Very hard, very demanding, very cold, VERY REWARDING. The first view of a snow leopard, like my first encounter with a tiger, was highly emotional and, unashamedly, induced tears !
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
That first sighting of one of natures most elusive animals. The terrain is difficult, the camouflage is one of the best in nature, the sighting call from the guide and resultant "fast" hike is heart attack provoking at that altitude but you have to do it and when you see the leopard no city fat cats bonus could buy it !
The homestay was really humbling, why do people live at this level of subsistence ? Why are they so friendly and accommodating when the temperature range is -5 to -20C, the world is white, the only transport available is pony, everything is frozen solid and you have to wear 5 layers of thick woollens to keep warm ? I would have liked another day at the homestay as we didn't have enough time with our host/hostess to get to know them.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Valerie was excellent. Very experienced and a great judge of individuals and group interactions. With her knowledge of Delhi she was a brilliant guide to one who would have stayed in the hotel for dinner ! Her trekking and climbing experiences showed in the pace she set for acclimatising us in Leh and the practical advice she administered on how to stay warm or recover after a long spell looking for that elusive snow leopard. Many of us suffered during the "holiday" in one way or another and Valerie knew how to cope with each case, how much advice to offer and when to just let us get on with it.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
It is a hard "moderate" and you need to know your own capability and/or listen to advice given by the leader. I hadn't been to altitude before and was lucky in only suffering a little breathlessness and lack of appetite. I'm 63 and only of average fitness but managed to get to all the sitings and viewings but in my own time. There are spare porters/helpers for those like me who needed time or assistance so don't be afraid to ask.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Would I go again ? To my surprise the answer is not an immediate emphatic no. At my age experiencing this level of hardship came as a bit of a shock to the system but with a good leader and the support of other party members I am beginning to recognise that I survived and, I do believe, actually enjoyed it !
The homestay was inspirational in a different way and I would have liked to see more and get a fuller flavour of village life in the freezer !
So many people have said "I couldn't do that" and 6 months ago I wondered if I had over judged my capability, BUT, with Exodus behind you and the leadership of someone like Valerie, believe me - YOU CAN.
As one of lifes 100 things to do before you die I would put this in the top 10.