A pioneering Silk Road Adventure into Central Asia’s majestic mountain ranges in search of the elusive snow leopard.
Panthera uncia: the snow leopard. There are few mammals on earth that we know less about. Listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, only 9,000 of these intriguing creatures are believed to remain in the wild – and about seven hundred of them inhabit the snowy peaks of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
A Pioneering Silk Road Adventure
Run in close partnership with local conservation organisations, this thrilling two-week expedition will take you deep into the mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in search of the snow leopard. This Silk Road Adventure is as much about being involved in the conservation efforts of these enigmatic animals as it is about seeing one for yourself.
On this tour, you will spend time in the mountains of both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, looking for snow leopards, wolves, ibex, markhor, Marco Polo sheep and elk. Local rangers and conservationists will be your guides, and in the evenings you’ll enjoy the cosy surrounds of family-run mountain lodges.
In between these two mountain locations, you’ll enjoy the luxury of Bishkek and Dushanbe’s best 5* hotels and travel in top-spec 4WD vehicles.
There’s a reason why these mountains are little-explored: the trails and slopes in this region are steep and challenging, so you will need to be physically fit to take them on.
The more you venture into the wilderness, the more likely you are to be rewarded with a snow leopard sighting. Those that embrace the rugged terrain will get the most out of this pioneering expedition.
|DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION||Manas International Airport, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Dushanbe International Airport, Dushanbe, Tajikistan|
|DEPARTURE TIME||Please ensure you arrive in good time for our scheduled departure from Bishkek|
- 4WD vehicles + drivers – properly insured, prepared and maintained for our use.
- Accommodation in rustic mountain lodges and 5* hotels
- All meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some alcohol.
- Local airport transfers
- A professional local guiding and conservation team plus one of the directors of Silk Road Adventures.
- Conservation lectures from local Tajik and Kyrgyz snow leopard experts
- Air Astana flight from Bishkek to Dushanbe
- Wildlife tracking with expert local rangers
- Fresh filtered water + a Water 2 Go water filtration bottle, in order to reduce plastic waste
- All entry fees
- White camouflage clothing (for tracking in the snow)
- Professional route planning and logistics, backed by risk assessments, emergency procedures, satellite communications (where necessary) and medical support. We don’t take risks lightly and we plan for all eventualities, believing it is better to have prepared and not require a procedure than not to plan at all. We also carry a very well stocked First Aid and Trauma medical kit and have been First Aid and Trauma trained by the excellent team at Crux Medical.
- International Flights
- Guide and ranger gratuity
- Your personal clothing and any equipment – details to follow after signing-up.
- Extra daily costs for snacks, alcohol or souvenirs
- Your personal travel insurance
- Extra camera traps you wish to donate to the conservation groups
- Visas and other permits as required
Visit Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
This incredible trip focuses on two separate conservation areas in Tajikistan’s south-western Pamir mountains and the Kyrgyzstan’s Ala Too ranges.
After a night of 5* luxury in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, you’ll be driven to a basic but charming lodge in the heart of a wildlife reserve beneath the magnificent peaks of the Ala Too.
Here, guided by a team of expert local rangers and conservationists, you’ll spend three days exploring the surrounding mountains and forests by horse, foot and 4WD. In the evenings, you’ll return to the warmth and comfort of the lodge – which is owned by one of our rangers – where hot food, good cheer, conservation talks and traditional Kyrgyz entertainment await.
There is a varied range of species here, ranging from deer, elk, wild boar and wolves in the nearby forest, to lynx, ibex and Marco Polo at higher elevations. Although snow leopards have been caught on camera traps in this region, we are unlikely to see them in this first part of the trip.
Embark on a Pamir Expedition
From Kyrgyzstan, you’ll fly to Dushanbe in neighbouring Tajikistan. Here, after another night of 5* luxury, you’ll spend five days at a Conservation Lodge in the south-western Pamir ranges. We’ll be making this comfortable with soft duvets, fluffy pillows and fresh linen, plus a selection of good wines for supper and a well-mixed G&T at the end of the day.
As our rangers will have been out tracking the big cats for the week before we arrive, you’ll have a really good chance to see not only the leopards themselves, but also Pallas’s cat, Asiatic ibex, Tajik markhor, Marco Polo sheep, Bukhara urial, Eurasian wolf, wild boar, golden eagle, bearded vulture, Himalayan griffon, Egyptian vulture and plenty more besides.
Alongside tracking wildlife, you’ll be setting up camera traps, analyzing footage and visiting local schools. With the children there, you will learn about the importance of these creatures to the community and the importance of saving them from extinction.
Two years in the planning, and run in close conjunction with international and local conservation teams, this is a great opportunity to visit Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan from a unique perspective.
“According to local legends [in Tajikistan], the snow leopard is a pari or mergich, a holy and powerful being, that needs to be propitiated to ensure the success of summer herding and dairy production by the community, as well as the success of hunters.”
– Tanya Rosen, National Geographic
Snow Leopards of Central Asia
Minimum number for guaranteed departure 6 persons. Maximum group size 10 persons
Wednesday 26th January 2022
Start Point: Your Home Destination: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Travel: Fly to Manas International Airport, Transfer (30 mins) to Bishkek
In Bishkek our fantastic Kyrgyz team will meet you and transfer you to a top-notch 5* hotel in the city centre. Most flights arrive in the early hours of the morning, so we’ll give you a few hours to catch up on some sleep before a late lunch close to the hotel. Supper will be at an excellent restaurant in the heart of this vibrant capital city.
Thursday 27th January 2022
Start Point: Bishkek Destination: Chon Kemin Travel: 3 hours by 4WD
You head for the Kyrgyz hills today! After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, you’ll be driven east towards the white peaks of the Ala Too range.
You’ll stop for lunch on the road before heading deep into the pine-covered hills. It really is a wilderness up here – the silence of these hills and forests is stupendous.
After settling into the lodge, you’ll be treated to a hearty meal and then enjoy a presentation by the staff of the conservation organisation whose efforts here are so vital to both limiting negative human impacts and ensuring the local wildlife is given the best possible chance of thriving.
Friday 28th January 2022
Start Point: Chon Kemin Destination: Chon Kemin Travel: Foot / horse
After a hearty breakfast at the lodge, which is owned and run by one of the local wildlife rangers, you’ll be splitting into groups to spend the day in the hills with rangers from this community based conservancy. As the snow is likely to be at least a foot deep at this time of year, you’ll be travelling by both horse and foot. After a hot picnic lunch in the hills, you’ll return to the lodge in the mid-afternoon to warm up and compare notes from the day.
This evening you’ll be having a talk from one of the local conservation team, and there will also be some traditional Kyrgyz entertainment…
Supper will be at the lodge, with our ranger host and his family.
Saturday 29th January 2022
Start Point: Chon Kemin Destination: Chon Kemin Travel: Foot / horse
Today, you’ll spend all day out in the hills around the lodge, returning late afternoon after a warming lunch on the slopes.
You’ll be exploring different parts of the surrounding hills, and any recent sightings of key species will be reported to ensure that you maximise your chances of spotting whatever is out there to be seen.
This is your last day enjoying the fresh air and forests of Chon Kemin.
The ranger team will have been working very hard to ensure that you have been able to get fully involved with the conservation efforts here. This is something that very few tourists get to do, so we hope it will have been a special experience for you.
The rangers will bid you a fond farewell today and we are likely to enjoy a toast or two with them before they go. Tonight, you’ll enjoy a super meal at the lodge, hopefully with a star-strewn sky outside.
Sunday 30th January 2022
Start Point: Chon Kemin Destination: Bishkek Travel: 3 hours by 4WD
After an early breakfast at this mountain eyrie, you’ll travel back to Bishkek via the Burana tower. This ninth Century minaret is now rather shorter than it once was, thanks to an earthquake that toppled the higher portion, but it remains an impressive landmark.
You’ll have lunch on arriving in Bishkek, in perfect time to check into your 5* hotel. This afternoon is yours to explore this fascinating city, its teeming bazaars, museums, numerous spas and wide-open spaces. We love Bishkek and it will provide the perfect chance to unwind after your trip so far.
Supper tonight will be at one of the city’s finest restaurants.
Monday 31st January 2022
Start Point: Bishkek Destination: Dushanbe Travel: 3 hours flight via stop in Almaty Notes: Air Astana
You’ll be transferred from your 5* hotel in Bishkek to Manas Airport in luxury cars and delivered into the welcoming arms of the CIP fast-track team who will look after you until you embark on your flight for the short hop over the mountains to Almaty, from where your connecting flight to Dushanbe will depart.
Your first flight leaves Bishkek at around 09:00 and arrives into Almaty at roughly 10.00 local time. You’ll head out of the airport with our local guide, into the welcoming arms of Almaty to enjoy a delicious lunch and a spot of sightseeing before returning to Almaty Airport at about 16:00. A further 2 hours in the air with – daylight permitting – some incredible views over the jagged ridges of the stunning Pamir Alai range, the flight will bring you to the capital of Tajikistan. This flight is included in the trip cost.
Arrive at Dushanbe Airport at around 19:00, where we will meet you, assist with immigration and then transfer you to your 5* hotel. After a chance to refresh, you’ll head for supper at one of the best restaurants in the city. Overnight in Dushanbe.
Tuesday 1st February 2022
Start Point: Dushanbe Destination: Darvaz Region Travel: 4-5 hours by 4WD
This morning, we will leave the hotel after breakfast and drive down to the Khatlon region. Here, the dramatic landscapes of the Darvaz ranges begin to open up, and you’ll get your first glimpse of neighbouring Afghanistan. Around mid-afternoon, you’ll arrive at our mountain lodge in the heart of the Darvaz range. This small conservancy is home to the highest recorded density of snow leopards ever recorded, with ten individuals in a 100km² (39 miles²) area.
This evening after supper, there’ll be a talk from the ranger team about the local wildlife populations, their work here and what you’ll be doing over the next few days. You’ll also have the chance to look at detailed maps and recent locations of cat tracks and sightings.
Wednesday 2nd February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Darvaz Travel: Hiking (foot) Notes: You'll be on foot today. Distance depends on conditions.
Today begins the work of locating the snow leopard.
After a morning briefing from the rangers – during which they will talk about weather conditions and recent wildlife sightings – you’ll split into smaller groups, each of which will head to different locations accompanied by 1-2 rangers. The ranger team will have been closely tracking the cats in the week prior to your arrival, hence giving you the best possible chance of seeing the cats and other key species.
You’ll be walking in the mountains, tracking wildlife and helping to set camera traps which you’ll then analyse in the following days. Lunch will be served out in the field, along with hot coffee and tea. After a hot supper and some G&Ts back at the lodge, you’ll hear more from the ranger team about their conservation efforts in the region.
Thursday 3rd February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Darvaz Travel: Foot, up to 10 km Notes: Distance will depend on conditions and wildlife
oday, you’ll be up early to hike to the best positions before sunrise. This, together with local knowledge of the best slopes, will hopefully allow you to spot snow leopards, Markhor or Ibex. Lunch will again be out in the hills before heading back to the lodge in the afternoon.
Supper will be at the lodge.
Friday 4th February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Darvaz Travel: Foot, distance TBC
You’ll be out in the mountains again today, on foot in small groups, enjoying the wild beauty of this place and looking for wildlife. Lunch will be in the mountains and you will return to the lodge in the afternoon for warming drinks and some time to relax.
Tonight’s supper will be at the wildlife conservancy manager’s own home. This way, you’ll get to experience more of how the local people live and enjoy their wonderful hospitality. Tajiks must be among the most welcoming people in the world and you’ll doubtlessly enjoy this evening.
Saturday 5th February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Darvaz
After the pleasure of getting involved with community efforts yesterday, hopefully you’ll be fired with yet more enthusiasm for another day of spotting in the hills.
You’ll be once again in small teams with your rangers at hand, and we’ll be staying again at the lodge tonight.
Sunday 6th February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Darvaz Travel: Foot, distance TBC
Today will be another early start to get out before sunrise. Many people only have the chance to track snow leopards once in their lives, so we are going to do our best to find the cats, and that means some early starts. It’ll be a shorter day on the hills today, as you will return to the lodge for lunch and then head to a local school. Here, in co-operation with the local conservation team, you will have the opportunity to help educate the children about why the key predators in their region are so important to the entire ecology – including themselves. This outreach programme is an essential part of conservation efforts here. It will also be a chance for you to help the children with their English – you’ll be some of the first native English speakers they’ve had the chance to meet.
Tonight – for those who want it – there will be a traditional Russian bath-house, or banya. Very much like a sauna, this is a great way to get a deep clean before supper and a glass of wine.
Monday 7th February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Darvaz Travel: Foot
It’s your final day here, and our rangers will once again have been out since before dawn scouring the hills for signs of the cats.
You’ll split into groups, or if a recent sighting has been reported, all will go in a single group.
Lunch will be in the mountains, and then you’ll enjoy a final supper at the lodge with all the local team – no doubt with much toasting and good cheer! You’ll also review any camera trap footage and have the chance to get copies of any images captured during the stay.
Hopefully by now, your memory card will be straining with images of fluff and fur.
Tuesday 8th February 2022
Start Point: Darvaz Destination: Dushanbe Travel: 4-5 hours by 4WD
After breakfast you’ll wave ha’ir and dasvidanya to the Tajik conservation team and drive back to Dushanbe, stopping on the way for photos of Nurek Lake (reservoir).
Your last full night in Tajikistan will be spent in Dushanbe’s best 5* hotel. Supper will again be at one of the best joints in town.
Wednesday 9th February 2022
Start Point: Dushanbe Destination: Dushanbe
You’ll have a day to relax, decompress and see the sights of Dushanbe today.
Although Dushanbe doesn’t have the history of some other Central Asian cities, it does have things to see and do and we do find it an endearing place.
Of course, you may feel like relaxing, reading a book or going for a swim today instead.
Some flights may depart this evening, others go early tomorrow morning in which case you’ll stay at the same hotel tonight. We will transfer you in time for your flight in any case.
Thursday 10th February 2022
Start Point: Dushanbe Destination: Your Home Travel: Flights from Dushanbe
We’ll get you to the airport in Dushanbe in time for your flight, whenever it may be. Many departures (e.g. Turkish Airlines and Fly Dubai) have early departures, or you may be departing a little later via Astana/Nur-Sultan or another regional airport.
Either way, we’ll wish you Bon Voyage after an epic trip has concluded.
How is this different from other “snow leopard” trips I’ve seen advertised?
It has taken us more than two years to get this trip ready for you and no one offers anything like this. Most other trips offering snow leopard spotting are in Ladakh in North-West India which, while being a very beautiful part of the world, is also high (3,500 m, or 11,500 ft) and this can create issues with altitude. Our lodge in Tajikistan is only just over 1000 m (3300 ft) above sea level. In Kyrgyzstan we are around the same height, so again there will be no issues with altitude sickness.
India is also a far better-known destination than Tajikistan or even Kyrgyzstan. We would encourage you to try something new, something where the income we generate is of great benefits to a local economy that is only recently beginning to see the fruits of slowly increasing tourism. Further, Ladakh – in Indian-administered Kashmir – is sometimes subject to security concerns that are not an issue in Central Asia.
We are specialists in Central Asia and know these countries incredibly well. Our directors, Marley and Antonia, have between them spent years in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and have spent months at a time living in these countries. We know the best places, the best people and where to find the best coffee: it is our insider knowledge and attention to detail that makes us different.
This is also a trip led by one of our own Directors, whose extensive local knowledge will help you to extract the very most from there two very different but marvellous countries.
The trip is designed to provide not only income but other real, tangible benefits to the conservation effort to understand and preserve the iconic snow leopard. Finally, the density of prey species and numbers of snow leopards hereabouts – particularly in Tajikistan where this trip will end – together with the highly professional approach of our local team allows us to believe that you stand an excellent chance of spotting a snow leopard here without creating any risk to the species itself or to any prey species. This is of the utmost importance to us.
The highest density of snow leopards ever recorded is in the community based conservancy where we end the trip.
Are the conservation efforts here linked to commercial trophy hunting?
In Central Asia, as in many parts of the world, conservation efforts are often ‘supported’ by controlled hunting. Whilst it may not be something we find personally palatable, this income stream has allowed for the training of guides, purchase of camera traps, monitoring of populations, development of lodge facilities and – in many cases – has been critical to the preservation of endangered species. The hunting of snow leopards themselves has been illegal in Central Asia for decades, but prey species such as Marco Polo Sheep and Markhor goats are hunted in controlled numbers each season. As an example, to hunt a Marco Polo in Tajikistan costs upwards of US$50,000, with a percentage of these funds going back to conservation efforts. This hunting – and the rangers trained to track and enforce the numbers killed – has had a direct correlation with a marked reduction in illegal poaching. It is in the interest of the species managers to ensure that populations of ungulates are maintained at viable numbers and that poaching is kept at bay.
So, the presence of hunting is not something we can affect. Our efforts to support the conservation efforts by bringing small amounts of wildlife tourists do help to diversify away from a pure hunting agenda and we are keen to see this increase – whilst also realizing that a single hunter paying $$$ has arguably less environmental impact than the number of traditional tourists needed to raise the same income.
This is a balance that we are acutely aware of and are trying at all times to improve by carefully considering all of our actions. We want to be open about the presence of hunting in some of the places we stay and whilst there will not be a physical overlap between hunters and guests on this trip, we don’t want anyone to think we are hiding any truths.
The reserve we will visit in Kyrgyzstan was once a hunting concession and now a place of total sanctuary where species are being protected by rangers. This is the kind of good news story that we are keen to see, and it is our hope that properly managed small group trips like ours will form a key part of the income stream that helps to manage these reserves in the future.
If you want to read more about this subject, a fascinating article has been published in Biographic Magazine, produced by the California Academy of Sciences. You can read this in-depth article here.
Is this trip benefiting local conservation efforts?
Yes! Because of our knowledge and contacts in the region, we are working directly with local conservation organisations in both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, rather than arranging things through a local tour operator. This means that a large proportion of the trip