Snow Leopard Quest!
Sunday 25th Feb – Wednesday 8th March 2018
Quest for the "Grey Ghost"
There can be few more evocative animals in the world than the cat family and to top these is of course the Tiger. But for some the most mystical and rarely seen Snow Leopard has become the most wanted to see cat in the world. Just over 400 western people have ever seen this staggeringly beautiful creature in the wild and for many wildlife watchers this has become their "Holy Grail". We will be visiting an area of the Himalayas where our local guides have been watching Snow Leopards for over 10 years. Our spotters and guides are the very best available and indeed our main local guide is the same one that the BBC use to help them find the Snow Leopard for all there wonderful documentaries. Our chances of seeing Snow Leoparde are actually very high as the guides now know the habits and best places to look. We would be very surprised to not get several sighting during our time in Snow Leopard country. Of course we all know its wildlife and not a zoo, so no guarentees. Our recent visit in 2016 provided us with super views of 2 different Snow Leopards and a host of other exciting mammals and birds. What can make or break a tour like this is the ground crew and team we have that attend to our every need. Cooks, assistant cooks, spotters, and guides all help to make this a fantastic adventure. In fact we simply could not believe the quality of the food produced by our ground team, they made cooked breakfast, porridge, hot drinks all day long, they even cooked pasties, pizza, an apple pie, chicken, fish, fresh vegetables and wherever we were during the daytime they would arrive with hot drinks and a hot meal. The best picnic lunches anywhere! So aprt from our main goal of seeing Snow Leopard we will also keep a look out for other mammals of this part of the Himalayas such as Tibetan Wolf, Red Sheep, Lynx and Ladakh Urial. Amongst the birds we will search for Solitary Snipe, Ibisbill, White-winged Redstarts, Robin Accentor, Tibetan Snowfinch, Himalayan Snowcock and possibly Indian Eagle Owl. If seeing Snow Leopards is on your life-time bucket list then join the very best team on our quest to see the "Grey Ghost".
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Day 1 Arrive Delhi - Sunday 25th Feb
Please plan on arriving this day into Delhi where we will transfer you to a hotel just 15 minutes from the airport. Please note this is just an arrival day with no activities planned. Because of varying arrival times from different destinations we are only including dinner today.
Day 2 Delhi - Leh - Monday 26th Feb
This morning we will transfer to Delhi airport for our connecting flight to Leh. This must be one of the most sensational flights in the world. On a clear day from one side of the aircraft can be seen in the distance the peaks of K2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum and on the other side of the aircraft, so close that you feel you could reach out and touch it, is the Nun Kun massif. Upon arrival in Leh we enter a different world and once through immigration we will be transferred to our hotel. Here we will take a little time to settle in and acclimatize since you have gone from a relatively low elevation in New Delhi to over (3,500m) 11,000 feet. After lunch you can either rest or for those too excited to rest we will take a trip to a nearby river in search of our first birds. Remember this primarily a rest and acclimatization day. There is also the option to look around the old town, beneath the Leh Palace, where you can get oriented to this fascinating city.
Overnight in hotel in Leh.
Day 3 Leh - Tuesday 27th Feb
Today offers a full day of acclimatization and for those that wish we will have an easy day looking for some of the key birds near to town. Our first goal will be the much sought after Ibisbill a bird that inhabits the rocky cold rivers runninging along the edge of Leh. Other birds along the river can include shorebirds most of us are familiar with such as Green and Common Sandpipers, as well as the very smart Himalayan race of White Wagtail (Motacilla alba personata) often called Masked Wagtail. We could also find Citrine Wagtail and Brown Accentor, but another of out target birds in this wet habitat is the difficult Solitary Snipe. We know quite a few good areas that this bird likes and we will check all these with the hope of finding this special bird.
Time will be spent back at the hotel just relaxing and enjoying a cup or two of local tea while we get used to the altitude.
Overnigight in hotel in Leh
Day 4 Leh - Zingchan - Wednesday 28th Feb
After breakfast we will set off with all our bags and equipment in one or more vehicles towards Hemis National park about a 1 hour drive. An exhilarating drive through the mountains to the end of the road where our team and a set of Donkey's await. Here we leave the vehicles and transfer all of our luggage onto the Donkey's so as to make us as free as possible for the slow walk up the Rumbak Valley to our camp area in the heart of Snow Leopard country. The walk is only a few miles but we take it very slowly having our first hot soups and picnic lunch along the way. We expect to take about 3 hours to walk to camp where our team will have already put all the tents up, including kitchen tent, dining tent, toilet tent and for those camping your home for the next 8 days. Those who have opted for a homstay in the small village 10 minutes walk beyond our camp, we will have a hot drink while our luggage is transfrered to the homestay, after which we will walk to the village and settle in. Note that all meals will be taken in camp in our dining tent. The food our team prepares will astonish you and each day you are sure to be amazed at what they produce. The food in the homestay is probably OK but we prefer to use our superb team as they cater much better for our western palate. The scenary all around camp and the village is sensational and even without seeing any wildlife you just know you are in a very special place. Chukars will be around camp and Red-fronted Serins scout around in small flocks. The haunting call of Himayan Snowcock echo through the valleys and a Snow Leopard could be spotted at any time.
1st night in tented camp or homestay
Days 5 - 11 Rumbak Valley - Thurs 1st March - Wed 7th March
Each day in these beautiful picturesque mountains will see us with some sort of routine. We will get up for a nice warm breakfast in our heated dining tent, during this time our guides and spotters will already be out looking for signs of Snow Leopard activity and of course will alert if they see anything. Once we are full and warm we will have the choice of just hanging around camp or the nearby lookout, an area just a few hundred metres away that we can and often scan the hillsides and mountain tops for the elusive Snow Leopard, or you can take a slow walk into one or other of the nearby valleys spending most of the day away from camp. Wherever we happen to be around lunchtime, some of our camp crew will arrive, with hot drinks, soup and a hot lunch. After this they will head speedily back to camp to get tea, coffee and biscuits ready for when we arrive back in the late afternoon. Doesnt this seem all very civilize, well our team of cooks and helpers make it so. As for our guides they are the most respected of all the guides and as such we are priveleged that they are working with us. Superb trackers and spotters they spend dawn til dusk looking not just for Snow Leopard but also other mammals such as the very rarely seen Eurasian Lynx or maybe Tibetan Wolf. Blue Sheep are fairly common and are the favourite prey of the leopard so we always pay particular attention to these. Our team have so far led over 40 tours in search of Snow Leopard with 100% success. Even so I reiterate its wildlife and nothing is guarenteed. Depending whether it has snowed or not this makes a difference to the tracking and indeed visual spotting of leopards. They are a little easier to see and track with a light covering of snow, and the area looks even more spectacular with white mountain tops. On our daily walks we can hope to see birds such as Red-fronted Serins and maybe flocks of Brandt's Mountain Finches and even Tibetan Snowfinch. Twite are fairly common, Lammergeier can be seen nearly every day, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Great Rosefinch, Brown Accentor and Robin Accentor are never far away, while Himalayan Snowcock and Tibetan Partridge can also be found. White-browed Tit-Warbler, Sulpher-bellied Warbler and Wallcreeper are present in the rocky gorge below camp but both can be elusive. Royale's Pika, Mountain Weasel and Stone Martin are possible and with luck we should enjoy views of one of the most mystical and spectacular cats in the world, the Snow Leopard. With 7 days to look for the "Grey Ghost" we have enough time to hopefully secure at least one view and maybe multiple views which then puts you in a very elite group of people to have ever seen this awesome creature. At the end of each day we often spend a little time at the lookout before the sun drops along with the temperature and hot drinks call back at the dining tent. A wonderful will have been prepared throughout the day and we will enjoy this while going over the days storys of what we did and didn't see. For those camping you will have a hot water bottle to take to bed and for those in the homestay a 10 minute walk to your house with a room and matress, lots of thick blankets and a hot log fire.
Nights in 1 or 2 person tents or in individual rooms in homestay.
Days 12 - 13 Rumbak - Tso Kar - Thursday 8th March
Later this morning after a final look for Snow Leopard we will trek back to Zingchan and then drive to Tso Kar. Here we all stay in a honestay far up in the mountains. The house owners farm and live of the land and our visit helps enormously to supplement their hard existence. Our team of cooks will still be with us and happy to look after our needs as normal. Here we have more chances to see Snow Leopard but our first chance to see Asiatic Ibex and possibly Ladakh Urial, Asiatic Wild Ass or the rare Argali as well as one of the best places to find Tibetan Wolf. We have 2 days to explore this valley with its clear mountain streams and endless snow-capped mountains. It will depend on whether the road is passable due to snow conditions as to whether we can get here, but if not we will visit another Valley the Ullay Valley where once again we have good chances for Snow Leopard and Tibetan Wolf. Birds around Tso Kar include the majestic Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hume's Short-toed Lark, Blanford's Snowfinch, Red and Yellow-billed Choughs and the superb Hume's Groundpecker.
2 nights in homestay.
Day 14 Arrive Delhi - Friday 9th March
After a final morning in this wonderful valley searching for more birds and mammals we head back to Leh.
Night hotel in Leh
Day 15 Arrive Delhi - Saturday 10th March
Today we will transfer to Leh airport for our flight back to Delhi where depending on your international flight departure time you will either be transfered to Delhi airport departues or go to a hotel 15 minutes away to spend the night where you will then depart from Delhi the following day.
Night near airport in Delhi
Day 16 Departure - Sunday 11th March
After breakfast we will transfer to the Airport in time for your international departing flight.
Leaders: Steve Bird, Gina Nichol and the No1. Snow Leopard Team
Ground Price (Main Tour): £2295.00 - Delhi/Delhi
Airfare: £390.00 - £550.00 (Approx) - UK / UK Zoothera tour prices explained
Included in cost: All Accommodation in hotels as above, then camping in two person tents, Homestay if you wish this option (see below), domestic flights Delhi - Leh/return, all meals from dinner on 25th Feb to breakfast on 11th March, all park entrance fees, transport throughout, all drinks including water, services of a team of 6 including cooks, assistants and spotters, top Leopard spotting guide,and Zoothera leaders.
Not included: International airfare, insurance, tips, and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: All accomodations as stated above.
Tour Code: This tour is focussed on looking for Snow Leopard with a lot of additional mammals and birds to see along the way. This tour has a few demands such as walking several kilometres at altitude, we do this at a slow pace and also allow time in Leh before we trek to camp to acclimatize. You will need to be prepared for cold weather during the vnights in particular and it can get down to minus 25 degrees. Please make sure you bring plenty of warm clothing to allow for this. We will provide a pack list so as you can prepare properly. In the hotel in Leh you will have a very comfortable room with heating at night, but the shower and sink will not have any running water as its still too cold and their pipes would freeze causing all sorts of problems. Instead they will provide large containers of hot water to use in your bathroom. Our ground crew while camping will provide hot water bottles and hot drinks are available all the time. The food is outstanding and prepared to suit western tastes. For those opting for a homestay this will involve possibly a 5 - 10 minute walk from the camp. All meals will be in the camp dining tent and you will just be using the homestay to sleep. The homestay are basic with you having a room for either 1 or 2 persons. There will be matresses on the floor and plenty of thick warm blankets. Each room has a log fire which will be lit in the evening to warm the room, and warm water is provided in buckets and bowls to wash in, as is the case with camping. The tiolets are also basic with a toilet tent and hole in the ground for camping and a seperate room in the home stay but also a hole in the floor. Note that we now provide where we can a western type toilet seat on legs to make life a little more comfy. During the day the temperature rise and can even be warm with no real need for a jacket. The daily walks are done slowly and may be up to 3 - 4 kilometres from camp. It is option whether you take the daily walks or just hang around camp which can be equally good for seeing Snow Leopards. This tour should be treated as an adventure, there may be a few hardships not nirmally assosiated with a wildlife tour, but note you are in a very remote part of the world looking for something very few people have ever seen. We feel the benefits outway the slight discomforts. I mean Wow what a story it is to tell everyone that you have been to the high Himalayas in search of Snow Leopard !
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