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Your Words - We tell it like it is! Holiday Reviews by previous Exodus travellers  

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70 Reviews

  • Reviewed April 2020

    6 Snow Leopards, two Oracles and a Woolly Rabbit!

    Ladakh is a beautiful region of Northern India. Add to that the friendly welcome and the variety of wildlife and culture and you have a destination that it would be hard to find fault with. This was my second visit and this time I was there to see Snow Leopards. Except, of course, they're so rare that the chances of spotting just one would be very low. And indeed spotting just one was impossible - I saw a total of 6 during the 10 days I was there, including relatively close sighting of a mating pair on our first day in the mountains, a mother and her two cubs and a solitary Snow Leopard rolling in the dust to hide its scent before hunting. Our group as a whole saw 12. This amazing tally was due largely to the experience, skill and dedication of the spotting team and our leader, Valerie, who between them took us to the right places at the right time and found the well camouflaged big cats where we may have only seen a buff coloured rock. And let's not forget the Blue Sheep, Lammageier Vultures, Bearded Griffon, Golden Eagles, Woolly Rabbits, Uriel Goats and Alpine Chough. This is a challenging trip - cold, altitude and remoteness all add to the adventure although its well within the abilities of anyone with the right kits and who has trudged the hills in the UK. But it's worth it for the experience of the incredible Himalayan landscapes, the unique culture and the amazing flora and fauna. If you have the chance, book the trip that coincides with the Stok Festival, a colourful and spectacular celebration of Tibetan Buddhism in the form of music and dance culminating in the appearance of the village oracles.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    There were many inspirational 'stand out' moments for me. These are a few of my personal ones. Watching the mating behaviour of a pair of Snow Leopards; the Oracles in a trance at Stok; having a local ask me if he could take a photo of me and his little daughter; the 'Street Kids' walking tour of Old Delhi. I loved standing outside the tent at 6.30am, watching the mountains light up while drinking a cup of steaming hot black tea. The rush up to the viewing platform when one of the spotters shouted 'Snow Leopard'. One of our crew demonstrating the correct way to slide down a frozen river on a flat stone.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    This is my second trek with Valerie and she proved to be every bit the excellent leader on this trip as she did on the previous one. Knowledgeable, understanding of individual and group needs, Valerie's decades of experience in the region enabled her to be flexible with arrangements and cope with the changes forced on us by the Covid-19 outbreak at the end of our trip. Evenings were spent listening to her tell us about the region, the wildlife and the people. The crew she had picked were excellent and dedicated to the roles they played. They were clearly very loyal to Valerie.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    In general, come prepared for cold weather. The nature of this particular trip means you will be standing around searching for wildlife or viewing and taking photographs so the heat normally generated trekking will quickly go. I found I was wearing a thick down jacket most of the time simply because although the sun can be warm, there is usually a cold breeze in the valleys and much of the time is spent stationary. If you're out all day, as soon as the sun disappears below the mountains the temperature drops very quickly. I wore thick winter socks for the same reason. The terrain underfoot was, in general, no harder than UK hills and a 3 season boot would probably suffice. We didn't need crampons but 'yaktrax' or similar might be useful as we had to cross a couple of frozen rivers. The Exodus kit list is a good starting point; vary it according to your own preference for cold weather. Don't skimp on the sleeping bag as this is your refuge and a good night's sleep is important. You don't need lots of changes of clothing because you don't end up sweating a lot and everyone is in the same situation. Exodus provide top quality spotting scopes (Swarovski) but you might want to bring your own, which can help with spotting and will enable you to digiscope. The nature of our encounters with Snow Leopards meant that big lenses were necessary because of distance and digiscoping would be ideal in these circumstances. Some great photos were taken with scope and mobile phone. Our encounters lasted a while, so a tripod (or at least a monopod) would makes things easier on the arms. But don't forget camera kit to cope with the amazing landscapes, villages and festivals too. Be aware that there is close scrutiny on the internal flights - all our camera kit had to come out of the back packs and was checked by the security people at Dehli before boarding the internal flight.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Approach this trip with realistic expectations and you won't be disappointed.
  • Reviewed April 2020

    Excellent trip

    A very well balanced and well organised trip - a very good combination of a little time in Delhi, time at a festival and of course looking for snow leopards and other wildlife. We were incredibly lucky to see lots of snow leopards along with lynx, blue sheep, eagles and a mountain hare. Loved the festival too - lots of colour and a fascinating experience. The crew were efficient, knowledgeable and helpful - in fact, really couldn't have hoped for more. The hot water bottles at night were particularly appreciated! Quality of the hotel in Leh was great too. It was a shame we had to miss out on the homestay but coronavirus meant that we were asked not to do it by the local people (a very fair request). I found that where required Valerie was great at allowing flexibility during the trip and, all in all, I don't think it could have been better organised or executed. Just make sure you have lots and lots of very warm and appropriate clothing as it's really cold - and apparently it was warmer on our trip than it normally is!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing the pair of snow leopards on the first day.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Excellent

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Factor 50 sun cream and as many warm clothes as you can cram in your bag.
  • Reviewed March 2020

    Snow leopards found

    If you have ever dreamed of seeing the elusive snow leopard then this is the trip for you. Don't think about it just book it. Ladakh is an incredible region and you couldn't ask for a better guide than Valerie. Been there, done that and probably knows the location of every rock on the mountain. As for the area - if you saw nothing but the scenery you would get your moneysworth, however the team scour the countryside for wildlife - with lammegeiers and golden eagles regularly sighted overhead. As for the snow leopards themselves we had 12 sightings - an extraordinarily good year, some were very distant and only visible with the fantastic Swarovski scopes. However we were also lucky enough to get a mother and cubs sighting and a mating pair at distances under 600m - this isn't a petting zoo - which is clear enough for binoculars and long lens cameras. Photographers with a dslr need to thing 500m or bigger with tripods and teleconverters. It will not be Africa Serengetti encounters, but that makes them even more magical. Failing this kit the guides are adept at taking mobile shots through the spotting scopes - good enough for keepsakes and memories of an incredible trip. It is cold though and involves trekking on rocky trails - so heed the trip notes, get good warm boots and kit and enjoy your complimentary hot water bottle ( after a lovely filling meal) Icing on the cake is the Street Kids tour of Delhi and the inspieational stories of the work done by the charity. Can't thank Valerie and team enough and gladly go and do it all over again - if she can take the stress of getting my mountain of camera kit through customs.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing a mother and two cubs on the same day we saw a pair of snow leopards above camp. Everyone raced up the hill to the spotting scopes, forgetting the altitude. We were still chatting excitedly over our luck at evening meal, having watched them for 3 hours.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Valerie is rightfully a legend - she knows everyone and even read us local tales from a book. She lives and breathes the region and that in turn feeds into the group and how good the trip turned out to be. She is also widely respected by the local people and staff, case in point one evening a ranger had his own client with an eye problem - first port of call was Valerie to see what she thought.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Don't scrimp on a warm sleeping bag, proper boots for the terrain and warm layers. This is not extreme terrain but you will enjoy life a lot more if you are comfortable. Take a small bag to leave in Delhi and another drybag of something to change into when you get bag to Leh. Likelihood is you will be wearing same clothes for daysin camp so just be warm.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Probably one of the best experiences I have done. I had thought I'd be lucky to see snow leopards once. To have 12 sightings, a lynx and then high tea in The Imperial just made the trip beyond my wildest dreams. Thanks to Valerie, the crew and my camera porter / assitant photographer Chosgun. Without whom the 600mm lens would have travelled up trails a lot slower.
  • Reviewed September 2019

    A Proper Adventure

    This was a remote trek in a tough mountain environment south west of Leh. After three days acclimatising in Leh, we spent around 10 days climbing high passes, crossing rivers in full flood and seeing few people outside our own little group. Every day was challenging. We experienced a range of weather from blizzard to heat wave, rain to frost and always a cold breeze at the top of every pass. And every day I would lie back in my tent after dinner and know I’d pushed myself and feel really good about it. We experienced unseasonable weather which forced changes to the itinerary, which our crew and leader were more than capable of dealing with. Heavy snow on the mountain prevented us from summiting Dzo Jongo but we reached the top of Konga Ri in brilliant sunshine and pristine white snow. Such was the nature of the trek that I was not left feeling disappointed at not getting the big mountain, as the whole experience was a proper adventure.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The most inspirational moment of the trek for me was the realisation that I had got to the top of Konga Ri. I’d had a few days of self doubt and I’d found the climb in deep snow tough. But when I got to the top of the mountain, dropped my pack and just took in the incredible panorama of Beautiful snow capped mountains, none of that mattered. I think the slice of cherry cake Tamchos, our guide, gave me at that point may have helped as well.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Valerie, our group leader, was more than a match for anything the mountains could throw at us. She was able to adjust the route and camp sites to deal with the delays caused by weather and still keep us on track. Her knowledge and experience came across in her confidence, which in turn gave us the confidence that we would complete the trek. Our group provided her with some challenges of her own, but they were all dealt with professionally and without fuss or drama. I certainly benefited from her advice and encouragement. And she has some great after dinner stories that made our experiences pale into insignificance!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The internal flight and trek weight limits mean you have to be ruthless with your packing. If I was going back this time next year I wouldn’t take a heavy down jacket (which I didn’t use) but instead I’d use a midweight one and several fleece and base layers. The river crossings are inevitable and cold and you need to wear some kind of protection for your feet as the riverbed can be sharp and uneven. I took cheap crocs but as there was walking between crossings and it wasn’t practical to keep changing back and forth, I would take a cheap pair of walking sandals next time (as did most of the rest of my group). I ended up walking in my light fabric boots, which was fine, but they took a full day of sunshine to dry out. If, like me, your previous treks have been the likes of Everest Base Camp and/or Kilimanjaro, know that this is physically and mentally much more challenging. I found it hard to accept that although we were climbing passes between 4800m and 5300m most mornings, we would descend again to camp much lower, losing the hard gained altitude. It’s the nature of the terrain and its good acclimatisation but it might sap mental stamina as well as energy. A good group dynamic helped me.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    This is a fantastic adventure, full of hard challenges and amazing rewards. Leh and its surroundings offer an amazing cultural centre worth exploring. Once in the mountains, for every icy river crossing, there was a Lammergeier Vulture or Golden Eagle. For every muddy path there was a stunning landscape of rugged mountains and for every rainy day there was laughter in the mess tent. If you have doubts after reading my review, perhaps it’s not for you. But if it has fired you up, then sign up. I might see you in the next group!
  • Reviewed September 2019

    Amazing Manali - Leh Cycle, led by Valerie Parkinson!

    I had been wanting to do the Manali - Leh cycl for some time, having done several treks in Ladakh, and it lived up to its reputation as a tough, but spectacular challenge! We were lucky to get the bad weather out of the way at the start, and as we crossed each successive pass, the weather got better and better. We had a really friendly group of 12 cycling, and under Valerie's expert leadership we enjoyed an unforgettable trip. The scenery was spectacular, and made the long climbs, rough stretches of unsurfaced road and river crossings all worthwhile. The team of camp assistants and cooks were brilliant, and always so kind and helpful.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Crossing some of the highest road passes in the world with breathtaking views, and arriving in Ladakh entirely leg-powered from Manali!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    In a word, brilliant! Valerie's experience is second to none, and she gives confidence to everyone in the groups she leads. Her care of everyone in the group, especially when people are not feeling great, is wonderful, and she enable people to come through and complete treks where they might otherwise not succeed.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Make sure you are really fit and ok climbing for several hours at a time! The rewards make it all worth it!
  • Reviewed September 2019

    Amazing Manali - Leh Cycle, led by Valerie Parkinson!

    I had been wanting to do the Manali - Leh cycl for some time, having done several treks in Ladakh, and it lived up to its reputation as a tough, but spectacular challenge! We were lucky to get the bad weather out of the way at the start, and as we crossed each successive pass, the weather got better and better. We had a really friendly group of 12 cycling, and under Valerie's expert leadership we enjoyed an unforgettable trip. The scenery was spectacular, and made the long climbs, rough stretches of unsurfaced road and river crossings all worthwhile. The team of camp assistants and cooks were brilliant, and always so kind and helpful.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Crossing some of the highest road passes in the world with breathtaking views, and arriving in Ladakh entirely leg-powered from Manali!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    In a word, brilliant! Valerie's experience is second to none, and she gives confidence to everyone in the groups she leads. Her care of everyone in the group, especially when people are not feeling great, is wonderful, and she enable people to come through and complete treks where they might otherwise not succeed.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Make sure you are really fit and ok climbing for several hours at a time! The rewards make it all worth it!
  • Reviewed September 2019
    Paul Rayner

    Be prepared for the unexpected

    It wasn't as expected! I have trekked in Ladakh before and had reviewed my previous photos before this trip. None of us, including Valerie, were expecting to have to face a blizzard, and heavy overnight snow on a couple of nights! The result was that rivers were swollen and crossings became more difficult, and the ascent of Dzo Jongo East was not possible. It was also a remote trek - we only saw other people or groups occasionally, and the sudden return to civilisation was a bit of a shock. Personally I also found that altitude acclimatisation this time took much longer than expected; I am used to high altitude but I think old age is catching up! But overall a great experience, and conditions, particularly the blizzard, led to a close group bonding developing.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Two of them. One was the developing attraction of the mountains. Last time in Ladakh I found myself comparing the Indian Himalaya unfavourably with the Everest region. This time, the terrain seemed more varied and attractive, perhaps in part due to the fresh snowfall. It made me feel I wanted to go back again and see more. The other was, with hindsight, the climb up the river gorge from Chuskurmo and up over the Gongmaru La into the Nimaling valley. The gorge and river crossings were a challenge following the overnight snowfall, I found getting to the top of the pass a real struggle, and we then had to get down to the camp site through a blizzard and sit in the mess tent for a couple of hours (sustained by black tea) while the lost sheep were found and the tents put up. I don't think anyone enjoyed it much at the time - it took me half an hour in a sleeping bag to stop shivering, though we all did the best to keep morale up. But the next day I felt an immense sense of achievement, and I hope others felt the same.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Brilliant as always. Her experience really showed through during the blizzard when she and some others got lost. She had a grip on everything, and a fair bit of illness to deal with, but always had time to chat, and encourage people where necessary.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Make sure you are fit and experienced enough for the trek; enjoy yourself; but be prepared for things not going according to plan. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. I think we shall dine out on some of the stories from this trek!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Overall and with hindsight, a great experience. But if I go over 5000m again, I shall make sure I have plenty of time for altitude acclimatisation! It was only on the final 5000m pass of the trip that I could trek up it easily.
  • Reviewed August 2019
    Richard Schwartz

    Perfect combination of remote, Himalayan scenery and culture...

    I'm surprised there hasn't been a review of this great trip so far this year, so I'll leave mine. It was a perfect combination of beautiful, remote Himalayan scenery and culture. There is ample time for acclimatization in Leh, with some short walks and ancient monasteries to visit, as well as optional travel on the world's highest motorable road (up to 5,500 meters/18,000 feet). Much care was given to monitor us for altitude sickness, including nightly surveys. There were some headaches in the first few days, but nothing serious. The trek was beautiful, with mainly comfortable homestays, all with private rooms and some with attached bathrooms. Exodus staff prepared all our meals, which were excellent. I should mention that the last homestay night had a disgusting toilet. The trekking is described as "gentle walks," but be advised that there are steep ascents and descents every day. The walks were in the neighborhood of 4 to 6 hours a day, which is not difficult, but the grades at times were demanding. That said, the guides paced us slowly and the views at the top of the passes were beautiful and adorned with prayer flags. Ancient monasteries waited for us at every stop. My only disappointment is that there are not more treks like this in Ladakh. I would certainly return, though other itineraries require too much camping for my taste.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The tops of the passes and several ancient monasteries.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Jagmat was excellent.
  • Reviewed March 2019
    Iain Roberts

    Stunning

    This was a wonderful trip, well organised and lead by the wonderful Valerie Parkinson. We had a great mix of people, who all got on together, and this does really help when your trekking in extreme conditions. The hard work put in by the spotters, porters, cooks and helpers was gratefully appreciated. No task was too much trouble, and always done with a lovely smile. These guys certainly earn their money.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The whole trip from start to finish was good fun, but seeing a couple of snow leopards was the highlight of the trip. The wonderful scenery. We had 36 hours of snow, but when the sun came out and seeing the snow capped Himalayas in all there glory, was truly magnificent.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Valerie is a natural. Laid back, well organised, and was great fun to be with. You can see the pleasure she gets from being in the Himalayas, and helping the local people.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Do take the warmest of sleeping bag. We had very low temp. so everything does freeze during the night, so if you need to keep anything warm, just put in your sleeping bag. My face wipes, contact lens solution where all frozen after the first night. I have to admit, that over the six days camping, I only changed once, and probably only washed once, but everybody is in the same boat, so don't worry. As we had a lot of snow, I was really glad to have a pair of micro spikes. They made a huge difference trekking on the snow and ice. They give you a lot more confidence, but do buy decent ones ( Yak Trak ) as cheaper ones will fall apart after one day.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The home stay was a welcome relief after a few nights camping. The people in the mountain village are really wonderful. Nice to be in a room with a log burning fire, and to get up to a hot cup of tea and freshly baked bread.
  • Reviewed November 2018
    Marie Josee van Rijn

    Himalaya experience

    Wonderful, inspiring and active trip full of challenges. Beautiful scenery, great people, lovely staff. Truly one of the best experiences in my life.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Climbing over the highest passes, overcoming my fear of descending (I really prefer walkin uphill), letting go of everything that was going on in my life back home, meeting wonderful new people, dealing with altitude and learning the effects it has on your body, meeting monks in Ladakh and visiting the Taj Mahal (I booked the extension Golden triangle).

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Ngima was the best! He was so experienced with climbing and the altitude. Also, he was extremely fit. He made sure everyone was doing alright all the time and motivated us to keep on going even if we were having a hard time. He showed genuine interest in all of us and opened up to us during the trip. Tashi was great as well, as was the rest of the staff.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    I was very happy with my walking poles for the descents. Also, bring lots of sunscreen and a hat with a long flap that covers your neck. Exercise enough at home before you start this trip. I was very happy that a came prepared and fit enough. The altitude and the heat during the day already make it hard so having a certain level of fitness really helps you to be able to enjoy this trip instead of having to struggle through it. Bring a set of playing cards and invite the rest of the staff to join you for a game after diner; they love that! Earplugs will come in handy at night as most nights you will here the continuous sounds of the bells on the horses that stay around the tents. Warm clothes are a must, especially a warm hat, fleece and gloves. A washcloth helps you clean up a little bit during the 7 days camping when you get a bowl of warm water and you try to ‘shower’ in your tent ;-).