I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do my MSc. research at @imperialcollege up in Spiti in India with @ncf.india and @snowleopardtrust. This is what home looked like for a month! Although my project primarily dealt with assessing vegetation responses to livestock in the area, the prospect of stumbling upon a snow leopard was definitely a motivation for taking up the project (growing up, it had always been at the top of my bucket list!) However, summer sightings were unlikely I had been told.
After three weeks of walking numerous kilometres every day at 4000m+ altitudes, I decided to take a break from work on the 21st of June. This also happened to be the longest day of the year. I casually strolled to a cliff face about 15 minutes from camp holding up my binoculars to scan for ungulates like blue sheep. A few minutes in, I saw some movement and thought to myself, "whoa, that is one big blue sheep!". I held up my binoculars and saw an unmistakable tail. It was a snow leopard! Breathless and shaky, I reached for my camera and reviewed the picture on the tiny LCD screen.... "one, two, (squinting).... three!
What had started out as a cloudy day quickly turned into perfection! The clouds split and for the next hour, a mother snow leopard and two juvenile cubs stretched out in the soft evening sun. Sunburnt, but ridiculously happy, I sprawled out on the opposite side of the gorge between the snow leopards and myself and watched the family for close to an hour. I managed to get a few pictures with my (very) inadequate 250mm lens. As the evening gradually set in, the three leopards rose reluctantly. Stretching like housecats these 'ghosts of the mountains' slowly walked away deeper into the craggy cliff face and disappeared.