No matter what you do in life you have to be passionate about it and so are Shankar Ganesh and Vinayta Raheja, (big time travel fanatics) who head The Road Less Travelled. The Road Less Travelled is a travel company based out of Mumbai who conduct a host of excursions like self drives, food trails, treks and heritage drives and The Snow Leopard Trail is one among them and if I had to be honest, The Snow Leopard Trail is the most exciting and the most adventurous trip they have in their portfolio. It was not even a month after we wrapped up The Snow Leopard Trail and Shankar was already happily touring Israel with his beloved wife and daughter. Such is the passion of Shankar for travel.
Going on adventure trips with friends is something but the same with a bunch of unknown people is altogether something else. I, Arjun Pattar, an automobile journalist, get to travel places as part and parcel of my job but something like The Snow Leopard Trail is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So, when it knocked on my doors, I greeted it with a big (in fact very big) smile and allowed it to become a part of my experience.
For those unaware of The Snow Leopard Trail, it is a wildlife tour organised by The Road Less Travelled for a period of 9 days. As the name suggests, the tour is not only about sighting the elusive Snow Leopard in the gorgeous state of Himachal Pradesh but also exploring the wide array of spectacular sceneries mother nature has to offer in the belt of Shimla to Spiti. Everyone loves to travel these days and it so happens that whomever I meet and ask what would you do on the weekends, the most obvious answer is ‘travel’. So, if you love to travel and if you love wildlife and photography to some extent, you have to and have to do at least one trip with The Road Less Travelled. By the way, who’s The Road Less Travelled you ask?
25th February 2018 was the day we started our trip. I flew from Bengaluru to Delhi and my two other travel mates – Rakesh Dhareshwar and Dr. Chetan Shetty accompanied me from Delhi to Chandigarh. Rakesh is a wildlife photographer from Delhi and Dr. Chetan is a pediatrician who’s put up in Mumbai. Delhi to Chandigarh was almost a 7-hours drive and we bonded quite well, though, Doctor and Rakesh still complain that I don’t talk much. We stayed at Piccadilly in Chandigarh for the night and I got to see and talk to Shankar finally. Lots of chit-chat happened over a mug of beer and we all headed to our hotel rooms and crashed for the night. 26th morning, we finished our breakfast in a hurry. I assumed the drive would start from Chandigarh itself but as per the plan, we would be driven from Chandigarh to Kufri and from Kufri, we would get to drive. On the way to Kufri, I was introduced to my other travel mates (Sanjay and Nandana Mariwala, Anand and Saloni Jhaveri, Nikunj Jhaveri, Aparna Chudasama, Nayan Parikh and Deepti) as they were put in a different hotel. We were driven to Kufri by the evening and that evening was all about getting to know each other better because we had to spend the next 8-9 days together. I had already become good friends with Rakesh and Doc but that evening, I and Deepti too became good friends. I even started calling her as ‘Akka’ because she and my elder sister share the same name.
27th February was truly the D-day (for me at least) as according to plan, I would be given a Maruti Gypsy to drive from Kufri to Kibber. Our fleet had a total of four Gypsies including mine. Post loading our stomachs with the sumptuous breakfast, the drive was flagged off. Every one hour, we had agreed to stop for a bio break and post three hours into the drive, we stopped at Chotiwala for lunch. The good thing about the Chotiwala Dhaba is that they serve you home-made food and by homemade, we literally mean homemade. This is a recommended pit stop for everyone headed from Kufri towards Kalpa and further. This place will not burn your pockets too! By 7 PM or so in the evening we reached Kinner Villa at Kalpa, our hotel for the night’s stay. We were given hot cup of soups (I say soups because for the kind of temperatures there, one cup wasn’t enough) and post that we were served wholesome rotis and dal. I must admit, being a South Indian, I was never subjected to temperatures like these. To give you a perspective on this, my phone showed me that it was 4 degrees Celsius at Kalpa and that was terribly cold. But if you are equipped with the proper gear, you are more or less safe and sound. Talking of gear, we were told to carry a snow jacket, 2 pairs of thermals, a hiking or trekking trouser, trekking shoes, a head cap, a bandana, a pair of gloves. If you’re in the age group of 20-35 the above will suffice but if you’re 35 plus, you’ll probably need an extra layer of clothing.
Our next leg of the journey was all about the drive to Kibber, a small village in the Spiti Valley which is a home to the rarest of rare wildlife fauna like the Red Fox and the elusive Snow Leopard. Our bad luck, we didn’t get to spot the Snow Leopard (there’s always a next time) but we did sight the Red Fox and experienced as to how – 20 degrees Celsius feels. Kibber stands at a height of approximately 14,000 above the sea level and my words alone will not do justice to describe the beauty of this place. You have to see it to experience it. Disappointed (because we didn’t spot the rare feline) and simultaneously happy (because I got to experience that kind of weather and also saw the Himalayas in such close proximity) we packed our bags and headed to Rampur. Everyone was looking forward to the stay at Rampur as none of us had taken bath for the last three days! So, the drive till Rampur was quite a long one and we managed to reach the hotel by around 8 in the evening. I’m not sure if everyone had that night’s dinner but everyone did have a bath for sure.
Overall, The Snow Leopard Trail is something that not everyone can afford but if you are someone who can, I recommend you do this at least once because for one as we were getting closer and closer to Kibber the facilities at hotels and the homestays drop and that too significantly yet The Road Less Travelled’s hospitality is something you have to experience first-hand. I mean, they never say a No to something and their aim is to give you the best of whatever there is on offer. As part of my profession, you can see me recommending cars and bikes to the society but after The Snow Leopard Trail, there have been many instances where I’ve recommended people to sign up for this extravagant wildlife road trip. To experience the magnificent Himachal, the severe climate of Kibber and of course to sight the Ghost among cats all you have to do is sign up for The Snow Leopard Trail 2019. Safe travels if you’ve decided to go and if not, thanks for taking out time and reading this article.
Experience written by Arjun Pattar.
Shankar Ganesh – +91 9821020317 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Vinayta Raheja – +91 9820369058 / email@example.com