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In the depths of winter, the Bharal (or'Blue Sheep') of Ladkah in north-westIndia descend from the high peaks tothe lower slopes and valleys. They arepursued by hungry Snow Leopards, one ofthe world's most charismatic and elusivemammals. This beautiful cat inhabits someof the most remote and mountainousregions of Central Asia, in its element atextremes of temperature and terrain. Fewof you will have missed Steve Winter'simage of a Snow Leopard, making its waythrough a mountain pass at night, whichwon the 2008 BBC Wildlife Photographer ofthe Year competition. On this tour we go insearch of this extraordinary animal, goinginto the heart of the mountainous regionwhere this photograph was taken andexperiencing at first-hand a fascinatingblend of rare, high-altitude wildlife, as wellas isolated Buddhist communities.This pioneering 14-day tour is, quitesimply, one of the most amazing, originaland wild trips you are ever likely to do! Youmay not see many birds on this tour, youmay not see many mammals (exceptperhaps for the Bharal), you may not evensee a Snow Leopard (though the chancesare real, our success rate being 50% todate); however, the opportunity to visit thespectacular ancient kingdom of Ladakh,situated today within the Indian state ofJammu and Kashmir, in the middle ofwinter is not to be missed!This is a very adventurous tour, and shouldnot be undertaken lightly. Because ourchief aim is to see a Snow Leopard,absolute flexibility is the key. If we arescheduled to spend the night at a guesthouse, but we hear that a Snow Leopardhas been seen in another area where theaccommodation is extremely basic, or inwhich it would be better to camp out in theopen, we reserve the right to move thegroup there immediately. However,snuggling down into a 4-season sleepingbag in such a setting really is anunforgettable and magical experience. We begin our tour with a domestic flightfrom Delhi, taking us over the greatHimalayan range to Leh. The town of Lehis situated at a height of 3,500 metres andyou will have time to explore its windingstreets and bazaars while acclimatising tothe altitude. An impressive 16th centurypalace towers above the town and duringour first days we will visit nearby Buddhistmonasteries (or 'gompas'). One of thefinest examples of Ladakhi architecture inthe region is the gompa at Tikse. This is an incredibly atmospheric place and we will explore its artistic treasures,listening to the hypnotic chanting of monks as we walk round!Having fully acclimatised to the altitude, wewill then set off on our dedicated 6-daysearch for Snow Leopards in HemisNational Park. This is an incredibly sceniclandscape and raptors such asLammergeier and Himalayan GriffonVulture make an impressive sight here,rising up above the high peaks. A variety of other hardy birds, including Brown andRobin Accentors, and HimalayanSnowcock also remain for the winter. Thearea is home to some other rare mammalsincluding Wolves, Lynx and Tibetan Argali,though these are rarely seen. Morecommon are the Red Fox, Pika and WoollyHares which also brave the midwinter cold.Led by extremely experienced local, andNaturetrek, guides and researchers we willscan the mountainsides, valleys andgorges in areas that Snow Leopards areknown to frequent in the winter. It is thebest time of year for sightings and ourmovements will be dictated by signs offeline activity. If we find a kill we will sit andwait, hoping to see the Snow Leopardreturn to its meal. If we find fresh tracks,we will follow them and you will need to beprepared to trek through light to mediumsnowfalls for up to several hours a day,though it could be much less. There is nogreater wildlife thrill than seeing a SnowLeopard - whether at a kill or making itssolitary way up a remote mountain pass,blending into the wilderness in which it istotally at home and which to us seems so inhospitable!This tour is not luxurious, and you will needa high level of fitness to enjoy it. What itoffers you is a wonderful opportunity toexperience a genuine wildlife adventureand the chance of seeing a Snow Leopard,one of the rarest and most beautifulanimals on our planet!Ladakh - A Snow Leopard QuestAn exciting and adventurous 14-day expedition in search of Snow Leopards and other high-altitude winter wildlife in the mountains of Ladakh, north-west India. Friday 22nd February - Thursday 7th March Cost: £2,595Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationTIBET NEPALPAKISTAN NEW DELHI LEHHEMIS NATIONAL PARKTHE GREAT HIMALAYA INDIA Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Delhi; fly Leh.Day 3/4Leh.Day 5 Hemis National Park.Day 6/10Trek/search in SnowLeopard country.Day 11Leh.Day 12Fly Delhi.Day 13Delhi.Day 14Fly London.AccommodationBasic accommodation. On trek thiswill involve camping or a villagehomestay; please note that on trekonly shared facilities will beavailable.FoodAll included in the price, except forlunches and dinners in Delhi. Allow£40.Grading C/D. You must be accustomed toregular, very strenuous hill treksand have a level of fitnesscompatible with trekking inmountainous terrain. Treks willcover uneven, snowy ground ataltitudes of up to 4,000 metres,where even gentle activity feelsmore tiring than usual.Focus Snow Leopards; other Himalayanwildlife, plus local culture.LeaderNick Acheson, plus local guides.Single room supplement£495; please note that singleaccommodation may not beavailable at some places on trek.Web quick search: IND27237Hemis NationalParkSnow Leopard

The mighty Himalaya exerts itsinfluence over every aspect of the floraand fauna of northern India andnowhere is this better exemplified than inthe three areas that we will visit during thistour: the floodplain of the BrahmaputraRiver in Assam, the former hill station ofDarjeeling and the pristine montane forestsof Bhutan. Each destination is fascinatinglydifferent from the others but the triocombined together produce a birdwatchingand wildlife tour par excellence.Our holiday begins in Kolkata, located ineastern India on the banks of the HooghlyRiver. From here we fly to Paro and enterthe tranquil 'Land of the Thunder Dragon', a mountainous country of boundless andbeautiful rhododendron and oak forests,where remarkable dzongs and the culture,architecture and dress of a proud Buddhistpeople characterise a rich and unspoiledHimalayan kingdom where wildlife abounds.A 2-night stay in the high valley of Paroallows us to explore this historic valley thatsits beneath snow-capped Chomolhari, oneof the highest of Bhutan's Himalayanpeaks. Here we will visit the huge RimpungDzong, the National Museum and theimpressive ruin of Drugyel Dzong, and wewill climb through beautiful forest to thespectacular Taktsang Monastery (or Tiger'sNest). An early morning drive will then takeus to the Dochu La, a high pass clothed inwonderful oak and hemlock forest wheremany rare birds may be found. From herewe descend to Punakha, the old capital, fora 2-night stay that will allow us to enjoy itsmagnificent riverside dzong and make visitsto Tashithang and Jigme Dorji National Parkin search of such rarities as White-belliedHeron and Blyth's Kingfisher.At Gangtey Gompa the peaceful ProbjikhaValley holds an upland mire famed for itswintering Black-necked Cranes. We aremost likely to see these endangered birdson the November tour, though on bothtours we will encounter the wealth ofinteresting birdlife to be found in thesurrounding high temperate rhododendronforests. We will spend our final night in thispeaceful and magical kingdom in thecapital Thimpu, before a scenic drive takesus to the town of Phuntsholing that spansthe Indian border with Bhutan. Our next destination is the former colonialhill station of Darjeeling. Situated at 1,980metres, the town is full of character andcommands magnificent views of theHimalaya, in particular the world's largest(and third tallest) mountain, Kanchenjunga.Whilst here, we will have ample opportunityto enjoy the birds of nearby temperateforests, and we will also see at first handthe processes involved in producing thefamous Darjeeling tea. The historic town ofDarjeeling, with its bustling streets,contains many a reminder of its 'glorydays' as a summer resort for the Britishduring the time of the 'Raj', amongst themthe world-famous narrow gauge railwaywhich laboriously loops its way up to thetown from the steamy plains.A short flight from Bagdogra will take us toGuwahati in Assam, from where we willdrive to the southern edge of KazirangaNational Park. We stay here for amemorable four nights at the comfortableand evocatively named Wild Grass Lodge,from which we will undertake dailyexcursions into the reserve by jeep and onelephant back.Kaziranga is a 430 square kilometre park,consisting of broad tracts of tall elephantgrass interspersed with evergreen forests,shallow lakes and reedbeds. It is probablythe best place on Earth to observe the veryrare Great Indian One-horned Rhinocerosand it is possible to encounter as many as40 of these prehistoric-looking beastsduring a day in the field. Indian Elephantsare also plentiful and herds of wild WaterBuffalo watch our progress with an air ofbellicose suspicion. Grazing Sambar, HogDeer and Swamp Deer add to the diversityand provide prey for the Leopards andTigers which roam the park, although amidso much cover they are always hard tosee. Continuing our exploration we maydisturb sounders of Wild Boar, sendingthem crashing through the undergrowth,and maybe chance upon some of the moreelusive residents such as Gaur, LeopardCat and Sloth Bear, whilst the rare CappedLangur, Assam Macaque and HoolockGibbon form a trio of primates that inhabitthe woodlands. Despite the profusion ofmammals, the birdlife is not eclipsed and atremendously diverse bird list featuresmany rare or local species such as BengalFlorican and Adjutant Stork. A short flight from Guwahati or Jorhat will take us back to the bustling city ofKolkata, testing our abilities at mountainidentification as we fly parallel to the greatHimalayan massif, passing several of theworld's highest peaks.For tour members wishing to postpone theirhomeward flight, we recommend a post-tourvisit to the Sunderbans, the world's largestdelta and mangrove swamp, renowned forits waterbirds and man-eating Tigers!India - Assam, Darjeeling & BhutanAn 18-day holiday exploring Kaziranga (the finest of India's national parks), the magical kingdom of Bhutan and the charming hill station of Darjeeling, plus an exciting optional extension to the Sunderbans.Sunday 4th November - Wednesday 21st November 2012 Cost: £3,995Sunday 24th February - Wednesday 13th March 2013 Cost: £3,995Sunday 3rd November - Wednesday 20th November 2013 Cost: £3,995Sunderbans extension available on all tours Cost: £695Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Kolkata. Day 3/4Paro. Day 5/6Punakha. Day 7Gangtey.Day 8Thimpu.Day 9Phuntsholing.Day 10/12Darjeeling.Day 13Fly Guwahati; drive toKaziranga.Day 14/16 Kaziranga National Park.Day 17Fly Kolkata. Day 18 Fly London. Sunderbans extensionDay 18Transfer SunderbansNational Park. Day 19/21Sunderbans NationalPark.Day 22Depart Kolkata.Day 23 Arrive London. AccommodationComfortable 5-star hotel in Kolkataand simple but comfortable hotelsand lodges in Kaziranga, Darjeelingand Bhutan, all with privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price, except formain meals required in Kolkata.Allow £20.Grading A. This is a wildlife tour thatincludes no strenuous walking(other than optional walks inBhutan). Most excursions will be byjeep and three trips will be onelephant back in Kaziranga.Focus Mammals, birds and local culture.LeaderTshewang Norbu, Dilip Saini, ManojSharma, Sither or Sujan Chatterjee. Single room supplement£695 (extension: £175).Web quick search: IND05238Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryBURMAKAZIRANGANATIONAL PARKBRAHMAPUTRARIVERDARJEELINGBAGDOGRABAY OFBENGALBHUTANINDIAASSAMKOLKATASUNDERBANSNATIONAL PARK(EXTENSION)JORHATGUWAHATITIBETPAROPHUNTSHOLINGView from DarjeelingSwamp Deer