Grey Ghost Quest
Not only plush white-grey fur and black rosettes, but also mystery and magnificence shroud this roving cat that lives in the rugged, cold mountains of Central Asia. Shy, solitary, elusive and endangered, it has remained a spectacular spectre every wildlife enthusiast dreams of seeing.
In the high-altitude mountains of Ladakh, spotting a snow leopard is nothing short of a spiritual exploration. And going in its quest is akin to meditating, only, with your eyes wide open.
- A 15-night/16-day exclusive experience in the great Himalayan mountains
- A soul-enriching adventure in search of the snow leopard and other mammals and birds
- Stunning wildlife photography opportunities in breathtaking landscapes
- Evocative images of Ladakh’s natural beauty including its peaks and valleys
- A wealth of photography and natural-history learning under the tutelage of photography virtuoso, Jayanth Sharma
Far from the crowded parts of Ladakh, Hemis Shukpachan exists as a demure little traditional Ladakhi village. The adjacent hills and valleys are great for trekking and are known to be home to snow leopards and other wildlife.
Hemmed to the great Himalayan mountains are two more villages called Ulley and Yangthang, around which snow leopards are known to make their way down the steep slopes to mate, making winter the best time for spotting one. About 4000 metres above sea level, the area around this small village is also known to foster a wide array of Himalayan wildlife.
Hemis National Park, where the highest density of snow leopards is believed to exist along with several other endemic wild beings, is the only national park that’s in northern Himalayas. The scenic snow-capped mountains inside the park set a great backdrop for wildlife photography and for eyes that relentlessly seek beauty.
The peaks and slopes bathed in snow, the picturesque valleys and the eternal dramatic skies of Ladakh compose a breathtaking landscape in which photographers can seek respite anytime they wish to. Sprinkle some wildlife into the scene, and that’s a perfect nature-lover’s haven.
Identified as the flagship species for the high-altitude Himalayas, the snow leopard has been a phantom feline that has made its very pursuit an exhilarating experience for humans. This crepuscular carnivorous cat has its home range of up to 1,000 square kilometres, and is solitary, a trait which makes its presence before us that much more precious.
And to photograph one in its jagged, rocky habitat can soften your being into nothing more than a blob of intense emotions – the sort of humbling reduction that only making art can bring to us.
There is a furry little being covered with what seems like a well-groomed, modish thick woolly coat that helps it withstand the harsh climate in the cold, cold mountains. The Tibetan wolf is an exotic endemic species you would want to look out for to photograph when you are in Ladakh.
Inhabiting the high elevations of the Himalayas is also the gorgeous Asiatic ibex, and snow leopard happens to be its primary predator. Its majestic horns with circular rings around them brings grandeur to the ibex, making it a truly photogenic mountain goat.
Wearing the mingled reddish-brown shade of the mountains is the lovely Ladakh urial, the wild sheep species that lives in part of the Himalayas. Like the ibex, the urial, too, flaunts its great curved horns, each one thus a royalty in its own right, making itself a great subject for wildlife photography. The Himalayan blue sheep, also known as the bharal or naur, is capable of excellent camouflage, to tease the vigilance of your photographer-eye.
Imagine a four-legged, furry red creature sprinting or strolling against the blank whiteness of the snow. The pretty red fox, locally known as the Watse (in the Ladakhi language), is known be highly active during dawn and dusk, making it a great mammal in its reddish glory to be photographed in the golden light of mornings and evenings.
Keep your eyes peeled for adorableness whenever you come across burrows, rock crevices and tree trunks. For there might be a cute little mountain weasel (also called the pale weasel, Altai weasel or solongoi) or a pika there when you are least expecting to see one, and you wouldn’t want to miss making images of it for the world.
This part of Ladakh rears rare and magnificent birdlife, too. Among other avian creatures, be vigilant to the beauty that the raptor golden eagle is. This bird of prey, used in falconry, can never cease to be a wildlife photographer’s muse. The chubby little chukar is another delightful bird you can look out for when you are roving in the great mountains in search of winged wonders.
Please note: This Tour begins and ends at Leh. Participants may choose to reach Leh by either air or road depending on their preference, but such transport is NOT included in the Tour itinerary or cost. However, all required assistance will be duly provided.
Phase 1: Ulley
23 January 2020, Thursday
Upon arrival, participants are picked up from the Leh airport and checked into the lodge. Those travelling by road will check in to the lodge directly. The rest of the day will be spent in acclimatization to the high altitude and the low temperatures. Later, the Tour Skipper will facilitate a mutual introduction and orient the group to what may be expected on the Tour. And after a scrumptious dinner, we retire for the night.
24 January, Friday
Post breakfast, we leave Leh and start our journey through the picturesque mountains to reach Hemis Sukpachen. We check in to our homestay and after lunch, we follow our guide and explore the surrounding mountainous area for snow leopards and other wildlife.
We return to our homestay in Hemis Sukpachen in the evening. After a delicious dinner, we call it a night.
25 January, Saturday
We have an early breakfast and scan the adjacent hills and valleys for snow leopard and other wildlife sightings in the morning. We then drive down to Ulley just before lunch. Post lunch, we begin a snow leopard trek and return to our homestay by evening. We camp overnight in Ulley.
26 to 29 January, Sunday to Wednesday
The Ulley-Yangthang-Hemis Sukpachen area consists of several valleys like the Akheyur Valley, Spango Valley and villages like Sumdo and Saspoche etc. For the next four days, we will be staying at Ulley or any other village depending on the latest sighting report and keep scanning the valleys and adjacent hills in search of the snow leopard, following the popular signs it leaves behind – pugmarks, kills and territory markings.
Other than the snow leopard, the area also has a good population of the Asiatic ibex, the Ladakh urial, the red fox, the Tibetan wolf, the mountain weasel, the pika and the gorgeous golden eagle.
Depending on the latest sighting reports, our breakfast and lunch will be arranged in the field. In the evenings, we return to the homestay and camp overnight in Ulley.
30 January, Thursday
We spend the morning in the snow leopard habitat at Ulley. Post breakfast, we drive down to Sumdo, and reach Leh after our lunch en route. We spend the night in Leh.
Phase 2: Hemis National Park
31 January, Friday
Post breakfast, we drive down to Spituk and reach Zinchan, and the lunch will be arranged en route. We leave our car at Zinchen and trek to the campsite. Selection of our campsite largely depends on the weather condition and the latest sighting report. However, the site is generally chosen to make our trek easy. Reaching the camp before sunset, we have an early dinner and stay overnight in the amazing Hemis.
1 to 5 February, Saturday to Wednesday
As a protected area, the Hemis National Park is known to have the densest population of snow leopards. However, sighting of one largely depends on the snowfall, location of blue-sheep herds and various other factors.
Every morning for the next five days, we have early breakfast, and leave our camp in search of the elusive phantom of the mountain. We have our picnic lunch in the field or return to our camp depending on the route plan of that particular day. The snow-leopard tracking ends by late afternoon and we then return to the camp and retire for the night.
6 February, Thursday
Post breakfast, we leave our camp in search of the snow leopard one last time on this Tour. We return to our camp for lunch and embark upon a trek to Zinchan, and drive down to Leh. We reach Leh by evening and stay overnight.
7 February, Friday
Post breakfast, check out of our hotel and reach the Leh airport to catch our homebound flights. We leave with a lot of great stories to share with the world – of the great mountains and the rare, elusive beings that inhabit those elevations.
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Couple on Twin Share Accommodation
- Per Person on Twin Share Accommodation
- Accommodation on twin-sharing basis according to itinerary
- All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and hot beverages (coffee and tea)
- Packaged drinking water
- Hemis National Park and protected area permits and photography fees
- Airport transfers by non-AC cars
- All other transfers as mentioned in the itinerary by non-AC Toyota Innova or Mahindra Xylo or similar cars
- Guide and camping crew fees
What’s Not Included?
- All airfare
- Any kind of personal expenses or optional tours, extra meals, alcoholic drinks and beverages ordered
- Insurance, laundry and phone calls
- Tips or gratuities
- Porter fees to carry personal belongings while trekking if needed, which can be arranged at INR 1,500 per porter per day.
- Cost involved in changing of itinerary due to natural calamity or unfavourable weather conditions, medical emergency, political unrest or any other unintentional and unforeseen situation.
- All applicable taxes
- Anything that is not included in the Inclusions list
- 100% of the Tour fee as booking amount
- 100% of the Tour fee on or after 29 November 2019
Please note: The date of written (email) communication of intent to cancel is the date considered for calculation of the cancellation fees.
While Toehold Photo Travel is one of our most popular offerings, we work as a travel agency without bringing the photography guide element in to your travel. In short you would be using our travel experts service to just plan the vacation and execute it.
- Unlike a Photo Travel experience, your Vacation is completely personalised.
- The dates, style of travel, class of hotels and lodges, destinations, everything is tailor-made to suit your custom requirement.
- A Skipper or a photography guide doesn’t travel with you to guide you unless you decide to take our customised and guided photo travel experience.
So take advantage of the immense experience and field knowledge that we bring in to your Vacation’s planning without having to pay for our time and costs. Plus, we don’t charge an additional fee for our time and travel planning services.
What are the requisites to participate in this tour?
Apart from interest in wildlife photography, adventure travel or exploration, a minimum level of fitness is essential. If you’re unsure of your fitness or suffer from chronic altitude sickness or a known illness, please consult your physician before signing up for this Tour.
Why is fitness required for this Tour? What will be the climatic conditions?
Conditions on this Expedition will be harsh and challenging. Nighttime temperature can plunge to a testing -30° celsius, with the mercury hovering between -15° and -10° by day. Good cold resistance and dedicated cold-weather clothing is therefore absolutely essential on this Expedition. Please talk to us to know more.
I am a newbie in nature photography. Am I eligible?
Absolutely! This Tour is meant for fledgling as well as experienced photographers. Beginners get all the advantages of learning on and off the field from Toehold’s eminent Skippers. In fact if you are a newbie, you should jump on this terrific learning opportunity and sign up right away! However, in order to make the most of the Tour photographically, we recommend that you be familiar with photography fundamentals. If you’re not, we suggest you join an Art and Science of Photography Workshop before the Tour.
What are the chances of sighting a snow leopard on this Tour?
Although the snow leopard is very much an inhabitant of the regions we will be visiting, a sighting of it is highly unlikely due to the time of the year and the altitudes we will be restricting ourselves to.
Who can be a part of this Tour?
Any individual above the age of 18 (unless accompanied by a parent or guardian) who has the requisite fitness to complete the Tour can participate.
What equipment do you suggest on this Tour?
Since most or all of the snow leopard sightings, if we’re fortunate to have them at all, are likely to be from afar, carry the longest focal length lens possible, along with a telephoto zoom such as the 70-200mm for compressed landscapes and contextual portraits of other animals. A wide-angle lens to portray the breathtaking landscape is absolutely essential. Keep your gear as light as you can, considering the tough conditions. Also carry plenty of protection for your gear from snow and rain. Visit our Rental Store to see what we offer.
How different are your Photo Tours from ordinary tours?
Unlike travel agents who plan your holiday from a remote destination to places they sometimes haven’t experienced themselves, Photo Tours offer a comprehensive toehold to experience a place through the guidance of a professional photographer. The common ingredients in all our Photo Tours are fun and a lot of learning and knowledge-sharing. Besides, most or all of our Tour participants are photography enthusiasts, which keeps the group in harmony and helps make your experience focused.