In search of the snow leopard
The Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh has been hailed as one of the last frontiers for wildlife tourism. This incredible 13-day winter expedition meets the elements head-on, in an awe-inspiring landscape, in search of the elusive snow leopard.
Ladakh, at the northern boundary of India, is an absolute must-see destination. The stark, natural beauty of the region is as majestic as the elusive and enigmatic snow leopard. There are many rare and endangered animal species found in this cold desert landscape, amongst these are the elusive snow leopard, ibex, Tibetan antelope, blue sheep, shapo, marmot and Tibetan hare. You can expect exceptional birdwatching opportunities too. Keep your binoculars peeled for the snow partridge, golden oriole, snow cock, golden eagle, horned lark and red billed chuff. For the duration of your journey, you will be guided by one of the region’s most expert guides who, in addition to being an authority on snow leopards, is also incredible knowledgeable about the fascinating cultural heritage of the region.
Enjoy a host of experiences during your stay:
- The isolated barren wilderness of Ladakh, with the snow-capped Himalaya Mountains, cobalt lakes and ever-changing sand dunes, reminds you that you are on the “Roof of the World”.
- In addition to searching for the majestic snow leopard, guests also have the opportunity to view other fascinating wildlife such as ibex, Tibetan antelope, blue sheep, shapo, marmot and Tibetan hare.
- Enjoy the company of one of the most seasoned snow leopard guides.
- Known as ‘Little Tibet’, Ladakh has its own culture and identity and has never ceased to enchant travellers.
What to expect …
Transfer to Hotel Day 1
Upon your arrival in bustling Delhi, you will be warmly welcomed by a representative from &Beyond who will assist you through customs / immigration and the baggage collection process. Afterwards, you will be chauffeured to the JW Marriott Hotel.
Overnight in Delhi Day 1
Luxury and convenience converge at the JW Marriott Hotel. Located adjacent to the International Airport in New Delhi, this hotel offers accessibility without sacrificing style.
Spend overnight at the JW Marriott Hotel. Accommodation is in a Deluxe Room. Your stay is on bed and breakfast basis.
Flight to Leh Day 2
Today, you will be collected for your flight to Leh. Upon arrival at Leh Airport you will be driven to the The Grand Dragon, were you will have the rest of the day to acclimatise to the high altitude and explore your surrounds.
Spend three nights in Leh Day 2 - 5
Leh sits at 11400 feet and the flight up from the plains means that you have to acclimatize gently without pushing yourself. The 2 ½ days scheduled here is the minimum requirement as you will be going to a higher altitude and will be doing a fair amount of walking. At some point over the next few days in Leh, meet with staff from the Snow Leopard Conservancy for a briefing on the history of snow leopard conservation in Ladakh. Here you will gain insight into the current threats that snow leopards face and the strategies adopted to combat these threats.
Spend three nights at the The Grand Dragon.
Visit the Snow Leopard Conservancy Day 3
Leh is a fascinating labyrinth of winding streets and quaint bazaars. The main street is open and airy, with rows of shops on either side. Leh is very Tibetan; the national dress, ‘stove-pipe’ hats and felt boots with turned-up toes are can. The Royal Palace, which dominates the town, is very reminiscent of the Potala in Lhasa and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, large chortens, prayer flags and mud brick houses with flat roofs are a dramatic cultural change from the hot, teeming frenetic rush of Delhi.
Today, you will visit the Snow Leopard Conservancy; here you will view the efforts made by the local authorities and community to conserve the endangered snow leopard.
In the afternoon, you will have the opportunity to visit the Thiksey monastery. Thiksey Gompa is the most beautifully situated monastery in Ladakh, perched high on a hill above the Indus. Its buildings are arranged at various levels, leading up to the private apartments of the incarnate lamas on the summit. From here, one commands a magnificent view of the valley. The gompa possesses a rich collection of hundreds of hand-written and painted prayer books. A new temple contains a 15-meter tall Buddha statue, constructed in 1970 to commemorate a visit to Thiksey by the Dalai Lama. The statue, made of clay and covered with gold paint, is the largest Buddha figure in Ladakh and took four years to construct. Inside, the statue is filled with the Kandshur and the Tandshur – volumes of Buddhist canonical texts. The statue was made entirely by local craftsmen and represents Maitreya, (“compassion” in Sanskrit) the Buddha of the Future. The prophecy made of the Future Buddha is that the world will be undergoing such chaos that he will teach compassion to the people.
Set out for an extraordinary drive eastwards towards the local villages Day 4
It’s a fantastic drive taking you away from the valley of the Indus, up a subsidiary valley, to an extraordinary area (even by Ladakhi’s standards) that marks the line where the Indian mainland collided with and drove under the Asian landmass. The scenery is dramatic and you have a chance of sighting wildlife including blue sheep, golden eagles and bearded vultures. Rafts of red-billed choughs perform synchronized aerobatics and in the fallow fields you have the chance of seeing the very beautiful Tibetan partridge and the more common Chukor partridge.
Scenic drive to Ulley Day 5
Today, you will be collected for another scenic drive, travelling westward on the road to Kargil and Srinagar, following the Indus River. You will pass through the small town of Nimmu – one of the most important settlements of Ladakh, where the Zanskar River meets the Indus. After a little over an hour you will head north on a road to Likir – one of Ladakh’s famous Buddhist monasteries. This is snow leopard country. The landscape here is even more expansive, until you turn off onto a dirt road, winding up a narrow valley, following a stream called the Ulley Chhu. Smaller valleys intersect this area and your guides will have their heads craned at all times, scanning the hillsides and skyline for any predatory silhouettes. This is also excellent ibex country and there are few more evocative sights than a magnificently horned male ibex standing vigil on an impossibly narrow outcropping, a few thousand feet over a plunging cliff.
Spend seven nights at Snow Leopard Lodge. Day 5 - 11
Ulley village, west of Leh, is an area that is only recently being developed for snow leopard viewing.
Here, you will be staying at the enchanting Snow Leopard Lodge that consists of four bedrooms, built separately from the main house with a dining room and kitchen. Add to this the interest of living with a Ladakhi family, in the depths of winter, and understanding their lifestyle, and you have a very special experience instore – especially sharing the large, warm kitchens that are the heart of a Ladkahi home – resplendent with brass, copper and silver ornaments.
From the house and its terraced fields, you command a superb view across the valley and are almost certain to see ibex from here. If you are lucky, you will also have the opportunity to view other wildlife such as wolf, Himalayan fox and perhaps even snow leopard.
Settle in on arrival and acclimatize to the higher altitude of Ulley. You will be based here over seven nights and the advantage of Ulley is that it is relatively free of tourism and the chaos that has enveloped the first snow leopard destination of Rumbak. The other advantage is that from here you will explore three valleys, which, apart from snow leopards, are great for finding urial, ibex, wolf and Himalayan fox.
Over the next few days you will have the opportunity to venture into the area on foot and by 4×4 vehicle, with your expert guide. You will be amazed at the sheer dedication and commitment he brings to his trade and the effort he makes to ensure that his guests leave happy. Your guide will interact closely with the local people and usehis network of local intelligence to narrow down the likely sites. In the process, there will also be plenty of opportunity for you to gain insight into the region’s folklore, customs and traditions.
Please note: The trek route is one that is based on the experience of your guides and they have full discretion to change or alter the route accordingly. The weather will also be a crucial factor in deciding which places will eventually be visited and what will be dropped from the program.
Spend seven nights at Snow Leopard Lodge.
Drive back to Leh Day 12
Today, after a wholesome breakfast, wave a fond farewell to your hosts, as you are driven back to Leh
Explore an ancient Tibetan monastery Day 12
Enroute, you will have the opportunity to visit the Alchi monastery.
Travel to the ancient Alchi Gompa monastery, situated on the south bank of the Indus River, approximately 60 km (37 miles) from Leh. Established in 1000 AD by Rinchen Zangpo, the monastery is rumoured to have taken 33 sculptors and wood carvers from Kashmir to complete. The monastery’s two main temples are the Dukhang, or Assembly Hall and the three-storied Sumtseg, or Main Temple, both of which reflect the Kashmiri style of architecture.
Both temples are famous for the murals that adorn their walls and that are estimated to be among the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. The complex also boasts huge statues of the Buddha and elaborate wood carvings in a style similar to the European baroque.
The heart of the monastery complex is the Dukhang, where the monks worship and perform their ceremonies. This large and ancient structure is entered by means of a massive wooden doorframe, which has been meticulously preserved for centuries. It reached by means of an elegant veranda, lined by frescoes of a thousand Buddhas. The walls of the temples are decorated with a multitude of colourful paints of the Buddha, as well as a host of gods and goddesses.
The three-story tall Sumtseg is one of the most outstanding structures of its kind, with an unassuming exterior made of loam and stone that belies the luxurious woodwork, elaborate columns and facades, clay images and painting of the interior, created by the finest Kashmiri artists. Beautifully preserved, the statues of goddess are situated in the sanctum on the ground floor. The second floor features the images of three deities, draped with magnificent textiles depicting the life of Buddha. The temple’s top floor is inscribed with the names of priests, helping to establish the timeline of the building.
The entire temple complex is lined with decorative chortens, or gateways, many of which boast ancient paintings.
Overnight in Leh Day 12
After your tour, you will continue onwards to Leh.
Spend one night at The Grand Dragon.
Flight to Delhi Day 13
Today, you will be collected for your flight to Delhi. Upon arrival, you will be driven to the JW Marriott Hotel, where you can freshen up before your homeward flight later this evening.