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Snow Leopards in the Wild!

next tour: March 23-April 2,2019
Photo Expedition

An exclusive shoot limited to
only nine participants

Two Bases/Sites for potential viewing!

Price: 6595

Single Supplement: limited



snow leopard
Join us as we photograph one of the world's most elusive and charismatic predators.

snow leopard

Until recently, only a handfull of very lucky and very hardy people had ever photographed a snow leopard in the wild. As recently as five years ago I probably could have named every one of them. Snow leopards, dwelling in the high country of central Asia, and the Himalayas rimming the borders of India, Nepal, Pakistan, and China, were remote, and the country virtually inaccessible.

That is no longer the case. Join us on an extraordinary expedition to photograph this beautiful cat. Read our 2013 Scouting Report or the 2015 Snow Leopards Trip Report.


For our 2016 Snow Leopard Expedition we've changed the itinerary somewhat to increase our chances of success, as we will now be staying at two different locations. We'll be camping in Hemis National Park, a prime location where several valleys come together and where Snow Leopards are frequently seen as they travel the valleys and the adjacent ridges, hunting or seeking mates. We'll also be doing a Home Stay at the tiny village of Ulley, the site of our best Snow Leopard sighting in 2015. Ulley's cat sightings are getting better and better each year, and with a far greater exclusivity to the encounters. At Ulley we may also see and photograph Ibex and, if lucky, Gray Wolves.

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Our female Snopw Leopard at Ulley - will she have cubs in 2016?

Hiking at elevation, between 11,000 and 14,000 feet, can be taxing, especially if you are carrying around a big lens. You will have the opportunity to hire a camera porter who will carry your gear. Because of limitations in the number of people at camps and at the Home Stay, we will have one porter per two participants, who can then split the cost involved. This charge is not included in the tour fee, but everyone in 2015 used the porters and loved having that luxury. The porters generally carry the long lenses in packs that you provide, while the photographers hike with smaller zooms or cameras (4/3rds systems), using the long lenses as needed.

 

A few sobering words for prospective travelers.

On our scouting trip our group had eight snow leopard sightings in the six days we were in country, which was an extraordinary number. The 2015 trip yielded only 2 Snow Leopards. As with all wildlife, nothing is guaranteed. Although we will be in prime snow leopard country, with animals that have become as habituated as a snow leopard is ever likely to be, there is the chance that we may not see a snow leopard, or photograph one quite well. We'll be doing everything possible to avoid this, but it could happen, and anyone doing this trip must approach it with a positive outlook, hoping for success but willing to accept disappointment if it would occur. If you read through the 2015 Trip Report you will see that there are other great photo opportunities that may somewhat mitigate this possible occurrence.

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Monk at the monastery; Big-eared Pika; Lammergeyer

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Gray Wolf; Red Fox


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I had one of my greatest disappointments on our scouting trip when I made a stupid decision and passed on a possiblity of visiting a snow leopard kill. A very good friend, Angus Fraser, whose images support this brochure (see the images immediately below), went to the kill and made fantastic images, having an encounter that had me losing sleep with second-guessing for weeks. I learned from that mistake, and my lesson will benefit our fellow travelers -- I won't make a decision like that again!

The six photos below are courtesy of Angus Fraser, one of the
participants of the scouting trip and a great photographer.

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All photos above, by Angus Fraser

A lot of Encouraging Words for prospective travelers

On our first trip, I arranged to have a camera porter for Mary, who helped carry our gear and made our travel through the high country much easier. Because this was a scouting trip we were unable to arrange porters for the rest of the guests, but for our 2015 tour everyone who requested a camera porter had one! There will be an extra charge for this optional perk, but we highly recommend everyone take advantage of this opportunity.

Further, we'll have Swarovski spotting scopes in camp which will provide our participants and the camp staff with quality viewing for either observing distant snow leopards or for finding cats that we'll hike to for photography. With several camera porters, we'll have the opportunity to scout out the small valleys where snow leopards may be sunning or feeding at a kill, and with radios we'll be able to get our group to the site. As I learned from my unfortunate mistake and my subsequent research, snow leopards will visit a kill for two or three days, giving us a good chance to be on site should one be located.

As you can see from the selection of Angus's six images above, I missed a great opportunity. I felt as if I missed the chance of a lifetime, but a few weeks later, while on our tiger safari, I bumped into one of the tourists who was staying in another camp quite close to our's. After we left, he had another great opportunity with a different cat, and made equally good images. At that point, I knew that my missed opportunity wasn't my only chance, that these wonderful experiences could happen again. In fact, in November 2013 one lucky group actually saw a complete, successful hunt, from start to finish!

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sheep urial sheep
Three views of the Blue Sheep and a small herd of Urial Sheep

 

In addition to the chance at photographing snow leopards, the area we'll be based at offers spectacular opportunities for another high country iconic species, the Blue Sheep. Similar in some ways to our Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the blue sheep within hiking distance of our camp are quite habituated, and beautiful subjects.

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Our Itinerary

March 23rd

We'll arrive in Delhi, India, and overnight prior to our early morning departure to Leh on Day 2.
Overnight: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel

March 24th

We'll depart early, for a schedule 6:45AM flight to fly to Leh, arrivng at 8:145AM, and overnight at a hotel, beginning our acclimatizing to the elevation. We're likely to do a bit of sight-seeing by foot in Leh, perhaps visiting a palace in the afternoon, and photographing a Stupa at dusk.
Overnight: Grand Dragon Hotel.

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March 25th

mWe'll continue our acclimating by more short trips and photo excursions to the local areas for landscapes and monasteries. After breakfast we'll drive to the Thiksay monastery, one of the largest and most impressive in Ladakh. In the afternoon we'll visit the Shanti Stupa and the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, giving us a taste of the local culture and great photo opportunities, and more time for acclimatizing. Near sunset we'll head to an overlook to photograph the Shant Stupa at dusk, from a distance where the Stupa will be framed by the blue mountains of dusk.
Overnight: Grand Dragon Hotel

March 26th

We'll depart our hotel early for the true start of our adventure.

Drive west (2-3 hrs.) today on the road to Kargil and Srinagar, generally following the Indus River. You pass through the small town of Nimmu – one of the most important in Ladakh, where the Zanskar River meets the Indus. After a little over an hour you head north on a road marked to Likir – one of Ladakh’s famous Buddhist monasteries. This is all snow leopard country. The landscape here is even bigger, more expansive and open, until you turn off onto a dirt road, winding up a narrow valley, following a stream called the Ulley Chhu. Smaller valleys intersect and the guides have their heads craned all the time, scanning the hill sides and the skyline for any silhouette. This is excellent Ibex country and there are few more evocative sights than a magnificently horned male Ibex standing vigil on some impossibly narrow outcropping, a few thousand feet over a plunging cliff. Ulley village, west of Leh is an area that is only recently being developed for Snow Leopard watching.

Overnight: Snow Leopard lodge


The Snow Leopard Lodge is located in the village of Ulley in West Ladakh, north of the Indus River, at the head of the valley of the Ulley Chhu at an altitude of about 13,000 feet. It is 2 - 3 hours driving time from Leh. Ulley itself is a hamlet of just about 7 houses beyond which are the high summer pastures of yak and dzo. This is excellent Ibex country and there are few more evocative sights than a magnificently horned male Ibex standing vigil on some impossibly narrow outcropping, a few thousand feet over a plunging cliff. This is an area that has only recently been developed for Snow Leopard tracking and has quickly gained a reputation not just for the high numbers of snow leopards but as one of the best areas to see Ibex, Urial, wolf, Himalayan fox, bearded and Himalayan griffon vultures and golden eagles.

The Snow Leopard Lodge is the only dedicated wildlife lodge in Ladakh. It began originally as a home stay owned by one of Ladakh’s top snow leopard trackers – Tchewang Norbu – under the auspices of a program initiated by the Snow Leopard Conservancy designed to use tourism as a conservation tool for the preservation of snow leopards and their ecosystem by putting tourism revenue directly into local community. The homestay was rebuilt as a 6 – room lodge with 3 bathrooms and dining and sitting rooms looking out over the valley and the surrounding hills. The idea is to create a comfortable home base with heat, good food and littleluxuries like real coffee, comfortable beds, toilets and washing facilities from where one can search for snow leopards and other high-altitude wildlife in relative comfort without having to deal with the exhausting issues of camping in the intense cold aggravated by high altitude.

The lodge is simply but attractively furnished with a/v equipment that allows you to enjoy wildlife and regular movies plus board games to make the long winter evenings convivial and fun. Most importantly you are hosted by an expert naturalist cum manager who lifts the entire experience to a different level answering your natural history questions while simultaneously interacting with guests to ensure that every individual guest is well cared for.

The lodge is simply but attractively furnished with a/v equipment that allows you to enjoy wildlife and regular movies plus board games to make the long winter evenings convivial and fun. Most importantly you are hosted by an expert naturalist cum manager who lifts the entire experience to a different level answering your natural history questions while simultaneously interacting with guests to ensure that every individual guest is well cared for.

At Ulley tracking of snow leopards is done mainly by car with variable amounts of walking which you can adjust to your own requirements. The trackers and spotters are exceptional. You will be amazed at the sheer dedication and commitment they bring to their craft and the effort made to ensure that guests leave happy. The trackers interact closely with the local people and use their network of local intelligence to narrow down the likely sites for snow leopard movement. .

March 27-31st

For the next five days we'll look for snow leopards. You may elect to stay around the lodge and scour the hillsides with our spotting scopes, or make half-day, or longer, hikes into the various side valleys in search of ibex, wolves, and snow leopards. Our snow leopard guides will be out either scoping the hillsides or hiking each morning looking for cats. If, or when, we find a snow leopard we'll make a plan for obtaining the best viewing and photography. Hopefully we'll have snow cover, which drives the ungulates - mainly Blue Sheep and Ibex -- to lower elevations, and which the Snow Leopards follow to hunt.
Overnight: Snow Leopard Lodge.


Summation of our Schedule for Day 1 -Day 6 - Days at Lodge

-           Wake-up call at 7 (in winters – earlier in summers)
-           Breakfast at 8 30
-           Day’s plan discussed then based on findings of the Spotters from earlier that morning (guests can join the spotters early in the morning if they wish to)
-           Based on information and distances, excursions will be organized using the vehicles at the Lodge, coupled with short walks (easy to medium difficulty) to vantage points or possible sighting areas. (Mules and porters can be provided if requested in advance)
-           Hot lunch at Lodge or in the field based on day’s plan.
-           Return to the Lodge in the evening.
-           Debrief in the common area over tea/coffee and snacks.
-           Documentary projection or interaction with naturalists in the common area. 
-           Dinner at Lodge.

April 1. Ulley to Leh

We will head back to Leh, stopping for any wildlife we may find. On previous drives we've had Wolves, Red Foxes, Golden Eagles, and Lammergier Vultures, as well as distant views of three different species of sheep. You'll have the rest of the day free, although the group will likely walk into town for shopping and photography.
Overnight: Grand Dragon Hotel.

April 2 Leh - Delhi - Departuret

After an early morning breakfast we'll transfer to the Leh airport and our flight to Delhi. Participants may be flying home that night, or JOINING US for another adventure in India!

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For more information on this trip and to have a great idea about conditions, opportunities,
and all sorts of details, please read our 2013 Scouting Trip or 2015 Trip Report.

The trip price includes:

  • Accommodation on double/twin sharing basis at hotels mentioned above.
  • Meals as mentioned in the itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch & D=Dinner). Services of tour leader.
  • One group airport transfer upon arrival in to Delhi and departure from Delhi.
    Round-trip airfare Delhi/Leh/Delhi.
    All transfers as per the itinerary.
    National Park / monuments / monastery fee.
    Ladakh Environment entry fee (subject to change).
    Ladakh hill counsel fees.
    Meeting / assistance on arrival/departure at both airports & hotels.
    Activities and all trekking excursions with your expert naturalist and wildlife expert
    Most gratuities including local guides, trackers and spotters, local drivers, Ulley lodge staff
  • Government service tax

COST DOES NOT INCLUDE:

  • International Airfare
  • Trip Cancellation or Medical Evacuation Insurance
  • Any room reservations prior to, or after, the scheduled tour
  • Single rooming supplement throughout the trip
    • Please note that a single room is not guaranteed
    • Singles will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis as requested
    • Rooms with private toilet/bath facilities at the Snow Leopard Lodge are not guaranteed and depends on the composition of the group with numbers and how many men and women register for the trip
  • Any meal other than what is specified above or anything not mentioned in inclusion above
  • Any extra excursions scheduled prior to, or after, the scheduled tour
  • Excess luggage fee for domestic flights to/from Leh
  • Any expenditure of personal nature like tabled drinks, video camera fee, laundry, telephone calls, soft/ hard drinks
  • Certain gratuities including room stewards, luggage handlers, porter during treks
  • Optional additional tips for guides, spotters, trackers and drivers (a recommended optional tip will be given at a later date)
  • Any sudden increase in price due to steep hike in park Entry Fee, steep hike in fuel cost, change in government tax policy or for any reason beyond our control like acts of god, natural calamity, law and order situation, riots etc and any forced change in itinerary for any unforeseen situation or reason beyond our control.

*Airfare is quoted on the basis of best available average fare which is subject to change. This fare can be low or can be higher at the time of booking. Exact fare will be advised at the time of booking.

  • At some hotels Twin rooms are not available in that case we will make to Hollywood Twin room.
  • Wildlife viewing: Please note that seeing a snow leopard is not in any way guaranteed. In fact, it must be regarded as a great privilege to even catch a glimpse of one, such is the elusiveness of these creatures. They are wild and by necessity elusive creatures with no fixed routine and finding them requires not only the skill and patience of the trackers/guides but also considerable luck!

 


Our Spotters: Our Ladakhi Snow Leopard expert will lead the field visit,
directing the viewing outings and tracking the snow leopards' movements.


The trip price DOES NOT include:

  • International airfare to India
  • Trip cancellation insurance

    Medical evacuation insurance: Mandatory for all international trips
  • Indian Visa
  • Overweight or excessive luggage fees on domestic flights
  • Overnight accommodations before the start of the tour or after the conclusion of the tour
  • Any meal other than what is specified above or anything not mentioned in inclusion above.
  • Any expenditure of personal nature like tabled drinks, camera fee, laundry, telephone calls, soft/ hard drinks.
Our Roles as Leaders, and Your Role

Mary and I know wildlife, and how to photograph it. We want everyone to obtain great photographs, and to enjoy himself or herself while doing so. Great photography requires patience, luck, and time, plus a degree of skill that our guides and Mary and I can provide. You can trust us that everything we do as your trip leaders will have those priorities - your photos and well-being as an individual in our group - in mind.

About Your Leaders

jMy wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are professional photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, and most nature/wildlife calendars.

As a husband/wife team, Mary Ann and I have won more times in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition than any one. To date we have had 15 firsts, seconds, or thirds -- and we have not entered every year. Our trips are not about us, however, they are all for you, but credentials seem to matter, and we have them.

Mary has written twenty-nine (29) children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.

I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and the New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, African Wildlife, Creatures of the Night, The World's Deadliest, and several ebooks. We have produced an instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald.

We are both editors for Nature Photographer magazine.

In addition to leading our trips to Tanzania, Mary and I personally lead photo safaris to Kenya, Brazil's Pantanal, Chile, Galapagos, Svalbard, India, Alaska, Rwanda, Yellowstone, Ecuador, Costa Rica, the Falklands, Antarctica, South Texas, Arizona, and some other spots, too!


As with any International trip, we strongly recommend you purchase travel trip insurance.


Contact us by e-mail. at: info@hoothollow.com
Or Call (717) 543-6423 or FAX us at: (717) 543-6423