India - Snow Leopard Expedition I 2020
March 2020 (12 days)
Dates1 Mar 2020 - 12 Mar 2020
Tour LeaderTo be announced
Tour Size8 Participants & 1 Rockjumper Wildlife guide
Flight Cost (Approximate)US$275
Spaces AvailableSpaces Available
Type of TourWildlife
Snow Leopard, Ladakh Urial (wild sheep), Blue Sheep, Tibetan Red Fox, Large-eared Pikas, Eurasian Lynx, Mountain Weasel, Woolly Hare and Argali, Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Chough, Robin Accentors, Wallcreeper, Ibisbill and Himalayan Snowcock, Exploring the ancient Himalayan city of Leh, monasteries of Shey and Tikse
For a thrilling blow by blow account of the first ever photographed successful Snow Leopard hunt and kill in the wild, captured during one of our previous Snow Leopard tours, please visit Rockjumper Wildlife’s blog:
For footage shared by a friend of Rockjumper Wildlife visit our YouTube here.
Day 1: Arrival in Leh
Early this morning you will catch your flight (the only way in during the winter freeze!) to the ancient Himalayan city of Leh. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Ladakh, Leh is now better-known as a jump-off point for treks into the magnificent mountains that dominate the surrounding area. Indeed, the city and its towering palaces lie at an altitude of 3,500m (11000 ft) and walking its dusty streets can feel much like a multi-day trek! For this reason we will dedicate the remainder of the day to resting or taking short walks in order to begin the process of acclimatization.
We will also use the opportunity to meet the rest of our team and discuss the events and details of our upcoming adventure, all over delicious Indian and Western meals and hot tea! Since we will be arriving at a very cold time of year, we will be staying in one of the few hotels open to visitors during the winter months. There will be the opportunity this afternoon to head out to the mighty Indus River which skirts Leh in search of the highly sought after Ibisbill and we stand fair chances for this unique avian delight, sole member of the family Ibidorhynchidae. Other birds we might encounter include the lovely Blue Whistling Thrush, rare Solitary Snipe, Brown Dipper and pairs of bright White-winged Redstarts.
Day 2: Leh – Excursion to Shanti Stupa and Thikse Monastery
In order to enjoy the surrounding area and continue the acclimatization process, this day commences at a slow pace with a morning excursion to Shanti Stupa, a peaceful Buddist monument overlooking scenic Leh. Later and making sure that we do not over-exert ourselves, we embark on a leisurely drive to the nearby monasteries of Shey and Thikse.
Taking our atmospheric buildings and bearing witness to their very devout monks, we will have the opportunity to test our winter weather gear and to marvel at the views that these unspoilt monasteries command over the surrounding terrain.
While there won’t be any chance to spot larger mammals, a handful of special birds remain in the area over winter, and training our eyes to scan over great distances we may spot such hardy species as the Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Chough and smart Robin Accentors. We could even catch sight of our first smaller mammals in the form of an endearing Large-eared Pika or an inquisitive Mountain Weasel, peering out from a rock pile.
Day 3: Leh to Hemis National Park via Zingchen
Today we begin our adventure into the heart of Hemis National Park. We commence with a drive to the end of the road at Zingchen. En route we stand our best chances of observing the rare Ladakh Urial or Red Sheep, a species of wild sheep that looks like a cross between an antelope and a goat. At Zingchen, our equipment will then be loaded onto mules and yaks for our trek into camp. Carrying only our packed lunch and other necessities (like our optics!), we will make repeated stops to scan the surrounding mountainsides in our debut search of Snow Leopards or signs of their presence.
We aim to arrive at camp once all our tents and equipment have been set up. Although only 2 miles, the trekking, will be taken slowly and is nonetheless taxing due to the thin air at such high elevations; however, the outstanding mountain scenery and constant excitement of the “unexpected” is an excellent motivation for a tired body! Our camp will be set beside a stream in the scenic Rumbak Valley. Simple, but sufficient, the camp usually consists of a kitchen tent, a restaurant tent, a toilet tent and participant tents.
It is not uncommon to see a local yak herder or a monk passing by on occasion, carrying supplies on the back of yaks – a glimpse of the daily life of those who call Rumbak Valley their home.
Days 4 to 8: Hemis National Park
For the next five days we will explore the valleys branching off from the main Rumbak valley where our camp will be situated. Since the early mornings in these shadow-filled valleys can be cold, we will begin each day with a hot breakfast and warming cups of tea or coffee, after which we will begin our scan for Snow Leopards from the comfort of the camp itself. Being situated in the heart of prime Snow Leopard territory, there is always the possibility of spotting one while standing a mere stone’s throw from our tents.
Indeed, one was spotted whilst eating breakfast on a previous trip! Once we’ve geared up for a full day’s hike (good hiking shoes are a necessity!), and we’ve satisfied ourselves that no Snow Leopards are around camp, we’ll begin our slow treks into the neighbouring valleys. The idea is not to cover a lot of ground, but rather to scan the hillside thoroughly from various vantage points along the way. This might require prolonged periods of sitting on a rocky slope while staring at one rock after another, in the hopes that a leopard appears! We will also use the opportunity to look for other, less elusive inhabitants of the Himalayas, and will keep our eyes peeled for Blue Sheep, Mountain Weasel, the Tibetan race of Red Fox and cute Large-eared Pikas.
Of particular interest are the amazingly light-footed Blue Sheep, as they are the main prey species of the “Grey Ghost”. Should the Blue Sheep suspect the presence of a Snow Leopard, they will alert us by uttering a distinctive three-note whistle, while further assisting our search by facing in its suspected direction.
Since we will be undertaking our treks with expert local trackers, we will also be in touch with local communities who will inform us of any recent attacks on livestock or kills made in the area. It is for this reason that we maintain a very flexible schedule, and it is important to note that we might make changes to our daily itinerary on a regular basis.
Since we usually cover up to 5 miles (8 kms) in a day, loaded with equipment, we will not be carrying packed lunches but will rather be met by an energetic group of porters who will run up to meet us with hot tea and warm meals!
Day 9: Hemis National Park – Rumbak Valley Campsite to Kandala Pass
Today we trek to a higher altitude within Hemis National Park to increase our chances of encountering different wildlife including Eurasian Lynx, Woolly Hare, Argali, Himalayan Snowcock and more.
Besides the spectacular scenery and the possibility of encountering new species, one of the highlights of the Indian snow leopard tour is the chance to experience the local culture when we stay in a cosy traditional home at the foot of Kandala Pass. This is far from a departure from the land of the Snow Leopard, rest assured, we will continue our search for this magnificent animal! Indeed, on our first Snow Leopard tour, we had a view a Snow Leopard walking along one of the ridges bordering Kandala Pass.
Day 10: Hemis National Park – Trek to the top of Kandala Pass
A trek to the top of Kandala pass is a strenuous affair but offers the only opportunity to observe the Tibetan subspecies of Argarli (Ovis ammon hodgsoni). Argarli is the largest wild sheep species on earth and seeing an impressive male Argarli with their magnificent spiraled horns will undoubtedly make the trek worthwhile! For those folk reluctant to hike to the top of Kandala pass, a stay at the traditional home in the mountains offers equally rewarding scenery and with a little luck, the possibility of getting a long distant view of these magnificent animals in the surrounding mountains!
Day 11: Hemis National Park to Leh via Zingchen
After a leisurely morning’s breakfast, we will return to Zingchen along the Rumbak Valley. If we have not seen Snow Leopard by this day, we will take the opportunity to scan a few more areas before reaching our vehicles for the drive back to Leh.
Before departing the park, we will also take the time to bid farewell to our amazing team of porters, cooks and guides who make such an expedition possible.
Day 12: Leh and depart
Today we depart Leh for our onward flights home.