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Snow Leopard Adventure

The Adventure

This tour has been many years in the making, with extensive work alongside in-country partners. Join Ian on this deliberately small group tour to Spiti Valley.

It is an adventure getting to this remote region, let alone the adventure of being in some of the highest populated villages of the world, sharing the homes of the remarkable inhabitants of the ancient valley.

The 15-day tour condenses the essence of Spiti Valley – seeking Snow Leopard, following the tracks of Blue Sheep, walking in the footsteps of Buddhist monks, through ancient monastery halls and meditation caves. You will experience mountain life above 4000m, gain a unique glimpse into the mountain, and be looked after by a group of dedicated guides, porters, spotters, and local families, all experienced in making your adventure a memory of a lifetime. Ian will be on hand to guide the trip and enable you to improve your photographic skills, making sure you get the best opportunities to experience the Buddhist culture, landscapes, and snow leopard sightings.

ITINERARY

The intimate nature of small group tours creates wonderful opportunities to get to know each other, our homestay hosts, and Spiti Valley on a deep and personal level – a gift the entire local team offers to us in our time here. It also gives us the opportunity to adjust to the seasonal movements of wildlife and weather at short notice.

With this in mind, here is a sample itinerary of our proposed trip.

(please be aware that the Chicham/Kibber/Kaza days may switch around as we get notice from our local guides and wildlife spotters of the best locations for us to attend each day)

On your arrival (and prearranged collection from the airport) in Chandigarh we will be staying at Hotel Golden Tulip, spend time swapping our past travel stories, thoughts for the upcoming trip, and discussing the itinerary in detail. We have comfortable, modern accommodation in which to get acquainted, time for you to get your bearings in India, and for anyone who has already had ‘adventures’ en route, to relax into the support of our group.

We will be driving from Chandigarh to Shimla where we will meet our guide and collect our Inner Line Permits. All foreign nationals visiting locations close to sensitive borders across India need these papers and a visit to Spiti Valley is no exception. These will be arranged for you and will be collected from the local Authority Offices.

On arrival in Shimla we will be staying in Hotel East Bourne, a fully modernised ‘relique’ from the British colonial era, when Shimla was considered the Summer Capital of the region. There will be a brief opportunity to walk around central Shimla and view the juxtaposed remnants of British colonialism with modern India. The Mall, and Christ Church with Shri Hanuman, high in the tree line behind its tower, offer the sort of fantastic architectural arrangements which will make you question your current location in the world. This is also where you will start to notice the temperature dropping, and get your first exciting glimpse of the Himalaya range.

The road from Shimla to Kalpa is long, there is no getting past that, but the scenery is breathtaking and offers huge diversity as we reach higher altitudes.

There is such a great feeling of adventure as we drive up through mountainside towns, built on impossible slopes and forming part of the iconic valley views. The road is a feat in itself, cut into the mountain giving us immersion into both rock and view as we climb. Steep tree-lined valleys, and cascading waterfalls, alongside hairpin bends ensure that the journey up to Spiti is as iconic and special as the rest of our time there.

We will be stopping regularly at viewing points to enjoy the Trans Himalaya at its most magnificent, and to experience brief but profound moments, as we stand with impossible mountain peaks stretching up into the distance, creating that feeling of personal insignificance and wonder that is part of any good tour.

Look out for the amazing BRO road signs enroute! You will see what I mean!

Ensuring comfort for everyone, we have large Toyota Innova Crysta’s with enhanced legroom and A/C for the initial part of our journey, and then solid 4x4s designed for the sorts of roads we will be encountering on the drive up and back to Spiti Valley. These are basic but tough jeeps, and they make our long ride much more pleasant than the traditional bus route, giving us ample time to really enjoy the scenery as we weave our way up the passes to Spiti Valley.

Kalpa to Kaza

From here the road continues up and the landscape becomes more barren, more strange, more lunar-like, and in some ways more beautiful for its expansive ‘emptiness’.

Here we pass the treeline and enter wide sandstone gorges of bare rock framed by an incredible, wide, bright blue sky. We will be crossing iconic iron bridges festooned with colourful, fluttering prayer flags - red for fire, blue for sky, white for air, green for water, and yellow for earth, sometimes covered in printed mantras, and all sending goodwill and compassion to all creatures - including us and our journey in those good wishes.

We will be stopping at Nako and Tabo, villages well revered for their 11th and 10th Century monasteries, each containing frescoes depicting life as it was, and in some ways still is now. There are aspects of seasonal and daily life here that remain as unchanged and unwavering as the landscape which surrounds it. Around Spiti Valley we find many places where the beauty of life is viewed in nuanced detail, and there is time to indulge a curiosity for the intersections of history, culture and religion - a place for souls to share stories, insights, and moments of awe.

In Nako monastery we can also visit a shrine dedicated to Purgyal, a local deity attributed as the "spirit of the mountain", an appropriate companion to our time here.

On arrival in Kaza we will have a day of acclimatisation, staying over in the town with possible visits to Langza, Hikkim & Komic depending on the weather and group preferences. Remaining overnight at this altitude with potential short forays out and back to the surrounding villages ensures that everyone has acclimatised to our high altitude position safely, whilst still seeing the best of our location.

Kaza is a fascinating town in its own right with no shortage of history and interest to uncover. Part of the traditional trade routes from Ladakh and the lowlands to Lhasa, this high altitude area has an abundance of Buddhist culture and also sits as a meeting point for agricultural fairs and trading. This town, and its particular setting, creates a confluence of regional variation unseen elsewhere - where communities from the wide geographical spread of Spiti, Ladakh and Kinnaur regions, have come together across centuries and shared their unique perspectives on religious practices, agriculture, home life, and how to live at these challenging altitudes.

Kaza to Kibber/Chicham depending on wildlife sightings and weather.

A visit to Kye Monastery and Kibber Village are early highlights of our trip. We will spend today having a recce of the area, ensuring that everyone is getting their bearings, seeing as much of the broad landscape as possible and experiencing the way that Buddhist culture and belief permeates every facet of life here.

Kye Gompa is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery perched high on the mountainside at an altitude of 4,166 metres. It sits on a promontory in a broad river valley, with the River Spiti winding alongside, and gives us an expansive view of how the landscape has been formed across millenia by the incredible strength of unbridled and raw natural forces.

Kaza, or in our Kibber or Chicham homestay depending on wildlife sightings and weather.

Hiking together with our local guides we will be utilising their knowledge and sightings to decide where best to visit each day. Sharing their knowledge, pointing out the local flora and fauna, and letting us into the uses and local myths and stories surrounding these plants will help us all deepen our connection to this region

Our time spent in local homestays mean that far from being a generic ‘tour-by-numbers’, this intimate trip offers the opportunity to participate in family life, spend time in the kitchen, maybe help make Tibetan Thukpa, as well as moments chilling out in the guest sitting room and chatting together about your days adventures.

Overflowing kindness and welcome is part of the local culture, and our hosts, guides and their families are especially blessed with it. All our guides and homestay hosts speak English, so there is every opportunity for you to ask all the questions you want, and really immerse yourself in this beautiful world.

Evenings offer us great opportunities to chat about the tour, about Spiti Valley culture, about our past travels, or even to log on to the WiFi and keep connected to the wider world! Since early 2023 Spiti Valley has placed its pin in the broadband map and this now means that the region has opened up for a new wave of digital nomads and has made it even easier for you to keep in touch with home whilst away.

Kaza, or in our Kibber or Chicham homestay depending on wildlife sightings and weather.

We will be taking opportunities for local encounters with the stunning wildlife of Spiti Valley, crossing mountainsides and scree to stop at remote vantage points to observe snow leopards, wolves, ibex, and bharal. Our 24/7 communication with the regional wildlife spotting system created by our local guides and partners means we are constantly kept informed of prime locations to view these different species in their natural habitat, and across their various territories.

Here we feel the seasonality of community and culture in line with nature. An intimate integration and what it means to be at one with nature in its most raw form. At this altitude we all adjust to working in harmony with ‘what is’, and to experiencing a sense of being truly ‘present’ in the moment.

Kaza, or in our Kibber or Chicham homestay depending on wildlife sightings and weather.

By now our understanding of the integration of land and people has deepened and we can see the challenges of life in this landscape for all its inhabitants. We can also see the importance of creative ways that people find to live within their ecosystem in a dynamic, respectful, and compassionate manner.

The remote nature of this pristine landscape has created unique communities with cultural heritage fused into its core, and a people who sit side-by-side with rare, endemic, and sadly now endangered flora and fauna. This situation calls for awareness, community consultation, conservation, and action, and our local partners have an integral awareness of these things and balance an awareness of our tour needs with our commitment to managing them sustainably, under these unique natural circumstances.

Kaza, or in our Kibber or Chicham homestay depending on wildlife sightings and weather.

We will continue to spend time trekking the landscape and enjoying the kindness and comfort our hosts offer us. I have chosen the best people in the region to partner with and my ongoing relationships with our hosts and guides ensure that we can all relax during our trips out and our time indoors, utilising the integrity of that relationship to ask any questions you wish about local customs, wildlife, about all facets of life here, and equally to be able to sit in companionable silence, by the woodburning stove, and enjoy the wonderful homegrown herb teas and homemade snacks offered.

Here there is no expectation of how you have to ‘be’, simply lean into the experiences of the tour and enjoy its many opportunities in your own way. You can participate in whatever manner you wish, and there is no pressure to ‘get involved’ unless you choose. The joy of a small and intimate tour means that you have permission simply to be yourself!

Kaza, or in our Kibber or Chicham homestay depending on wildlife sightings and weather.

During the day we will be out watching for wildlife, eyes firmly down and observing the landscape for movement and colour. At night, if you feel up to braving the winter chill and stepping out from the warmth of the woodburner, the night skies, away from light and atmospheric pollution offer a completely different experience. We will be privy to a different aspect of Spiti Valley in the star-studded skies which arch over it. To be at these heights is truly to be closer to nature and closer to ‘heaven’.

Kibber to Kaza

A rest day to prepare for our reverse road travels, and an opportunity for an amazing final evening meal together in Spiti. This is one of my favourite group moments as it gives us a memorable time reminiscing over the tour, swapping stories or moments important to each of us. This is also where we all start to adjust to the idea that over the next few days there will be many more endings as our group slowly disbands, a time that may seem sad but somehow makes each moment all the sweeter for it.

Kaza to Rampur

Following our drive back down through the winding switchbacks, and steep valley passes it is here, at Ramphur, that our wonderful guide will be leaving us, and after caring for us so diligently it's a sad moment for us all.

Rampur to Chandigarah

Back to our home in Hotel Golden Tulip again. This last night is an opportunity to settle back into what will feel like the immense luxuries of a modern hotel post Spiti Valley. It can be an opportunity to bridge the ‘reverse culture shock’ of heading from the slower, closer-to-nature, spacious feel of Himalayan life, to the bustling speed of foothills India.

It is also an opportunity to say fond farewells to our group of travelling companions. A tour like this creates firm bonds of experience and friendship, and this time offers us further opportunity to honour our time together.

Departures and airport transfers post breakfast.

Needless to say this is a busy time for everyone, but throughout you will have my constant support to address any concerns, or help with any ongoing itinerary issues as much as I can.

ABout Ian

IAN AITKEN

Learn more about me here

Raised in locations across Africa and Cyprus, I have subsequently travelled widely for work and fun.

Travel and photography have been the mainstays of my life, to the extent of being one of the first “digital nomads” back in the early 2000’s filing images to a picture library whilst travelling around Spain, Portugal and Italy in a campervan.

My work has taken me to many exciting and remote places, with crews and as a lone photographer, working with amazing fixers and staff in the country.

Basically I love travelling, exploring new locations, meeting people from different cultures and discovering new food.

Basic Information

After running a successful group snow leopard test trip, in Feb 2020, I was all set to start running the trips regularly – then Covid happened. All trips were put on pause. Ever since, I have been in constant contact with my partners in Spiti, and we are now ready to relaunch these trips with some minor tweaks. A huge amount of time and thought has gone into the trips with much anticipation. There have been a few minor tweaks to offer this unique trip.

  • Dates: March 15th till 30th
  • Expedition starts/ends in: Chandigarth, India
  • Type: Car based overland expedition 4×4
  • Physical difficulty: Moderate
  • No single supplement available
  • Group size: 5 plus myself
  • Experience level: Anyone is welcome, from beginners to professionals

GALLERY

Altitude

My personal and professional experience running tours, my Wilderness First Aid Expedition Leader (including Altitude) qualification, and my extensive first aid supplies including pulse oximetry, ensure we will all be well supported and covered for all eventualities. Knowledge of high altitude sickness is our first defence, so you can rest assured that we have support plans in place to manage this, and any other medical eventuality, quickly and resolve it smoothly.

Local understanding, awareness, and experience coupled with medical best practices relating to altitude and acclimatisation will dominate our first few days as we make our way from Chandigarh at 321m up to Kaza at 3,800m. Ensuring your health and well-being, alongside creating the most memorable experience, is our paramount concern, and for this reason the itinerary balances altitude gained each day with rest times at appropriate points.

Not only do I have a keen awareness and knowledge of altitude sickness but the local guides and homestay families I partner with all have extensive knowledge of this issue and care for us ‘as if we are family’. In the mountains this is a bit of a misnomer – whilst we are there we are family. Cultural and social tradition makes us part of the extended family of our hosts and we are treated with all the care and attention that brings.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

My team and I do everything in our power to create these opportunities, but since we are dealing with wild creatures, it's in their hands/paws rather than ours.

Whatever each day brings we have such a range of opportunities in Spiti Valley that we will not be short of things to do and places to see.

The washroom facilities in our accommodation in Spiti Valley consist of bowls of warm water whenever you need them, and Western-style dry compost toilets. Whilst basic in Western terms, we have access to the best accommodation available in the towns and villages and these homestays place you in the heart of the local community.

Additionally my decades of hosting and hospitality experience, supporting people on multi day expeditions, dedicated photography tours (and even on super yachts and in ski resorts back in the day!) mean I constantly assess and anticipate everyone’s needs, ensuring you are well cared and catered for, and allowing you to develop unique insights into life above 4000m.

You certainly don't need to be in marathon training or anything close to be able to get the maximum out of this tour. We will not be trekking fast across the mountainside, but there will be snow, the wildlife we seek will be at a distance from any roads, and the slopes are very steep in places.

A good level of balance and confidence in your abilities are as important as being able to hike for 4/5hrs at a time.

When you secure your place we will have a phone conversation in which we can discuss all the questions you might have. I will also be sending out an information pack containing a kit list, the sample itinerary, and details on the trip logistics including visas and suggested/mandatory insurance cover.

Yes, you can definitely come on your own. It is likely that many others on the trip will also be solo travellers, and we do not add on any single supplements.

All the rooms are twin bedded and there is no option for sole occupancy as we utilise all of the homestay space.

This trip has a maximum capacity of 5 participants. It is a deliberately small group as this maximises our ability to stay close and react to conditions on the mountain more easily. It also means we have every opportunity to get to know each other really well.

You don’t need to be a photographer to get maximum enjoyment and experience out of these tours. They are designed to offer everyone a unique perspective on life in this part of the Trans Himalaya, and whilst this can be done with a camera in hand it is certainly not a necessity - the only requirement here is an open heart, an open mind, and a love of exploring new lands!

Yes, you can! Let’s have a chat about how to make this trip happen for you!

Testimonial

TESTIMONIALS

Is this Just what you’re looking for? Book your tour here

Amazingly, Due to late snows and incredible sightings of snow leopard, we have everything in place to run a trip at short notice in mid March this year.
Anyone up for a last minute adventure? Enquire Here.