Four villages situated in prime snow leopard habitat in the Rong Valley gorge (‘rong’ means gorge in Ladakhi) were carefully selected to host Himalayan Homestays. Picturesquely located along the River Indus are the villages of Liktsey (70kms SE of Leh), Tukla (72kms SE of Leh), Hemya (80kms SE of Leh) and Kesar (135kms SE of Leh).
Scenic Liktsey is famous for its carpet weaving. Six of its 28 families have joined the homestays programme. In the high pastures above the village are the lakes of Tso Gongma and Tso Yogma, where you may spot migratory Ruddy Shelducks in summer. You may also see blue sheep, pikas, golden eagles and lammergeier and if you're lucky, wolves, wild dogs, red foxes and snow leopards. This is also a good habitat for Eurasian otter and Eurasian lynx.
Tukla is 5km north of Liktsey and is known for its barley production, carpet weaving and its monastery, which is a prototype of the famous Chemray gonpa. Six of its 28 households offer homestays. This is a good habitat for the Asiatic ibexibex, with its beautiful scimitar-shaped horns. Look for small herds high on the ridges.
Himya lies 10km from Liktsey and is known for its basket-making. Five of its 32 households offer homestays. About 2 hours away, the beautiful Chabraling Lake at Sumdo makes a great day trip. Himya's environs are rich in wildlife and several hikes lead out of here.
Day 1 Leh to Himya: Drive 2-3 hrs, 80kms SE
Day 2 Himya to Sumdo: Hike 3-4 hrs
Day 3 Sumdo to Tiri-Skudung: Hike 2-3 hrs
Day 4 Tiri-Skudung to Gyumar: Hike 3-4 hrs
Day 5 Gyumar to Thatsang: Hike 4-5 hrs
Day 6 Thatsang to Tsokar: Hike 4-5 hrs
Day 7 Tsokar to Leh: Drive 3-4 hrs via Taglang La (5,336m/17,507ft)
Kesar’s environs are rich in wildlife including the stone marten, an unusual carnivore that is found in these parts. Four of its 17 houses have joined the homestays programme. In the pastures around neighbouring Nyi, look out for majestic and highly endangered Tibetan argali, the largest species of wild sheep in the world.
Day 1 Leh to Nyi: Drive 3-4 hrs
Day 2 Nyi to Sreyul: Hike 3-4 hrs
Day 3 Sreyul to Laktsang: Hike 3-4 hrs
Day 4 Laktsang to Tsokar: Hike 5-6 hrs
Day 5 Tsokar to Leh: Drive 3-4 hrs via Taglang La(5,336m/17,507ft)
Four villages situated in prime snow leopard habitat in the The Rong Valley gorge leads to the vast high-altitude plateau known as the Changthang, which stretches from western Tibet into eastern Ladakh. The River Indus, which originates in Tibet, meanders through the Changthang, traversing a valley of lush sedge-meadows bounded by mountains for about 100km before entering the Rong Valley near Mahe.
The foremost reasons to visit are the breathtaking vistas of the Rong Valley gorge, through which the Indus flows, are the pristine lakes (tsos) and wetlands, such as Tsokar and Tso Moriri, that support a host of rare wildlife. The Changthang is home to the Changpas, a nomadic tribe who tend sheep, goats, horses and yaks. After the closing of the border and hence trade with Tibet, the Changpas now provide the raw material for the world's finest pashmina shawls. Unfortunately, their livestock compete with wild ungulates for scarce pasturelands and push wildlife into more barren locales. Protecting this fragile ecosystem whilst conserving the Changpas' way of life is a major concern.
Situated at 5,060m (16,600ft), Tsokar is an important lake surrounded by wetlands and meadows that are home to many birds. These landsform the main pastures for the Samad-Rokhen nomadic community who live in tents (rebo) around the lake.
Chumathang is a regular halt en route to Tso Moriri. It is famous for its hot springs that are said to cure various ailments. This is a good place to stay if you're visiting Tso Moriri (try Hot Spring Holiday Resort), as it is warmer here than at the lake and has mobile connectivity (only BSNL).
Tso Moriri Lake sits near Korzok at 4,450m (14,600ft). Its northern islet forms the main nesting site for Bar-headed Geese and Brown-headed Gulls, while the adjoining mountains are home to Tibetan argali and Eurasian lynx. The lake is important for the Changpas, as their livestock rely on the lakeside pastures in summer.
The beautiful Mahe Monastery is where His Holiness the Karmapa delivers religious discourses. If you continue up the valley, you reach the Chomoling (nunnery). From there, a high pass takes you to the enchanting Yaya Tso Lake, a good site for spotting Black-necked Cranes.
Hanle is one of the last villages on the Indian side before the China border. Set in a wide river valley ringed by mountains, it houses the Indian Astronomical Observatory (permission required for visits). This is good habitat for the highly threatened Tibetan gazelle, as well as the snow leopard and Tibetan sand fox. There have even been recent sightings of the very rare Pallas's cat.