Our Snow Leopard photo tour commences today as you arrive in the old silk route town of Leh, nestled in the mighty Trans-Himalaya.
Upon arrival you will be met by your photo tour leader and you will be transferred to your suite at the Grand Dragon Hotel. Today you will need to rest in order to acclimatise to the high altitude of 3,400 meters and must limit your physical activities to properly adjust to the area.
Leh, the capital of Ladakh, was an important stopover on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China for centuries. The main goods carried were salt, grain, pashm or cashmere wool, charas or cannabis resin from the Tarim Basin, indigo, silk yarn and Banaras brocade.
Overnight Grand Dragon Hotel
After an early breakfast, we will drive down to the monastery of Thiksey to attend morning prayers. This is a beautiful and calming experience steeped in the tradition of the Gelugpa, or yellow hat order, of Buddhism, headed by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
After the morning prayers have concluded, we will drive around the beautiful Indus valley and view the monastery of Stakna towering above the meandering Indus, followed by visiting the monastery of Matho to view a different order of Buddhism and take in the sights of the Indus valley from a higher vantage point. For lunch we have arranged for a private meal with a family in a traditional home in the village of Stok.
After lunch, we will make our way back to the hotel where you can relax for the remainder of the afternoon. As dusk sets in, we will head out to view a sweeping and glorious sunset from the Shanti Stupa, or peace pagoda, built by the Japanese, which offers picturesque views of Leh and the Stok Range.
Overnight Grand Dragon Hotel
Today we will depart Leh and drive approximately 1 hour to Hemis National Park. This is the prime spot for our Snow Leopard photo tour as the high reaches of the Ladakh Range are prime territory for these magnificent spotted beauties.
Snow Leopards are some of the most elusive animals on earth. As the winter sets in and the snow line descends, these shy and fleeting big cats move down to lower altitudes in search of their prey, the bhairal, urial, and the arghali, the mountain sheep and antelope of this region. We will explore Hemis National Park or the ridges around Ulley on daily treks with our expert spotters to spot and track Snow Leopards on this once-in-a-lifetime photo tour.
Hemis National Park is India’s largest conservation area with over 1,700 square miles of territory. The park lies within the Karakoram-West Tibetan Plateau alpine steppe eco-region, and contains pine forests, alpine shrublands and meadows, as well as alpine tundra. Most reports indicate that the park is home to a large breeding population of Snow Leopards mainly in the Rumbak and Matho area.
Based on recent sightings and intel before the group’s arrival and reports during your first two days in Leh, your expedition leader will make a call and decide whether to set camp in Hemis National Park and deploy a team of highly trained spotters, or to drive to the high-altitude village of Ulley, where a comfortable home-stay will provide you with a base to explore the high ridges with your spotting team. You will spend the next 7 days walking through the mountains each day while your spotters work their magic. As you explore, you will discover Snow Leopard pug-marks, Snow Leopard marking rocks, herds of blue sheep and Asiatic Ibex, and walk past wolf and fox prints in the snow.
Each day at dawn and dusk, your spotting team will scan the ridges for movement. Snow Leopards like to walk on these ridges so that they can peer for prey on both sides of the mountain.
Along with the Snow Leopard the Park is home to Argali (Great Tibetan Sheep), Bharal (Blue Sheep), Shapu (Ladakhi Urial), and plenty of domesticated yaks. A small population of the Asiatic Ibex is also present in Hemis. Other predators besides the Snow Leopard include the Tibetan wolf, the Eurasian brown bear (endangered in India), and the Red Fox. Small mammals include the Himalayan marmot, mountain weasel, and the Himalayan mouse hare.
The park is a good place to study Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan birds of prey including the golden eagle, the lammergeier vulture, and the Himalayan griffon vulture. The Rumbak Valley offers good opportunities for birdwatching, including several Tibetan species not common in other parts of India. Birds present here include brown accentor, robin accentor, Tickell’s leaf warbler, streaked rosefinch, Tibetan snowfinch, chukar, fork-tailed swift, red-billed chough, Himalayan snowcock, and the fire-fronted serin.
16 mammal species and 73 bird species have been recorded in Hemis National Park so far.
However, the rugged terrain that these animals call home are in challenging conditions and at an imposing altitude. Participants on our Snow Leopard tour must be relatively fit, have medical clearance from their physician to be at high altitudes (above 10,000 feet), and should be able to walk 4-7 kilometers (2.5 – 4.5 miles) per day in sometimes rough and mountainous terrain. However, there will always be plenty of staff around to help you.
Tracking these ghosts of the mountain is not an exact science but world class expert spotters and trackers on hand do make it easier. Our chief spotters Khenrab Phuntsog and Smanla Tsering were the head guides for the BBC’s spectacular Snow Leopard filming on the new Planet Earth II series, shot exactly where our Snow Leopard photo tour is taking place.
Our expert spotters rely on intelligence gathered from local villages, forest department Officials, as well as their own knowledge of the individual cats. This does mean that camps may need to be moved at short notice, especially if a leopard is sighted in a nearby valley or across a nearby mountain. The only way to move around in Hemis National Park is to walk, therefore you need to be ready and excited to trek.
February in Ladakh is cold. While the sun is out, temperatures remain around freezing or just even above freezing. However, as the sun goes down, temperatures plummet and it can get quite frigid. We will provide sound sleeping bags for this climate and tents to ensure maximum comfortability but you’ll still need to be able to cope with the rigors of a winter expedition.
Unlike an African safari, this wildlife spotting on this Snow Leopard photo tour is tough, but it is incredibly rewarding should you be prepared to rough it out. The beginning and end of this trip offer an amazing hotels Leh so you can get a relaxing start and end to the trip.
Although this type of photo tour might not be for the faint hearted, the sight of a Snow Leopard in the wild is something you will never forget!
Nights Mobile Camp in Hemis National Park OR homestay in Ulley.
Today we will return to Leh, enjoy a hot shower and the comfort of civilisation and celebrate your epic journey with the group.
Overnight Grand Dragon Hotel
Today marks your final morning in Ladakh as we bid farewell to this beautiful part of the world. After breakfast and at a time to be advised, you will be transferred back to Leh Airport where this incredible, once in a life time adventure sadly comes to an end.
Behzad Larry is a professional photographer and adventurer. An avid explorer, Behzad specializes in documenting the remote reaches of the world. Through his travel photography he covers portraiture and landscapes in the high Himalayas, Central Asia, and the Tibetan Plateau. Behzad spends over 9 months a year combining his loves of history and photography by traveling with clients to capturing life in the high mountains through studio-like portraiture and leading expeditions to document elusive wildlife such as snow leopards.
Behzad specializes in photography expeditions to North India and Central Asia. His team has incredible experience and have hosted filming expeditions for National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, and the BBC, including BBC’s snow leopard filming for the “Mountains” episode of Planet Earth II.
Behzad calls New York City home, and is originally from the small town of Mhow, in central India. He has lived and worked across North America, Eastern and North-Western Africa, and South Asia. He has served as a William J. Clinton Fellow, and is a trained historian from Colby College (USA), where he was a Ralph J. Bunche Scholar. Besides English, he speaks Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, and has studied Arabic and Farsi. Behzad has been featured frequently in travel magazines and has done travel features for both print and web.
He is a member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and a Nikon Pro.
“Having travelled with ORYX on two previous occasions when I decided to visit India again they was the first choice company to arrange it for me .I wanted some culture to sit alongside an Indian wildlife experience. The trip was perfect – great hotels, great sightseeing and best of all wonderful wildlife. Our tiger sightings were phenomenal and I we really could not have asked for more. The local guides were excellent and Marius Coetzee (our ORYX tour leader) could not do enough for us and improved everyone’s photography over the course of the trip. We have all decided to travel with ORYX in India again next year and look forward to another great trip.”India
“Andries and I would like to thank the ORYX team for a memorable India tour. The tour was exceptionally well planned. The only hassle we as guests were left with was to try and get the best photo of a Tiger. We can only but highly recommend ORYX and will not think twice about using their services again in future.”India
“Dale Morris was an excellent tour leader. Apart from being a very pleasant person, he also went out of his way to share his wealth of knowledge on photography with us. We started the tour with our photos looking like normal holiday snap shots, and ended up taking some pretty professional images. Thank you Dale for your patience and willingness to help us.”India
“We are writing to provide some feedback on our short trip to India with Oryx, to visit several game parks with Tiger spotting a priority. We had a small group of 4, ably led by Dale Morris, a genuinely friendly and helpful leader. Dale is a skilled and award winning photographer whose enthusiasm for photography was infectious. Dale was a delight to travel with and ensured that everything worked as planned. We managed to see quite a few tigers and also enjoyed the classic sights of the Taj Mahal.”India
I have recently returned from my second ORYX private tour to India with Marius, and wanted to say how much I enjoyed it and to recommend ORYX to anyone considering taking a wildlife photographic trip.
We knew where we wanted to go – Corbett, Keoladeo, Ranthambhore and Pench – but left all the planning and details in the very capable hands of ORYX. We were not disappointed. Everything had been taken care of, from accommodation in the best locations and travel between national parks, down to tips for our drivers and guides, so that we only had to think about the wildlife and the photography – a real luxury.
Marius is an inspirational photographer, and a superb travelling companion. He has seemingly endless patience, and his knowledge and advice have helped even this novice photographer capture some exceptional images! Nothing is too much trouble for him, and his experience has proved invaluable in enabling us to take shots that I know we would not have if he had not been with us. We had the most amazing tiger sighting in Ranthambhore – no mean feat – and fulfilled our wish to see dhole in Pench, as well as many other wonderful wildlife moments on the trip, which were entirely due to him – so a very big thank you to Marius.
I have been on numerous safaris in Africa, and have been lucky enough to have had many amazing wildlife experiences, but the ORYX tours to India have been in a league of their own. We are already planning our next tour to India with Marius, and hope that there will be many more to come!
Having recently returned from my third trip to India with ORYX in three consecutive years, with the fourth one in 2015 already on the drawing board, I would urge all those who have not yet been to consider it very seriously as a perfect holiday destination.
The aim of our first trip was to see the glorious Taj Mahal at Agra and, if possible, catch a glimpse of the majestic Bengal tiger yet having succeeded in both, nothing could have prepared us for the excitement we experienced as we raised our cameras those first photographs of them. Thus began a love affair with India.
From the moment we met surprisingly young Marius Coetzee, safari guide and prize-winning photographer at Dubai Airport, we realised he was what one might loosely describe as a mover and shaker, inspiring immediate confidence. Coupled with this was his ability to relax with people of all ages, putting them at ease, thus making mealtime conversations stimulating and fun, so traveling on one’s own need not be a concern. Our first visit to India in 2011 was his too, yet having worked in Natal (KwaZulu) where there is a large Indian community, he instinctively knew how to get on with the locals, appreciating their customs and habits, yet earning their respect by his sound common sense and mature capability.
He stands no nonsense and this is soon understood! This is so important in India, particularly on wildlife safaris, where the drivers’ and guides’ goodwill, and anxiety to please, are so crucial in Marius getting us into the best possible position to find – hopefully – and photograph the rarer species like a tiger or dhole (wild dogs), for despite the photographs one sees, India is very different to the Masai Mara and one actually has to look quite hard for shy predators.
However, the jungles we visited in the northern and central national parks are absolutely stunning, each with its own individual characteristics, though more like Up-State New York than the Amazon, and there is an abundance of game and birdlife. Marius drew on his techniques as a top South African safari guide by playing close attention to alarm calls by spotted deer (chital) and langurs (silver haired, long–tailed monkeys), resulting in wonderful tiger and dhole sightings on a number of occasions, earning him obvious, if slightly grudging, admiration from our jeep drivers and guides, who consider themselves to be the experts on Indian wildlife.
India also has the advantage of a culture stretching back over 3,000 years and cities such as Varanasi, the glorious Holy City built on the banks of the Ganges, and beautiful Udaipur in Rajastan, are a photographer’s delight especially if encouraged by one’s enthusiastic tour leader to reluctantly rise at dawn in order to capitalize on the golden morning light. One never tires of the rich tapestry of colours provided by the glorious silk or cotton saris worn by Asian women with such innate grace and one can only wonder at how immaculate much of their clothing is when many have only a communal water pump or local river in which to do their laundry. Whether you are an aspiring but novice photographer – we started off with little automatic Lumix cameras with built-in zooms, progressed to Nikon DSLRs and under Marius’s tutelage, are now producing more than passable photos, to our great surprise – or an experienced one, in which case you would benefit hugely from Marius’s photographic/competition expertise and advice, intriguing India has absolutely everything you could possible ask for. From the moment the February morning mists lift and the beauty of this enigmatic country is revealed, I am certain you will succumb to its magic, whether your penchant is wildlife, architecture, scenery, or all three.
On each occasion, ORYX has provided us with an Indian guide of the highest caliber, intelligent with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of birds and wildlife, and a touching willingness to do everything possible to make our lives easier, from hailing porters and checking-in our luggage at airports to accompanying us on shopping expeditions to ensure we were given the fairest prices. They, in turn, appointed the best possible local guides at the historic sites we chose to visit and, looking back, thanks to efficient planning, everything worked like clockwork from the moment we were collected at the airport to our departure a fortnight later, no mean feat in a country like India. For a holiday that is anxiety-free, yet filled with exciting sights and sounds, ORYX India is the perfect combination. Enjoy India!
I have recently returned from my fourth private photographic tour to India with ORYX and have to say that the trip exceeded all my hopes and expectations, and I cannot recommend ORYX highly enough. Our trip was 2 years in the planning, with the excellent team at ORYX doing a marvellous job throughout. Our tour leader, Marius Coetzee, had suggested that we time our visit slightly later than usual and go in March, in the hope of catching the iconic sight of a tiger lying in a water pool to cool off. We have had many incredible tiger sightings on our previous ORYX expeditions, especially in Ranthambhore National Park, and were not disappointed on this latest trip. In fact we achieved our aim on the first afternoon game drive in Ranthambhore! In all we visited five national parks over 3 weeks; each park had its individual delights and we have returned home with some really wonderful wildlife images, including tiger, leopard, sloth bear and dhole.
We knew from previous experience that everything would be taken care of – down to the tipping of our local guides and drivers – by Marius and our Indian guide, so we were left free to concentrate on the amazing wildlife and our photography. Nothing was too much trouble for them, everything ran like clockwork thanks to excellent organisation, and ORYX could not have done more to make sure that our trip was everything we could have hoped for. I would recommend ORYX to anyone who is interested in wildlife and photography, and will definitely use them again.
“I grew up admiring the beautiful portraits and landscape shots hanging in my grandparents’ house. Later, I recall my cheek muscles constantly hurting as the subject of my mom’s developing love of photography. So when I was gifted a Nikon DSLR camera in early college, I felt like I was following the footsteps of my mom and grandfather before her. Through photography I wanted to be able to capture the sentiment of a moment; to tell a story through the light in a person’s eyes. Marius gave me the tools to begin to do this on our trip to India with ORYX Photographic Expeditions.
Marius helped me see what makes a good photograph, taught me new techniques like hi-key, how to shoot in different light and how to process an image using Lightroom. At the end of this trip I am thrilled to have a good portfolio of photographs I can print and look back on proudly, but even happier to have refined my skills and developed a deeper passion for photography.”
Thank you for another great experience! It was a fantastic time in India, and although I’m very glad to be home, I already miss it.
It was great getting the opportunity to meet the other clients, and Dale did a wonderful job as our guide and I really appreciate all of his hard work and dedication both in and out of the field, and I loved his willingness to engage in personable conversations at the dinner table. He was very willing to listen and learn about the world through someone else’s perspective. He also taught me some new tricks with my camera that I had no idea about, but they made life so much easier.
Thanks again for everything!India
WE HAD A FANTASTIC TRIP, AND BY NOW I AM SURE THAT YOU KNOW THAT WE SAW EIGHTEEN TIGERS AND APPROXIMATELY 25 DIFFERENT SIGHTINGS
OUR TRIP TO JAWAI WAS ALSO FANTASTIC, AND I CAN ONLY BEST DESCRIBE IT AS MIND BLOWING! THE CONSERVATION OF THESE LEOPARDS IN THE ENVIRONMENT THEY FIND THEM SELVES, IS TRULY REMARKABLE.
THE RABARI PEOPLE ARE INCREDIBLE AND THEIR SURVIVAL, WHICH IN IT’S SELF IS THREATENED, BUT THEY LIVE IN HARMONY WITH THE LEOPARDS IN THE HILLS OF JAWAI!
IN AS FAR AS THE LODGES WERE CONCERNED, WELL FROM THE FIRST TO THE LAST DAY, WE WERE ACCOMODATED IN WORLD CLASS ACCOMODATION.
THE MANAGEMENT, STAFF AND PEOPLE IN GENERAL WERE FANTASTIC.
THE CUISINE WAS SIMPLY OF THE VERY HIGHEST STANDARDS. ALL ARRANGEMENTS WERE VERY SLICK AND AS CUSTOMARY WITH ORYX AND MARIUS, EVERYTHING WAS 100% PERFECT! MARIUS, THE WARRIOR, WAS ALWAYS AT MY SIDE TO ASSIST THE “OLD MAN”!THE OLD MAN ALSO ACTED AS HIS “FATHER” AND GOT HIM A FEW PRIVILEGES IN RETURN FOR HIS SERVICE AND ASSISTANCE!
OUR HOSTS WERE FANTASTIC AND I CAN HONESTLY SAY THAT I AM MORE THAN HAPPY AND SATISFIED WITH THE WHOLE TRIP!
THANKS TO YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUES FOR ALL THAT YOU DID TO MAKE THE TRIP SUCH A PLEASURE AND ALL I TAKE FROM THERE ARE WONDERFUL MEMORIES!
The recent first ORYX expedition for Snow Leopards was outstanding! The communication from the first e-mail enquiring about the trip to the time we got back, was very good. Trouble broke out between India and Pakistan in another part of India during our expedition; you ensured my family were informed immediately of my well-being. Thank you!
The expedition was very well organized. Behzad ensured each of us acclimatized to the high altitude in the first two days. None of us felt altitude sickness. Behzad and the team also kept a close watch on our physical ability and mental awareness through out the trip. Their attention was key in a very enjoyable experience.
The camp site was perfect. Behzad had pitched the tents well in advance of our arrival, to take the best position. The tents themselves were luxurious, with a bed ensuring we were not sore or cold by sleeping on the ground. The food was delicious, with pizzas, pastas, noodles, dumplings and Indian food for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was elaborate, with porridge, eggs, bread and cereal. Many varieties of tea and coffee were always available through the day.
The sightings were exceptional. Khenrab Phuntsog, the renowned tracker from BBC Planet Earth 2, is not only a great tracker, but also one of the lead conservationists in Hemis National Park. He gave many, many insights into the ecology, animal behaviour, culture and conservation aspects of what we experienced. He delivered in spades each day: we had 7 snow leopard sightings including one from a few hundred feet and two from the camp (a first, I am told), 5 tibetan wolf sightings, including one from the camp (a first again). We also saw a red fox, many blue sheep and birds. The calls on four different mornings of ‘snow leopard’ even before the first cup of tea, and the first time I saw a snow leopard, will always remain with me.
Behzad went over and beyond in helping us with our photography, setup portrait sessions, cultural experiences and helped with astro photography. He is an exceptional photo mentor, tour leader, cultural and snow leopard expert, and above all a very warm, funny and extremely friendly person.
This trip was supposed to see the snow leopard, to take it off my bucket list. Instead, it has turned into the first of hopefully many more trips to see the snow leopards again.
Thank you for such a wonderful experience!