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SNOW LEOPARDS & BIRDS OF LADAKH, INDIA – A Quest for the Grey Ghost of the Mountains

Tuesday 1st March – Wednesday 16th March 2022

Leaders: Mike Watson and Jigmet Dadul

16 Days Group Size Limit 8
Wednesday 1st March – Thursday 16th March 2023

Leaders: János Oláh and Jigmet Dadul

16 Days Group Size Limit 8

SNOW LEOPARDS & BIRDS OF LADAKH, INDIA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Snow Leopard Special tours in Ladakh, India are extraordinary adventures in the very best place on earth for seeing and photographing Snow Leopards. Your chances of seeing one are close to 100% and multiple sightings are the norm in the mating season in February/March! Join us for a unique experience in Ladakh, a very special part of northwestern India and indeed the world. There is some great birding and additional exciting mammal watching in Ladakh. Major bird specialities include both Himalayan and Tibetan Snowcocks, Tibetan Partridge, Black-necked Crane, Solitary Snipe, Ibisbill, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Ground Tit (or Groundpecker), Blanford’s and Black-winged Snowfinches and Great Rosefinch. Additional mammals, all of which we are likely to see, include Blue Sheep, Siberian Ibex, Urial and Argali (huge wild sheep), Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) and Grey Wolf. What an amazing selection!

The bewitching Snow Leopard is one of the most evocative mammals of our planet and on this special tour we will make a big effort to see this once, as far as wildlife enthusiasts are concerned, near-mythical creature in the majestic mountains of Ladakh in northwest India.

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 and also the valleys around Ullay in Ladakh in the western Himalayas we stand an extremely high chance of observing ‘the grey ghost of the mountains’. We will have to spend plenty of time scanning wild and barren mountain slopes, but with enough time in the area (which we always have on our tours) we should be able to get decent views, or even truly wonderful views, of this most alluring of cats. The chances are close to 100%! We have never missed Snow Leopard on our tours to date, and usually enjoy multiple sightings! February/March is the mating season for the Snow Leopard and the very best time to go in search of ‘The Cat’ as the locals charmingly refer to it. We will be doing our level best to make sure participants can get some reasonable photographic images of Snow Leopard during our visit, and sometimes there is the chance to photograph these beautiful cats at much closer range, especially when they are at a kill or mating.

Ladakh, ‘land of high passes’, situated in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in northern India, is by far the best place in the world to get to grips with this fascinating creature. Until quite 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 were always 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 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, while being utterly different from that of most of India. Hemin National Park and the Ullay area hold good numbers of other large mammals, including Grey Wolf, Bharal or Blue Sheep, Ladakh Urial (another huge wild sheep) and Siberian Ibex, while smaller inhabitants include Woolly Hare, Royle’s Pika, Red Fox and Mountain Weasel.

Hemis and Ullay are also interesting places for birding and we should see such birds as Himalayan Snowcock, Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), Himalayan Vulture, Upland Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Saker Falcon, Hill and Snow Pigeons, Güldenstädt’s (or White-winged) Redstart, Wallcreeper, Robin and Brown Accentors, Black-winged (or Tibetan) Snowfinch, Red-fronted (or Fire-fronted) Serin and Blyth’s, Great and Streaked Rosefinches. The Hemis National Park and Ullay area of course the main venue of this tour, because of their Snow Leopards, but we will also visit the Indus river valley, where Ibisbill and Solitary Snipe live.

To the east of Leh is the very edge of the huge Tibetan Plateau and this region offers some truly great birding, including such additional specialities as Tibetan Snowcock, the sought-after Tibetan Sandgrouse, Groundpecker (or Ground Tit) and Blanford’s (or Plain-backed) Snowfinch. Furthermore, Tibetan Partridge, Upland Buzzard and Black-winged (or Tibetan) Snowfinch are easier to see here than further west. The area also features additional mammals such as the feisty Kiang (or Tibetan Wild Ass) and the impressive Argali (or Nyan), the world’s largest wild sheep.

As well as these extra birds and mammals, the scenery along the awesome Indus Gorge and on the bleak and windswept Tibetan Plateau is a draw in its own right. Winter camps of hardy nomadic pastoralists can also be seen in the area and are fascinating to visit.

Ladakh is the highest region of India’s state of Jammu & Kashmir, with much of it being over 3,000m (9,800ft). It spans the Great Himalayan, Zanskar, Ladakh and Karakoram mountain ranges, and the upper Indus River valley after this mighty river crosses into India from Tibet. The Ladakh and Zanskar ranges have no really major peaks; their average height is a little less than 6,000m (19,700ft), but few of its passes are less than 5,000m (16,400ft). Ladakh is a high altitude desert as the very broad expanse of the Himalayas in northwest India create a strong rainshadow, denying entry to the monsoon clouds. Natural vegetation mainly occurs along water courses and on high altitude areas that receive more snow and have cooler summer temperatures. The main source of water is the winter snowfall on the mountains. Recent flooding in the region has been attributed to abnormal rain patterns and retreating glaciers, both of which might be linked to global warming.

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. Having had the good fortune to be part of India, its Tibetan Buddhist traditions have not been under pressure. We will have an opportunity to visit one of Ladakh’s most famous and spectacular buddhist monasteries at Thikse, and we will also be able to explore Leh with its interesting old quarters, City Palace and eyrie-like Victory Monastery.

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 between India, Tibet and Xinjiang 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.

Why not join us for one of the last great mammal-watching and bird-watching adventures?!

Birdquest has been operating Snow Leopard tours and Ladakh birding tours in India since 2013.

Acclimatizing: Unless you are very confident of your ability to rapidly adapt to transition to high altitude, based on past personal experience, we would highly recommend that you fly into Leh a day before the tour starts so that you can get used to the altitude. Leh area is an interesting place to have some extra time, with some fascinating and spectacularly situated monasteries. Our office can make hotel, transfer and excursion arrangements on request.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Leh is of a very good standard. The homestay accommodation at Ullay is clean and warm but very simple, with a pit toilet. At Tso Kar, we stay at a basic but heated guesthouse. During the camping nights at Hemis, 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. As well as the sleeping tents, there is a large dining tent with gas heater, a kitchen tent, a toilet tent and (on demand) a shower tent. The roads we use range from good to moderate.

Walking: The walking effort involved is mostly moderate (much would be fairly easy were it not for the high altitude), but the more energetic will have the option for some more demanding hiking at Hemis or around Ullay if desired. There is often no need for energetic hiking in order to see Snow Leopards. They can regularly be seen from the valley bottoms. However, hiking to higher altitudes may improve the chances of finding a cat at a kill or having some other interesting encounter.

Climate: Predominantly dry, with a mixture of sunny and overcast weather (sunshine is the norm here in Ladakh). Some light snow is likely. Temperatures range from cool to cold, and can be very cold at night and in the early morning, ranging from highs averaging around -3 to 3°C (26-38°F) in the shade (it feels warmer in direct sunlight) to lows averaging about -10 to -15°C (5-14°F). The air is very dry in Ladakh, so low temperatures do not feel as cold as in moist climates. You will need a good down jacket and other clothing and footwear that will keep you warm in such conditions.

Mammal & Bird Photography: Opportunities are good during our Snow Leopard & Birds of Ladakh tour. However, you have to be fortunate to get close photographs of Snow Leopards, as opposed to more distant shots.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Multiple sightings of Snow Leopards virtually guaranteed: we have never missed 'The Cat'!
  • Roughly every three or four tours we get a close view of the ‘Grey Ghost of the Mountains’ at a kill or even mating!
  • A genuine ‘once in a lifetime’ experience camping in the Western Himalayas of Ladakh, fully supported by our top team of outfitters and Snow Leopard spotters
  • Exploring well-known Snow Leopard hotspots at Hemis and around Ullay (where information from a network of local spotters has made sightings the norm)
  • The unique Ibisbill and the elusive Solitary Snipe along the stony banks of icy rushing glacial waters
  • An abundance of Güldenstädt’s Redstarts adorning Sea Buckthorn bushes in the Indus Valley like Christmas decorations!
  • The diminutive White-browed Tit-Warbler playing hide and seek with us in the scattered scrub
  • The hulking White-winged Grosbeak, its presence betrayed by cracking sounds as it devours rose hips deep within thorny tangles
  • Watching out for the ever-popular Wallcreeper, which can be seen anywhere from the river beds to the highest cliffs in winter in Ladakh
  • Stupendous mountain landscapes, from the jagged Ladakh and Zanskar Ranges to the granite formations of the north bank of the Indus. This tour is a geologist’s dream!
  • A good supporting cast of mammals, from adorable pikas to Blue Sheep, Urial and Siberian Ibex , all potential meals for the (Tibetan) Grey Wolf as well as 'The Cat'.
  • Travelling along the Indus Gorge and up onto the Tibetan Plateau, one of the world’s most spectacular road journeys
  • A trio of ‘Tibetan’ star birds on the Tibetan Plateau; the hardy Tibetan Sandgrouse, the feisty little Tibetan partridge and the beefy Tibetan Snowcock
  • Searching around Nomadic herders’ camps for Blanford’s Snowfinch and Ground Tit (or Groundpecker)
  • Two great mammals around Tso Kar will catch our attention: Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) and Argali (the world’s biggest sheep)
  • Ladakh’s wonderful Tibetan Buddhist culture, numerous fortress monasteries and the endearing Ladakhi people themselves, some of the kindest in the world

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Leh airport, Ladakh. Overnight very comfortable hotel.
  • Day 2: Drive to roadhead in Hemis National Park. Walk to our camp.
  • Days 3-7: Hemis National Park. Overnights camping.
  • Day 8: Return to Leh for very comfortable hotel overnight.
  • Day 9: Drive to the village of Ullay. Most of day exploring. Overnight at homestay.
  • Days 10-11: Exploring Ullay (or Ulley) area. Overnights at homestay.
  • Day 12: Ullay, then return to Leh for comfortable hotel night.
  • Day 13: Drive to Tso Kar. Overnight at guesthouse.
  • Day 14: Tso Kar area. Overnight at guesthouse.
  • Day 15: Tso Kar, then return to Leh.
  • Day 16: Morning tour end at Leh airport.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, camp staff and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)




2022: £3390, $4850, €3950, AUD6250. Leh/Leh.
2023: provisional £3460, $4950, €4030, AUD6380. Leh/Leh.

Single Supplement: 2022: £190, $280, €220, AUD360.
Single Supplement: 2023: £190, $280, €220, AUD360.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

The single room supplement only applies to the hotel nights in Leh. During the camping nights, all participants have their own individual tent. At the homestays/guesthouses there are twin rooms, but anyone wanting single accommodation is welcome to use a tent.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.

SNOW LEOPARDS & BIRDS OF LADAKH, INDIA: DETAILED ITINERARY

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 1  Our Snow Leopard and birds tour of Ladakh, India starts early this morning at Leh airport (flights from Delhi, the capital city of India, generally arrive in the morning). We will be transferred to our hotel in Leh for an overnight stay.

The flight over the Western Himalayas from India proper to Ladakh is usually spectacular, with views of ice- and snow-encrusted peaks stretching away towards the horizon. As Leh is situated at an altitude of about 3,300m or 10,800ft, we will take it easy today and start to get adjusted to the thin air of Ladakh. Ladakh is one of the few remaining abodes of Buddhism and the Leh area is home to a number of impressive religious buildings, including the Shey, Thikse, Spituk and Stok monasteries. These show unique prayer wheels, chortens (stupas), statues of Buddha, thangkas (Tibetan silk paintings) and prayer flags. This afternoon we will pay a visit to Thikse monastery.

We will also explore a couple of interesting areas for birding near Leh. The town is situated in the Indus valley, not far from where the Zanskar river joins its turbulent waters, and a ribbon of vegetation lines the river in this otherwise barren landscape. Human settlements, however, are more richly vegetated due to irrigation and are surrounded by fertile fields and trees. Natural vegetation commonly seen along watercourses includes Tibetan Buckthorn, willows, wild roses, Tamarisk and caraway, while natural vegetation in the unirrigated desert around Leh includes capers, rhubarb and several species of aromatic Artemisia (wormwood).

A few pairs of the strange but beautiful Ibisbill inhabit the shingle banks of the Indus river. Small marshes and pools hold Mallard and other wildfowl, Common Moorhen and Common Coot. We will also search for the little known Solitary Snipe at the edge of stony streams. Among the willow groves and fallow fields, birding forays should produce Oriental Turtle Dove, Black-eared Kite, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Magpie, Red-billed Chough and Cinereous Tit.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 2  After breakfast we will transfer to the roadhead in Hemis National Park, situated at an altitude of about 3,600m or 11,800ft.

From the road head, it is only a little over an hour’s walk, gently uphill alongside a river, to our campsite situated at about 3,700m or 12,100ft. Our luggage will be carried by donkeys and ponies and on our walk we will get acquainted with the more common birds and mammals of these magnificent mountains. After settling into our camp, where we will spend six nights, we will have our first opportunity to look for Snow Leopards from a nearby viewpoint.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Days 3-7  We will spend our time looking for Snow Leopards, Blue Sheep (their main prey species), other mammals and birds, and enjoying the truly spectacular scenery of Hemis.

Hemis National Park is a high altitude area in the eastern Ladakh region of India’s state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is India’s only protected area inside the Palearctic ecozone and with its 4,400 square kilometres, it is presently the largest national park in South Asia. The park is bounded on the north by the Indus River and includes the catchments of the Markha, Sumdah and Rumbak rivers, and parts of the Zanskar Range. The park houses numerous Tibetan gompas and holy chortens within its boundaries. These include the famous 400-year old Hemis Monastery. Hemis was a destination and transit point on the silk routes across the Tibetan Plateau. The highest mountain in the park is Stok Kangri (6,123m or 20,090ft), which dominates the area and offers simply magnificent views.

Hemis National Park is probably the best place in the world to try to see the fabled Snow Leopard. The park is home to a viable breeding population of about 200 of these big cats. This magnificent mammal occupies alpine and subalpine areas, generally between 3,350 and 6,700m (11,000 and 22,000ft) in Ladakh, and is currently restricted to the mountain ranges of Central Asia in Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Its geographic distribution runs from the Hindu Kush in eastern Afghanistan and the Syr Darya through the Pamir Mountains, the Tian Shan, the Karakoram, Kashmir, the Kunlun, and the Himalayas to southern Siberia, where the range covers the Russian Altai mountains, the Sayan, the Tannu-Ola mountains and the mountains to the west of Lake Baikal. In Mongolia, it is found in the Mongolian and Gobi Altai and the Khangai Mountains. In Tibet, it is found up to the Altyn-Tagh in the north. The total estimated population is 4,080-6,590. However, the effective global Snow Leopard population (those likely to reproduce) is suspected to be fewer than 2,500. The Snow Leopard features on the endangered species list as it is still widely poached and persecuted for its coat and as a recent substitute for the high-priced tiger bones used for Chinese medicine. Other individuals are killed by herders because of raids on domestic stock.

Hemis National Park is an especially good habitat for this predator as it has abundant prey populations. The prey base for this apex predator is primarily supported by Bharal (Blue Sheep, Argali (Great Tibetan Sheep), Ladakh Urial (Shapu) and livestock. Smaller prey consists of marmots, Woolly Hares, pikas, various rodents, and birds such as Himalayan Snowcock and Chukar. Considerable predation of domestic livestock occurs, which brings it into direct conflict with humans. Herders will kill Snow Leopards to prevent them from taking their animals. Loss of natural prey animals due to over-grazing by domestic livestock, poaching and defence of livestock are the major cause for the decreasing population of Panthera uncia. Snow Leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats. As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock; they readily abandon their kills when threatened and may not even defend themselves when attacked.

Snow leopards are smaller than the other big cats and stand about 60cm (24 inches) at the shoulder. They have long thick fur, and their base colour varies from smoky grey to yellowish tan, with whitish underparts. They have dark grey to black open rosettes on their body with small spots of the same colour on their heads and larger spots on their legs and tail. Unusually among cats, their eyes are pale green or grey in colour. Snow leopards show several adaptations for living in a cold mountainous environment. Their bodies are stocky, their fur is thick, and their ears are small and rounded, all of which help to minimize heat loss. Their paws are wide, which distributes their weight better for walking on snow, and have fur on their undersides to increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces; it also helps to minimize heat loss. Snow Leopards’ tails are long, very thick and flexible, helping them to maintain their balance, which is very important in the rocky terrain they inhabit. Their tails are very thick due to storage of fats and are very thickly covered with fur, which allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep, as well as serving as a counterweight when they are moving or climbing rapidly. The Snow Leopard cannot roar and its vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls and wails.

Snow Leopards usually live above the tree line in mountainous meadows and in rocky regions. They prefer broken terrain and can travel without difficulty in snow up to 85cm (33 inches) deep, although they prefer to use existing trails made by other animals. Like other cats, Snow Leopards use scent marks to indicate their territory and common travel routes. These are most commonly produced by scraping the ground with the hind feet before depositing urine or scat, but they also spray urine onto sheltered patches of rock and mark protruding rocks with their cheek glands. They are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk. They are known for being extremely secretive and well camouflaged.

We will spend the best part of every day scanning the nearby and more distant mountain slopes in the hope of finding and photographing this most wanted creature. We will be amidst some of the most impressive mountain scenery the world has on offer. Our man on the spot has an uncanny rapport with the cat and knows the best areas to find this elusive creature. He will point out the pug marks, show us the scrapes and scat and encourage us to smell the scent marks under overhanging rocks. We stand a very high chance of getting to grips with one of the most mythical animals on earth, perhaps several times, but we will have to keep our eyes open as this beautiful animal can be extremely difficult to spot due to its secretive and elusive nature and perfect camouflage. Once detected it has the ability to vanish in front of the eyes of the observer and the name ‘the grey ghost’ given to it by local people refers to this remarkable characteristic.

As well as ‘The Cat’, we should encounter a nice selection of other mammals in these forbidding mountains. The Bharal or Blue Sheep is the most abundant mountain ungulate in Ladakh. This gregarious animal displays characteristics of both sheep and goat and lives on high altitude pastures, steep rocky slopes and open hillsides. The Ladakh Urial or Shapu is another unique mountain sheep that inhabits these mountains. The population is declining, however, and presently there are not more 3000 individuals left in Ladakh. The Urial is endemic to Ladakh, where it is distributed only along two major river valleys, the Indus and Shayok. The squat Himalayan Marmot is abundant on open, grassy stone-strewn slopes, but all or most will be hibernating at this season. Other interesting mammals here include Woolly Hare, Royle’s Pika, Red Fox and the extremely agile Mountain Weasel.

The birdlife of these barren mountains is limited and is distinctly Palearctic (temperate Eurasian) in character. We will surely hear the characteristic whistles of Himalayan Snowcocks emanating from high meadows and spot this large gamebird while it searches the alpine meadows for bulbs and tubers, or calls from a prominent point. Chukars abound and favour the vicinity of fields and villages. Rock and Hill Pigeons, and sometimes Snow Pigeons, can be found on precipitous cliffs. The raptor guild is well represented and we should find Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Upland Buzzard, Golden Eagle and Saker. Torrents are inhabited by both White-throated and Brown Dippers, while birding the small damp areas can turn up Solitary Snipe. Common Ravens patrol the skies and vocal parties of Red-billed and Alpine or Yellow-billed Choughs forage on the slopes. Birding in the scrubby areas should reveal Robin Accentors and Streaked Rosefinches. Other species we should find here on our birding excursions include Tibetan Snowfinch, Brown Accentor, Fire-fronted Serin, Twite, Plain Mountain Finch, Blyth’s Rosefinch (split from Red-mantled) and Rock Bunting.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 8  After a final day at Hemis we will retrace our steps to Leh for a very welcome night in our very comfortable hotel!

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 9  This morning we will drive to the remote Ladakhi village of Ullay (or Ulley) for a three nights stay at a simple village guesthouse. This afternoon we begin our explorations of the Ullay area.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Days 10-11  We will explore the surroundings of Ullay, which is situated at about 4,000m (13,000 ft), staying with a charming local family for three nights. Here we will have further chances for Snow Leopard sightings and we will also be looking for Grey Wolf and Siberian Ibex, both of which are regularly seen in this splendid area. This is also a great area for finding Urial, yet another wild goat species characteristic of Ladakh.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 12  After a final morning around Ullay we will return to Leh for a well deserved overnight stay at our very comfortable hotel.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 13  Today we will drive to Tso Kar, a remote saline lake situated on the Tibetan Plateau in eastern Ladakh, where we will stay for two nights.

Our journey will take us along the course of the awesome Indus Gorge and as we continue eastwards in the direction of its source, near Mount Kailash in Tibet, the sacred river narrows and becomes a rushing Himalayan torrent, sometimes flowing under sheets of ice. One cannot underestimate the importance of the river to the subcontinent. For neighbouring Pakistan, the Indus provides much of the irrigation of its main agricultural region, the Punjab. Even the name India is derived from the Indus. Our route will take us along one of the world’s most spectacular roads as we pass through some very impressive mountain scenery in the deep gorge.

We will make a couple of stops along the way where side valleys join the Indus. Here we should find Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), Solitary Snipe, the extraordinary Wallcreeper, White-throated Dipper and Black-throated and Robin Accentors. We should see our first Kiangs (or Tibetan Wild Ass) before we ascend the Polongkongka La pass. Needless to say, there will also be stops to admire and photograph the awesome scenery.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 14  During our time at Tso Kar we can expect to have great encounters with the attractively patterned Kiang (or Tibetan Wild Ass). Tibetan Argali (or Nyan) should also be encountered. This is the largest wild sheep in the world, standing 3.5 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2m) at the shoulder, the rams sporting an impressive set of horns, some measuring as much as 190 cm (6.2 ft) in length and weighing up to 23 kg (51 lb)! Grey Wolves are also frequently seen in this area and still pose a threat to the livestock of animal herders here. Guinea-pig like Ladakh Pikas haunt rocky areas or even stone walls, emerging on warmer, sunny days.

Birding is also great here, featuring such interesting birds as Tibetan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, the impressive Tibetan Sandgrouse, the strange Ground Tit (or Groundpecker) and Blanford’s (or Plain-backed) and Black-winged (or Tibetan) Snowfinches. Black-necked Cranes have sometimes returned to the area by mid-March (and are often very approachable), as have Ruddy Shelducks.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 15  After some final birding and mammal watching around Tso Kar, we will return to Leh for another welcome night at our very comfortable hotel.

Snow Leopards & Birds of Ladakh: Day 16  Our tour ends this morning at Leh airport.

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