Did you know that wildlife enthusiasts and big cat lovers travelling with &Beyond can view five of the world’s “big cats”: lion, leopard, tiger, puma and snow leopard?
The elusive snow leopard, which roams the rugged mountains of central Asia, is a rare and incredible sight to behold. Due to its excellent camouflage and the tough terrain and extreme conditions that it lives in, this magnificent yet mysterious creature has earned itself the nickname “mountain ghost” or “grey ghost”. It is estimated that there are only 6 000 of these beautiful, but endangered predators left in the world, spread out across different parts of Asia.
The best place in the world to view the agile snow leopard is in a small region of Hemis National Park, India’s largest national park set in the Trans Himalayan mountain range. The cold climate, combined with the high altitude, thin air and rocky landscape, means that only certain well-adapted, specialised species such as the snow leopard can exist in such an extreme habitat. There are several other rare and threatened species found in this cold desert, from ibex, Tibetan antelope and blue sheep, to shapo (Tibetan sheep), marmot and Tibetan hare.
Is the snow leopard on your wildlife bucket list? If so, then check out our 12-night In Search of the Snow Leopard safari that not only takes you into snow leopard territory, but also introduces you first-hand to the warm hospitality and cultural traditions of the Ladakhi people.
The first three days are spent in the town of Leh, acclimatising for the trek, which ranges from 13 000 to 15 000 feet above sea level. You’ll explore the winding streets, quaint bazaars, scenic valleys and picturesque monasteries and will also have the opportunity to spend time with the Snow Leopard Conservancy to learn about the much-needed conservation and preservation of this species.
Seven nights are then spent in Hemis National Park, where you will experience a traditional Ladakhi homestay in Ulley village, west of Leh. Authentic and unforgettable, you’ll spend time with a Ladakhi family in the depths of their winter, learning all about their culture, food, lifestyle and genuine local hospitality.
The house, situated among terraced fields, commands superb views across the valley and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot ibex, wolf, Himalayan fox and maybe even a snow leopard. Seasoned local guides that are expert trackers will lead the excursion and each day, different regions will be explored by foot or SUV. There are no guarantees, but the best time to view these elusive cats is from November to March.
It may not be your typical safari, where each day ends with a gin and tonic and a dip in a private plunge pool, but it is truly a once in a lifetime, bucket list kind of safari. Not many people can say they have stayed in a Ladhaki home and witnessed a snow leopard in the wild; it is a life-changing adventure that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.