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OUR Himalayan Travel BLOG

Welcome to our blog and Social Media Page

 

As well as features about our Nepal & Bhutan tours, we'll also include articles of interest about Nepal& Bhutan too.

By Snow Cat Travel, Jul 17 2019 10:38AM


Charang (Tsarang), Upper Mustang, Nepal
Charang (Tsarang), Upper Mustang, Nepal

If you like high, wild, remote and authentic then the village of Charang in the former Kingdom of Mustang, Nepal more than ticks these “becoming harder and harder to find” boxes.


Sometimes spelled as Tsarang, the Tibetan influenced village of Charang lies at an altitude of around 12,000 feet on the sparsely populated Tibetan Plateau of Upper Mustang.


lthough Mustang is in Nepal, this high altitude desert wilderness that lies “behind” the mighty Himalayas is one of the last places on Earth where Tibetan Buddhism flourishes and even vestiges of the ancient Bon Po faith still exist.


Upper Mustang itself is definitely not a mass tourism destination. Less than 3,000 tourists per year venture into this arid landscape of weirdly wind eroded cliff faces and high mountains. Compare that with the 80,000 that set off on the Everest Base Camp Trek each year. Or the 47 million that visit the English Lake District!


For those wanting to get off the beaten track, Mustang and the village of Charang is most certainly that.


ABOUT CHARANG


Charang is actually the second largest village in the entire Mustang region. But, with just 130 or so homes and around 700 inhabitants…..that’s hardly large.


The village was once an important halt for the ancient caravan trade that once perilously plied their way between Tibet and India carrying large amounts of salt.


Nowadays Charang is a peaceful, serene sort of place……the kind of place where you can “feel the spirituality”.


With precious little rainfall and at such high altitude it’s a wonder that anything grows up here. Yet, the village is akin to a desert oasis, with carefully tended terraced fields adding greenery to an otherwise barren mountainscape with shades of brown, ochre, yellow and black. Indeed other than a little bit of passing tourist trade, agriculture is the main source of income here and the locals have ingeniously and with back breaking hard work managed to eek out what little water there is up here through irrigation channels.


Brightly coloured prayer flags waft on the cool breeze. Tibetan Buddhist Chortens and Mani (Prayer) Walls surround the village of typically “Mustang style” homes, which form a maze of narrow stone flagged alleyways and whitewashed mud and stone houses with flat timber topped roofs that blend so perfectly with the surrounding landscape.



Chorten, Charang, Mustang, Nepal
Chorten, Charang, Mustang, Nepal

Most tourists coming to Mustang are heading to Lo Manthang, the fabled “walled city” and capital of the former Kingdom of Lo. With Charang being only 2 hours by 4WD vehicle from Lo Manthang, less and less people are now bothering to stop and explore Charang. Whereas when trekking was the only way to travel in Mustang, Charang was an ideal overnight halt before hiking to Lo Manthang the next day.


This has meant that Charang has become “less touristy”, which for any traveller seeking the more experiential and genuine aspect of travel is big plus.


THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN CHARANG


Visit the Palace & Museum



The ruins of Charang Royal Palace
The ruins of Charang Royal Palace

Once the home of the Raja of Mustang, the ruin of the former palace is strategically located astride a hill. It’s a steep, short hike up to the palace and although it is now dilapidated, there are great views from here and the small chapel and armoury (now a museum) are open to the public. On display are the blackened, macabre hands that are said to belong to the Master Builder of the palace. As a mark of respect they were cut off after his death and placed there in his honour. Another story says that they were cut off while he was still alive so he would never build another.


Meet the Locals



Friendly Charang Villagers
Friendly Charang Villagers

Perhaps the true “jewel in the crown” of Charang are the people of Charang, whom are most welcoming and friendly towards vistors. To meet the locals, all you need to do is step outside your guest house and walk around the village. Who knows who you will meet and strike up a conversation with, or get invited into a local home for tea. You’ll also discover numerous Stupa’s and Chortens too.


Charang Gompa



Charang Gompa, Mustang, Nepal
Charang Gompa, Mustang, Nepal

The “local monastery” and around 500 years old. The inner walls of the main temple are painted with murals depicting the deities of the Medicine Buddha mandala. The Ani Gompa to the rear looks like it’s falling over a cliff and is in fact a “nunnery”.


Sky Caves



Mustang Sky Caves
Mustang Sky Caves

An hour or less hike from the village to the opposite side of the river leads to some spectacuarly located sky caves hewn out of the cliff face thousands of years ago. Whilst it is not yet fully understood why these caves were built (there are believed to be around 10,000 sky caves in Mustang), it is possible there were initially used as burial chambers, from as early as 1,000 B.C. In times of conflict they may also have been used as places of safe refuge, then homes and later places of meditation and even military look outs.


Look for Saligrams



Kali Gandaki Saligrams
Kali Gandaki Saligrams

Head down to the Kali Gandaki River bed and you might just come across Saligrams (or Shaligrams). if you look hard enough. Saligrams are fossilised Ammonite like sea creatures around 400million to 600 million years old and it’s quite something that they are found here 12,000 feet above sea-level! That’s because at one time before the Himalayas were formed, Mustang was the sea bed of the Tethys Ocean. To Hindu’s Saligrams are an iconic symbol and reminder of the God Vishnu as the Universal Principle.


Visit Lo Gekar Monastery



Lo Gekar, Mustang, Nepal
Lo Gekar, Mustang, Nepal

Just a 30 minute drive, or 2 hour walk away is the ancient Lo Gekar Monastery. Dating back some 1200 years, Lo Gekar is one of the oldest and most important monasteries in Mustang. The interior of the monastery greets the visitor with tiles of Buddha Sakyamuni and Bodhisattvas. The Gonkhang is situated before the main room, the different protectors are covered with sheets and shown only once a year during a special festival. Dozens of butter lamps illuminate the main room, making the many statues even more beautiful. The main statue is Padmasambhava, to each side are his two Yoginis Yeshe Tshogyal and Mandarava. A statue of a Green Tara may also be found in a smaller room.


Visit Charang School



Yes, do pay a visit to the very small village school. The children in particular would be delighted and honoured to meet you and maybe practice their English with you too.


There are around 15 pupils between the ages of 4 to 11 studying Nepali, maths, writing, reading and English (to some degree). Sadly the school has no blackboards, no desks, no pictures on the walls, no books, just some rough desks and benches and is in a poor state of repair. But with some help from friends of Charang things are going to get better!


But, please don’t let this put you off visiting. What the school lacks is more than made up for with a welcome. You’ll find the children (and the teachers) exceptionally hospitable, cheerful and a lot of fun too.


Indeed, if you do visit us the children would readily welcome any pens, exercise books, colouring books etc


HOW TO GET TO CHARANG


Gone are the days when the only way to reach Charang was on foot, involving many days of arduous trekking at high altitude. Although intrepid trekkers still do enjoy the challenges of trekking in Upper Mustang.


But, nowadays you can reach Charang by 4WD vehicle as a “rough and ready” jeep road extends all the way up the Kali Gandaki Valley from Pokhara to Lo Manthang and beyond to Tibet via the Kora La, although foreigners are presently not allowed to cross into Tibet from Mustang.



Flat topped roofs in Charang, Mustang, Nepal
Flat topped roofs in Charang, Mustang, Nepal

For both tourists and locals alike the advent of the jeep road has made a positive impact in many ways, yet traditions hold fast and strong up here in Upper Mustang, so other than we are now better connected to the outside world in Charang, we’re still the same and the wild, spectacular landscape of Mustang has not been tamed!


Of course most tourists visiting Upper Mustang come to see and experience the region as a whole, but spending a night or two in Charang before heading to Lo Manthang is a good idea. If nothing else it helps you get used to the altitude!


But, don’t forget that Upper Mustang remains a restricted area, so a special permit is required (see further below) to enter Mustang beyond the village of Kagbeni.


By Air



Landing at Jomsom Airport, Nepal
Landing at Jomsom Airport, Nepal

The nearest airport is at Jomsom. There are daily flights (usually early morning) between Pokhara and Jomsom. Flight time is a mere 18 minutes! From Jomsom it’s a full days drive by 4WD vehicle to Charang.


By Road (well...a sort of road)



Mustang by Road
Mustang by Road

It’s a spectacular two day drive by 4WD vehicle up through the Kali Gandaki Valley from Pokhara to Charang. You can come by mountain bike too! Travelling between the mighty peaks of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna then across the Tibetan Plateau must surely rank as one of the greatest road trip adventures on the planet.


See: Into The Forbidden Kingdom – Himalayan Road Trip Adventure


Trekking



Mustang Trek
Mustang Trek

Of course there remains the traditional way of travel in Upper Mustang…..trekking! Most trekkers fly up to Jomsom from Pokhara. From Jomsom it’s a 3-4 day hike (with acclimatisation along the way) to reach Charang.


Upper Mustang Special Permit


Until as recently as 1992 the Kingdom of Lo (Upper Mustang) was famously off limits to foreigners, earning it the unofficial title of “The Forbidden Kingdom”. Even now, Mustang remains a restricted area and a special permit is required to venture beyond Kagbeni.


The combination of cost, permit restrictions and not least the challenges of travelling across a high altitude desert deters most tourists. Not least the independent “Nepal On a Shoestring” backpacker hordes.


A special permit to enter the restricted area of Mustang beyond Kagbeni costs in excess of $US 500 per person for ten days. The permit (minimum of two persons) can only be obtained through a licensed tour operator. You must also be accompanied by a licensed guide. The permit is for a minimum of two persons travelling together. If you’re travelling solo you will have to pay for two Mustang permits and a little extra to “facilitate” the permit process.


WHERE TO STAY IN CHARANG


The village of Charang has a couple of welcoming guest houses, although because Charang is in the restricted Upper Mustang it is likely that your Mustang Tour Operator will book your Charang accommodation for you as part of your Mustang trek or Mustang jeep tour.


Lumbini Guest House


This friendly family run guest house has just 9 cosy and comfortable rooms. All have proper beds and provide clean linen and blankets. There are communal hot showers and toilet facilities, although 6 rooms here have private, en-suite facilities.


Telephone: +977 9867 608 325


Maya’s Inn


Owned and managed by “Princess Maya”, the daughter of the last King of Mustang, there’s certainly a palatial feel to Maya’s Inn. Photographs of the Royal Family of Mustang adorn the main rooms in this distinctly Tibetan style accommodation, The guest house also has a camping site for the more hardy.


Telephone: +977 9847 788 897


The village of Charang now has its own website too. Visit www.charang-mustang.com




This article was originally published on the Snow Cat Travel WordPress Blog























By Snow Cat Travel, Jul 7 2019 12:00PM

n early April 2019, renowned Travel Writer Simon Parker and Professional Travel Photographer Ben Read visited Nepal for the very first time.


Their brief was to produce an article about Nepal away from the main tourist trails for the prestigious ATLAS IN-FLIGHT MAGAZINE for ETIHAD AIRWAYS, one of the world’s leading, luxury airlines. The Atlas Magazine is estimated to be read by up to 20 million people!


SNOW CAT TRAVEL were chosen by Etihad Airways to design a tour of Nepal for Simon and Ben, as well as take care of all the arrangements in Nepal for them too.


This article has now been published in the June 2019 Atlas by Etihad magazine rom which we have reproduced below…….enjoy!



THE HIDDEN SIDE OF NEPAL


The so-called Roof of the World is more than just a high-altitude haven for backpackers on a budget. Atlas shuns the Himalayan tourist trail for the unsung Middle Hills to experience Nepal with the Nepalese


Simon Parker, photos by Ben Read | June 2019


“People come to Nepal and get what we call ‘altitude fever’,”yelled my rafting guide, Durga, as we sloshed over the warm, soupy and very loud rapids of the Trishuli River, around 75km west of Kathmandu. “Even if they aren’t going to climb Everest, they just want to go up six or seven thousand feet so they can show off to their friends back home,” he bellowed, as the boat barged between boulders the size of hatchbacks, beneath long, sun-washed prayer flags flying high above the river. “Why would you spend two weeks in the mountains with thousands of other Westerners when we have all of this right here? Nepal is more than the Himalayas.”




Why indeed? Except for the occasional fisherman netting sprats from the bank and farmers panning for gold in the calmer shallows, we had the whole river pretty much to ourselves. Hurtling downstream, we twisted and turned. Tiny sand martins snapped at gnats flitting above our helmets as our ridiculous, banana-yellow rubber raft bounced and lolloped past mothers lathering clothes in foamy soapsuds, their toddlers erupting into fits of giggles as we passed. Shrouded beneath a haze of wispy cloud and milky smog, the Himalayas were less than 100km to the north. Most of the tourists who passed through Tribhuvan Airport that week were either already in Lukla, the gateway to Everest Base Camp, or on the way. It seemed I was the only one who wasn’t.




Instead, I was in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal’s so-called Middle Hills, the little-visited region of mostly humpbacked, mogul-like foothills between the lowlands of northern India and the world’s highest mountain range. It was here, I was told, that I would find the most tangible signs of Nepal’s tilt away from tourism aimed at backpackers to something a little bit more upmarket.

Travelling here has always been arduous and uncomfortable – and, after a bumpy, unpredictable three-hour drive from Kathmandu, I can attest that’s still more or less the case. Still, change is fast afoot: in the run-up to Visit Nepal 2020, a push to attract two million visitors next year, ambitious engineering projects are underway throughout the Kathmandu Valley, including an additional 170km highway linking the capital and Tibet. Tourism fell off by a third after the devastating earthquake of 2015, but has since grown to overmatch pre-quake levels. Just as well: it’s the country’s largest earner. Now a new wave of midrange hotels is opening its doors while many older properties are being revamped. Could this small, landlocked country shake off the old hippie-trail image of backpacker guesthouses and $1 dorm rooms and move towards slightly higher-end holidaying?




Early signs were promising. After a day of rafting on the Trishuli, I dried out at The Famous Farm, one of the Nuwakot region’s best guesthouses, which, anticipating more visitors, was eagerly adding a further six rooms to its current 14. Exhausted, but in awe of its balmy, hillside microclimate, I supped an ice-cold lager as the warm scent of bougainvillea and busy Lizzies wafted between cobbled courtyards of grape vines and pink roses. As a rust-coloured sun sank into the Nuwakot Valley, I refuelled with a bowl of spicy lentil dahl, mango pickle, egg curry and spring onions sautéed with runner beans and cauliflower – all grown in the hotel’s organic garden. Crisp, white sheets and a warm shower made the place even more inviting; not a single sleeping bag in sight. Adventure at the cost of comfort? Not here; I had my best sleep in months.




Even so, in its current state, this region of Nepal is far from the finished article. The following day, I went to Nuwakot’s 18th-century palace, an ornate, red-brick citadel perched on a hilltop speckled with banyan trees. Like much of Nepal, it’s currently undergoing a meticulous, post-quake rebuild but, despite deep and jagged lesions, it remains a robust and imposing structure formed of wide slate eaves and wooden struts.




“After the earthquake hit, it was tough for us, but now it’s an exciting time for everyone,” said my guide, Dambar. “These days, tourists can move between guesthouses and do things along the way. Everything is moving in the right direction. But it will take time.”


He’s right: as far as tourism is concerned, Nuwakot is very much a work in progress. As I found again that day, road journeys are often white-knuckle, bumpy affairs, and domestic flights linking small towns and cities are regularly cancelled due to bad weather. But despite its challenges, visitors with a sense of adventure and a lust for the road less travelled will be met with staggeringly vibrant and verdant landscapes. It felt as though I was exploring a corner of the Indian subcontinent that had slipped, wonderfully, under the radar. Puddled rice paddies jutted out from steeply pitched emerald hillsides and thickets of bushy wild cannabis plants, with broad leaves the size of dinner plates, beside small organic plantations of cabbages the breadth of beach balls. I’d share smiles with Gurkhas clad in pristine camouflage fatigues as they manned sleepy military checkpoints on my way to Pokhara, Nepal’s second city.




Adventure tourism, like in much of the country, is the big pull in the Middle Hills. That afternoon, I strapped myself to a pilot wearing a nylon paraglider and threw caution (and myself) to the wind. As we soared to 1,500m on warm thermals beside vast, slender-billed vultures, I caught a glimpse of Annapurna, hogging the snow-lined northern horizon with its blunt, 8,091m peak, grand and imposing, yet satisfyingly just out of reach. Paragliding is a boom industry here: tourists get to feel the breezy peace of flight; Nepali pilots earn a living in US dollars. At ground level, Annapurna is undeniably chintzy, with a lakeside strip of neon-signed bars and stores peddling counterfeit climbing gear. But from the bird’s-eye vantage of a paraglider, the glassy water reflected a kaleidoscope of a hundred or more pastel-coloured parafoils, bordered by lush slopes cloaked in jungle.



“There’s three, and there’s a fourth,” said my pilot, pointing out a handful of three- or four-star hotels under construction. “Everything is quickly changing,” he told me, as we plunged towards the lake.


One of the most surprising things about exploring this region came in the simple joy of just ambling around the small towns and cities of the Kathmandu Valley. Hilltop settlement Bandipur’s quaint pedestrianised centre has a South Asian-meets-European vibe that reminded me of the former French colonial settlement of Puducherry, India. Outdoor dining, picnics and sundowners seemed very much the cultural norm.




Bhaktapur, just half an hour from Kathmandu’s airport, was also a revelation to explore on foot. I would implore every tourist heading to the Himalayas to spend at least a night here in extended transit. Its tightly packed alleyways lead to artists’ studios and cafes before opening up into grand bricked squares. I lost several hours there, just mooching between sunny courtyards and Hindu shrines draped in garlands of tangerine marigolds.





It’s amazing these wonderful parts of Nepal remain so little visited, but perhaps the biggest loss is that so few tourists bother to give Kathmandu much time before flying northwards to the mountains. Granted, the capital appears sprawling, grey and messy from above, and a criss-cross mesh of bamboo scaffolding still surrounds most of the city’s earthquake-hit major landmarks. But despite the obvious infrastructural turmoil, the pockets of cultural detail I experienced here were as arresting as anything I’ve ever seen in South Asia. It was here, again, that I experienced a sensation I’d had throughout my trip: I felt as though I was sharing Nepal with the Nepalese, not an endless procession of fellow tourists. “In Nepalese culture, visitors are sacred,” said Dambar. “We want to share our country with people from around the world.”




With dignity and pride, he might have added, whatever the challenges; a point made tenderly clear on my last day in Nepal. At the capital’s Hindu cremation temple, Pashupatinath – similar to Varanasi in India, but smaller-scale – I stood beside wonky bell towers and out-of-kilter Sanskrit-engraved facades. In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, this was the epicentre of Nepal’s nationwide grief. But on the drizzly morning I visited just one amber pyre was ablaze as a family of 50 devotees mourned the death of a loved one, their wails echoing among locals and foreigners alike. I have never witnessed a moment so intensely intimate yet so openly public.


“Death is a part of all of our lives,” muttered a souvenir coin seller beside me, as the sound of camera shutters fell eerily, but respectfully, silent, and the words of Durga, days before, calmly returned to mind. More than the Himalayas, indeed.


Simon Parker’s trip was organised by Snow Cat Travel, an exclusive tour operator that arranges private, bespoke tours and treks of Nepal and Bhutan. For enquiries email sales@snowcattravel.com


This artcile was originally published on the Snow Cat Travel Word{ress Blog and Atlas Magazine


All images taken by and copright of Ben Read Photography










By Snow Cat Travel, Jul 4 2019 09:32AM




For the forthcoming Autumn 2019 season flights to Lukla will NOT be from Kathmandu. This will adversely affect the Everest Base Camp Trek and other Everest Treks including Luxury Everest treks.


We have been advised by the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority that all flights to Lukla will instead be from Manthali Airport.


This is BAD NEWS for anyone intending to trek to Everest Base Camp, or elsewhere in the Everest region, as Manthali Airport is pretty awful 5 hour journey by road from Kathmandu.


As flights to Lukla are entirely weather dependent, they tend to be scheduled for early morning to take advtange of more likely clear weather at that time of day.


This means that if you're on an early morning flght to Lukla you are faced with the very unpleasant prospect of having to leave Kathmandu around midnight and the even more unpleasant prospect of travelling in darkness, which we think is potentially dangerous.



You've probably never heard of Manthali Airport as it's generally not one that tourists use.


So, it's no surprise that there's only very basic accommodation there and in limited supply too if you're thinking of spending a night at Manthali before your (fingers crossed) flight to Lukla the next morning.


Of course to do this you will either need to consider adding an extra day into your plans to soend the previous night in Manthali and thus avoid the perils of travelling by road in the darkness (and leaving Kathmandu at an ungodly hour), or sacrifice your planned night in Kathmandu.


For many on a tight schedule there is the very realistic prospect of arriving at Kathmandu Airport after a very long international flight and having to "hit the ground running" and head straight for Manthali.


Not an ideal start for a trek to Everest Base Camp.




As you probably know, flights to Lukla are notorious (infamous) for being severly delayed, or even cancelled for days on end.


We shudder to think what the knock on effects of such an event will create given the limited and basic accommodation at Manthali for tourists.


There is real, clear and present potential (in our opinion) for some very, very unpleasant situations. Any disruptions (and these are always highly possible) will make what is already a bad situation even worse.


For a Nepal Trekking Agency and most importantly tourists it's one massive, unwelcome headache.


Thnakfully Snow Cat Travel are an exclusively private custom trek and tour operator. We do not and never will operate fixed itinerary, join a group treks.


For the many whom have booked a fixed itinerary join a group trek, which will have been planned moths or even a year or so ago and on the basis that flights to Lukla (as they usually are) would be from and back to Kathmandu do not now have the flexibility, as fixed itineraries are precisely that.


We're actually very thankful that we chose not to be a mass tourism operator and don't have the headache, as we can design any custom trek to Everest around this "no choice" change and invariably advise clients as a matter of course to consider building in CONTINGENCY for the unexpected into any tailor made trek itinerary.

As such we will be recommending that all clients whom are intending to hike to Everest Base Camp, or any other Everest hike still spend their first night upon arrival in Kathmandu. It helps get over the long flight and the time difference (a good nights sleep works wonders on the body) and not least being able to sort out "bits and bobs" unhurriedly before heading off on trek....not least being able to get travel cash sorted.


Neither will we be advocating "drive at night" or "slumming it at Manthali. Rather we will be suggesting a part way drive to a rather serenely lcoated small hotel on the banks of the Sun Kosi River, yet just an hour's drive to Manthali Airport, which is about the same time wise as it takes to get to Kathmandu Airport from central Thamel.


Of course it is ultimately the client's choice, but we don't think that starting an Everest trek already exhausted and inevitably stressed is a sensible idea.





By Snow Cat Travel, Oct 30 2018 04:06PM



How do you see a wild snow leopard? Nepal has maybe 500 snow leopards. Snow Cat Travel snow leopard treks are strictly limited and with rules and conditions.


Read on...


The Snow Leopard has a special role as Messenger between the realms of the Gods and the realms of Man….


These words and the text we added to this snow leopard photo above were sent to us recently by a Snow Cat Travel client inspired by her custom tour of Nepal and Bhutan.


Once classified as Uncia Uncia…the snow leopard is now Panthera Uncia


But, the one name that truly most befits this beautiful animal is “Ghost of the Mountains“….and that’s because they are rarely seen! And they are pretty hard to see too. More on this later…


In 25 years of trekking in the Himalayas, I’ve only ever seen a snow leopard twice!


I’m pretty certain (or at least I’d like to believe) that quite a few snow leopards have watched me and indeed many others who trek into the higher reaches of the Himalayas.


Hidden high up and from a safe, distant vantage point….just like this wonderful painting by Tenzin Norbu depicts….



n fact the best snow leopard sighting I had was just a complete fluke. I was resting after a hard days trek in the Kangchenjunga region of Nepal….to tell the truth, I was lying on a boulder in the sun away from camp (to get a bit of peace and quiet from my trekking companions) and heard a bit of a “kerfuffle” above.


I hadn’t actually noticed that there were some Himalayan Blue Sheep (aka Bharal also quite a rarity) edging their way across the steep, scree laden mountain side…but, a snow leopard clearly had and the “kerfuffle” I heard was it giving chase, or rather the sheep making a fast getaway.


For me, the sighting was all over in a matter of a few seconds….such was the speed of the attack, prey and hunter in hot pursuit were around the hillside and gone from sight…a lot of dust kicked up and the last thing I saw was the snow leopard’s tail “swishing about”. Too far away, too sudden and all too fast to even think about “where’s my camera?”


Ghost of the Mountains


If any animal deserves this title….it’s the snow leopard. Actually “just below the snow leopard” is arguably more accurate. Of course these big cats do venture above the snow line. They have very large territories and in the Himalayas, as any high altitude trekker will tell you, you’re always likely to encounter snow in gullies, traversing slopes etc.



Yes, there really is a snow leopard in this photo
Yes, there really is a snow leopard in this photo

But, as you can see from the image above, the snow leopard’s coat affords it incredible camouflage against rocky mountain sides. Neither can a carnivore live off snow, or the leopards prey for that matter….wild sheep, goats, hares are typical of a snow leopards diet and they indeed need vegetation.


So, it’s just below the snow line, which of course varies with the seasons that the snow leopards prey graze and thus where the snow leopard usually hunts.


As you can see from the photo below, a snow leopard isn’t so well camouflaged against the snow.



Can you see me now?
Can you see me now?

It is of course perfectly equipped to deal with snow….large, fur coated paws, with claws for grip where necessary…..something many mountaineers wish they had!


Sorry…I digressed. Back to the “Ghost of the Mountains”. To the few and hardy people who live permanently high up in the Himalayas, they might never see a snow leopard in their entire lives. To them it was some sort of ghost….a creature of magic.


Sure, they would encounter some tell take signs…..pug marks (paw prints) in the snow….but no real knowledge of who or what made them. Snow leopard prints in the snow have long being cited as claims for the existence of the Yeti!


Related Article: How to see a Yeti



Yeti encounter....yeah right!
Yeti encounter....yeah right!

Those that graze livestock in high alpine pastures certainly knew that something would come down from the mountains and kill some of their flock.


Nowadays, the locals now know there is such a thing as a snow leopard, but before then it was a “ghost”.


I’ve heard similar, but I was once told the tale of a village in the Upper Mustang region of Nepal, where the locals claimed that a man in their village would transform at full moon into a wildcat and then kill livestock belonging to the villagers.


It’s a great story and who doesn’t like to believe in the supernatural?


Of course the culprit was most likely a snow leopard using the additional light of the full moon and feeling bold and hungry enough for some easier pickings.



Remote, high mountain wilderness-the realm of the snow leopard
Remote, high mountain wilderness-the realm of the snow leopard

Indeed such conflict between herders and the snow leopard still exists and is a serious threat to the snow leopards survival as a species.


It’s only one…..but one of only a few, but just recently a very badly injured snow leopard was found in Mustang and brought to Jomsom in Nepal. Its injuries were consistent with those of a weapon….sadly it could not be saved and died.


If there is any positive over such a tragic loss…it was the outrage from many in Nepal that this had happened.


Great efforts are underway in Nepal in respect to snow leopard conservancy.


Indeed right this very minute…WWF Nepal are conducting a further study in the remote region of Dolpo.



Snow Leopard research in the Himalayas ain’t easy
Snow Leopard research in the Himalayas ain’t easy

I’ve known “Tashi” for many years now. Tashi was born and bred in a remote village close to a “snow leopard hotspot”. As a young boy, he grew up with snow leopards helping his father as a shepherd, then he became a mountain guide (which is how I first knew him) and now has his own established trekking business.


He tells me that the best way to protect the snow leopard is to get the local people on board.


Education and compensation.


He firmly advocates that through education the local people grow to value the fact that they have snow leopards “on their doorstep” and that as such it’s a privilege not something to fear. Harmony in co-existence.



A snow leopard “hot spot”. Remote Dolpo region, Nepal
A snow leopard “hot spot”. Remote Dolpo region, Nepal

But, you can’t expect a livestock herder already living off maybe less than $1 a day to be happy that he is losing his livestock and therefore his livelihood. If something is threatening your livelihood, surely you’d do something about it?


Here compensation plays a part and thus to reduce the number of snow leopards being killed due to human conflict and retribution killings efforts are being made to compensate herders for any losses due to snow leopards. A sort of insurance fund.


But, more importantly herders are being educated as to how to better protect their livestock from a snow leopard attack, in the form of fortified corals.



One of these “Thar” would be a good meal for a hungry snow leopard
One of these “Thar” would be a good meal for a hungry snow leopard

Not only that, but it’s common sense that if there is a healthy abundance of wild prey for the snow leopard to hunt, it’s less likely to prey on livestock. This is an apex predator after all.


Poaching, as with many wild animals is a problem and the snow leopard is no exception.


Then there is snow leopard tourism.


Just how can you see a wild snow leopard?


Well, snow leopard watching has already started to enter the arena of tourism. I’m well aware that some of the big adventure tour operators offer as such in places like Ladakh and Mongolia. The terrain in both lend themselves better to 4WD access, as well as the snow leopards often being found at lower altitudes than in Nepal, as the permanent snow line in Nepal is often around 17,000 feet.



Snow Leopard tracks at over 16,000 feet up in the Kangchenjunga range
Snow Leopard tracks at over 16,000 feet up in the Kangchenjunga range

Tourism if managed responsibly can be of great benefit.


However, in the Nepal Himalayas there is no easy way as to how you can see a wild snow leopard. Basically you have to purposefully go and look for it!


That’s easy to say. Much, much harder to do in practice. It means venturing into the high and remote ramparts of the mountains. This is the realm of the snow leopard. You’re looking at some very challenging, high-altitude trekking and seriously wild camping and all with that bitter, bitter cold.


Safe to say, it’s not for everyone. That’s probably not a bad thing. You also need deep pockets too, such an expedition is going to be very costly and there is NO GUARANTEE that you will see a wild snow leopard.



Snow Leopard in the Himalayas, taken by a Snow Cat Travel client
Snow Leopard in the Himalayas, taken by a Snow Cat Travel client

Consequently an element of “it depends” is an important factor. A lot of hard work and also a lot of luck and good fortune too. Most serious wildlife watching enthusiasts know this all too well.


You’ve probably seen the “how we filmed it” sort of thing that accompanies most TV wildlife documentaries, and in the case of snow leopards the poor camera man left to freeze for endless days/weeks in a wildlife hide and no sign of a snow leopard….probably no signs of any other life!


Flexibility and time are key. Otherwise you might as well do an “a to b to c to d” trek, but like I said….25 years trekking in the Himalayas on “a to b to c to d” treks and just two brief snow leopard sightings for me.


So, a pre-planned “a to b to c to d” trek is neither use nor ornament.



With temperatures far below zero, camping wild she Himalayas is tough
With temperatures far below zero, camping wild she Himalayas is tough

Time is needed. Time to first get into the Himalayas (not easy), time to then trek into “snow leopard country”, time to acclimatise as those pesky snow leopards are used to the high altitudes….your body isn’t……and time to look for signs and as any wildlife watcher knows a lot of time waiting and searching and more often than not nothing happens.


The “Ghost of the Mountains” doesn’t appear by magic and it may well be the most miserable, harsh conditions you’ve endured in your life as you’re not designed to live in the realm of the snow leopard….but, the snow leopard most certainly is!


Now it just so happens that as Snow Cat Travel we do “sorta kinda” operate snow leopard treks. But, don’t misconstrue this as “an advert for snow leopard treks”….we’re not talking big business here…...very few people have that combination of financial resource, time and the desire to endure physical hardship…..and quite possibly with no results..…that’s searching for snow leopards for you. Actually we are very selective …only two very small private parties a year….oh and with rules and conditions too.


Chances are we’ll say “no”.


I’m not saying where in Nepal…..no second guessing…..it’s not Dolpo and it’s not Kangchenjunga.


Snow Leopard Trivia


Another name, although rarely used, for the snow leopard is “The Ounce”


Snow leopards don’t “roar”


Nepal has an estimated population of 300-500 snow leopards, which is actually more than the number of tigers in Nepal (current estimate 235)


Although usually found between 3,000m-4,500m altitudes, snow leopards can range up to 6,000m!


There’s no record of a snow leopard ever killing a human


A snow leopards range can be up to 1,000km2….no wonder they are so hard to find!


A snow leopard can jump 10m in one (big) leap!


Snow leopard’s are mostly solitary.….unless its mating time


Climate change is possibly the greatest long term threat to the snow leopard


Snow leopards have light green or grey eyes, most big cats have yellow/orange eyes


Snow leopards are most active at dawn and dusk


There’s a “snow leopard vodka”.…15% of all profits being donated to the Snow Leopard Trust



Originally published on the Snow Cat Travel WordPress blog













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