Summit India: Snow Leopards & Brown Bears


The Northern Indian region of Ladakh is one of the best places on Earth to photograph snow leopards. Next spring, join Summit Workshops on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to explore the Indian Himalaya in search of leopards, brown bears, and culture. Located amongst the intersection of India, Pakistan, and China, Ladakh has been an important cultural intersection since it hosted caravans on the ancient Silk Road. From world class wildlife to vibrant traditional cultures, our Northern India workshop will offer seemingly unlimited photographic opportunities in one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world.

Our all-inclusive Northern India workshop will begin in Leh, a city nestled amongst snowcapped peaks. In addition to being the starting point for most snow leopard trips, Leh is renowned as having the best-preserved Tibetan Buddhist culture left in the world. While we acclimatize to the high elevation of the mountains, we will spend our first day visiting active monasteries that have been in operation for over 700 years. Traveling deeper into the Himalaya, our journey will take us to the Ulley Valley which is a seasonal feeding ground for large numbers of dal sheep – a favorite food of snow leopards. Guided by local villagers and wildlife biologists, we will travel deep into the mountains in search of the elusive ghost cat. While spotting a snow leopard will be the highlight of our time in Ulley, we will also be in the presence of lynx, wolves, wild dogs, and many other fascinating mountain animals.

Following our snow leopard treks, we will drive farther north to the towns of Drass and Kargil, home to some of the largest remaining populations of Himalayan Brown Bear. While en route to the bear’s habitat, we will stop in several remote villages to photograph native tribes and the spectacular spring apricot bloom. After hibernating all winter, most Himalayan brown bears awaken in April to come out of their dens. If we are especially lucky, we will watch as newborn cubs emerge for the first time to explore their new world. Guided by a founder of the Himalayan Brown Bear Trust, we will have an exceptional opportunity to learn about and photograph these amazing animals.

While our workshop will emphasize wildlife photography, our itinerary differs from other snow leopard trips in that it prioritizes experiencing the local culture in addition to photographing animals. When not tracking leopards or bears we will spend afternoons walking remote villages with locals, touring monasteries, visiting markets, photographing native tribes, and ultimately learning about life at the roof of the world. Ladakh is a truly magical place and we want everyone to walk away from this trip not only with thousands of spectacular photos, but also a deeper understanding of Ladakhi culture and what it is like to co-exist with some of the most amazing yet fragile animals and landscapes on the planet.

What To Know

Topics We Will Cover

Wildlife Photography
Travel Photography
conservation Storytelling
landscape photography


Matt Stirn

Program Manager, Photojournalist, Archaeologist

Matt is a photographer, writer, and archaeologist from Jackson, Wyoming. The majority of his work focuses on travel, nature, and cultural and environmental conservation. He is a National Fellow for the Explorer’s Club and has worked as a senior photographer and on assignment for archaeological and conservation projects on four continents. Matt’s work has been published with Smithsonian Magazine, The New York Times, National Geographic, GEO, BBC, Archaeology Magazine, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, and more. Matt’s work at Summit is diverse and ranges from assisting at our core workshops to planning and running many of our international and destination workshops.

Chris Steppig

Owner / Director

Chris is the owner and director of Summit Workshops. Summit was his first job out of college and nearly 20 years later, this is home.  He is in charge of all workshop operations, scheduling, logistics, faculty, social media, marketing and sponsorship. Chris has a passion for conservation, travel, and education and the workshops are a dream platform to help others reach new heights as not only photographers but as people.

Chris is an affiliate of the International League of Conservation Photographers. The iLCP is a U.S. based non-profit whose mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. This affiliation provides a tremendous opportunity to help deliver great content and also be an advisor on matters large and small.  He is also a professional advisor for Outdoor Photographer magazine.  Through collaboration and great communications with the editor of the magazine, there have been countless articles written by Summit Alumni in the magazine over the years.

Our local guides

Muzammil Hussain

A passionate climber, trekker & native of Kargil, after much wandering around in India for a few years, he decided to come back home to the mountains and co-founded Roots Ladakh - a responsible travel company with his brother in 2013 with a vision to change the preconcieved notion of Kargil as a “war zone”. Muzammil has a background in management, design & research. As a researcher, his work took him to travel to some remote locations in India where his love for travelling and exploration grew. Besides running his travel company he loves guiding people in his backyard as a qualified mountain guide, an experienced culture guide, a museum curator, and a wildlife conservationist. He has helped setup various community-run rural tourism projects in Kargil and is a member of the local Tourism Advisory Board. He is the Founder-Trustee Himalayan Brown Bear Trust, a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of this rare species. He is a TedX speaker and his work has also been featured in various national and international publications most recently in Conde Nast Traveler as one of the “50 amazing ambassadors of sustainable travel” and “50 People to Know in the Himalayas,”.

Gulzar Hussain

Recently featured in Condé Nast Traveler as one of the “50 People to Know in the Himalayas,” Gulzar Hussain has an incredible knowledge and passion for the wildlife, history, and culture of his homeland in the Himalayas. With a bachelor’s degree in science and an MBA in tourism, he currently specializes in sustainable tourism planning and policy. He is the co-author of the book, Journey through Paradise, an in-depth guide to Kashmir, Ladakh, and Jammu, and is the founder of the Nomadic Center for Arts and Crafts in Puga Changthang. The Nomadic Center gives underprivileged, vulnerable, Nomadic children better access to health care and education, and involves them in creative arts and wildlife conservation projects. As a naturalist and guide, Gulzar loves sharing his passion for the remote, remarkable, and delicate ecosystem of the Himalayas with fellow adventurers. He enjoys photography and finds that his pictures help bring his stories to life during evenings spent around the camp fire.

Workshop Information & Itinerary

Trip Highlights

Costs Included In Tuition

Not Included

Workshop Itinerary

Plan to arrive in Leh, India at any time. All flights will connect through New Delhi which offers a good opportunity to arrive early and spend a few days sightseeing before heading into the mountains. The Ladakh flight to Leh is one of the most beautiful as it goes over the western Himalaya range over the majestic peaks and lends into the heart of Himalayan Snow kingdom of Ladakh.

Once you arrive in Leh, we will arrange an airport pickup and transfer to our hotel. For those who arrive in the morning we will walk through town and spend a few hours photographing and shopping in the town’s traditional market. Before dinner we will meet our local wildlife biologist and talk about snow leopard ecology and our forthcoming days searching for the elusive ghost cat. Largely, today will be uneventful to allow ample time to recover from the long journey and to adjust to Leh’s 11,000 foot elevation.

The region of Ladakh is considered to have the best preserved traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture in the world. It is home to hundreds of ancient monasteries that have retained a relatively unchanged way of life for centuries. After breakfast, we will spend our first full day in India visiting and photographing three of the area’s most prominent Buddhist monasteries- the Shev Palace, Thiksey, and Hemis. Our visits will offer a great introduction to the people of Ladakh, and offer a truly special opportunity to experience and photograph several monastic rituals. In the evening we will return to our hotel in Leh for dinner and relaxing.

After breakfast we will drive southeast along the Indus River towards the Gya Meru conservation area.  Passing through stunning valleys and steep canyons we will keep an eye out for ibex, urial, and possibly snow leopards! After spending a day photographing landscapes and wildlife we will return to Leh for a guided tour of the old market before dinner.

After breakfast we will drive north to the remote Ulley village which provides an exceptional location to spot snow leopards in the nearby Rumbak Valley. This particular area is widely considered to have the highest concentration of snow leopards in the world and offers the highest chances of seeing them. Tourism is relatively new in the village and the locals have initiated an impressive system centered upon community preservation and snow leopard conservation. After we arrive and check in to our eco-lodge, we will have lunch and tea before heading out to explore the village and learn about their blossoming conservation efforts. In the evening we will relax at the lodge and chat about our exciting days to come.

The next four days will be entirely devoted to wildlife. After early breakfasts, we will leave with our team in search of snow leopards and other wildlife including Lynx, Pallas’ Cat, Wolf, Red Fox, dhole (Tibetan wild –dog), Blue Sheep, Asiatic Ibex, Tibetan Argali and many other species of mammals. We will be in constant communication with local villagers and guides who can direct us towards leopard sightings. Like all exciting animals, whether we see the cats up close or far away will depend on our luck. Either way, our days will be spent surrounded by the mighty Himalaya with infinite vistas and a variety of animal species to photograph. Depending on our wildlife sightings and the groups’ interest, we could spend a day visiting the Alchi Monastery which dates to the 10th century and is one of the oldest in Ladakh.

After breakfast and one more outing to search for leopards, we will bid farewell to Ulley and drive towards Garkone. Located along the Lower Indus River, Garkone and its surrounding region is inhabited by the Brokpa tribe which is said to be from the Gilgit region of Pakistan and is one of the earliest settlers of Ladakh. Their unique culture is distinct from the rest of Ladakh and will offer an exciting opportunity for making portraits and learning more about the people.

In addition to its culture, Garkone is also known for its apricots which will likely be in full bloom during our visit. Compared to the cherry blossoms of Japan, the apricot trees produce blindingly white flowers which will blanket the mountain valley offering incredible opportunities for stunning photographs. After we arrive and eat lunch, we will spend the afternoon exploring the village to photograph and visit with the community.

If time allows, during our drive to Garkone we may also stop at the Domkhar rock art site which is Ladakh’s largest prehistoric petroglyph site and offers an opportunity to learn about ancient life in the Himalaya.

After breakfast we will drive towards Drass via Kargil over the Humbotingla pass. After lunch we will visit the Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum, a private collection of over 1000 artifacts from that Silk Route trade heritage of Kargil. After our visit to the museum we will transfer to a new vehicle and drive to Drass, a mountain town known as the gateway to the Indian Himalaya, and the second coldest inhabited place on Earth (luckily we will be there in the spring when it is warmer!). In the evening we will meet with our wildlife guide to learn about Himalayan Brown Bears and enjoy a tasty dinner at our lodge.

While Snow Leopards are perhaps the most famous large carnivore of the Himalaya, India’s Himalayan Brown Bears are just as rare and a spectacular subject that very few people have ever photographed. After hibernating all winter, the bears (often with babies) will emerge from their dens in late April offering a heart-warming and once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the parents introduce their young to the world.

Our first two days of brown bear tracking will begin with a very early wakeup and a short drive to the Mushkow Valley. During a splendid walk along the Mushkow River or short hike to the top of a nearby ridge, we will keep our eye out for bears in addition to over 25 species of migratory birds who will be passing through. In the afternoon we will return to our lodge for lunch and visit the nearby Shina Villages which offer great opportunities to photograph local culture in addition to wildlife including Ibex, Foxes, and Wolves. In the evening we will return to Drass for relaxation and dinner.

After another early morning of bear tracking, we will drive to the abandoned 300 year old settlement of Hundurman. Located along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, the village has been turned into a historic museum and interpretive center that offers a glimpse into the region’s past, and offers an opportunity to learn about the hardships that the local people experienced during conflict between India and Pakistan some thirty years ago. We will meet the local host of Hundurman and after a tour of the settlement and museum will join his family for a traditional lunch in their home. In the late afternoon we will return to Drass for dinner, tea, and relaxation.

After breakfast we will bid farewell to Drass and return along the highway to Leh. Following a slightly different route from our approach we will stop at several mountain passes to enjoy stunning views and stop for tea at a massive buddha carved out of a cliff face.

Depart Leh at any time, return home connecting through New Delhi

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