I climb slowly into the strangely snowless mountains with Chamba, an 11-year-old nomad who bounds up the 45-degree slope. He offers me a lollipop – a treat from his father.
Like all in his community Chamba wears only a full-length handmade robe, with a meter-long leather slingshot slung over his shoulder. The sheepskin and wool clothes protect and retain heat like few materials on the planet.
On his head is an ornate fur cap that marks him clearly as a nomad. As he walks, he slings rocks at the distant yak with menacing accuracy. While effective in herding yaks, the slingshots are also an essential defense against wolves, and no one leaves the tent without one.
The wolves act in unison to split flocks of sheep into groups, when one “kill team” will go in and simply kill as many as they can, at which point the remaining wolves move in to gorge themselves.
They know they have limited time before the nomads arrive in force, on horseback or motorbike, having grabbed any guns available. They tend to leave humans alone, although rogue wolves will try for children if they can.
Roaming in large packs, the cunning wolves are the only major predators left in much of the Himalayas and, because of an ominous lack of snowfall, their hunting grounds have widened immeasurably. “A few weeks ago, a wolf-pack ripped a rider off his motorcycle and consumed him not far away from here,” says Chamba.
Above us, the undertakers of the sky, vultures, cruise in their monotonous circles and monitor our progress, and he studies the sky for telltale signs of a death or kill.