The Hemis High Altitude National Park is located in Eastern Ladakh. The park is spread over 4400 sq. km and is famous for harboring the highest population of snow leopards globally. The park houses a variety of flora and fauna, including the endangered species of animals and birds.

Hemis National Park map

The Hemis National Park is situated in the north of the Himalayan Range. Established in 1981, it is one of the most popular national parks in India. A variety of endangered animals such as Snow leopard, Euroasian brown bear, Tibetan wolf, Red fox, Argali, and Asiatic Ibex can be seen here. The primary aim of the park is to conserve the native endangered species of animals and birds.

Fauna:

Hemis National Park is the largest protected area in the north of the Himalayas and home to 16 mammal species and 73 bird species. Below are enlisted some of the known animals and birds that can be spotted in Hemis National Park.

Snow leopard in hemis national park
  • Snow leopard
  • Euroasian brown bear
  • Tibetan wolf
  • Red fox
  • Argali (Great Tibetan Sheep)
  • Bharal (Blue Sheep)
  • Shapu (Ladakhi Urial)
  • Asiatic Ibex
  • Himalayan marmot
  • Mountain weasel
  • Himalayan mouse hare
Bharal in hemis national park
Among birds of prey are the:
  • Golden eagle
  • Lammergeier vulture
  • Himalayan griffon
Hemis partridge
Other birds include:
  • Himalayan snowcock
  • fire-fronted serin
  • Red-billed cough
  • Blyth’s swift, Chukar
  • Black-winged snow finch
  • Streaked snow finch
  • Brown accentor
  • Robin accentor
  • Tickell’s leaf warbler

Flora:

The Hemis National Park does not receive much rainfall throughout the year and hence looks like a dry forest with only subalpine and fir trees present at the lower altitudes.

The flora of the park constitutes mainly alpine vegetation such as

  • Anemone
  • Veronica
  • Delphinium
  • Gentiana
  • Populus Salix
  • Lloydia
  • Kobresia
  • Juniper

It is home to several rare and endangered medicinal plants, including Acantholimon lycopodiodes, Arnebia euchroma, Artemisia maritima, Hyoscyamus niger, Bergenia stracheyi, Ferula jaeschkeana, and Ephedra gerardiana.

The Hemis National Park covers 4,400 km of land and is utilized by local scientists, educators, researchers, and enthusiasts to explore its beautiful natural treasures. A major part of the park is devoted to the conservation of wildlife as well as plants.

Hemis National Park boasts of an incredible variety of flora and fauna. The Hemis High Altitude National Park houses more than 200 exotic Snow leopards, making it one of India’s most famous wildlife destinations.

Ecosystem

The Hemis National Park lies within the Karakoram-West Tibetan Plateau alpine steppe ecoregion. The park constitutes one of the eight biogeographic realms which fall in the Palearctic ecozone classification. There are several mountain peaks inside the Hemis National Park with altitudes ranging between 12000-20000 feet.

We arrange tours and trekkings in Hemis national park. Contact us to book your trip.

Historical Facts:

  • It was founded in 1981 with an area of around 600 sq. km to protect Markha and Rumbak regions.
  • It kept growing and became the largest National Park in South Asia in 1988 with an area of around 3350 sq. km.
  • In 1990, the area of Hemis national park was further expanded to 4400 sq km.
  • After a decade, it became famous throughout the world for the highest density of snow leopards.

Geographical Facts:

  • With an area of around 4400 sq. km, it is the largest protected area in the northern part of the Indian Himalayas.
  • Park is surrounded by the Indus river banks on the north and includes the Markha Valley, Sumdah, Rumbak, Yurutse village, and parts of the Zanskar valley.
  • Several monasteries and gompas such as Gotsang Gompa, Hemis Monastery are located inside the national park. 
  • The national park is home to 1600 people who live in the nine villages located inside the park, raising goats, sheep, poultry, and other livestock. 

Popular activities

Besides the fantastic chance to watch and photograph different animals in the Hemis National Park and the surrounding forests, there are many other exciting sights and activities that attract adventure seekers.

The Hemis National Park is an ideal starting point for activities such as mountaineering and hiking expeditions. And the park has several outdoor activities that offer something for every tourist. These activities are suitable for people who do not want to stay in a hotel; they are also perfect for families. Trekking is one of the most popular tourist attractions here, as it allows the tourists to explore the wildlife in their own time. It is also considered a great activity because of all the breathtaking views and thrilling adventures it offers. The Stok Kangri Peak and Kang Yatse Peak are the two mountains that are most frequently climbed by mountaineers and attract the highest number of visitors.

A large number of tourists, who come to Hemis National Park for trekking, love to spot snow leopards and other endangered animals. One can spend a satisfying holiday vacation by going to Rumbak valley in the national park, which offers a fantastic bird-watching opportunity. While on the trek, tourists can expect to see a wide range of different species, many of which can only be seen in the Hemis High Altitude National park.

How do you get to Hemis National Park?

The easiest way to reach Hemis National Park is to reach Leh by Air and then hire a cab to the Chilling entry point of Hemis National Park. Other than the Chilling entry point, there are three more entry points to Hemis National Park: Stok, Zingchen, and Martselang entry points.

You can reach Leh by road or by air. Read this post to know the easiest way to reach Leh. After arriving at Leh, you must rest for two days to acclimatize at this height before going to the higher altitude. 

There are four entry points for the Hemis National Park. You can hire a taxi to reach any of these four points. The entry points for the national park are given below:

Entry pointDistance from LehDirection
Stok13 kmNorth
Zingchen25 kmNorth
Martselang41 kmSouth-east
Chilling60 kmNorth-west
  1. The Stok entry point (to the north/ 13 km from Leh)

The Stok Gate is closest to Leh town. You can hire a taxi from Leh to the Stok Gate, which costs around 800 rupees. From this point, one can access Rumbak and also trek to Stok Kangri peak.

2. The Zingchen entry point (to the north/ 25 km from Leh)

The Zingchen Gate is located a little ahead of Phey Gompa on the Srinagar-Leh highway. As you reach Phey, you have to walk to the Zingchen Gate. From this point, one can access Yurutse, Rumbak, and also trek across the Markha Valley. Visitors usually enter from this point to spot Snow leopards.

3. The Martselang entry point (to the south-east of the park/ 41 km from Leh)

The Martselang Gate is situated near the Hemis Gompa. You can follow the Leh-Manali highway past Choglamsar, Shey, Thiksey, and Karu. About 1 km ahead of Karu, you can take the slip road on the right of Hemis Gompa. About 2 km ahead is a left turn to Martselang Gate. As you enter the Martselang Gate, the road continues another 5 km till Shang Sumdo, the end of the Markha Valley trek inside the park. A taxi from Leh to Martselang Gate costs around 1600 rupees for a drop.

4. The Chilling entry point (to the north-west of the park/ 60 km from Leh)

You can follow the Srinagar-Leh highway past Spituk village and Patthar Sahib Gurudwara to the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers near Nimmoo. You can watch out for a sharp left turn and follow this road around the junction of the two rivers and then 25 km ahead to the Chilling Gate. You can take a taxi from Leh to the Chilling Gate, which costs around 2500 rupees for a drop. From this point, you can trek in the western Hemis National Park.

Climate:

The climate in the Hemis National Park is extreme on a seasonal and daily basis, with significant variations in their levels because of its high altitude location. This region receives an average precipitation of 160-160.5 mm annually and sometimes even below this range. While the average temperatures in Hemis National Park range between -10 degrees Celcius/14-degree Fahrenheit to 14degree Celcius/ 57 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. The lowest recorded temperatures are -28ºC/-19ºF in the winter and -7ºc/20ºF in the summer. Hence, the ideal time to visit the national park is summer, while September to May is suitable for spotting animals in the park. For bird-watching, one should visit from April to June and September to December. The highest elevations of the park above 5,700m/19,000ft are usually snow-bound throughout the year. Every year snowfall occurs between November and early May, and visitors that visit the park during this time, especially for snow leopard expeditions, will usually encounter some snow.

During summer, most of the park regions remain dry except for the highest peaks that are snow-bound even during summers.

Places to visit inside the Hemis National Park

There are several options for visitors, from visiting monasteries to trekking across the valley and hills. 

Markha Valley

The Markha Valley is located between the Zanskar ranges and Leh town of Ladakh. It runs parallel to the Himalayan mountain ranges at a short distance from Leh. The rocky, wild and barren landscape of the valley offers staggering views of the mountains. The Markha Valley trek is one of the most well-known trekking sites in Ladakh. However, this area remains covered with snow in winters. But during summers, the scenic beauty of the landscape, the sparkling streams, and the villages inside the valley attract many people around the world for trekking.

Trekking across the Markha Valley and the Markha River will take the trekkers along the small towns, beautiful monasteries, breathtaking views of the mountains, and the famous Kang Yatse peak. You will also encounter some Himalayan Marmots or Himalayan Mouse Hare in the evening as you trek downwards towards the lower regions.

The Markha valley is famous for being a “tea house trek” as one can find accommodation in tents in most of the villages on the way. While trekking across the Markha Valley, you can get a fantastic view of the Kang Yatse peak (21,000 ft), Stok Kangri peak (20’086 ft), Ladakh, and the Zanskar ranges. There are also some deep river crossing sections in the Markha river to trails leading to the Buddhist villages and beautiful monasteries. While trekking across the valley, you can get an opportunity to spot Bharal (Blue Sheep), Red Fox, Asiatic Ibex, and Shapu (Ladakhi Urial). 

Rumbak

The Rumbak region in Hemis National Park is famous for wildlife sighting, especially snow leopards during winters. The park remains open throughout the year, but during the winter months (November to May), you will need a permit from the Wildlife Office from Leh. Natural wildlife explorers and enthusiasts should visit during winters (December and January) as the snow leopard comes down to the valleys and seems less camouflaged. One can also find the nesting sites of the Golden Eagle and encounter Blue Sheep grazing on the grassy slopes.

You can start your trek from the Spituk village (8 km from Leh) or hire a taxi to the Zingchen village. From this point, you can trek to Rumbak and Yurutse, where you will find homestays to spend the night peacefully. It will not only give you an amazing opportunity to explore the wildlife, but you can experience the local flavors and mingle with the native people of Hemis. The Hemis National Park is much more than just about trekking and spotting wildlife. In a homestay, you can discover the food, culture, and customs of the people. You become a part of the host family, and they serve you the local food cooked by them. The homestays help the local people financially and also aids in the community development affairs, such as maintaining the Buddhist monasteries and historical monuments and stocking up fodder and other animal food for winters.

Other than homestays, you can also carry your tents and sleeping bags for night camping. You can contact us for camping equipment. 

Hemis Monastery
Hemis Monastery

The Hemis monastery is located 45 km from Leh near the Martselang Gate of Hemis National Park. Set on the foothills of the Indus river, the monastery existed before the 11th century but was re-established in 1672 by the Ladakhi King (Sennge Namgyal). It has 200 branches, and over 1000 Buddhist monks stay there. In this monastery, young Lamas are trained for the royal monasteries at Leh, Basgo, and Shey. 

The Hemis festival is the major attraction which is dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava (Rinpoche). It is celebrated every year in the month of June.

Besides offering excellent habitat for snow leopards, the park harbors four species of wild sheep and
goats that provide it with internationally significant biodiversity importance.

Rodney Jackson 2003

My travel experience to Hemis National Park

The arrival

It was pretty cold in the morning, although we visited Ladakh in the month of May. The winter was extremely harsh and ruthless. The hills and valleys are inside the Hemis high altitude National Park, and hence one needs permission from the wildlife department. We decided to take approval from the Wildlife Department and paid the wildlife fee to visit the Hemis High Altitude National Park. The Main Market was deserted in the morning, most probably because of the chilling cold. We entered the office and asked the wildlife officer about the Hemis National Park and some travel tips for our convenience. After we got permission from the wildlife department, we headed towards the Main Market to buy some important stuff for our trek. We also bought some food and got the map of the trail for our hike to the Hemis National Park.

The Stok Kangri hiking in Hemis National park

The next day, we started our tour for the Stok Kangri peak, one of the most exciting and fascinating treks in Ladakh. The snow-capped mountains, the enthusiastic streams, the exquisite monasteries, the high altitude villages, the charming mountain passes, and the beautiful deep valleys make it one of the most exotic and pleasurable treks in Ladakh. There were a few groups of people who had also come to trek in the Hemis National Park. It was a sunny day, but the freezing cold wind had made the morning nerve-wracking. We did not take any guide or mule with us for our trip, so we had to wake up early and get ready for the tour. 

The striking landscape

It was a one-hour drive from the city of Leh to Zingchen passes through the beautiful Spituk village. The striking landscape along the Indus river under the blue sky on the way to the Zingchen village is a visual delight. Within an hour, we reached the starting point. After bidding the cab driver goodbye, we put on all of our winter gears, strapped the backpack on our shoulders, and got ready for the trip.

As soon as we started our tour, we could not spot a single animal anywhere. The barren brown mountains looked splendid in the bright sunshine. The cold spell had robbed the landscape of its green pastures and cursed the enchanting streams for freezing in that brutal cold. The naked leafless trees were standing as mute watchers waiting to be dressed up on the touch of the spring. The landscape was so barren, and the winter was so harsh, yet it was so beautiful being out there amidst such peaceful silence and the immense beauty deep in the mountains.

We were always fond of trekking, so we loved wandering and hiking on the Himalayas. As we started walking in the Hemis High Altitude National park, the home to the endangered snow leopards and many other animals, we could not spot any of them. After an hour, we came across a camping site where snow leopard spotting teams were camping. They told us about the fact that during the winter months, snow leopards descend to lower altitudes. So, there were high chances that we could spot one of the snow leopards.

Snow leopard spotting

We waited for a while, and we were extremely fortunate to spot one of them. Snow leopards are most active around dawn and dusk, although the spotters look for them throughout the day. We joined the vigil and spotted another female leopard and a cub resting on a slope. We watched them as they stretched their paws and tails and licked her cubs. The cubs started tussling and chased each other over the hill practicing their hunting and stalking skills, and hid behind the bushes.

Then we climbed on a dusty slope in the middle distance and came across several blue sheep and Tibetan sheep grazing over it. Hemis National Park was a special place because both animals and humans live together.

We hiked in the winding trails, and as we gained altitude, the sun started playing hide and seek with the drifting clouds. We saw a massive boulder carved with the compassion mantra in Sanskrit, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” and some passersby sang the syllables to themselves.

Spotting Siberian Ibex

After hiking for almost two hours, we felt short of breath, and the trek gradually began to turn into a challenging one. We rested for a few minutes and once again started our tour. Wandering on the mountains and deep into the valleys with our voices’ echo, we discussed different topics about the Himalayas and other places to visit in Ladakh. We walked through the bouldered trails, where we were able to spot an enormous female Siberian Ibex and a group of Tibetan Partridges. We also observed several bird species like Golden Eagle, Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Griffon, and Brown Accentor. After crossing the streams, we spotted a few Eurasian Magpies feeding on the dead blue sheep.

The wooden map of Hemis National park

A wooden map was fixed on a tea house wall to help the hikers know the trail. The trail on the left went towards Rumbak village, and the course to Yurutse went straight for some distance and then right. We rested on a huge boulder to refill our energy with energy and protein bars. We were still five kilometers away from Yurutse point, where we had to stay at night. We enjoyed the stunning view of the majestic mountains all around. It was late afternoon, and we started walking again. Now, we had to walk on the frozen stream for quite a distance till the right turn for Yurutse.

Yurutse valley 

As we headed towards the Yurutse valley, the sun began to set slowly, and it was near dusk with the sky growing dark in the distance. The cold started rushing vigorously into the valley, and we felt highly exhausted by then. The weight of the backpack had already slowed down our steps, and some people were fifty steps ahead of us. We strolled at our own pace in the chilling cold and felt even more tired with the back-breaking backpack.

On the way to the Yurutse village, we also found some pugmarks and footsteps. It was so difficult to walk in such extreme cold. We checked our phone to see the temperature and found out that it was -19 degrees centigrade. We took a turn towards Yurutse village, which was still two kilometers away on the hill. Our fingers and toes became numb as we gasped for each breath. With every step, we looked for our homestay, where we were supposed to stay at night. 

Our homestay

After walking for a while, we finally reached our homestay in utter weariness. We unstrapped our backpacks and warmed up ourselves till we were able to sit comfortably. The house owner was very polite and prepared some butter tea for us that tasted quite delicious. We sipped the cup of hot tea, and we went to bed wrapping two blankets. It was a challenging tour but at the same time an exciting and adventurous one.

The journey continues

The next day, we woke up early and got ready for the next adventure. After breakfast, we headed up a close ridge armed with binoculars and other essential stuff. We were still excited to see if the Snow Leopard was around. While walking up the hill for half an hour, we spotted many wolf tracks and came across a red fox descending the slope towards an open field just below us. In the afternoon, we realized that it was way too cold and windy to eat our packed lunch outside. So we visited the house of a local tracker. We shared our meal with them, and they served us a traditional tea that tasted more like soup.

A visit to Hemis monastery:

After we had our lunch in the Skiu village, we drove all the way to Hemis and visited the Hemis Monastery. The monastery is a 17th-century Buddhist shrine and has a museum that consists of a vast collection of Tibetan books, gold statues, weapons, and stupas embedded with precious stones. Every year the Hemis Festival (Hemis Tsechu) is celebrated in the historic Hemis Monastery for two days during summer. It was surrounded by remarkable scenery with majestic mountains in the background.

Finally, we drove back to the Main Market to buy some gifts for friends and family and reached our hotel in the evening.

Other necessary information to visit the Hemis National park

Best time to visit Hemis national park:
  • The weather and temperature from May to October are pleasant to visit Hemis national park.
  • June to September is the best time for hiking, photography, and bird watching around the park.
  • December to March is the best time to spot the snow leopards and bharal.
Entry fee:

The entry fee for Indians is 20 rupees and 100 rupees for foreign visitors.

Open time:

Hemis national park is open on all days of the week throughout the year.

Opening time: 9 am

Closing time: 5 pm

Permit:

You need to obtain a permit from the wildlife office in Leh to visit Hemis national park.

Accommodation:

There are no hotels in Hemis National park, but Homestays are available in Hemis, or you can stay at Hemis monastery near Martselang gate. You can also carry tents to camp for the night.

Meals:

There are no restaurants or cafes at Hemis National park. Although, there is a small eatery near the Hemis monastery. Homestays in the park also provide meals to the guests.

Parking:

Parking lots are available outside the park. You can not drive a vehicle inside the park, so you have to park your car outside the park.

Insider Travel Tips For Hemis National Park

  • Hemis national park is situated at a high altitude, so you need to acclimatize at Leh for two days before visiting the park.
  • It is best to visit the park with a tour guide, as it is a vast park you will find it challenging to get the right directions yourself. 
  • Obtain the visiting permit a day before your trip to the park.
  • Carry lunch from Leh on the first day of the trip.
  • Carry energy bars, drinking water, and soft drinks from Leh.
  • Don’t wander alone in the park at nighttime. As the park’s wild animals usually hunt during the night, it can be dangerous.

Conclusion

Hemis national park houses many endangered and rare species of flora and fauna, making it one of India’s most prominent tourist destinations. 

There are many places in the park which tourists can visit. If you are a first-time visitor to Ladakh, Hemis national park makes it an ideal dream destination. The exotic landscape with a pollution-free and noise-free environment offers a glimpse into the diverse flora and fauna species in the high altitude areas.

There are also many beautiful landscapes to witness in the national park. With its lovely forests, serene natural parks, and stunning mountain views, Hemis National Park deserves the attention of every discerning tourist.

Frequently asked questions:

What is Hemis National Park famous for?

The Hemis National Park is famous for the highest density of snow leopard within a protected area. It is also known for other endangered animals and plants, including the Asiatic Ibex, Tibetan Wolf, and Eurasian Brown Bear.

Enlisted are some of the other factors for which Hemis national park is popular:

  • It is the largest national park in India, stretching over an area of 4,400 km.
  • It became India’s first national park to be established in the north of the Himalayan Ranges
  • It is the largest notified protected area in India and the second largest contiguous protected area after the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve surrounding protected areas
  • Hemis National Park is also renowned among adventurers and hikers for mountaineering and hiking expeditions.
  • The Stok Kangri Peak and Kang Yatse Peak are the two mountains that are most frequently climbed by mountaineers and attracts the highest number of visitors
Which is the largest national park in India?

Hemis National Park is the largest national park in India and South Asia, with an area of 4,400 square kilometers. It is also the largest notified protected area and the second-largest contiguous protected area in India.

What is special about the Hemis National Park?

The snow leopard and other endangered species of flora and fauna make Hemis National Park special among other national parks. These threatened species of the park that are rarely found anywhere else are declining rapidly from different parts of the world.

Which national park is famous for snow leopard?

Hemis National Park in Ladakh, India, is famous for snow leopards. Every year, many tourists and wildlife explorers visit this park during winters to spot the snow leopards. Winter is the mating season of the snow leopards, which makes them easy to spot in the lower regions of the park.

Which river flows through Hemis National Park?

The Markha River flows through the Hemis National Park. Markha River is a small tributary of the Zanskar river. And the Zanskar river is a major tributary of the Indus river in Ladakh. Indus river surrounds the park from the northern part of Hemis National Park.

About the author

Sam K. Pandepa is a certified travel agent of Ladakh. He completed his MBA in 2012 and has worked as a tourist guide up to 2015. After that, he is working as a travel agent.

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