Hemis National Park
Best for: Snow leopards, Tibetan argali sheep, Ibex, Urial (a wild mountain goat), Blue sheep, chukhar, snow cocks, golden eagles
Logistics: In order to popularize the plight of the snow leopard and show travelers what’s at stake, researchers from the U.S.-based Snow Leopard Conservancy have teamed up with tour operators to organize winter treks through in park. It’s located in Ladakh, a trans-Himalayan region within the state of Jammu-Kashmir in northwestern India; the nearest airport is 30 mountainous miles away in the city of Leh. The Conservancy’s award-winning research program (recognized by T+L in 2005) relies on home stays and encourages cultural immersion. As many as 100 mysterious, endangered snow leopards call this park home, and the greatest chances to see them are in February, when they descend to lower elevations. The reward for enduring freezing temps at altitudes of up to 13,000 feet on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau is a glimpse of one of India’s most mystical beasts.
Accommodations: KarmaQuest Ecotourism and Adventure Travel offers specialized camping and home stay programs in Ladakh. These 16-day snow-leopard journeys include round-trip flights from Delhi to Leh; worthy local villages receive a portion of your fee, which they invest in conservation activities and better education for their children (from $4,450 per person, including a $1,000 tax-deductible donation to support the Snow Leopard Conservancy's work; www.karmaquests.com and www.snowleopardconservancy.org).
Tip: If cold-weather camping isn’t your style, try a summer ramble through Hemis Park—named for a 15th-century Buddhist monastery within its borders. This pilgrimage site hosts a colorful, annual religious festival at the end of June or early July; you can hike through Markha Valley with its 360-degree-views of high Himalayan peaks. KarmaQuest summer treks also support village ecotourism and snow leopard conservation.