Hemis National Park, Situated among the serene environs of Jammu and Kashmir, has the unique distinction of being the first national park to be established north of the main Himalayan range. The place was declared a high altitude national park in 1981 and since has been a major attraction for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers from around the globe.
While the park remains open throughout the year, the best time to visit are the months from mid-June to mid-October, which is the ideal time for trekking and forest walks. The best chances of spotting some rare animals is in the winter months when animals like the snow leopard come down to the valleys.
This national park offers the tourists an abundant treasure of natural beauty with mountains of various shapes and sizes, mixed with vast flatlands, deserts and bordered by the fast flowing river Indus.
Flora and Fauna: Hemis occupies much of the catchments of the lower Zanskar River, from its confluence with the Markha river to its meeting with the Indus. The smaller northern sector consists of Sumdah Valley which runs south-east until it meets the main Zanskar Valley. In the southern sector is the beautiful Markha Valley, also a tributary of the Zanskar Valley, and the Rumbak Valley which runs eastwards directly into the Indus Valley.
The area of this cold desert is rocky and the thin soil cover supports a poor vegetative growth. Grass growth is relatively rapid during the summer season after the melting of the snow. The Markha and Rumbak valleys are high altitude deserts charecterised by sparse grasslands and herbaceous vegetation on mountain slopes. These areas consists of trees and plants like Junipers, Myricaria, Poplar, Salix, Birch, Astragalus, Taraxacum, Leortopodium, Ephedra and many sparse grasslands.
The National park is famous for its population of the rare Snow Leopards and the Ibex. The other main species recorded in the National park are Palla’s cat, srapu, bharal, red fox, rhesus macaque, Hanuman languor, wolf, marmot, Tibetan argali and Ladakh urial etc. The bharal and urial are seen in large numbers. The park has been earmarked as one of the snow leopard reserves under a central government project to conserve the species.
Major Wildlife Attractions: Hemis national park is home to a number of exotic animal and bird species. Over 16 mammal and 73 bird species have been recorded in the park so far, many of those are only found in the Himalayan region and considered to be highly endangered.
Prominent among the animals found in the park include the Snow Leopard, Himalayan Wolf, Wild Dog, Pallas’s Cat, Red Fox, Bharal (Blue Sheep), Ibex, Ladakh Urial, Tibetan Argali, Long-tailed Marmot and Himalayan Mouse Hare.
Besides these rare animals, nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts are also presented with a life time opportunity of spotting birds that are unique to the area and are not spotted anywhere in the lower altitudinal regions. The avifauna includes the Golden Eagle, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Little Owl and Common Kestrel among other variety of birds.
Other Attractions: Trekking is the best way to explore the area and get up close with the wild residents of the park. Some of the popular trekking routes in the park include Martselang to Shang, Skyu-Kaya to Markha Valley and the trek from Spituk to Markha. The treks range from the easy to difficult ones and requires some acclimatisation to the climate.
Best Time to Visit: Between Mid-Jun to Mid-October (The park remains open round the year)
How to Get there:
Air: Leh is the nearest airport. Indian Airlines flies and Jet Airways flies from Delhi to Leh (5:54, except Sat).
Train: Jammu is the nearest railhead. Jammu is well connected to other cities in India by daily trains.
Road: To reach by road from Leh, take the state highway to Hemis via Choglamsar, Thiksey, Karu and Martselang. Buses are available but be sure to plan your schedule accordingly. It is better, however, to hire a private taxi, preferably a four wheel drive.
General Info / Tips:
The visitors require a permit from the wildlife office in Leh, to visit the park between the months of November and May.
There are four main entry points to the park, Martselang (south-east/45 km from Leh), Chilling (north-west/60 km from Leh), Stok (north/13 km from Leh) and Zingchan (north/25 km from Leh).
There are various trekking routes in the park. Choose the one that is best suited to your physical state. The trek to Rumbak is especially rewarding, which begins from Spituk and passes via Zingchan to Rumbak.
Entry fee to the park is Rs. 20
Jammu & Kashmir, India
Snow Leopard, Ibex