Where to track snow leopards

When it comes to spotting snow leopards in the wild, the best place to go is Ladakh. This arid, lofty region ranges in altitude from 3,300m-6,000m and is home to an incredible amount of wildlife. It’s part of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population, yet Ladakh itself is Buddhist. Once a kingdom, rather than a region, the only royalty here now are the snow leopards that prowl its rugged landscapes. Spotting those means travelling in winter, flying over the Himalayas to Leh as roads are blocked by snow, and then driving and trekking into its rugged valleys. Here are our highlights in and around snow leopard country.
Hemis National Park

1. Hemis National Park

This high altitude park lies in the Himalayan Stok range. It’s home to around 200 snow leopards, the highest density in any protected area in the world, with the Husing, Tarbuns and Rumbak Valleys regular haunts. Track them through the rugged landscape, in the shadow of its highest peak, Stok Kangri at 6,153m, looking out for Tibetan wolves, Eurasian brown bears and red foxes, too.

2. Leh

The capital of Ladakh is a stunner at 3,500m, and flying in over the snow capped Himalayas is truly spectacular. Most snow leopard holidays include time to acclimatise to the altitude here before beginning your trek, and to explore the former royal palace, the ancient Namgyal Tsemo Gompa and the lanes and bazaars of the old town. Nearby Tikse Monastery is also a must see.

3. Homestays

Spotting snow leopards means trekking into their landscape, far from humanity, and camping each night. Sometimes, though, there’s the chance to stay in a Ladakhi home in a village such as Rumbak, a tiny settlement tucked into the mountains. This is a great way to directly benefit the local community, while enjoying an authentic cultural experience and a tasty home cooked meal.

4. Shey

Shey was once the residence of the Ladakhi royal family and you can see the ruins of their palace, and a small temple containing a two-storey gilded statue of Buddha here. Keen birders should head out to Shey marshes, too, where the wetlands and riverbanks of the Indus support a huge range of species in an area that extends up to Tikse monastery.
Ulley Valley

5. Ulley Valley

Around a five-hour drive from Hemis National Park, the landscape in the Ulley (or Ullay) Valley is striking and here, the snow leopard’s main prey is the Asiatic ibex – a magnificent goat with curved horns – rather than the bharal (blue sheep). There are just as many snow leopards here as in Hemis but they are not seen as regularly.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Snow Leopards or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Snow leopard tracking advice

Safety & altitude

Safety & altitude

Valerie Parkinson from small group specialist Exodus leads trips to track snow leopards in Ladakh:
“There are risks from the altitude as the trip flies in to 3,500m. However, we minimise the risk of altitude issues by spending three nights in Leh to acclimatise before going out into the mountains. Exodus leaders also have client self monitoring sheets for use at altitude which we get our clients to use. There is no record of any snow leopard attacking a human so no risk from the wildlife at all in Ladakh on the snow leopard trip. There can sometimes be snow around in winter in Ladakh and the trails are quite rough. All the spotting is done on foot so a certain amount of fitness is recommended.”

Safety & altitude

Martin Royle is the founder of our wildlife holidays specialist Royle Safaris:
“I have never had anyone seriously affected by altitude sickness, it is common for headaches (mostly brought on because people do not keep themselves hydrated enough as opposed to true altitude sickness) and shortness of breath. This is normal for the first few days, but gradually gets better. We also are well prepared for taking people back down to the town of Leh to rest if they are struggling. We do not take any risks. However, in my experience people who worry about altitude sickness and talk about it before hand will always get it (I say get it – it is nearly always mental).”
Preparation tips

Preparation tips

Valerie Parkinson, from our supplier Exodus:
“You will be camping for five out of six nights on our trip so conditions are quite basic. Mattresses are provided but a good warm sleeping bag is required. Other things to bring include warm boots – snow boots are ideal – good binoculars, a pee bottle for the nights in the tent, warm clothes, a hat and two pairs of warm gloves – an inner and outer pair. A small insulated sit mat for when you are out spotting is also a good idea. We provide hot water bottles at night and we have heaters in the dining tent at mealtimes.”

Preparation tips

Martin Royle, from our supplier Royle Safaris:
“A decent level of fitness is needed. There is less hiking now than there used to be as the locations for spotting are now well known and so people do not have to hike for a long time to find somewhere to spot from. However, having said that it is still steep and rugged terrain, in the cold and at altitude. So people used to doing some walking or hiking will be ok, but people who struggle to hike for an hour or over unstable or steep terrain may struggle. But I have had an 86 year old on this trip in the past and our guides are very good in making sure people can make all of the hikes.”
Sightings success & responsible tourism

Sightings success & responsible tourism

Valerie Parkinson, from Exodus:
“This year we had six sightings of snow leopards in six days. We have experienced wildlife guides and two good spotting scopes per group. As part of Exodus’s Himalayan community support projects, we are just buying a good Swarovski scope and donating it to train wildlife guides. We are also hoping to help run a training course for wildlife guides later this year.”
What to expect

What to expect

Martin Royle is the founder of our wildlife holidays specialist Royle Safaris:
“We have seen at least two different snow leopards per trip we have run (in February or March) since 2011. We would tell people to expect to be immersed in one of the world’s most incredible and pristine wildernesses. The Himalaya in winter is magical. The tracks of snow leopards walking on frozen rivers is spell bounding. Just being around the Buddhist culture and in the bosom of towering snow covered peaks is something special and almost spiritual in its own right. Then coupled with spectacular wildlife like golden eagles, lammergeiers and blue sheep it is heaven and the fact that you have a very good chance of seeing the ‘grey ghost’, the near mythical ‘shan’, the majestic snow leopard, it doesn’t get much better than that!”

And some tips from our holiday reviews

Make sure you have good telescope, binoculars and camera lenses. Even if you don't see snow leopards, they are needed for the birdlife
- Liz Cooke
“Make sure you have good telescope, binoculars and camera lenses. Even if you don't see snow leopards, they are needed for the birdlife. We spent nearly 50 hours watching interaction between several different cats including hunting and mating. Suggest getting a solar powered charger for electrical equipment - they don't weigh much and work really well. Have a care if you suffer from vertigo - you will be climbing up the side of mountains and walking along narrow trails in order to get good vantage points!” – Liz Cooke
“As well as warm clothing and a puffa jacket the best thing I took to cope with the cold was an extra blow up mattress for camping. I don’t go camping at all usually, so this mattress as well as a very good quality -5°C sleeping bag were really important as I always had a good night’s sleep. Otherwise I would have found it very hard to sleep with the skinny mat they provided. I had that in my pack, with a little pump, and that was perfect.” – Colin Hovey
As well as warm clothing and a puffa jacket the best thing I took to cope with the cold was an extra blow up mattress for camping
- Colin Hovey
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: dxiri] [Looking for wildlife: Adam Greig] [Humayun's Tomb: Jiri Moonen] [Hemis National Park: karunakar rayker ] [Namgyal Tsemo Monestry: Kondephy] [Homestays: Madhav Pai] [Shey: Redtigerxyz] [Ulley Valley: Fabrice Stoger] [Hemis National Park trail: Adam Greig] [Hiking: Jørn Eriksson] [Campsite: Jørn Eriksson] [Walking on the edge of a cliff: Mopop] [Close up Snow leopard: wrangel] [Snow leopard in snow: Irbis1983 ] [Men with telescope: Adam Greig] [Group of hikers: Jørn Eriksson]