In Search of the Elusive Snow Leopard

10 Places Available Price: US$3350 Species of Interest
 
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Species of Interest

  • Snow Leopard
  • Wolf
  • Dhole
  • Kiang
  • Bharal
  • Himalayan Ibex
  • Tibetan Argali
  • Ladakh Urial
  • Long-tailed Marmot
  • Himalayan Marmot
  • Royle’s Pika
  • Bearded Vulture
  • Himalayan Griffon
  • Upland Buzzard
  • Golden Eagle
  • Chukar Partridge
  • Himalayan Snowcock
  • Hill Pigeon
  • Snow Pigeon
  • Wallcreeper
  • Red-billed Chough
  • Yellow-billed Chough
  • Black-throated Thrush
  • Güldenstädt’s Redstart
  • Brown Dipper
  • Tibetan Snowfinch
  • Robin Accentor
  • Brown Accentor
  • Red-fronted Serin
  • Streaked Rosefinch
 

Perhaps one of the most elusive of the wild felines, the snow leopard is a secretive, solitary creature that inhabits expansive, rugged terrain in one of the harshest environments on the planet.  Very few people have the chance to observe this animal in the wild – the lucky ones might merely catch glimpses of its shadowy figure as it passes swiftly by on silent feet.

A journey in search of this species requires patience, perseverance, a sense of adventure, and acceptance of what the wilderness has to offer. The shy nature of the snow leopard, its perfect camouflage, and the unforgiving terrain, coupled with the relative rarity of these cats, makes the chances of actually seeing a snow leopard, especially in a relatively short period of time, very slim. However, the search in itself and spending time in the harsh beauty of the landscape is an opportunity few people are afforded. The journey alone is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the intrepid will be rewarded with chances to see a variety of interesting and rare wildlife while surrounded by breath-taking scenery. Additionally, just by participating in the trip, you will be contributing directly to Snow Leopard conservation. Whitehawk donates 25% of its profits from this trip to Snow Leopard Trust, one of the leading organizations dedicated to the conservation of this endangered cat. 


Other local land predators that may be seen include wolves, wild dogs and foxes. Aerial predators such as golden eagles, sparrowhawks and kestrels may be observed, along with important scavenger species such as bearded and Himalayan vultures. Other local fauna include the blue sheep or Bharal - an important component of the snow leopard’s diet - ibex, kiang or wild ass, long-tailed and Himalayan marmots, Tibetan hare, and pika or mouse hare. Tibetan and Himalayan snow cocks and Chukar Partridge can be seen feeding on sun-drenched hills.

Lest we forget, there are also human inhabitants in these rugged mountains. Their culture is steeped in traditional Buddhist practices and this trip will include visits to some of their magnificent monasteries and picturesque villages.

Please note: We have done reconnaissance in the regions mentioned below and after speaking with the locals and the experts we have come up with the following itinerary. Despite our best efforts, seeing a snow leopard often depends on your luck, which you’ll have to bring along!

Though we will try to follow the itinerary as closely as possible, some flexibility is necessary. We may need to alter our trekking destinations and/or the location of some overnight stays, since we will be following the snow leopards’ movements. Our itinerary may change depending on the most up-to-date sightings or news from our trackers. 

Trip Basics

Guide: Patrick Benson

Single Room Suplement: 450 US$

Length: 12 days

Maximum number of persons per group: 10

Accommodation: Comfortable hotel while in Leh. We’ll stay in tented camps while searching for the Snow Leopard

Food: Good food while in Leh, As most of our days will be spent away from our campsite in order to maximize our time looking for the snow leopard, our lunch will be brought to the field, which will include a hot casserole, with a warm flask with soups and a stove for heating.

Weather: As we are going to be in the Himalayas in winter, very low temperatures and snow are expected

Difficulty: Medium-high. We might have to hike for hours, sometimes in harsh terrain and cold weather

Notes and Recommendations for the trip

Notes and Recommendations for the trip

Visa
Apart from a valid passport, most travelers will need a tourist visa to enter India. This visa can be obtained through the Indian Embassy in your country. It is recommended that you apply for your visa well in advance, at least two months prior to your trip. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled departure from India. 

Weather
Winter in Ladakh is very cold, with temperatures below zero on occasion, with a high probablity of snow.  In any case, please come prepared for very cold temperatures.

Time difference
GMT+5:30

Money and approximate exchange rates
India’s offical currency is the Indian Rupee, currently valued at approximately  0.02US$ (1€=68.6Rs.). There are no multinational banks in Leh. However, there are offices for three important banks in India located close to the market: State Bank of India, Jammu & Kashmir Bank and Co-operative Bank. All have ATMs.

Airlines
Our meeting point for this trip in search of snow leopards will be at the airport in Delhi, India. We will all check in and fly together to Leh from Delhi. There are many companies which travel daily to Delhi from around the world, with connections from Dubai or Quatar, such as Emirates, Quatar Airlines or British Airways.

Lodging
During our time in Leh, we will be staying in a nice hotel. For the rest of the trip we will be staying in  temporary, moveable camps that will be transported to each site as needed. The route we travel will be based on the most current sightings of the snow leopard.

Transportation
Warning: On the flight to Leh, no carry-on luggage is allowed, except for your passport. Please make sure you pack all of your luggage as checked baggage. For security reasons, you will not be allowed to carry batteries on your person during the flight. Flight schedules can be changed at any time, even at the last minute. Please double check the departure time before traveling to the airport if you are staying in Delhi prior to the start of our trip.

Communications
Leh, Nubra valley and Kargil have international phone connections. There is a post office and a central telegraph office. 

Pace of the Tour
Searching for snow leopards is a true adventure. Even though we will be relying on  the expertise of experienced guides and the knowledge of the local people to help us move through this rugged terrain and  to increase our chances of seeing a snow leopard, we will also be relying on the efforts of every tour participant to help make this trip a success. At times, we will be walking long distances in order to get to the observation points that offer the best chances of spotting one of these elusive cats. This tour is not only for “elite athletes” and anyone in relatively good shape will be able to participate, but is important to remember that the trip will be physically demanding, with long walks over difficult terrain in cold temperatures. We will need everyone to do their part to ensure that the trip is an enjoyable, successful experience for all!

Packing Essentials
1. Please bring your own sleeping bag (-30ºC) as it is very difficult to find them in Leh.
2. Warm, insulating clothes, including a windbreaker, jacket, thermal underwear.
3. Sturdy hiking boots with good traction.
4. Three or four pairs of wool socks, plus an extra pair to wear while at lower elevations
5. A hat or visor to shade you from the harsh sunlight.
6. Sun glasses. These are essential to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun, especially if there is snow or ice (which is very probable).
7. Headlamp or flashlight, with extra batteries.
8. Utility pocket knife
9. Chapstick
10. Sun block and hydrating cream 
11. Water purifying tablets
12. Altitude sickness medicine
13. A warm hat (wool)
14. A good pair of gloves
15. Binoculars

Health
We recommend that, while traveling throughout Ind, you only drink bottled water which is readily available in the markets and all the hotels. Please make sure that the safety seal is intact before purchase. There are no vaccinations required for entry into India, though the following are recommended: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid Fever, Tetanus, and Polio. To learn more, consult your doctor or nearby international health center.

Altitude Sickness
It is very essential that upon arrival to Leh, everyone rests completely for the first 24 hours. All exercise should be avoided. You should also refrain from smoking or consuming alcohol until you have acclimatized.  Keeping hydrated will help speed up the process of acclimatization. 
- Prevention
Allowing yourself to acclimatize naturally is the best way to for your body to become used to the high altitude. Before embarking on this trip, we recommend that you speak with your doctor about Altitude Sickness. Some medicines, such as Acetazolamide (Diamox), are available to help prevent altitude sickness.  Remember, with our without this medication, it is important to rest during the first 24 hours after our arrival to Leh. There is no substitute for natural acclimatization.  
Pulmonary Edema and  Cerebral Edema due to altitude are two of the possible very serious effects of altitude sickness which do require immediate medical attention.  The local hospital in Leh (Sonam Norbu Memorial Hospital) is fully equipped to handle these cases, with specially trained staff capable of handling any emergency. 

Security
The region is very safe. None of the hotels in Leh have safes in the rooms, but if you would like to store something in a safe, your hotel can coordinate this with the State Bank of India.  As a precaution, it is best not leave any valuables in the hotel room when you are not there.

Smokers
As a courtesy to all of our guests, smoking is not allowed in the vehicles or when we all meet for dinner or to go over our bird sightings for the day, etc.  If you share a room with a non-smoker, please refrain from smoking in the room. If you would like to smoke while we are in the field, please do so at a distance from the group.  

Photography
This trip will offer some wonderful opportunities for photographers, but please remember that we are going to be walking long distances and you will be responsible for carrying your own equipment. Please keep this in mind when packing your photography gear. It is a good idea to bring along lots of extra batteries, as battery life tends to be much shorter in cold temperatures (you may carry them next to your body to help prolong their charge). 

Publications and Field Guides
For birds, we recommend “Birds of Northern India” by Richard Grimmett and Tim Inskipp. For mammals, you can find “Mammals of India” by Vivek Menon. 

Other suggestions and recommendations
1. Bring warm clothes you can layer
2. Equipment and clothing should NOT be brightly colored
3. Avoid using any scented lotion, perfume or deodorants
4. If possible, bring good optical equipment such as binoculars and even a spotting scope. 
5. Bring some reading material for when we have down time.
6. Follow the instructions given by the guides, to help increase our chances of a successful expedition. 
7. Please, take a moment to read our Terms and Conditions which contain important information about our trips such as: what is included in the price of the tour and what isn’t; our reimbursement policy ; our trip cancellation policy; as well as other information which may be useful to you when planning your trip with us.  

 

Itinerary

Day 1

Early this morning after a quick cup of tea/coffee you will be taken to the airport for your flight to Leh. This one-hour flight from the Indian capital to Ladakh’s capital, and the stunning aerial views of the Himalayas, will be something you will likely remember for the rest of your life.  Assistance on arrival and transfer to your hotel. There will be no planned activity on this day. It is important to relax and undergo as little exertion as possible. This will help you get acclimatized to the rarefied oxygen levels in this high-altitude region of the high Himalayan plateau. 

Overnight at the hotel in Leh.



Day 2

After a leisurely breakfast, we drive to Hemis Monastery situated 45 kilometers west of Leh, after passing through the Chortens and Mani walls to enter the complex through the East Gate.  Hemis is the largest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh. From Hemis, we will return on the same route, taking time to visit the Thiksey Monastery, located on a hill-lock with formidable views of the Indus Valley. Thiksey is especially noteworthy for its gigantic seated statue of the Maitreya and is also known for its Dukhang, assembly hall, which houses hundreds of rectangular prayer books, stacked between wooden covers and bound in silk. After that we continue our drive through a series of chortens to Shey Palace, the former summer palace of the King of Ladakh. 

Overnight at the hotel in Leh.


Day 3-5

After breakfast, we will drive to  the entrance of  Hemis National Park- one of India’s largest national parks and an important refuge for the snow leopard.  Upon our arrival, we will be met by our support staff, which includes our cook and his assistant, the camp manager, and our trackers.  

After getting dropped off, we will continue on foot.  Horses will be available to help carry our luggage. We will cross some small bridges,and frozen streams before we finally reach our base camp just below Hozing Valley. The base camp is marked with Buddhist flags  and is nestled beside a small stream. This is a very rustic campsite. No showers are available and bathroom facilities  consist of two outhouses. However, this is the best that is available around the valley.

After a short rest and a hearty lunch, we will begin exploring the surrounding area, in search of snow leopards and other local wildlife. Hozing Valley is a very interesting spot with good potential for spotting the snow leopard. The valley offers good winter grazing for  Blue Sheep, also known as Bharal - a delicacy for our cat!  Additionally spring waters run through here almost all winter, while other stream waters elsewhere are frozen. Finally, the valley provides the snow leopard with a good degree of camouflage with its rocky, stark jagged mountains.

Our Lunches: Since most of our days will be spent away from our campsite in order to maximize our time looking for the snow leopard, hot lunches will be brought to us the field.

Overnight will be in tented camps.


Day 6 & 7

Today, after an early breakfast and packing up the items you will need for two overnight home stays, we will begin our hike to another valley which is known for various leopard sightings, but of course, it all depends on our luck!  We are planning to enjoy two nights on home-stays in small villages in the Rumbak valley. Here, we will experience a bit more of the local culture by staying and eating with local families. These homestays also help support the local economy, which in turn helps conserve the snow leopard and other wildlife.


Day 8-10

After breakfast, we will begin our walk to return to our base camp. From here we'll explore other areas around camp that are well known for Snow Leopard sightings.


Day 11

Today, we will have the option to make an additional visit in search of the elusive cat before we depart. After packing up your personal items, camp staff will take care of the rest. We will begin walking towards Zingchan Village, a two house town along the Indus river. Here we will have our vehicles waiting to pick us up to take us back to Leh. 

Once in Leh, if time permits, you will have the opportunity to tour through the ancient bazaar and alleys of Leh Town, where locally made crafts including natural soaps, jewelry, silk scarves, incense, Tibetan singing bowls, etc. can be  found. There may be a chance to visit the Sankar Monastery and wrap up the day’s program with a visit to Shanti Stupa or Peace Pagoda . Built on a hillock, it provides a spectacular and panoramic view of the Indus Valley - a perfect place from which to watch the sun set. 

Overnight in Leh.


Day 12

Today you will be woken up early in the morning, after  breakfast, you will be driven to the airport to connect with your flight to New Delhi. This will be your last opportunity to catch the spectacular views of the Himalayan ranges before heading home.

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