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Capturing The Tails Of The Wild In Ladakh

After staying in lodgings both good and bad, this guest house run by a family of lamas—an extension of a 17th-century monastery—was absolute luxury. The monastery is home to about 10 monks, while many more come here for prayer. , Photo Credit: P.S. Anand
04 Min Read

Quite literally taking wildlife photography to the edge, get a glimpse of some elusive birds and animals in Ladakh.

I knew it right from the onset—it would be no easy task to photograph Ladakh’s fauna. Even more than being physically sound, I had to prepare myself mentally. I needed immense willpower to shoot my desired species in the face of piercing cold, low oxygen levels, treacherous terrain and tedious drives. The pictures you see are a result of 17 days of effort, during which I followed a punishing routine. Despite the weather conditions, the alarm clock was set for 4.15am daily. 

Much as I wished to capture the beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and the gorgeous terrain of course, it was important to pass on these opportunities for the sake of the red fox or crane. Many times, it was, literally, an uphill task just to get the desired shot. Take the Himalayan marmot for instance. My first encounter with the mammal was all about fragrant woods, dazzling snow, finger-numbing breeze, not to mention a bleeding nose. I was at Khardung La, at a height of about 18,000 feet.

Photography is often an overwhelming experience in Ladakh, and you find yourself pushing your limits at every turn. I will not bore you beyond this with my experience of wandering the land of high passes. Instead, just sit back and enjoy the images I have brought back.

I felt so happy when my guide whispered ‘black-necked crane’, but all the happiness fizzled out when he pointed towards a stationary black dot at a distance. This was my first sighting of the bird, three days into my Ladakh stint. Now categorised as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List, one needs a lot of patience and perseverance to get close to the crane. I sighted it quite a few times during the trip, but the perfect shot came in Hanle, on my 15th day in Ladakh.

The upland buzzard, a tireless hunter with excellent predatory skills, is usually found perched high on poles and cliffs. It feeds on rodent and sometimes carries the carcass back to the nest for its young ones.

The Himalayan marmot is arguably the cutest marmot in the wild. It inhabits alpine grasslands throughout the Himalaya. This was taken during my first encounter with the fellow, and I had to wait patiently for it to step on to the rock. I shivered uncontrollably during the effort, but it was worth it.

I saw a flock of the red-fronted serin land on a patch of grass, but they became silhouetted because of the sun. I got down from my car and crawled towards them. Soon, I was close enough to photograph the birds that are barely 11cm long.

It is a big deal to sight the rare Eurasian eagle-owl in broad daylight from such proximity. The owl has such a camouflage that one often needs more than a few pairs of eyes to spot one.

While driving around in search of the red fox in Hanle, we came across a narrow street that led us to an intersection with the most fortunate of roadblocks—a woolly hare right in the middle of the lane.

It is difficult to photograph the horned lark with its ‘horns’ clearly visible, as seen in this photograph taken at Pangong Tso.

The snow-sprinkled Khardung La

You will not see the brown-headed gull anywhere else the way you see it in Pangong Tso. The beautiful backdrop of the lake and the mountains, with the bird in the foreground, make for a breathtaking shot.

My first encounter with the red fox was a mere glimpse in 2016 when I visited Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, but this time in Hanle it took me four nights to get the right shot.

The little owl is prized among wildlife photographers and birders. Tso Kar in eastern Ladakh is the best place to find it.

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