When Lady Luck has her eyes set on you, she makes appearances in unlikely places and in unlikely ways.
A Snow Leopard was the last thing I was expecting during my two-week trip to the heart of Zanskar. Being winter, I was hoping to see and photograph no more than a bird or two at the villages we encounter on the way. Our guide Lobsang, who had been beating these tracks for more than ten years had never seen a Snow Leopard in this part of Ladakh. Same was true with our tour leader Manish, who had been visiting Zanskar every winter for the last five years.
It was the ninth day of our trek and we had begun the downstream journey from Zangla Village in Zanskar to Leh. Taking advantage of the roads built to traverse within the remote regions of Zanskar, we were taking a car for the first fifteen kilometers before the road ends and the walk begins.
As we were driving from Pidmo Village to Tsarak Dho, someone in the car spotted a group of Ibex on the other side of the slope, perhaps about half-a-kilometer away. The Ibex, about a dozen of them, were sprinting fast along the slope. For a moment we wondered why they were running so fast. Someone suggested that they were perhaps scared by our car. But we were too far and that was unlikely. Gazing at them from the window of the car, I silently wondered what made them sprint. That’s when I saw an odd one in the group. The last one among the runners appeared to have an unusually long tail, unlike rest of the group with short raised tails. I shouted to Lobsang with excitement and said, “something is chasing them.”
Lobsang, who has grown up in Changthang region seeing many snow leopards eat up their sheep, had a second look and decidedly said, “it is a snow leopard.” There was a sudden burst of excitement in the group. We stopped the car and got down quickly for a good look.
While we were getting out from the jeep, the action on the other side of the slope had come to an end as quickly as we had seen it begin. The group of ibex had managed to give a slip to the leopard and the chaser had given up. A few ibex had got separated from the group, but none were in the danger of being caught. We lost sight of the leopard for a few seconds until Lobsang traced it again, emerging slowly from a depression in the slope. It now walked slowly up the hill with a grace that only a big cat can display, despite having lost chase. Its head though, was drooped and barely seen from the distance that we were at, perhaps with a sense of resignation arising from the failed chase.
As he walked slowly uphill on a scaly patch of snow, I asked Lobsang to keep an eye on it and returned to fetch my camera from the car. The leopard allowed me a few poor-yet-recognizable shots before it went behind a bush and out of our sight.