Destination: 
Hemis High Altitude National Park

India

An adventure not for the feint of heart: beautiful Hemis Hagh Altitude National Park, Ladakh, India. Image: ©Jukka Palm ⎮Dreamstime.com 

Why You Will Love It

Roof of the World:  Hemis is located in the Stok Range of the Himalayas.

Snow Leopards: This is the best place on the planet to see snow leopards, and one of the few places to see Eurasian brown bears and Tibetan wolves.

Hemis Gompa Monastery: This 400-year old Buddhist monastery is the largest monastic institution in Ladakh and main seat of the Kagyu lineage of Buddhism.

The Scoop

This cat is not easy to find - but the best place to look is Hemis High Altitude Park, Ladakh, India. Image thanks to: Snow Leopard Trust 

Named for the Hemis Gompa monastery located within its confines, Hemis High Altitude National Park at 1,700 square miles (4,400 sq. km.), is the largest national park in South Asia and its second largest contiguous protected area (Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand, India is the largest).

The altitude here is formidable, ranging between 9,800 ft. and 20,700 ft. (3000 m – 6300 m) above sea level, conditions are rough, and there is little, if any, infrastructure (roads, lodging). Trekking here is NOT for the feint of heart. But if you want a real adventure, India’s highest, most remote, and least populated region has been described as “the last Shangri-La.”

About 1,600 people live in the six villages, Rumbak, Khaya, Sku, Shingo, Urutse, and Chilling, located within the confines of the park. Many support themselves by raising livestock. This has made protecting the protected animals  challenging.

Villagers use their sure footed, altitude adapted horses to transport all manner of supplies to their mountain villages. Image: ©Tichonj⎮Dreamstime.com 

Tibetan wolves, solo hunters, developed a taste for the villagers’ livestock, and at last estimate, the villagers retaliated by eliminating all but 300 to 350 wolves.  But the wolves are getting help from an unlikely ally: cats! The Snow Leopard Trust is helping villagers understand how they and their stock animals can live more successfully with both predators. 

The Snow Leopard Conservancy, headed by Dr. Rodney Jackson, is also active in Ladakh, combining aspects of wildlife conservation with education for the locals on wildlife/human coexistenc and best practices for natural resource usage. Additionally, they were the first to recognize how the ancient Ladakh tradition of housing travelers in their homes could be expanded to include wildlife tourists. The Snow Leopard Conservancy, with help from UNESCO and The Mountain Institute (TMI), established a home stay system that has become a win for everyone. It provides a real cultural opportunity for visitors along with a much-needed economic boost for the locals, and it translates into a good reason to protect the wildlife. See below: "Accommodations" for more.  


Tibetan wolf, Long persecuted because of their taste for sheep, villagers are beginning to protect them for wildlife tourists. Image: ©Lukyslukys⎮ Dreamstime.com

Hemis' Wild Side:
What to See

Wildlife in Hemis High Altitude National Park

Tibetan wolf (also called wooly wolf, and Mongolian wolf), snow leopard, great Tibetan sheep, Asiatic ibex, Palla’s cat, Eurasian brown bear, Himalayan marmot, srapu, bharal, Tibetan argali, Ladakh urial.

Bird-Watching in Hemis High Altitude National Park

Golden eagle, Himalayan griffon vulture, Lammergeier vulture, Tibetan snow finch, robin accentor, brown accentor, Tickell’s and streaked-leaf warbler, fork-tailed swift, fire-fronted serin, Himalayan snowcock, chukar, red-billed chough


Also In
Hemis High Altitude National Park

The victory of good over evil! The festival at Hemis Monastery brings hundreds of people from all over India. Image: ©Oleg Doroshenko⎮Dreamstime.com 

Hemis Gompa Monestery

The Hemis Gompa Monastery is the largest and wealthiest in Ladakh. It is located inside Hemis National Park, about 28 miles (45 km) from the city of Leh. People from all over the world come to this, the home of the Drukpa Lineage, a Red-Hat Sect, of Tibetan Buddhism. For an once-in-a-lifetime experience attend the early morning prayers.

A special time to visit the monastery is during the two-day annual festival celebrating the Buddhist guru, Padmasambhava's, birthday and the triumph of good over evil. There is music, native costumes, including special masks, dances and demonstrations, crafts and food; even country wine available for this celebration. 

While there, walk to the Kotseng Hermitage, founded by Gyalwa Kotsanga many years before the monastery was built.  The hermitage is about 1.8 miles (3 km) from the monastery.


Being Responsible in Hemis

The Indus River runs through the mountains. The catchments make for prime Himalayan wildlife viewing. Image: ©Jukka PAlm⎮Dreamstime.com

The best way to be responsible in Hemis is to be prepared. Understand what you are about to do and make sure you are physically able and equipped to do it. After that, it is all about common sense and courtesy.

Courtesy in Ladakh

Plastic Bags are banned in Ladakh.

Ask permission before taking photos of the local people.

When camping or hiking take only memories (and photos), leave only footprints.

Catch the moment - but don't be intrusive. Ask permission before taking photos of people. Image: ©Oleg Doroshenko⎮ Dreamstime.com 

Be careful with campfires.

When in people’s homes or the monastery, respect the cultural traditions of your hosts.

Never sit on a table or eat from a cooking or serving spoon.

Monastery Etiquette

Dress appropriately (covered arms, legs etc.).

Refrain from open acts of affection.

No Flash photography.

No touching of statuary, art or interior elements.


Best Time to Visit

September to May offers the best weather. After November there can be significant snowfall, and all jeep travel is prohibited.


Accommodations

Camping In Hemis is a common option but be prepared for the elements.  Image: Tichonj Dreamstime.com

Camping: Even in winter, camping is common. It is best to coordinate with a local guide.

Hotels and Lodges: There are, as of this writing, no hotels in or near the park.

Home Stay Options:  Homestays with villagers or in the monastery are available. This is the perfect way to gain an understanding of the culture and lives of the people of Hemis.  Local guide services can make arrangements for home stays.

The Hemis Gompa Monastery: The monastery offers simple accommodations and food for travelers.

Home stays are another lodging option. This is a typical home near the village of Urutse, Hemis National Park, Ladakh, India. Image:  ©TichonjDreamstime.com


Be Prepared:

Language

The Ladakhi or Bhoti language is spoken in the Leh district of Ladakh, but there are also many other dialects spoken. 

Visa Requirements

A tourist visa is required for US citizensEU citizensand most other nations. Please see your respective government’s website for further information.

Covering all bases in a harsh land: This stupa on the road to Rumbak combines a traditional Buddhist prayer flag with a ram's skull.  Image:  ©Tichonj ⎮Dreamstime.com

Health Notes

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC): "Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.”

Hepatitis A: Recommended
Typhoid: Recommended
Yellow Fever: You may be required to show proof that you had a vaccine depending on your point of origin and intermediate stops.

Altitude: At heights from 11,483 to 20,965 feet (3,500 m to 6,390 m.) altitude sickness is a real possibility. See your doctor. Make sure that you are physically ready to make this journey and discuss anti-altitude sickness medication with your physician.

Weather: It is cold at this altitude even in the summer. Temperatures can range between 85 F (30 C) in the summer to  minus 22 F (minus 30 C) in the winter months. No matter how great your urban winter equipment is – this is different. Appropriate extreme weather gear can mean the difference between a great or miserable trip.


Show and Tell

Enjoy your adventure in Hemis High Altitude National Park adventures. We'd love to hear about them and so would other travelers. Send us your stories and photos and we will publish them as possible.

Special Thanks

Snow Leopard Trust
For sharing their wonderful image
Follow on Twitter and Facebook  

More!
Information & Stories

8 Magic Places to See Wolves. A Wolf Lover's Bucket List

Bharal or blue sheep, native to Ladakh and the Himalayas, is one of the prey sources for snow leopards. Keeping their wild population healthy keeps the big cats, and the wolves, healthy, too. Image:  ©JohnBraid⎮Dreamstime.com