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SNOW LEOPARDS & BIRDS OF LADAKH

In Search of the Ghost of the Mountains

Ladakh Snow Leopard Tours: our Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh, India tour is one of those pioneering wilderness adventures that have long been the signature of the company and which represent something quite extraordinary. We are very proud to offer such an unusual wildlife and birding tour. Join us for a unique experience in Ladakh, a very special part of the world. Some great birds too, including  Black-necked Crane, Himalayan Snowcock, Solitary Snipe, Ibisbill, Tibetan Sandgrouse and Mountain Chiffchaff.

Thursday 20th September — Friday 5th October 2018
(16 days)


Leaders: Dave Farrow and Jigmet Dadul

Group Size Limit: 9

Tour Category: Mostly moderate walking and mostly fairly simple camping

The extraordinary wilderness landscapes of Ladakh make this a very special place to travel  (Mark Beaman)

The extraordinary wilderness landscapes of Ladakh make this a very special place to travel (Mark Beaman)

The timing of this special Snow Leopard tour makes it 'the warm option' for visiting Ladakh and observing Snow Leopards. Temperatures are pleasant at this season and not to be compared with the cold of February/March. In addition, the passes to places like Tso Moriri and Tso Kar are open at this time of year, allowing for a more diverse Ladakh experience. Nonetheless, the average Snow Leopard sighting is at greater distance at this season.

The bewitching Snow Leopard is one of the most evocative mammals of our planet and on this tour we will make a big effort to try to see this mythical creature in the majestic mountains of Ladakh.

Although everyone knows about this extraordinary mammal, very few people have ever laid eyes upon it, but in the remote valleys of the Hemis National Park in the western Himalayas we stand a good chance to observe ‘the ghost of the mountains’. We will have to spend plenty of time scanning and patrolling barren mountain slopes, but with a modicum of luck we should be able to get decent views of this most alluring of cats.

Ladakh, "land of high passes", situated in the state of Kashmir Jammu in northern India, is by far the best place in the world to get to grips with this fascinating creature. Until recently, it was virtually impossible to see a Snow Leopard in the wild and the stories of very lucky people who had bumped into one by sheer chance have been perpetrated ad infinitum. Although the Snow Leopard occurs in twelve countries in central Asia, sightings of this incredibly secretive cat have always been sporadic. But now, with the help of our very knowledgeable Ladakhi guide/tracker, Jigmet Dadul, and his expert team, who have studied Snow Leopards for many years and developed an extraordinary knowledge of this elusive creature, we will explore several secluded valleys of the Hemis National Park, where a healthy population of this enthralling mammal survives.

The fauna of Ladakh has much in common with that of Central Asia in general and that of the Tibetan Plateau in particular. The Hemis National park naturally holds good numbers of other large mammals, including Bharal or Blue Sheep, Ladakh Urial, Tibetan Argali, Himalayan Marmot, Woolly Hare, Royle’s Pika, Red Fox and Mountain Weasel.

Hemis is also a marvellous place for birding and we should see Himalayan Snowcock, Lammergeier, Himalayan Vulture, Upland Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Saker Falcon, White-winged (or Güldenstädt’s) Redstart, Wallcreeper, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Robin Accentor, Tibetan Snowfinch, Fire-fronted (or Red-fronted) Serin and Blyth’s and Streaked Rosefinches.

Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture. It is sometimes called ‘Little Tibet’ as it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture. In the past Ladakh gained importance from its strategic location at the crossroads of important trade routes, but since the Chinese authorities closed the borders with Tibet and Central Asia in the 1960s, international trade has dwindled except for tourism. Since Ladakh is a part of the Kashmir dispute, the Indian military maintains a strong presence in the region.

The Hemis National Park is of course the prime focus of this tour, but we will also visit some other wonderful places.

The wonderful Ibisbill can be found along the Indus River, while elsewhere in the Leh region we can see the splendid Asiatic Ibex and even Grey Wolf.

We will also explore the famous high altitude lake of Tsokar, where herds of Kiang (Asiatic Wild Ass) graze and where there are several pairs of endangered Black-necked Crane and good numbers of Tibetan Sandgrouse (this must be the easiest place to see this sought-after species), as well as Tibetan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, the fascinating Groundpecker (or Ground Tit) and Blanford’s Snowfinch.

Birdquest has been operating tours to Ladakh since 2013.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Leh is of good standard. During the camping sections each participant will have their own tent. Although the tents are two person tents, we do not feel they are roomy enough for two normal-sized people plus luggage. Couples may of course opt to put luggage in one tent and sleep in the other. Next to the sleeping tents, there is a large dining tent, a toilet tent and a shower tent. Main roads are mostly reasonable but minor roads and high passes on the major roads are unsurfaced.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly moderate in Hemis National Park (occasionally fairly demanding), but mostly easy in the Leh region and at Tsokar.

Climate: Predominantly dry and sunny, but some overcast weather and rain (or rarely even snow) is likely and wind is a regular feature of the mountains. Temperatures generally range from cool to warm, but it can be quite cold at night at higher altitudes.

Bird & Mammal Photography: Opportunities are good.

Tour Price: £3390, €3860, $4440 Leh/Leh. Single Room Supplement: £200, €228, $262. Deposit: £400, €480, $520.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

During the camping nights all participants have their own individual tent, so the single room supplement relates to the hotel nights only.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.150.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

There is a Snow Leopard in this picture. Can you spot it? Finding one in the vastness of the Himalayas takes skill. (Mark Beaman)

There is a Snow Leopard in this picture. Can you spot it? Finding one in the vastness of the Himalayas takes skill. (Mark Beaman)

The sheer speed of a hunting Snow Leopard is almost unimaginable. (Mark Beaman)

The sheer speed of a hunting Snow Leopard is almost unimaginable. (Mark Beaman)

Some of the Blue Sheep in Hemis National Park seem to think they own the place . Unlike 'The Cat' they have lost their fear of man. (Mark Beaman)

Some of the Blue Sheep in Hemis National Park seem to think they own the place . Unlike 'The Cat' they have lost their fear of man. (Mark Beaman)

But they have certainly not lost their fear of Snow Leopards! (Mark Beaman)

But they have certainly not lost their fear of Snow Leopards! (Mark Beaman)

In autumn the colourful display put on by the mountain plants is unforgettable  (Mark Beaman)

In autumn the colourful display put on by the mountain plants is unforgettable (Mark Beaman)

Everywhere in Ladakh the high peaks of the inner Himalayan ranges dominate the landscape  (Mark Beaman)

Everywhere in Ladakh the high peaks of the inner Himalayan ranges dominate the landscape (Mark Beaman)

Himalayan Snowcocks (like this one) are to be found in central Ladakh, while Tibetan Snowcocks occur in the east  (Mark Beaman)

Himalayan Snowcocks (like this one) are to be found in central Ladakh, while Tibetan Snowcocks occur in the east (Mark Beaman)

In the Nubra Valley the Shyok River cuts through a desert-like landscape  (Mark Beaman)

In the Nubra Valley the Shyok River cuts through a desert-like landscape (Mark Beaman)

The scattered Ladakhi villages are largely dependent on irrigation from snow melt and glacier runoff  (Mark Beaman)

The scattered Ladakhi villages are largely dependent on irrigation from snow melt and glacier runoff (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Sandgrouse is positively common in eastern Ladakh and very approachable. This one is giving its whistling call  (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Sandgrouse is positively common in eastern Ladakh and very approachable. This one is giving its whistling call (Mark Beaman)

Upland Buzzards hunt the plains of Tso Kar, looking for unwary pikas  (Mark Beaman)

Upland Buzzards hunt the plains of Tso Kar, looking for unwary pikas (Mark Beaman)

or the endearing little Stolizcka's Mountain Vole  (Mark Beaman)

or the endearing little Stolizcka's Mountain Vole (Mark Beaman)

The Kiangs or Tibetan Wild Asses of Tso Kar seem to like to seek out vehicles and race them  (Mark Beaman)

The Kiangs or Tibetan Wild Asses of Tso Kar seem to like to seek out vehicles and race them (Mark Beaman)

Even the Kiang foals have to learn to gallop at an early age  (Mark Beaman)

Even the Kiang foals have to learn to gallop at an early age (Mark Beaman)

Quiet moments like this seem the exception rather than the rule  (Mark Beaman)

Quiet moments like this seem the exception rather than the rule (Mark Beaman)

The Grey Wolf is still quite common in eastern Ladakh, hunting the Argalis in the wild lands bordering Tibet  (Mark Beaman)

The Grey Wolf is still quite common in eastern Ladakh, hunting the Argalis in the wild lands bordering Tibet (Mark Beaman)

The magnificent Black-necked Crane is often quite approachable  (Mark Beaman)

The magnificent Black-necked Crane is often quite approachable (Mark Beaman)

This pair are so wrapped up in their display that youngster is being left behind  (Mark Beaman)

This pair are so wrapped up in their display that youngster is being left behind (Mark Beaman)

Awesome scenery, here at Tso Kar, is the norm in Ladakh  (Mark Beaman)

Awesome scenery, here at Tso Kar, is the norm in Ladakh (Mark Beaman)

The last rays of the setting sun fall on the high mountains of 'Wild Ladakh'  (Mark Beaman)

The last rays of the setting sun fall on the high mountains of 'Wild Ladakh' (Mark Beaman)

The restricted-range Mountain Chiffchaff is ubiquitous at lower altitudes in Ladakh  (Mark Beaman)

The restricted-range Mountain Chiffchaff is ubiquitous at lower altitudes in Ladakh (Mark Beaman)

Ibisbills are fairly common along the Indus  (Mark Beaman)

Ibisbills are fairly common along the Indus (Mark Beaman)

In autumn the Güldenstadt's or White-winged Redstarts descend from the mountains into the Indus valley  (Mark Beaman)

In autumn the Güldenstadt's or White-winged Redstarts descend from the mountains into the Indus valley (Mark Beaman)

Leh, Ladakh's tiny capital, is dominated by the City Palace  (Mark Beaman)

Leh, Ladakh's tiny capital, is dominated by the City Palace (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, often perched on rugged hilltops like this one at Thiksey, dot Ladakh  (mark Beaman)

Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, often perched on rugged hilltops like this one at Thiksey, dot Ladakh (mark Beaman)

Thiksey is one of the most impressive cultural 'musts' in Ladakh  (Mark Beaman)

Thiksey is one of the most impressive cultural 'musts' in Ladakh (Mark Beaman)

The view of the Indus valley from the roof is extraordinary  (Mark Beaman)

The view of the Indus valley from the roof is extraordinary (Mark Beaman)

At the roadhead for Hemis National Park our baggage has to transfer to ponies  (Mark Beaman)

At the roadhead for Hemis National Park our baggage has to transfer to ponies (Mark Beaman)

and even the tiny Ladakhi donkeys, barely a metre tall  (Mark Beaman)

and even the tiny Ladakhi donkeys, barely a metre tall (Mark Beaman)

Our camp is lost amidst the vastness of the landscape  (Mark Beaman)

Our camp is lost amidst the vastness of the landscape (Mark Beaman)

Blue Sheep or Bharal are the favourite prey of Hemis's Snow Leopards (Mark Beaman)

Blue Sheep or Bharal are the favourite prey of Hemis's Snow Leopards (Mark Beaman)

Often they allow us a very close approach  (Mark Beaman)

Often they allow us a very close approach (Mark Beaman)

They are also fearless when it comes to racing down the precipitous slopes, which is just as well as the 'grey ghost' bogeyman waits for the slow and the unwary  (Mark Beaman)

They are also fearless when it comes to racing down the precipitous slopes, which is just as well as the 'grey ghost' bogeyman waits for the slow and the unwary (Mark Beaman)

At lower altitudes the splendid Urial gets taken by the leopards, especially in winter  (Mark Beaman)

At lower altitudes the splendid Urial gets taken by the leopards, especially in winter (Mark Beaman)

A Snow Leopard spots a group of Blue Sheep and starts to stalk them, right in front of our group! (The scratches below his right eye are from a spat with his mate a few days earlier, which we also witnessed!) (Mark Beaman)

A Snow Leopard spots a group of Blue Sheep and starts to stalk them, right in front of our group! (The scratches below his right eye are from a spat with his mate a few days earlier, which we also witnessed!) (Mark Beaman)

After creeping silently down the slope it crouches barely 10 metres away from the sheep, and they graze on, blissfully unaware... (Mark Beaman)

After creeping silently down the slope it crouches barely 10 metres away from the sheep, and they graze on, blissfully unaware... (Mark Beaman)

Minutes pass, and then suddenly it hurls itself forward in hot pursuit. (Mark Beaman)

Minutes pass, and then suddenly it hurls itself forward in hot pursuit. (Mark Beaman)

The Blue Sheep run for their very lives... (Mark Beaman)

The Blue Sheep run for their very lives... (Mark Beaman)

It leaps... (Mark Beaman)

It leaps... (Mark Beaman)

But it is a fraction too late...as in about 7 out of 8 hunts (Mark Beaman)

But it is a fraction too late...as in about 7 out of 8 hunts (Mark Beaman)

The Blue Sheep hurry uphill to safety... (Mark Beaman)

The Blue Sheep hurry uphill to safety... (Mark Beaman)

The Snow Leopard walks slowly away into the crags, looking sad... (Mark Beaman)

The Snow Leopard walks slowly away into the crags, looking sad... (Mark Beaman)

There is nothing like seeing your first Snow Leopard for raising the spirits, and even more so if you are about to be served hot tea by our wonderful camp crew!  (Mark Beaman)

There is nothing like seeing your first Snow Leopard for raising the spirits, and even more so if you are about to be served hot tea by our wonderful camp crew! (Mark Beaman)

At the other end of the size spectrum in Hemis are tiny pikas. This is a Nubra Pika  (Mark Beaman)

At the other end of the size spectrum in Hemis are tiny pikas. This is a Nubra Pika (Mark Beaman)

Preyed on by the inquisitive Mountain Weasel  (Mark Beaman)

Preyed on by the inquisitive Mountain Weasel (Mark Beaman)

There are some interesting birds in Hemis, including Red-fronted Serin  (Mark Beaman)

There are some interesting birds in Hemis, including Red-fronted Serin (Mark Beaman)

Streaked Rosefinch  (Mark Beaman)

Streaked Rosefinch (Mark Beaman)

and Robin Accentor  (Mark Beaman)

and Robin Accentor (Mark Beaman)

To the north of Leh lies the spectacular Khardung La  (Mark Beaman)

To the north of Leh lies the spectacular Khardung La (Mark Beaman)

According to the sign it is 18,380ft (5602m) at the pass!  (Mark Beaman)

According to the sign it is 18,380ft (5602m) at the pass! (Mark Beaman)

Two Grey Wolves watch the interlopers in their territory at Tso Kar  (Mark Beaman)

Two Grey Wolves watch the interlopers in their territory at Tso Kar (Mark Beaman)

Their preferred prey are the Argalis that roam the rocky slopes  (Mark Beaman)

Their preferred prey are the Argalis that roam the rocky slopes (Mark Beaman)

Golden Eagles are common in Ladakh  (Mark Beaman)

Golden Eagles are common in Ladakh (Mark Beaman)

and Bearded Vultures or Lammergeiers pick clean the bones of the Snow Leopard and Grey Wolf kills  (Mark Beaman)

and Bearded Vultures or Lammergeiers pick clean the bones of the Snow Leopard and Grey Wolf kills (Mark Beaman)

A Tibetan Sandgrouse flies off after drinking by our camp  (Mark Beaman)

A Tibetan Sandgrouse flies off after drinking by our camp (Mark Beaman)

The unique Groundpecker, or Ground Tit, surely deserves monotypic family status rather than be subsumed in the Paridae  (Mark Beaman)

The unique Groundpecker, or Ground Tit, surely deserves monotypic family status rather than be subsumed in the Paridae (Mark Beaman)

Other Tibetan Plateau endemic passerines include the handsome Blanford's or Plain-backed Snowfinch  (Mark Beaman)

Other Tibetan Plateau endemic passerines include the handsome Blanford's or Plain-backed Snowfinch (Mark Beaman)

and the much less fancy Tibetan or Adams's Snowfinch  (Mark Beaman)

and the much less fancy Tibetan or Adams's Snowfinch (Mark Beaman)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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