Hidden away in the vast Himalayan peaks, the graceful and ephemeral snow leopard can be found stalking the icy cliffs and caves. A solitary and stealthy cat, few people have sighted one in its natural habit, and fewer still for more than just a fleeting glance. The snow leopard has a mystical aura, owing to its rarity as a species and its beauty. An opportunity to witness one in its natural habitat is a remarkable experience almost akin to a pilgrimage.
In the winter months the snow leopard is forced to descend from the colder and snowier peaks to feed and thus chances to see the enigmatic cat are much higher. It preys on blue sheep, ibex, and Tibetan antelope, whilst other wildlife that inhabit the remote region range from the magisterial golden eagle to the curious Tibetan hare, along with wolves and marmots too. Seeing the diverse ecosystem that survives in this treacherous land is a humbling experience.
The starting point for this quest is New Delhi, from where you will fly into Leh, in the north of India. Leh will be your base camp for the duration of the stay in Ladakh, and is a charming Himalayan outpost with Buddhist and Tibetan influences noticeable at every turn. It is important to ease yourself into things as the altitude can be unpredictable with regards to whom it affects. The Thiksey Gompa and the Snow Leopard Conservancy are must-sees before you set off in search of the great animal.
As you travel towards Uley along the Indus River, absorb the dramatic landscape and keep an eye out for wildlife. On the way, make a stop at Likir where one of Buddhism’s more important monasteries is located (as well as an enormous and spectacular gold statue) before arriving in Uley where you will stay with a family and experience Tibetan-style Ladakhi life first-hand.
With your guide you will explore the surrounding terrain in search of the snow leopard and other wildlife of the area. The route is based on recent sightings so is subject to change. The biting cold must be respected and it is advised you wrap up warm, especially as there may be periods of keeping still.
More active in the early hours before dawn makes this big cat elusive but with the expertise of a local at hand you will be under the wing of the best chance of finding one.
Hopefully having encountered a snow leopard and more, you will return to Leh and then to New Delhi, visiting a handful of monasteries and temples in breathtaking settings.
Before departing, the chaotic city of New Delhi is worth exploring further. It is steeped in history and at the same time embodies a new India where things are rapidly developing. Of course, your journey need not end here. India is often described as a continent rather than a country. With over a billion inhabitants and a vast range of natural, historical, and man-made attractions, you could spend your whole life discovering the wonders of India.