First, a few words about the Sham Valley. This is the name of the cluster of villages parallel to the Indus River between Likir and Tingmosgang. They are connected by small passes, where you used to be able to do the so-called baby trek. I did that in 1993 – at that time there was no real accommodation. Later, I often hiked through there with tour groups, very often in fact – and I always thought that the area was really beautiful and varied. The passes are at most 4,000 m high, you reach the next village in a few hours and can therefore have good contact with the locals.
In the meantime, the area has changed. A road was built that went from Likir to Hemis Shukpachen until recently. And now the last stretch to Tingmosgang was also finished. But of that later in the post. Another change was the activity of the Snowleopard Conservancy. The snow leopard was often on the move in the villages further up in the winter and killed animals. The idea was: tourists come to see the snow leopard, stay in homestays and so the people get more money for it than what they lose by losing the animal. And therefore they respect the animal more. And that’s what happened. The highest village, Ulley, at just under 4,000 m, is the stronghold of snow leopard sightings and correspondingly well visited in winter. I had only ever been there briefly in summer (2016 on a new exploration of a trekking trail over the pass between Saspotse and Ulley -> very worthwhile!) and curious about winter, so we headed for the place.
At Yangthang we met a hitchhiker who invited us to her homestay in Ulley.
It has to be said that people are taking advantage of what can now be called the snow leopard hype and charging relatively high prices. But they also offer something for it, the homestay was very comfortable with thick mattresses, blankets and a heater.
I did a nice beautiful long walk.
When I came back, nobody was there. No car, hardly any people. The landlady pointed down: they had spotted the snow leopard! And everyone took off in their cars. So I followed on foot and after a few bends I saw them standing there, looking through large devices. I was allowed to do the same. Several times through several devices. Somewhere there was a snow leopard. It was sitting or lying down and looked like a stone. I’m not sure if I had really identified him or if it was just a stone and he was next to it. But I suppose I had sighted a snow leopard. Driver Rigzin was more enthusiastic and stayed (couldn’t leave either as the car was wedged in) and saw him little moving. I went back up with Eva and the landlady’s son, Nurbu, aged 27 or 29.
Nurbu had a sponsor since he was a toddler and went to a school near Mysore. He has not been home that often in over 20 years. He had written his thesis on rural development, which I find fascinating, but he was thinking of focusing more on the snow leopard. He is already good at sighting, but you still need more knowledge (e.g. how to tell if the animal is male or female). He is definitely a pleasant, interesting, open person to talk to and you can sit and chat with him for hours.
Oh yes, before that I also met the first civilian Ladakhi Everest climber, Jigmet Tarchin. An interview with him is on Reach Ladakh. He has now set his sights on the Seven Summits and has already climbed two others, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro. A nice person. And he needs sponsors.
The next day, the glorious sun shone again and we drove on. The pass with a view of Hemi’s Schukpachen always inspires me.
In the past, the road ended at Hemi’s Schukpachen or one drove down to the Indus Road, along it for a while and then back up to Tingmosgang and Ang. This seemed like an OK solution to me, but locals thought that a road around the top was certainly more practical. After driving it, I am not so sure it is. It is very beautiful and impressively carved into the rocks, but it also takes quite a long time to negotiate the many curves.
And then we reached the big road on the Indus and where do you think we went from there?