Snow Leopards of Ladakh

The Hunt for the Gray Ghosts of the Himalayas

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Legends of folklore and shrouded in mystery, snow leopards—the gray ghosts of mountainous Central Asia—are without doubt the most elusive of the world's big cats.
Dwelling atop the Roof of the World, snow leopards live in a punishing terrain of rocky cliffs, river bluffs, rugged grasslands, and arid high-altitude slopes and ridges.  They are a flagship species at the apex of the food chain.  Threatened by expanding human and livestock populations into their lofty habitat, by retaliation for their predation of domestic animals, and by poaching for their luxuriant pelts, snow leopards have been notoriously difficult to see and almost impossible to photograph—until now!
Snow leopardFrom the new Snow Leopard Lodge—the only dedicated wildlife lodge in Ladakh, India—we endeavor to photograph these felines of impeccable camouflage as they descend to lower altitudes from their lofty summer home range following the seasonal movements of prey species—blue sheep and Siberian ibex.  The lodge provides many comforts for this extremely remote location—heat, good food, comfortable beds, toilets and warm bucket showers—without having to deal with the exhausting issues and discomfort of winter tent camping in intense cold aggravated by high altitude.  The lodge is relatively isolated, with far fewer tourists in the area than at an alternative snow leopard viewing location.
Our lodge accommodations take this recently discovered access to snow leopards to a whole new level.  No longer do you need to haul your own arctic sleeping bag halfway around the world, sleep on a thin mat in a tiny "crawl-in" tent, head outside in the dark and freezing cold to use a pit toilet, go without a shower for a week, or constantly live in your winter parka.  Here, power is easily available for charging batteries and other devices.
We reside in the extremely tiny village of Ulley (about seven houses) which becomes our base as our Ladakhi trackers use their knowledge, dedication and commitment to follow the cats.  They interact closely with the local people, using this network of regional intelligence to keep track of snow leopard movement.
We are in these highly photogenic wintry mountains during the snow leopard mating season when their activity level is high and their caution is lower.  On this trip, heavy snow in the mountains is advantageous for us as it drives sheep farther down the mountains and, with them, the snow leopards.  These days it is sometimes possible to photograph these beautiful cats at "close" range on a kill, while pursuing sheep, or while mating—but big telephoto lenses prove to be invaluable here.
Besides the awesome cats, spectacular Himalayan peaks and rugged steppe scenery, we may have opportunities to shoot additional Himalayan wildlife, including Ladakh urial, woolly hare, Royle's pika, Tibetan gray wolf, red fox, plus blue sheep and Siberian ibex.  We may shoot lammergeiers and Himalayan griffon vultures, and large raptors such as golden eagles and upland buzzards are also a possibility, along with their prey species Himalayan snowcock and chukar, plus a host of smaller high-altitude birds.
Though these winter days are short, there is plenty of time to obtain great images of a part of the world seldom visited by photographers.  Be prepared for cold temperatures and some high-altitude hiking to obtain the best wildlife photography opportunities.  Then relax in Ladakh's only wildlife lodge which—with a fully booked trip—we will have entirely to ourselves.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart home.
Day 2 (Feb 25)
Participants arrive at the international airport in Delhi, India.  After clearing Customs and Immigration, our representative meets you for the transfer to our hotel.
Day 3
We depart for the airport for our very early morning flight (less than two hours) to the town of Leh, Ladakh, located in the extreme north of India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  Ladakh—"land of high passes"—is renowned for spectacular mountain landscapes bounded by both the mighty Himalayas and the Karakoram Ranges.  The "official" altitude of Leh is 11,483 feet.  We spend two days in Leh as our acclimatization outpost.  Here, we relax and have our bodies adjust to the high altitude, low atmospheric pressure, and low oxygen availability before heading to Snow Leopard Lodge in Ulley at 13,000 feet.  (BLD)
Day 4
Slow and steady is the order of the day in Leh.  Culturally, Ladakh is occasionally referred to as "Little Tibet" and Leh, with its photogenic Sankar Gompa Buddhist monastery, beautiful white-domed Shanti Stupa, and 16th-century Leh Palace attests to that moniker.  (BLD)
Day 5
We drive west, generally following the Indus River and passing through the small town of Nimmu.  Nimmu, situated at the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar Rivers, is an important jumping off point for seasonal white water rafting trips on the Indus River.  Except for the plant growth along the rivers, the town is virtually devoid of vegetation due to its high desert climate within the rain shadow of the Himalayas. 
Continuing north on the road to Likir—one of Ladakh's famous Buddhist monasteries—the terrain becomes even more expansive and open.  This is snow leopard country and our guides help us keep a watchful eye out for the cryptic coloration of these elusive cats.  Before reaching our lodge we turn off onto a dirt road winding up a narrow valley along the Ulley Chhu, a mountain stream.  This is excellent ibex habitat.  There are few more evocative Himalayan wildlife images than a magnificently horned male ibex silhouetted against the sky.  There, balanced on some impossibly narrow ledge on the edge of a plunging cliff, the ibex seems to defy gravity, mocking the sheer drop of a thousand feet.
Enjoying the HimalayaThis evening, after the day’s drive, we relax at our cozy high-altitude lodge in snow leopard country.  (BLD)
Days 6–11
The Snow Leopard Lodge presents a commanding view of the impressive surrounding high mountains as well as excellent views of the valley below.  Strategically located, the lodge provides access to three valleys, all within prime snow leopard winter ranges.  From the lodge itself, ibex are easily seen along with the possibility of wolves, foxes and (with great luck) even a snow leopard.
Before sunrise, our skilled leopard trackers are in the field in search of these elusive "gray ghosts."  But since the sun rises late in winter, our group enjoys breakfast while we wait for a radio report from our men in the field.  If they wish, participants may join the Ladakhi trackers early in the morning during the tracking session.
Once a snow leopard is spotted we drive to the closest available location and then hike in to photographic range.  Porters are available for hire to carry our biggest lenses and we take care not to overexert ourselves as we hike at this high altitude.  The ideal situation arises when a kill is discovered, as the cat usually stays in the area until its prey is largely consumed.  Once we are in the field our Ladakhi tracking expert coaches us on the proper way to get as close to the cats as possible.
Other walks get us into good photographic range of urial and blue sheep, and whatever other Himalayan wildlife species come our way.  (BLD)
Day 12
We return to Leh.  Activities today depend on the energy level of the group.  (BLD)
Day 13 (Mar 6)
We fly to Delhi, arriving in the early afternoon.  Dayrooms are provided at an airport hotel.  After dinner we transfer to the international terminal to catch onward flights for home.  (BLD)
Day 14
Arrive home.

This is a unique high-altitude tour.  It offers the possibility of photographing snow leopards in the wild—but it is not a sure thing!  Some acclimatization days are scheduled at a lower altitude to help get adjusted before arriving at our lodge at 13,000 feet.  For the most part our guides initially sight a cat by car using a spotting scope.  However, at 13,000 feet, hiking to get within photographic range of the sighting can be strenuous and potentially non-productive.  Cats on kills are more of a sure thing.  A cat on a kill close to the road is the holy grail for photographers.

Participants are strongly encouraged to consult with their doctor regarding their health at this high altitude and obtain their opinion as to whether the use of Diamox (Acetazolamide) as a prophylaxis for high-altitude sickness is recommended. 

Emergency evacuation insurance is required.
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Snow Leopards of Ladakh

Feb 24, 2020 - Mar 07, 2020

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa,  MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.
A deposit of $1,000 per person is required. Full payment of the trip fee is due 180 days prior to departure date. We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:                                                Cancellation Fee:
180 days or prior:                                                                                100% of deposit
179 to 121 days prior:                                                                        50% of entire trip fee
120 or fewer days:                                                                              100% of entire trip fee
Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Snow Leopards of Ladakh: Strenuous Activity Level

Van and commercial airline transportation.  Potentially strenuous hiking while carrying camera gear at extreme elevation of 13,000 feet to reach snow leopard on possible kill.  Participants are strongly encouraged to consult with their doctor regarding their health at this high altitude and obtain their opinion as to whether the use of Diamox (Acetazolamide) as a prophylaxis for high-altitude sickness is recommended. Expect cold temperatures throughout the trip.

Trip Details
Feb 24 - Mar 07, 2020
Deposit: $1,000
Limit: 14 participants
Activity Level: StrenuousStrenuous
  • A chance to photograph snow leopards in the wild—the world’s most elusive big cat
  • Lodge accommodations offer comfort in lieu of winter tent camping
  • Our own vehicles transport us as close as possible to the cats while other tours must hike the entire way from their tent camp
  • Shoot spectacular Himalayan mountain landscapes
  • Our own expert leopard trackers linked in to local villagers and a network of other wildlife guides greatly enhance our chance of successful snow leopard photography
  • A variety of Himalayan wildlife, Tibetan architecture and remote village life round out our photo opportunities
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Tour Leaders
Jeff Vanuga

Jeff Vanuga