This tour is a departure from the 'normal' for Zoothera Birding as we focus on a mammal rather than birds. The most mystical and rarely seen Snow Leopard has become THE most wanted to see cat in the world and still to-date relatively few western people have ever seen this staggeringly beautiful creature in the wild and for many wildlife watchers this has become their Holy Grail. Our tour is based in Ladakh, NW India, a land of remote beauty and the stark landscape and hidden valleys close to Tibet in the Himalayas lay claim to being the best location to observe this most enigmatic and rare mammal. This is a true wilderness where very few people live away from the town of Leh and we will only see a few villagers of Tibetan descent from the tiny hamlets dotted amongst the huge mountains and the feeling of isolation is all encompassing. We will be based at a camp in a wild and remote mountain valley, nestled deep within Hemis National Park from where we will make daily excursions to numerous vantage points in our quest to see the elusive Grey Ghost.
Following a short flight from Delhi, our tour will begin in the capital Leh, a small town in the Indus valley where we will take a couple days to acclimatise at around 11,000 feet and explore the surrounding area where Ibisbill and Solitary Snipe reside. We can also visit the famous hilltop monastery of Thikse Gompa which offers amazing views of the Indus valley. Leaving here we will camp for 7 nights amidst stunning scenery and we have planned our visit to be at the optimal time to see Snow Leopards, as they approach the end of the mating season and the winter snows have pushed them down to much lower elevations than later in the year. This will make it a relatively easier experience to search for them, although at this altitude nothing can be deemed as ‘easy’! Our daily routine will be to scan from various viewpoints in different valleys, watching the groups of Bharal (Blue Sheep) that have also descended to lower elevations and are the main prey of the leopard. Hopefully, we will observe a leopard hunting and we have to watch these sheep for any signs of alarm that could indicate the presence of this top predator skulking nearby. Initially, it is more likely one of our trackers will point out the pug marks of a leopard in the snow and then we will be off in pursuit! This is a true adventure as we are in the heart of Snow Leopard territory and you never know when we will encounter this most elusive of beasts, as they are exremely hard to spot. But on Nick's last visit, we spotted one sleeping on a rock from our camp - you just never know! Apart 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, the rare Eurasian Lynx and Ladakh Urial. Amongst the birds we will search for Himalayan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, White-winged Redstart, Robin Accentor and Tibetan Snowfinch amongst others.
Moving on from here, and as long as the road is open, we will visit Tso Kar on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau where our main target will be to find Tibetan Sandgrouse, whilst other possibilities include Ground-Tit, Mongolian Finch, Tibetan and Blanford's Snowfinches, Tibetan Wolf, and if we are incredibly lucky, Pallas's Cat. So if adventure is what you are after, then nothing will beat our search for the Grey Ghost of Ladakh.