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15 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 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 March 2018
    Neil & Carole Bowman & Mahoney

    Snow leopards aplenty!

    This was our second visit to Hemis NP in search of the snow leopard. Our visit in 2011 produced one very brief sighting. On this return visit we were amply rewarded with several lengthy sightings on four of the six days we were there, giving us the chance to view them stalking prey (blue sheep), resting and ridge-walking. Much of our success was due to the incredible skill and dedication of our Ladakhi spotters. We cannot thank them enough. We were also priveleged to have good sightings of a pair of wolves, a herd of urials, picas, woolly hares and several large birds of prey including two Eagle Owls roosting and flying at dusk. Apart from wildlife watching, there were very good cultural experiences too - visiting monasteries, attending a Buddhist masked dance festival at Matho Monastery and a welcoming homestay in the traditional Ladakhi village of Rumbak.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing one of the leopards, after resting, stand up then roll around on the ground with paws in the air! We were told this helps camouflage its coat and hide its scent from its prey.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    As we have said many times, Valerie Parkinson is second to none in all respects!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If you have visited the Himalaya during the summer months, we would highly recommend the contrasting experience of winter in Ladakh. There are very few other tourists, the scenery is different but more spectacular for its frozen rivers and snow-covered slopes. Yes, it can be very cold, but it can also be very bright and sunny, so, as long as you have the appropriate kit, there should be no problem. And don't take too many changes of clothes! Do as the local Ladakhis do in winter.....

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Again, thanks to our Ladakhi team who looked after us with great care and thoughtfulness - nothing was too much trouble for them - and, of course, Valerie Parakinson.
  • Reviewed March 2016
    Colin Kirkby

    Cold Ladakh

    In spite of the temperature of Ladakh (very cold) we were well looked after by our leader Valerie and the trekking team.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The magnificent views of the Himalayan mountain scenery.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Excellent, experienced and knowledgeable of the region.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Make sure you are prepared for the cold and take more warm clothing than on other treks
  • Reviewed March 2016
    Gordon Tyrrall

    In Search Of The Snow Leopard

    I felt privileged to see this unique part of the world - its awesome magnificence,its wildlife,and its culture.The Buddhist ceremonies at Matho were fascinating and I appreciated the fact that it was nota show put on for tourists,(of which there were very few) but for the ladakhi locals.Once we began trekking and camping,the environment revealed its beauty,but also its harshness and austerity - the cold and the altitude were a challenge for most of us I think,although we were very well catered for by our ladakhi guides and porters.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing the Rumbak valley.Seeing wolves and a lynx.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Valerie was an excellent group leader - tougher than any of us,and always on hand to give advice.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The obvious thing - take good cold weather gear,especially sleeping bag and down jacket - however,you dont really need great big waterproof walking boots as the trails are mainly dry and dusty.
  • Reviewed March 2015
    Deb Bradley

    In Search of the Snow Leopard

    This is an amazing and very spiritual place. The scenery is absolutely spectacular. The stars are unrivaled. The hiking is technical and challenging, and makes you focus in a way that is very rejuvenating. The homestay was a wonderful experience. The crew that we had while camping were amazing, and we were always in awe when it felt like we had hiked so far away, and then two of our guys would show up with tea or lunch!!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I have to say although it was very brief, the most inspirational moment was catching a glimpse of a snow leopard in the wild. What an incredible animal, and I feel very lucky to have seen it in it's home.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Chosphel Sonam was excellent. He has a good sense of humor and made sure everything was done for our trip to run smoothly.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Of course you want to see a snow leopard in the wild. But it is certainly not a guarantee. We didn't see one until the last day, and even then it was just a few seconds. I was actually surprised at how desolate the place is. Besides snow leopards, I thought we would see other wildlife. We did see signs of wildlife, but really saw very little. The scenery and experience is worth it, but if you are expecting to see a lot of wildlife you will be disappointed. Also, it is really, really cold at night so take the absolute best sleeping bag you can!!!!
  • Reviewed July 2013
    Anonymous

    IN SEARCH OF THE SNOW LEOPARD

    A memorable winter holiday, superbly organised and led.  We went for the winter walking, the Buddhist monasteries, Leh out of season and of course the snow leopards, but even had we seen none of the latter this holiday would have been a delight.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The Matho Festival, when, after a day of golden sunshine and intense blue skies, joyous crowds and masked dancers, we watched one of the state oracles appear right in front of us and then leap to the rooftop wall and stand, silhouetted against the backdrop of snow and moon, mountain and crag.  And I loved walking on the frozen river! And I loved hearing wolves howling round the valley in the night!And oh, the starry starry skies! 

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Valerie Parkinson is, without doubt, the best leader we have had on a group tour.  Her knowledge and skills were excellent, her care for the group was superb, and her care for individuals within the group was wonderful.   

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Take the best cold-weather camping equipment you can afford to buy.  We took Rab Expedition down bags, and down sleeping mattresses with built in pumps.  Neither of us were cold at night though the tents were thin and the temperatures very very cold.  We also took microspikes for our boots and these made walking on the frozen river a real pleasure.In Leh we were all given the opportunity to have our own guide/porter (for an additional payment).  We decided to do this and it made the holiday even more special.  We could go where we liked, when we liked because of having our own guide, who kept in touch by radio with the main group guides so could get us to snow leopard sightings very quickly.  We usually plan our own holidays and enjoy being on our own, so this was wonderful for us, like a tailormade within a group holiday.  By the way the group members were all very very pleasant and friendly. 

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    We saw four out of the nine snow leopards in the area.  An amazing tally, considering the number of people whom we met who had seen none, and that, in some cases, on more than one visit.  However we would have loved the holiday even had we had no sightings!  And would we return - well yes we might, we would try to have extra time in Leh, and we would love to take our grandson with us.
  • Reviewed March 2013
    Anonymous

    IN SEARCH OF THE SNOW LEOPARD

    A very rewarding trip to one of the more remote parts of the Himalaya, with great scenery, a great crew, and overall a great experience!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Hearing first-hand about the work of the Indian Wildlife Service, and how the local population are protecting the snow leopard in Hemis rather than persecuting it as in other parts of its range. Support for local communities, in the form of homestays with local families, as well as employing local guides and staff, is a central part of the ethos behind this trip. As a result of this support, and encouraged by the revenue available from sustainable tourism, poaching in the park has been reduced to zero. In a world of environmental bad news, this is surely an inspiring example of how people and wildlife can coexist for the benefit of both.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Valerie is a fantastic leader, but it was also brilliant to see how the local guides were so enthusiastic about the wildlife of the park and it was great to see them warm to the different personalities in the group over the course of our stay. Once animals were spotted, the local guides were just as keen to get time at the spotting scopes and take photographs. And they are good at finding the animals. Quite how they can spot a leopard curled up on a ledge high on a rocky mountain side is amazing to the untrained eye. As a result we were treated to several hours of sightings of a number of animals which far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Although the trekking days on this trip are neither long nor arduous, extremes of temperature and the effects of altitude can combine to make it more challenging, so I would say that this trip is towards the tougher end of grade B. A super-warm sleeping bag is vital, as is lots of high-factor sunscreen.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Many of the group, on hearing of a snow leopard sighting, decided to pay for an extra excursion in the park rather than attend the Matho Festival. For me, the festival was a fantastic experience and a highlight of the trip. While acclimatising by ‘gompa stomping' around monasteries may not be to everyone’s taste, visiting a festival is a great opportunity to see first-hand the importance of religion to local life in this part of the Himalaya. Watching the monks entering a deep trance was enthralling, as were their daring runs along the edge of the roof...