Wildlife Group Tour

India Group Tour - Track Snow Leopards in Ladakh with New Scientist

A small expert led group tour designed for New Scientist

14 days

from £5,295pp
  • Spend time in the company of the Snow Leopard Conservancy and expert trackers
  • Track snow leopards, blue sheep, ibex and Ladakhi urial by 2WD and on foot
  • Explore the geology of Ladakh under the guidance of guest geologist Dr Tawlekar
  • Take part in camera trapping, a vital activity for charting these creatures

Endangered, beautiful, and elusive, snow leopards are rarely seen in the wild. In an effort to promote their well-being and to offer the chance to glimpse these solitary creatures, we’ve teamed up with the New Scientist and the Snow Leopard Conservancy to offer a bespoke itinerary. 

As one of the only animals that has alluded Sir David Attenborough, snow leopards are highly endangered and only found in the mountainous areas of central and southern Asia. There is thought to be some 4000 – 7000 snow leopards remaining in these high-altitude regions of central Asia. The inaccessibility makes the population hard to count. Our snow leopard group tour works with the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust India in Ladakh, using a team of expert trackers. Spend five full days exploring the Ulley valley searching for 'The Ghost of the Himalaya'.

Due to the remoteness of this tour, the accommodation whilst in Ulley is in a small homestay with only six rooms, therefore, we have to cap our single supplement to a maximum of three places, which have now been occupied. However, if you are willing to share, we will do our best to match you up with another solo traveller of the same sex. Alternatively, if having your own room is a necessity there may be availability on our alternative snow leopard group tour, for more information click here.

Why travel with Steppes and New Scientist to see snow leopards?

Exceptional guides are the first essential component of a successful snow leopard holiday and in Dr Talekar and the Snow Leopard Conservancy, Steppes Travel are confident we have found just that. SLC trackers have an intimate knowledge of Ulley Valley and the movements of its snow leopard inhabitants. While a comprehensive understanding of snow leopard behaviour is critical, a good relationship with the local community is equally important. Local shepherds and farmers will know where snow leopards have been most recently spotted and so the chief tracker have developed a strong bond with the community of Ulley, taking full advantage of hundreds of local pairs of eyes and ears on the ground. During the tour the group will be involved directly with camera trapping activities, which although an expensive and time consuming method, allows individual animals to be recorded.

In addition, to give our clients the most informed information, the Steppes Travel team regularly join our group tours. Our Product Director, Jarrod Kyte, joined our snow leopard group tour in 2016, read about his snow leopard adventures and sightings.

Why choose the Ulley Valley?

Ulley village, west of Leh is an area that is only recently being developed for snow leopard watching but is in the centre of three interlocking valleys, which support approximately 12 snow leopards per the last census. The big advantage of Ulley is that it is relatively free of tourism and the chaos that has enveloped the first snow leopard destination - Rumbak.

Who are the Snow Leopard Conservancy?

As part of this snow leopard group tour there will be a $200 USD per person donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust (SLC-IT). A senior member of the team will travel with the group. They are a non-governmental organisation founded in 2003 and based in Leh. They provide wood and wire netting, that has helped many Ladakhi farmers make their corrals and pens leopard-proof. It has also started a compensation scheme, and taught villagers how to make toy stuffed animals, which are then sold to tourists as profit-making souvenirs. This goes some way to compensate herders whose animals are killed.

But, the SLC-IT's biggest success has been its burgeoning homestay scheme. In return for training in hospitality, hygiene and housekeeping, and items such as blankets and bed sheets, all Ladakhi households involved in the scheme must agree to stop killing snow leopards, even if they lose livestock. With snow leopard sightings, apparently on the increase, the scheme already seems to be working.

Where will I visit on this tour?

Our tour starts in Delhi before flying onto Leh, a small town in the Indus Valley. Whilst allowing the group time to acclimatise to the altitude, this area is around 12,000 feet above sea level, there will be time to explore Leh with organised sightseeing of its surrounding area including the beautiful Thiksey Gompa (monastery) offering splendid views of the Indus valley.

Spend two days in the company of Dr Talekar in the region around Leh. Hear about the geology of the region that he has studied for many decades.

Continue onto the Ulley Valley, located in the centre of three interlocking valleys, home to between eight and ten snow leopards per the last census

What happens on a typical day?

A typical day will start with hot tea/coffee, followed by a bowl of hot water for a refreshing wash. Our expert guides will already be on the search for snow leopards, either from the homestay, or from a close by lookout. Trackers may have gone out into the valley and are in constant communication with the team from Snow Leopard Conservancy. After breakfast the group will set out and drive into the valley before hiking on foot to search for snow leopards. The trackers will be in constant communication with one another and keep the group informed of any information along the way. In the evenings, there will be opportunities to hear from the leaders during post dinner presentations.

What is the accommodation like?

On this tour, accommodation is a homestay style lodge, hosted by a local Ladakhi family known to Steppes personally. Lodgings are basic but far more comfortable than camping and to enhance your stay, we bring in our own cook and camp staff along with gas heaters, a warm shower, comfortable mattresses, and bed linen. The homestay has undergone some upgrading to offer higher comfort.

Whilst in Leh, the hotel is the best available, offering comfortable rooms, stunning views of the Stok Range, great hospitality and in house dining. 

How likely am I to see a snow leopard?

To see a snow leopard requires luck but as with any safari, to some extent luck can improved by patience, planning and professional guiding. It is no coincidence that the best guides are also the luckiest guides and on the most recent safaris clients have been rewarded by excellent snow leopard sightings.  All our clients travelling in 2017 had sightings of snow leopard.

What is the weather like in February?

From January to March in Ladakh the days will be cool and the nights can get below -25. This tour departure is out of the main tourist season for the region so it makes it a lot quieter.

It is vital that you have the correct clothing for this tour. Our travel specialists can advise you of clothing and packing lists to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

When is the best time to see snow leopards?

From the end of January to March, as the snow on the mountains starts to melt, this drives the snow leopards, and their prey (the blue sheep) to lower, almost snow free elevations, this allows the guides and trackers much better access to look for them, and concentrating them in a smaller area.

Do I have to be fit to join this tour?

Whilst in the Ulley Valley out searching for snow leopards there will be some small hikes on rough terrain so it is vital that you have adequate hiking boots. However, the amount of hiking you choose to do is up to you. It is our aim to hike a few miles every day, with the uphill sections being at a slow pace due to the altitude. Due to the small group size, there will be several guides with us on all the hikes that will happily stay with members of the group that may get tired or just want to rest.

Is this group tour suitable for solo travellers?

Our group tours are perfect for solo travellers, as travelling as part of an organised group in faraway places does provide security and peace of mind. We handle all of the arrangements for you and there will be a local tour guide on hand throughout to provide advice and help if needed, as well as the expertise of our tour experts.

If you are willing to share, we will always do our best to match you up with another solo traveller of the same sex so that you do not have to pay for a single room.

If you would prefer the privacy of your own room and would like this guaranteed, then the single room price supplement will apply. For this tour, it is capped to 3 people due to the size of the property in Ulley.

Departing on:
  • 25th February 2018

For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

DEPART UKARRIVE UKPrice Excluding Flights (£)Flight cost fromSingle SupplementTour LecturerStatus 
25th Feb 2018 10th Mar 2018 £ 5,295 call £ 2,000 David Sonam Limited
  Click here to see what is included/excluded

what is included

  • $200USD per person donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy
  • Accommodation (as indicated)
  • All meals in Leh and Ulley
  • Breakfast and welcome and farewell dinners in Delhi
  • Internal flights
  • Local guide and trackers in Leh and Ulley
  • Part accompanied by Dr Talekar in Leh and Ulley
  • Services of a senior staff member from the SLC
  • Sightseeing in Leh
  • Transportation (as indicated)

what is excluded

  • Drinks
  • International flights
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Meals in Delhi (ex breakfast and welcome/farewell dinners)
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa


Itinerary at a glance

Collapse all
Day 1

Fly London to Delhi

Day 2

This evening a welcome supper will be hosted to allow the group to get to know one another.

You will be staying at Hotel Pullman New Delhi Aerocity, Half board

Day 3

Fly Delhi to Leh

Remainder of Day at Leisure for Acclimatisation
Spend the remainder of the day at leisure. Minimal exertion is recommended to enable acclimatisation to the rarefied oxygen levels in this high-altitude region.

Once the capital of the Himlayan Kingdom of Ladakh, Leh lies on edge of the Tibetan plateau at a height of more than 3,500 metres. Closer geographically, culturally and anthropologically to Tibet than India; the city's dominating palace - with its clear architectural similarities to Lhasa's Potala Palace - highlights this connection.

Surrounded by irrigated barley fields and overlooked by rocky peaks, the city sits in the fertile Indus River Valley. In this idyllic location, modernity has only just started to take hold. Traditional Ladakhi buildings, with their flat roofs and solid walls, still fill the area surrounding the city's age-old bazaar.

Explore Leh
Some may wish to explore Leh at a relaxed pace this afternoon. Visit Leh Palace, Museum, Markets, Gompa Soma, Shanti Stupa and LAMO.

There may be the opportunity to meet with the Royal family whilst at Stok Palace

You will be staying at The Grand Dragon Hotel, Full board

Day 4

Meet with Snow Leopard Conservancy
At some point over the next few days in Leh, meet with staff from the Snow Leopard Conservancy for a briefing on the history of snow leopard conservation in Ladakh with insight given into the current threats to snow leopards and the strategys adopted to combat these threats.

Explore Leh's surrounding villages and valleys
Drive east towards the villages of Gya, Lhato and Meru. The drive is spectacular, taking you away from the valley of the Indus, up through a subsidiary valley to an area that marks the line where the Indian mainland collided with and drove under the Asian landmass. The scenery is beautiful and there will be chances to spot wildlife such as blue sheep, golden eagles and bearded vultures. On the return journey, there maybe time to stop at one of the great monasteris such as Hemis, Thikse or Matho.

You will be staying at The Grand Dragon Hotel, Full board

Day 5

A day with Dr Talekar
Spend the day in the fascinating company of Dr Taleker who will guide the group. After breakfast travel to the village of Lato.This is where the Indian subcontinent is supposed to have first collided with the Eurasian continent some 50 million years ago.The rock formations in this area are quite spectacular. Drive back towards Leh crossing the Indus and route through the charming village of Shang Sumdo. On this short drive one gets to see wonderful folding of sedimentary rocks. Enroute back to Leh stop off at Hemis Gonpa. A walk towards the west past the monastery takes one to the hidden Kotsang - a monastery located 700-1000ft above Hemis.It can be quite a climb for some but offers some great views of rock formations from half way up. Returning to the hotel for dinner later this afternoon.

You will be staying at The Grand Dragon Hotel, Full board

Day 6

Road trip from Leh to Ulley
This road journey takes approximately three hours on mainly well maintained, sealed roads, driving west on the road to Kargil and Srinagar, generally following the Indus River. Accompanied by Dr Talekar and the Snow Leopard Conservancy team you will 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, 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 big, 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 ridge 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 but is in the centre of three interlocking valleys that support approximately 12 snow leopards according to the last census. On arrival at your homestay, meet your hosts, settle in and take time to acclimatise to the higher altitude of Ulley (3,850 mts). The big advantage of Ulley is that it is relatively free of tourism and the chaos that has enveloped the first snow leopard destination - Rumbak. The other advantage is that from here you explore 3 valleys which apart from snow leopards are great for finding urial, ibex, wolf and Himalayan fox.

Five days tracking with expert naturalists
Ulley is in the centre of three interlocking valleys that support between 10-12 snow leopards according to the last census. These valleys house the villages of Saspol and the more substantial Hemis Shukpachen. All these valleys are connected by road and over the next few days, explore the area by vehicle and on foot with your guides tracking for snow leopard, wolf, urial, Ibex, fox and the array of birds that surprisingly still survive in this harsh winter landscape. Your guide , a senior member of the Snow Leopard Conservancy will be accompanied by chief tracker, whom will interact closely with the local people, using a network of local intelligence to narrow down the likely sites for snow leopards. In the process of tracking there will be opportunity to gain insights into local folklore, as well as to learn about local customs and traditions.
The search for the snow leopard is of course not in isolation. They are the apex predator of a fascinating eco-system, preying on blue sheep or bharal, ibex and Ladakhi urial all of which can be seen along with other predators such as the wolf.

Geography of Ulley
Ulley is a glaciated valley and this is clear from the rocks & boulders left behind by the retreating glaciers.The Ulley Tokpo is a tributary of the Indus River. High above Ulley at a height of 15,000ft are the yak pastures from where there is evidence of past glacial activity.The mountain wall to the north is the Ladakh Range and beyond that is the Shyok/Nubra Valley system and then the East Karakoram Range.

Standing in front of the homestay and looking towards the south and west is the Stok Range with its folded mountains formed as a result of the India-Asia collision.

Snow Leopard Group Tour 2018 - An evening with Dr Talekar
This evening there will be an post dinner discussion hosted by Dr Talekar. This is the final evening that he will be available so do come ready for discussion and there will be a Q&A session following the presentation this evening.

You will be staying at Ulley Homestay, Full board

Day 7

Snow Leopard Group Tour 2018 - Camera Trapping
The team from Snow Leopard Conservancy will join the group in Ulley to coordinate the data from the camera traps that will be placed and show the group how the data is used.

Tracking Snow Leopards

You will be staying at Ulley Homestay, Full board

Day 8

Tracking Snow Leopards

You will be staying at Ulley Homestay, Full board

Day 9

Tracking Snow Leopards

You will be staying at Ulley Homestay, Full board

Day 10

Tracking Snow Leopards

You will be staying at Ulley Homestay, Full board

Day 11

Tracking Snow Leopards

You will be staying at Ulley Homestay, Full board

Day 12

Snow Leopard Group Tour New Scientist 2018
This morning drive to Leh via Alchi monastery. The monastery is located near the small village of Saspol and it is one of the earliest monasteries built in Ladakh, dating from the 11th century. The first temple of importance is the oldest - Sum-stek temple, surrounded by wooden pillars and carved woodwork of mythological animals. The woodwork is original and reflects Kashmiri influence. The walls along both sides of the Dukhang are covered by mural painintgs, believed to date back to the time of the monastery's founding. Of particular interest are the miniature scenes of royal life, the best preserved of which is the royal drinking scene, in which the costumes clearly depict central Asian dress. The chortens around Alchi gompa also contain numerous wall murals. After the monastery visit, continue to Leh.

Alchi is home to one of the two oldest monasteries of Ladakh (the other being at Lamayuru). What remains at the Chhoskhor Temple Complex is perhaps the last of the showcase monasteries built in the 10th and 11th centuries. The wooden sculptures, stucco images and the Indo-Tibetan art are exclusive and the style is not to be found in any other monastery in Ladakh. Alchi village is home to a few tourist stalls and markets but the majority of visitors stay nearby on the banks of the River Indus. Use Alchi as a base to explore the river, and surrounding monasteries and villages.

You will be staying at The Grand Dragon Hotel, Full board

Day 13

Fly Leh to Delhi

Final Day in Delhi
It is essential to have a buffer day in Delhi on leaving Leh. The weather can change significantly at this time of the year and flights often can be delayed.

Time at leisure this afternoon in Delhi. An opportunity for sightseeing or last minute present buying.

Farewell Meal
Sit down for a farewell meal with the rest of the group and toast a successful trip.

Delhi may be one of the world's largest metropolises, but architectural wonders - new and old - fill the city, hidden beneath Delhi's urban sprawl. Mughal treasures, including the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, are complemented by more recent additions to Delhi's architectural heritage, such as the stunning Lotus and Akshardham Temples. Meanwhile, contemporary Delhi thrives in Connaught Place, which - with its colonially-designed buildings, - is the most westernised part of the centre. Globalisation is in evidence, with brand names splashed across every storefront.

You will be staying at Claridges Hotel, Half board

Day 14

Fly Delhi to London


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For a detailed itinerary or to book your place on this tour, please contact us.

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For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.

Tour expert

David Sonam

David Sonam
David started work as a naturalist for Tiger Tops before becoming a founding trustee of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India (he is now the Managing Trustee). A keen ornithologist and photographer, David has led numerous wildlife expeditions in Ladakh, collaborating with well-known photographers such as Steve McCurry (National Geographic Magazine). His understanding of the snow leopard’s behaviour gives unparalleled insight into the world of this big cat.
Enquire about this Wildlife tour:

Group Size:

Min 6 / Max 10

Tour Expert:

David Sonam

Departure Date (S):

  • 25th February 2018 - Guaranteed to run

The tour may involve daily walks and will have a faster pace in certain areas. Walks will be no longer than 6 hours. The pace of this tour will be quite busy, expect very little time at leisure.

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