The Himalayan Marmots come across as just the right species you may want to cuddle in bed to stay warm in the cold climes of Ladakh. But these mammals belonging to the squirrel family are swift to retreat into their burrows at the slightest hint of human approach. Even if their squat body and short stocky limbs suggest limited athletic prowess.
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I have come across Marmots beyond Khardungla Pass on the way to Nubra valley and on the way to Tso Moriri, only catching fleeting glimpses through my camera lens. However, one set of five decided some publicity may be good for them and put on a show for me. About fifteen miles from Pangong Tso on the way back to Leh.
All it needed were some bananas to win them over. It was a treat watching them peel and eat these, even fighting over the pieces. Food made them romantic as they smooched each other and huddled together, and friendly too with two of them trying their best to snuggle up my legs. Not sure if they could hurt made me look a bit apprehensive, until a passing local driver told me they were harmless. A guide told me later that this is the only known spot in Ladakh where the Marmots act friendly, only because they know passing travellers will feed them goodies. Adding variety to their diet comprising predominantly of grasses and herbs. Smart, very smart.
Marmots hibernate for 6-7 months starting early October, staying huddling together in their hay covered and tightly closed burrows. They do not store food, losing about half their eight kilo body weight during the period.
Marmots are not easy to find along new road projects though; according to a forest official, a certain race of migratory workers from the state of Orissa eat everything that moves including Marmots. Ladakhis, even if they did earlier, have struck Marmots off their menus.
Enjoy Marmots in their natural habitat, but don’t expect wildlife laws to allow you to take them home.