: January 5th 2016
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Rumbak Valley - Ladhaki Loving

From Leh, we drove one hour to the entrance of Hemis National Park, Ladakh. From the beginning of the Rumbak Valley, we began a hike towards our new home for five nights. About ten mules were transporting our belongings plus camping equipment as we hiked ahead into the valley. Embarrassingly the mules overtook us, and were clearly better acclimatized! Once at camp, we erected tents in the most stunning location I think I have ever camped. Before nightfall arrived, we hiked up a short but steep hill nearby to observe the surrounding jagged mountains, and to look for snow leopards…no easy task! The Rumbak Valley is considered the capital city of Snow Leopards, but has no real significance when there are only about nine of them roaming around this whole area!

We spent the next five days with our guide Gyalson, who took us on multiple daily hikes in search of the illusive snow leopard. We were up early and sometimes stayed out all day, sometimes returning to camp. The more we clambered up and over rocky peaks, the easier it got as we were adjusting to the altitude, allowing us to go a bit higher each day.

Rising early to watch the silent sunrise, the enormity of the mountains around us and being in the wild was beautiful. Not something I can appreciate every day, it was humbling. Stepping out of a tent into the valley erased the concerns of lack of shower or running water. The scene over rode it all really.

A Magical Day

One magical evening of snow led into the most magical day of our trip. We awoke to a snow frosted scene and Gyalson had found foot prints from a snow leopard. We abandoned breakfast and began to follow them! Thankfully it had stopped snowing and there were perfectly preserved prints for a BBC wildlife style leopard search party. Traipsing through dried bushes, possibly juniper, there was a fragrant smell of flowers in the air, which is more than can be said for any other fragrance around after day three of no showers! The sun was glorious on top of snowy mountains and everything looked as though it had been dusted with icing sugar. The leopard led us up stream, crossing and winding past the frozen water and ice skating across parts, with a comical fall along the way of course! It was an exciting adventure following the footprints and wondering where it would lead….

It led to the most fantastic isolated and majestic spot in the Husing valley! Our guide had spotted the elusive leopard about twenty metres ahead and it had run up a steep slope nearby. He looked to the slope opposite and suggested we scramble up it to get a higher viewpoint….and scramble and traverse we did! It was about sixty degrees steep and covered in snow! After the epic climb, every step on the four hours we had taken to get there, had been worth it. I sat up and scanned the 360 degrees around me overlooking the Himalayas. A viewpoint I never want to forget. The scene, the stillness and the beauty. I will always be grateful to that snow leopard for leading me to that moment, even though I did not see him myself. He gave us an exciting chase!

Miraculously the boys from camp appeared with our breakfast! What heroes! Once refuelled, we continued on clambering up another peak yet, and I think I have run out of superlatives to describe it. The height estimate was 4300 metres altitude, and we were exploring the ridges around, and helped our guide put up some prayer flags at the top as it is believed the wind will catch the prayers.

One day we hiked to Rumbak Village, made up of about 11 families. We had a cup of tea made by a 60/70 year old man with about two teeth, plenty of wrinkles, and probably a tale to tell for each one of them.

The catering was excellent considering the facilities and our location! Each day there was a different traditional dish such as momos, chapatis, paratha, curry and stew. Daily picnics in the middle of nowhere and masala chai meant we were very well looked after in the cold.

Side story: Mouse Gate

A bit of drama one nighttime...Headtorch in place, getting ready to go to sleep, I shifted my large backpack in order for it to be a pillow…to my complete surprise (and fear!) a small white mouse appeared and ran to the edge of the tent! Leisa was the brave one trying to shoo it out as I jumped up and out of there! The mouse ran out and under
Prayer Flags up highPrayer Flags up highPrayer Flags up high

In Tibetan Culture, the wind carries the prayers
a rock, after which I proceeded to shake everything out hoping there were no more! In any other situation I would probably request a change of room as I am a slight rodent phobe…but when you are in the middle of nowhere there is not a lot of choice!

By the end of camp, despite looking forward to a shower, we were sad to leave the peacefulness of the valley and the remoteness. We were in a world without wifi and beeps and bustle and it was quite lovely! It was a lesson in being content, and realising that actually some of the things we think we need, we can always go without. Nature and good company can satisfy a soul. (That being said, the shower was bliss!).


Additional photos below
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14th January 2016

hy really nice blog with beautiful pictures
Hi there am gng on the same trek in feb 2016 can you please guide me sme major information///what kind of snow gear I require for the trek///how long is the total trek///
14th January 2016

That's great - I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. I spent five nights in the valley. Each day was a different trek - returning to camp. As for equipment - strong boots, waterproofs, plenty of layers - thermals (top and bottom), gloves, hat etc. Head-torch was very useful at night. Definitely worth investing in a proper sleeping bag - mine was goose-down and claimed to be good up to -40 degrees - absolutely worth it for a good/warm nights sleep. Thermos for warm drinks, hand sanitizer, sunglasses. Those were probably the key things I used!! Hope it helps, and have a great time!
30th June 2016

I missed this one but for sure will go back and do it.....
Rumbak Valley I didnt this year. I did visited Ladakh and one of the top listed travel places in Asia. it was a great experience first being in Srinagar. I had gone there on a solo trip on a friend's recommendation. Not even for a moment I felt lonely. Lot of nice people in Srinagar and in Ladakh was something which I will never forget. I did booked my travel plan with one company and they did good job and Overall it was a nice experience. but I always wanted to go back to Ladakh and do this trek again and again. I am planing on June 2017 if anyone wants to join me let me know...

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