Everything was going at its own pace. There was no hurry. I guess we had become lethargic. We got up god knows at what time and completed the daily chores. Kaza was really tough on us. Every morning we had to bear the brunt of the extreme weather. It was like every morning we had to the face the punishment from the nature, like a prisoner from the jailer.
We had our morning breakfast along with tea. Today we had the same parantha but, this time it was with Rajma beans. After that we went outside to bask in the sun. One of our traveler friends (#brewhoppers) had left Kaza and were on their return journey. We were now only left with Vipin (#thatcycleguy). We were happily talking about each other’s travel stories and future plans. Our body felt normal after being standing in the sun. Vipin then rolled out a joint which he had bought it from Chitkul and smoked it along with Karan. I just watched both of them standing nearby and it was like passive smoking to me.
I guess, it was the distance that made us lethargic. Had the distance been long, we would have already packed and left for the place. Initially, we had planned to stay in Kibber as per our original itinerary but the family told us that finding a home-stay would be very difficult at this moment of time considering the extreme weather condition. Kibber was a village situated at a considerable height as compared to Kaza. And, living in Kaza itself was tough. Imagine, what would be our condition uphill. We didn’t want to exert ourselves with loading the complete luggage on our bikes and then facing disappointment if we didn’t find any accommodation in Kibber. Plus, we were in double mind. This home-stay in Kaza was such a wonderful place and we feared we might lose it if we happen to checkout. There were only 2 rooms and out of that one was taken by #thatcycleguy. We took a call to halt here for one more day.
Just like yesterday, we armed ourselves with camera and stuff and prepared ourselves to take on the road. This time we had additional gear with us. It was the Binocular. We were going to Kibber, the abode of the elusive cat. All was planned. The binocular was the property of my Dad and for finding this cat, I had specially brought to this trip. The road to Kibber is ahead of the Key. The family gave us special Kinnaur fruit, which I used to eat as dry fruit back home in Pune. But I have forgotten its name and hence will post a picture here.
We left around 10:30am but forgot to arm ourselves with some solid food. We had planned to stop by near the petrol pump and buy them but I had to return back mid way to the home-stay as I forgot my DSLR bag in the room itself. When I reached near the shop, I was unable to see these 2 people and so instead I pushed in the direction of Kibber. I soon found them driving slowly and caught up with them. It was later only in Chicham when we had started to feel hungry that we came to know that nothing had been taken, not even water. There was no point in going back now. No one was to blame here.
The road to Kibber was complete off-road after Key, but it was average and not mentally agonizing. We were going on our slow pace looking here and there for the cat. At times, we removed the binocular and viewed through it, just in case we had a doubt and saw something strange. Our first sighting in Kibber was the IBEX, the favorite food of the Snow Leopard. There were like 15-20 group of IBEX lazily grazing on a flat land on the opposite side of the valley. We scanned the nearby areas, just to check whether any Snow Leopard was sitting and keeping his eyes on the IBEX. We spent quite sometime there but no movement could be seen. We trotted ahead.
We went first to Chicham, to see the magnificent bridge. It was recently constructed a year back and it is considered to be the highest bridge to be constructed in the world. It is constructed over such a deep gorge that if you throw a stone down, you wont even notice where the stone disappeared. Not a good thing for the people afraid of heights. We clicked some photos there and were met with a local guy who had brought a tourist couple along with him. He suggested us to scan the nearby valleys surrounding the bridge where potential of sighting could be there. We didn’t know whether they lived there or not but the condition of the valleys were perfect for them. We were looking for areas in the valley’s where it looked like a small cave. A perfect place to rest. We scanned thoroughly for around 1 hr but nothing came in our hand. We even went across the valley just in case to get the other side of the view of the valley. There also we spend around 1 hr scanning the place but , no luck. We had been told that the movement mostly happens during early mornings and during evenings. The rest of the time, they lazily sit and relax. That’s when they are the hardest to get by. Also, as there was not any snow in the valley’s, it made extremely difficult to spot them considering their camouflaging color match with the mountains. Had the background been white, the chances of spotting increases.
Frustrated and tired to the core, we mounted the bikes and went ahead to Kibber with the hopes to find something there. We ate the last pack of biscuit left from yesterday’s shopping and drank water from the only water bottle which we had. We reached Kibber around 1:30 pm. We had just heard that we get to find Snow Leopards there but where exactly we didn’t knew. We reached the village and stopped dead. Off course, you wont find them in the village and there must be some place secluded from the humans. We went down in to the city and found very limited people outside on the road to talk too. Eventually we managed to get hold of a person to whom we stated our requirements. He told about a guy which could help us. He basically was a scanner working with some wild life agencies as full-time. He was busy that day with some household work but we managed to pull him out. We bargained on a price for spotting the Snow Leopard. There was no guarantee of spotting but we decided to try our luck. We were gonna pay 1000 bucks fora 3 hr period scanning. That was the only time left with us before it was going to get dark. We started around 3 pm. We filled the bottle with local water and followed the scanner to the place where he thought there could be one. He was pillion to Karan and basically we were going in the direction of Key, the same road which we used to come to Chicham bridge.
We had observed IBEX on the far opposite side the valley few hours before. And on the same place now we were searching for the cat. The scanner and I were moving along and combining our search power. Bimal ji and Karan just stayed back and waited for the good news. But from this location, nothing could be found so we moved ahead where greater part of the valley was exposed. It was just 2-3 km from our current place.We had to walk a long distance to the edge of the valley and tell you it was freezing cold. The temperature must have been on the minus side. In the excitement I had forgotten to take my gloves along with me and I was suffering like hell. Forgot the skull-cap too but, indicated Bimal ji to bring it for me. I was unable to hold the binocular still and I was giving my best. I knew I had come a long way to see this. We scanned the entire other half of the valley but luck did not support us. The valley had many probable habitable places for the cats but none could be seen. We were just wondering as to where to hell had the entire cats vanished suddenly. The scanner had got to see 2 leopards sightings here when he had come at the same back a few time back. He showed us the photos taken on his mobile. He had placed binocular in front of the mobile lens to capture from a great distance. It was a wow moment. They were really beautiful.
We then headed towards Gete village where he had another sighting of the cat. It was at considerable distance from Kibber side and also above in terms of height. The roads really became narrow and were full of mud, slush and pebbles. While going upwards the weather also started to get worse and we could see some snowfall happening on the mountains upfront. The temperature had dropped suddenly and strong gale were blowing. When we arrived at the location the scanner showed the place from where we could get to see the valley. And by a means it was not close, it was a good half km trek and consisted of ups and downs. It was too much to ask from us. This was the last place of our scanning before it got dark and our stamina ran out. See the arduous trek, Karan and Bimal ji backed off. I was determined to go as this was our last shot at the cat. We walked slowly and steadily to the place. The place of scan was a shrine on top of small hill and the last few mtrs really tested our stamina. The scanner was walking briskly but I was not able to keep pace with him. I just imagined how tough it must be to climb Mount Everest where I was not even able to climb few mtrs. We were battling against extreme cold and facing fierce winds. After every few minutes, I was rubbing my hands to provide some warmth. Both the scanner and I were suffering. We tried our level best to find the cat but again were unsuccessful. Seeing, the nature overpowering us, we decided to leave the place and headed back to place where our bikes had been parked. Returning back to the bikes was going to be a tough task as the path was complete incline. There was heavy breathing at each step and I knew I had to go non-stop. The only way to conserve energy was to tread non-stop. Due to very thin levels of oxygen, inhaling through nose was not sufficient and hence I had kept my mouth also open. Slow and steady, finally I managed to reach the place. The whole time, to get protection from the strong gale, Bimal ji and Karan had hidden behind their bikes and were just praying that I should return ASAP. It had taken twice the time required to reach the shrine at the first place. I was literally out of breath and drank water from the bottle after reaching my bike. We decided to leave immediately and get down as fast as possible as all fingers and toes had gone numb. It was difficult to apply brakes and clutch. There was only one thing in our minds, escape from this place. The 16 km to home seeming like 60 km to us. There was no stopping in between.
We left the scanner on the outskirts of the village, paid him his amount, thanked him for his service and took his number. We assured him that we would come back soon. We left the place immediately and headed home.
The last few kms, we drove in the dark and stopped at shop to buy us something to eat. We were literally on just a pack of biscuit for the whole day. The cold had paralyzed our sensed and we just could not think anymore. We bought some biscuits and namkeen. Bimal ji was completely frozen. He was shaking badly. In his mind, he was imagining only the warm bedding inside the room and nothing else.
We parked our bikes, went inside the room as fast as possible. All of us got curled inside their bedsheets and tried to stay away from the cold. The cold had reached each and every end point of our body parts. It took some time for the body to become normal. We had tea and at the snacks which we had brought.
Bimal ji went in for a quick nap while I was busy transferring the videos and photos of the day. This day, will be forever remembered by all of us. It was a bad day in all aspects. We had really suffered badly from the weather and at the same time were disappointed having not seen the cat. But, it was all on luck. We knew right from the start. It was nothing we could have done more.
The family called us for dinner. We ate like no one was seeing us. It was a combo of Rice, Daal, Mix veg and roti. We knew we required good amount of sleep to nag off the cold. While laying on our backs we were just thinking just how tough life would be here. We had come in the month of March, which was according to us Summer season. Just imaging what would be the condition if one comes in the month of Jan or Feb. We really saluted to the spirit of the Spiti people.
We hoped at least to see Cat in our dreams and with that we dozed off.