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Snow Leopard Trekking

The thrill of seeking snow leopards is an adventure that is fast becoming a bucket list item for wildlife enthusiasts who have already experienced the adrenaline rush of safari in Africa.

More remote, more challenging for sure, but also immensely rewarding, the hunt to find the leopards often meant staying in lodges in the mountainous regions of India or Tibet without reliable heat and hot water, with common toilets and shared shower facilities, or homestays with the welcoming families of Kashmir. Our partners in India have recently introduced us to Rumbak Lodge, opening December 15 in Ladakh, India. The lodge is located in the high-altitude, cold desert region that is ideal for the snow leopard's survival, as it also has an abundant prey base of bharal (blue sheep), ibex, and marmots.

Rumbak Lodge has 6 suites with luxury amenities previously unavailable in the area: en-suite bathrooms, running hot and cold water, showers, and room heating including heated floors(!). Their excellent facilities include resident naturalists and spotters, spotting scopes, and to top it up the best variety of cuisines. This property will be operational throughout the year, while most of the lodges are only open between October to March.

Other animals in the same area include wolves, foxes, wild dogs, Tibetan antelopes, wild sheep, Eurasian Brown Bear, golden eagles and a variety of vultures and migratory birds. Sightings can be amazing.

The solitary and elusive snow leopard is often referred to as the “ghost of the mountains”. Adult snow leopards only interact with other leopards during the breeding season. Cubs will stay with their mothers for at least 18 months, but they may never meet again once they split up and start wandering the vast mountain expanses independently. Typical life span is 14-18 years. These cats are part of the Panthera genus of other big cats such as lions, tigers, and jaguars, but unlike the others they can not purr! Snow leopards average about 30-60 inches from head to the base of the tail, with a long tail adding on another 35 or so inches, which makes them smaller than the other big cats. Their most common prey is Himalayan blue sheep (also called bharal), and a single meal will keep a snow leopard going for two weeks. Other food in a snow leopard's diet may include Siberian ibex, markhor, Himalayan tahr, argali, deer, horse and camel. When they can't find large prey, snow leopards will also take smaller animals such as voles, marmots and pika.

Chances of sighting Snow Leopard are very good in the region during December right up to April, with the best time January through March. As with all wild animals, sightings are not guaranteed, thus the recommendation to stay at least 5 nights. The Snow Leopard Trek lies in a territory where hospitality and generosity comes from the resilient, stone-hard mountain people who practice gentle and compassionate Buddhism. The region offers visit some of the best monasteries as well a picturesque village with small settlements of Tibetan farmers and their livestock.

What makes this trip challenging is the weather conditions in Ladakh at various times of year. The walking distances each day are moderate. Most of the walking will be optional dependent on your enthusiasm for tracking animals each day. Ladakh in winter can be very cold. From January to March the days can be sunny though there will be a chill in the air. January is the coldest month. By March the days can be up to 45°F (7°C) but the early mornings, evenings and night times can be extremely cold. You must be prepared for temperatures well below freezing. Daytime temperatures in Leh, and on trek, will be from approximately 14° to 40°F (–10°C to +6°C). Night-time temperatures can drop to 14° F to -13°F (–10°C down to – 25°C) with a wind chill (brrrr… but dressed properly, no problem).

An ideal program would be :

Day 1: Arrive Delhi

Day 2: Delhi – Leh flight. Acclimatize for the entire day at altitude (11,562 ft) before trekking

Day 3: Leh – visit the surrounding area – Shey, Thikse and Hemis Monasteries

Day 4: Leh – Rumbak – 1.5-hour drive

Day 5,6,7,8: Rumbak – 4 days spent trekking for snow leopard sightings

Day 9: Rumbak to Leh drive back

Day 10: Leh to Delhi

The ideal trip could also combine Sir Lanka or other parts of Southern India.

The cost of the program for 10 days would be approximately $5,000-6,000 per person, all inclusive of trekking, guiding, meals and local flights.

Adding this to my bucket list! What a fantastic adventure to plan and dream. Contact if you would like to learn more or arrange your own custom trip.

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