It was a sunny, yet blistering cold day, with temperatures around -15 degrees Celsius. We had spotted a male snow leopard across the valley, sleeping in a shallow cave in Kibber wildlife sanctuary (WLS).
This cat was about 600 meters away (as viewed through the lens), with a steep, narrow gorge and a river at the bottom separating us. Not the best distance for photography, but when you see a snow leopard, it is a treat regardless.
We had been watching this leopard for now over five hours and were hoping for some action. Around 4:30pm, as the sun dropped behind the mountains, the temperature plummeted and light was quickly fading.
By this time our feet were frozen, and doing jumping jacks and hot chai were not helping us stay warm. So we decided to pack it up, and just about then the cat decided to make a move. He has been watching a herd of ibex who were grazing on our side of the ridge, who had gone down the gorge and crossed the river over to the side of the snow leopard.
Seeing a large male ibex coming its way, the snow leopard frantically scrambles to get into position. Hiding behind a vertical rock, it crouches low, waiting to ambush its prey that is walking right towards it. The ibex is now within striking distance of the snow leopard, and what happened next took us by surprise.
Leaping Snow Leopards Of Kibber WLS
We had heard legendary stories of snow leopards of Kibber WLS of Spiti who would chase Ibex off steep cliffs. Theory was that this was perhaps a technique adopted by older cats or a novel hunting strategy to take down much bigger prey in this rugged terrain.
Kibber also serves as the base camp (from Spiti valley side) for Parang La trek.
We were amazed to witness this epic scene play out in front of our eyes. An older male snow had concealed itself behind a rock, watching an approaching male Ibex, three times its size.
With its prey within striking distance, it took off, leaping over soft snow piles on the edge of this steep rock face. The drop from this point was over 1000 feet (or about 304 m) through a narrow and steep Rong Nala gorge, into the frozen river below.
The sure-footed ibex was too quick for the snow leopard, who not only missed the kill, but ended up falling over 50 feet (15.24 m) headlong into the gorge. Miraculously, the snow leopard survived the fall to see another day! The legend of cats with nine lives on. Total respect for these agile mountain goats!
The majestic Himalayan Ibex
I want to share one of the more amazing high-altitude Himalayan species—the Himalayan Ibex, a favourite prey of the snow leopard. During winter, the heavy snow on the mountains brings Ibex down to lower altitude (this image taken at eye level ~15,000 feet) and can be seen grazing on steep slopes and rocky scree around Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary area.
Chicham — the highest suspension bridge in Asia
Chicham, a small hamlet, lies on the other side of Kibber gorge, on the northeastern part of Spiti Valley. The village has about 30 households and 100 locals. Interestingly, up until 2017, the village had no motorable road connecting it to main Kibber village. Locals used to cross the Parilungbo canyon which is about 500 feet (152.4 m) deep, with the help of a manual self-operated rope way — aka Jhulla bridge.
Finally, in August 2017, Border Road Organization (BRO) constructed this steel truss bridge over 13,990 feet which connects Chicham Village with Kibber. The bridge took long 15 years to complete. Today, the Chicham bridge is designated as the highest suspension bridge in Asia, and it serves as the highest connect between the remote villages. We had received news of a mother and her two little cubs had recently been spotted here. This vantage provides a great 360- degree view for spotting game.
The video doesn’t do justice to the spectacular views one gets from here. You can see Kibber village in the distant, which is normally the home base for snow leopard expeditions (at 14,000 feet or 4,267 m altitude).
Blog by: Sanjay Khurana