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Cats of the Himalaya

Cathy Cooper, 12 November, 2018
Photographer Cathy Cooper shares her favourite feline memories – and some wonderful images – from her travels in the Himalaya.

I’m an animal lover and especially fond of cats, having grown up with them. I currently have four.

When I started travelling abroad I was always aware of how animals were treated, especially in the poorer countries. People were struggling to look after themselves and their families, so why would they look after a cat or dog?

I was pleasantly surprised when I first explored the regions around the Himalaya and found happy cats living in harmony with the locals. It’s not always so easy to find them as they perch on the windowsills of old buildings or slink off into the shadows of a shop or monastery. Some, however, are confident and friendly and let me engage with them. Little moments like these greatly enhance my experience of travelling.

In 2009, while staying in Kathmandu for the first time on my way to Annapurna, I wandered around the Old Town of Bhaktapur and met this woman in her yard stroking her cat. There was obviously such a loving relationship between the two that I immediately made a fuss and told her what a lovely kitty she had.

The highest point I reached in the Annapurna foothills on my trekking holiday was the village of Ghandruk. I spotted this big old boy sitting on a shop counter, completely unfazed by the shopkeeper wanting to do his accounts there.

Walking down from Ghandruk, I stopped to watch this turmeric farmer harvesting his crop. He was grating the bright yellow tuber, then spreading it on a mat to dry in the sun before crushing it to powder. Next to him was sitting a small cat who was quite happy watching and only arched its back when approached by the dog who had accompanied me on the trail.

Another Annapurna cat. Most of the ones I saw here looked like Bengals, which in the UK is a very exotic breed. Bengals are bred down from the small, wild Leopard Cat and reach domestic status after the fourth generation.

In 2011, I went back to Nepal to the Khumbu region which is on the route taken by trekkers to Everest Base Camp. Here I found some exceptions in the colours and markings of the local cats. This grey cat has the most beautiful green eyes and was obviously very happy stretching out on the outhouse roof.

And this handsome grey-and-white cat looks like he has seen it all.

This is a monastery cat I found near Thame. I wanted to give him a bath as he was so very grubby.

He had quite a few scratches on his nose which he probably got from fighting other cats to defend his territory and status with the Buddhist nuns.

In 2012, I did a tour of Ladakh and spotted this cat lying in the rocks near Shey Palace. She looked a bit like a sand cat.

This well-fed cat lived in the garden of one of the guesthouses and kept his distance from the strange tourists.

Sometimes cats just appear for a second and then are gone again. I saw this Bengal type in 2013 in a little town up in the mountains of Uttarakhand, India. I was on the way to Supi to stay in one of the Village Ways houses, part of the Saryu and Pindar Valley walking holiday.

It looks like the same cat but this one is many miles away in Jhuni, the next village from Supi.

I loved the contrast between the cat and the painted blue ornate window frames. The buildings in this part of India are so beautiful and rarely seen by the outside world.

The cat was keeping out of the way as down below were goats and cows and chickens and four women from the UK!

This cat belonged to the couple that ran a very welcome tea house between Dhur and Karmi in the Pindar Valley. It was lovely to sit drinking ginger tea looking at the wonderful view and thinking back on what we had all experienced over the past few days.

This was taken at another welcome tea house on the steep path up, down and up to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan in 2014. I was just looking across at my awesome destination when I noticed this sleepy moggie lying on a bench.

This cat did not move at all when petted by other tourists, or even when a dog came up and sniffed him. I felt a special affection for him as he reminded me of a cat I once had.

Who could resist this little kitty in Bhutan? She didn’t seem to care that the food was vegetarian and heavily spiced.

And neither, it appeared, did the dog!

Often it is hard to see a cat lying on a ledge – especially when the building is painted in so many wonderful colours and has an interesting fusebox on the wall. This was in the Jakar Royal Palace in Bhutan.

I saved the best until last. In 2015, I was trekking through the rainforests of Sikkim with friends when we reached a little farm on a very steep mountainside. The first thing I saw was this kitten, barely a few weeks old. I was told that her sibling had been taken by an eagle and her mother had been missing for over a week.

Later that evening, I took off my fleece jacket and afterwards found her fast asleep on it. She would not move so I carried her on the fleece to my room and put her on the bed. She slept with me all night and even though the bed was huge I found myself right on the edge the next morning. She was snuggled up against my back.

She was the most delightful creature and I was seriously worried about her. I was thinking of how I could bring her back to the UK and how much it would cost etc. Fortunately, just before we left, the mother turned up and all was well.

I will never forget her and when I think of Sikkim, it is the kitten I remember the most.

My last trip to the Himalaya was in 2017 when I travelled to the east of Nepal, again with Village Ways. The only cat I saw was in a small hotel which we visited, and it promptly ran under a bed before I could get a snap of it. That holiday was completely dominated by the wonderful and friendly mountain dogs of the region, which I have written about in another blog.

Further information

Towards Snow-Capped Peaks
Why not explore the beautiful Saryu and Pindar Valleys for yourself on a privately guided walking holiday in India? With the support of your own local guide, journey into the spectacular foothills of the Himalaya and discover a timeless way of life and a charming people whose hospitality you will never forget.
More about our guided walking holiday in India >

Himalayan Panoramas
One of the least visited areas of Nepal, the remote Sailung Valley offers accessible walking and simply awe-inspiring scenery, which only gets better the higher you climb! Share in the deeply traditional lives of Sailung's peaceful mountain communities as you stay in a series of welcoming village guesthouses.
More about our guided walking holiday in Nepal >
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