A photographer’s heaven on earth: The people, cultures and landscapes of Ladakh.

Year after year, Travelshooters’ Ladakh photography tour produces the definitive travel photography experience of this fascinating Himalayan region. The photographic encounters with the mountain people and their way of life, the dramatic road journeys, the serene and surreal lakes, the high passes and the sharp pure Himalayan air… day after carefully planned day, all these elements come together to create an experience that its participants will remember for a lifetime.

And that’s before we even talk about the photographs. Portfolios have been transformed, competitions won, exhibitions presented on the output from our Ladakh photography tour.

You and your camera will waft from sweaty Delhi over the mighty Himalayas into the high cliffhanger monasteries and startling landscapes of Ladakh. Here, we will shoot and explore and marvel at limpid lakescapes that Nature has already Photoshopped for you. And we’ll meet, talk with and respectfully photograph the lives of the people who happily choose, even in the 21st century, to call these remote Himalayan hamlets and nomad encampments their home.

This Ladakh photo tour is a landscape photographer’s dream come true. It’s a documentary shooter’s dream opportunity to capture life in high places and the stories in UV-tanned faces. It’s a chance to pursue haunting wildlife themes and surreal dune and water scenes. In fact it’s a creative magic carpet ride from which to explore and be all of these things over a couple of unforgettable weeks.

And, crucially, this Ladakh photography tour is about balance and variety. In Ladakh’s mountainous terrain, road journeys can be slow, long and uncomfortable. So we’ve taken great care to use your time with us wisely. This is, after all, a photography tour, not a driving holiday or a mountain expedition. So we don’t take you hundreds of kilometres for a single day’s event shooting. There are no treks, long walks or tough climbs. We’ve made it our mission to give you the richest mix of authentic photographic material, amazing travel experiences and broad exposure to the Ladakh region’s many attractions — with the least possible amount of car time in between.

None of this could happen without the unparalleled local knowledge and cultural sensitivity of our award-winning Indian Shoot Director, who is no mere visitor to the region. He’s a Ladakh expert, a veteran of the Himalayan ranges, an ethnographer and photojournalist who has walked, motorbiked and photographed the region for a decade and a half. He lectures and writes on the wandering tribes of the high Himalayan country. He knows the people, he speaks their language, he has dandled their babies and midwived their animals and when he takes us into a Changpa nomad’s yurt, he’s welcomed as a returning friend rather than a mere visitor. There are encounters on this Ladakh experience that are simply not available on any other photography tour of the region.

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2018 dates to be announced soon

14 days 13 nights; starts and ends New Delhi, India

Prices to be announced soon

What's included
  • airport transfer between Delhi airport and hotel
  • air travel Delhi→Leh→Delhi
  • First-night hotel in Delhi
  • A Class hotels in Leh and best available accommodation outside Leh, typically with private Western bathroom facilities
  • 1 night camping in fixed tents at Pangong Tso; camp style toilet facilities
  • all meals (some meals may be packed picnic style)
  • all ground transport in Ladakh
  • Entrance fees, camera fees (for one still camera only) and monument fees, where applicable, at all places mentioned in itinerary
  • Inner Line Permits and local taxes as applicable
What's excluded
  • Not included: Airfares between your home city and Delhi
  • Not included: Stuff you consume or do on your own outside planned group activities
  • Not included: Drinks, beverages and snacks
  • Not included: Tips to tour and hotel staff, charges for room service, items of personal nature and incidentals, telephone charges, video-camera fees, mandatory travel insurance, passport and Indian visa fees
  • Not included: All costs incurred should you need unscheduled transportation or evacuation outside the planned group schedule

Special notes for this tour
The Ladakh region of India is a remote and exotic destination in the vast Himalayan mountain ranges. Although thousands of tourists travel here each year, the region is different from mainstream tourist destinations and Travelshooters would like to set your expectations accordingly. Please consider the information below carefully before signing up on this tour.
  • Land travel: Tour days include some long road trips. Journeys are on mountain roads that are winding and steep. The region's roads range in quality from good to poor, and road journeys can be uncomfortable at times. Toilet facilities en route in the mountains are very limited and where available are poorly maintained.
  • Accommodation: Throughout this tour, we aim to choose hotels offering some of the best accommodation in the region. You can expect private, western-style bathrooms and toilets but this cannot be guaranteed. Some nights of this tour are out in the Himalayan wilderness, where the best available accommodation is likely to be fixed or semi-permanent tented camps or small guesthouses; in such places the toilet facilities may be Indian-style and/or communal and/or basic.
  • Altitude: Living and travelling at high altitude may make some people feel unwell. If you're unlucky enough to be seriously affected, you may have to cut short your trip and return to Delhi's low altitude. We'll do our best to assist with alternative travel arrangements, professional medical assistance, flight bookings and cancellations etc. but all such arrangements, if necessary, will be at additional cost to you and no refund of your tour fee will be possible. Please check that your travel insurance covers you for these and related risks.
  • Power and communications: Power cuts are frequent. Electricity may not be available overnight and during certain daytime periods. Internet access will be available only in Leh, and even there will be unreliable and slow. Internet access, should you choose to use it, may cost extra.
  • Night noise: Like much of India, this region has a problem with noisy dogs at night. The authorities are tackling the problem and Travelshooters chooses its hotels with the problem in mind, but you should be aware of this potential annoyance.

Tour highlights

Mountains, monks, monasteries and yak-hair yurts

Carefully balanced itinerary

Our British creative director and India's leading published Ladakh pro photographer have refined this itinerary year after year to give you the perfect balance of time spent behind the camera vs inside a car.

Privileged photo encounters

Carefully selected encounters with authentic subjects in photographically rich but authentic settings, ideal for exploring portraiture, environmental contexts, colour palettes and textures.

Amazing subject variety

Mountains, monks and monasteries, nomad encampments, towns and villages, deserts, dunes, verdant valleys, snowy peaks and passes, salt lakes, rivers, wildlife, camels, farmhouses and yurts… yes, this is all on one tour!

Time with the nomads

Our Shoot Director has organised access to nomad encampments and their yurt homes, where you'll have plenty of opportunity to talk, share and shoot with the nomadic groups in their home and work contexts.

A vivid monastic festival

Carefully chosen to avoid the increasing touristic clutter of Ladakh's monastery festivals, our monastery event offers remarkable privileged access and vivid story enactments in a wild and remote monastic setting.

Those Ladakh landscapes

We'll take you to the richest scenics and vantage points. See The Photographs below for the kind of landscape and environmental portraiture opportunities in store for you, featuring people and their livestock in natural settings.

The photographs

Images and opportunities from our Ladakh photography tour.

Tour itinerary

Eat. Sleep. Shoot.

Your Shoot Director may vary this itinerary as he or she sees fit. (So will Mother Nature.)

Delhi-1 night, Leh-4 nights, Diskit-2 nights, Tangtse-1 night, Pangong-1 night, Uley-1 night, Korzok-2 nights, Tso Kar-1 night.

Tour starts Delhi – Rendezvous and briefings – Overnight in Delhi hotel

In Delhi, the tour officially starts at 18:00. We’ll all meet up with our Shoot Director, who will guide and mentor the team right through the tour. Over a get-to-know-you drink, your Shoot Director will chat with you to understand where your photography’s at. If you’ve got a few recent faves on your phone or iPad or laptop, he’ll be interested to see what you’ve been shooting: one picture is worth a thousand words and all that.

Delhi’s a wonderful place for photography — but tonight we’ve got our heads firmly in the clouds, not in the plains. So we’re going to turn in reasonably early in readiness for our Himalayan adventure bright and early tomorrow morning. (If you really do want to see a bit of Delhi, by all means do a bit of independent exploring: your Shoot Director will be happy to steer you to where the best shots are. Or, better yet, tell us at time of booking that you’d like to take a short tour extension before or after this tour and we’ll travel-shoot Delhi (and perhaps Agra and Jaipur) for real.)

Fly to Leh, Ladakh – Rest and acclimatisation – Leh Fort – Tsemo Palace – Shanti Stupa – Overnight at Leh hotel

This morning, we catch the air shuttle to Leh, Ladakh, a 90-minute flight landing in a two-mile-high town. Cloud cover permitting, this has got to be one of the most interesting scheduled flights in the world, taking you right over the top of the Himalayan crumple zone where, 52 million years ago, the Indian continental plate collided with the Asian plate and pushed up the planet’s mightiest mountain range. The views will take your breath away — and so will the Leh landing. Partly because the aircraft descends through the mountains in a series of steep zig-zags into Leh’s tiny but well-equipped airport.

Acclimatisation is important, so we’ll take it slow on arrival: we’ll settle in at the hotel and your Shoot Director will probably take advantage of the lull to brief you on the visual treats and challenges coming over the next few days, and what to expect when we’re out there shooting and exploring.

Come early afternoon, we’ll set out by car to the 17th-century Leh Fort, the most famous landmark in town. From the Fort there’s short trail up to Tsemo Palace; the light walking can help you acclimatise, but we’ll gladly whisk you to the top by car if you prefer. At the top is a big reward: sweeping 360º panoramas of Leh, the valley and its surrounding mountains, which includes the well-known Stok Kangri peak, towering in the distance at a height of 6,137m (20,134 ft).

We head to Leh’s other great view point, the Shanti Stupa, late in the afternoon. The view from here is quite different to the one from Leh Palace: you get a sense of the huge mountain spaces, and the illuminated town in the late ‘blue’ evening light makes for compelling images. And then we’ll loaf back to the hotel, turn in early, and continue our acclimatisation while we sleep.

The high pass at Khardung-La – Arrive Nubra Valley – Local encounters and portraiture session – Overnight at Diskit hotel

Nubra means ‘garden’ in Ladakhi, and it aptly describes parts of the baffling northern Ladakh valley we’re visiting today. Baffling because this valley is home to all of the following: a high-altitude desert, complete with Bactrian camels and wind-carved dunes; vast fertile tree-lined grassy expanses; sky-reflecting blue lakes; huge tracts of golden barley and purple lavender; all cradled amidst towering snow-capped peaks.

To get to the Nubra valley, we head out from Leh on a picturesque five-hour journey over Khardung-La (5,359 m, 17,582 ft), which claims — accompanied by the usual Book of Records controversy — to be the highest motorable road in the world. Whether or not you accept the proud sign at Khardung-La Pass claiming to be 5,602m above the distant Indian Ocean, this place is pretty rarefied and a few group souvenir photos are certainly in order. Some shooters may want to grab a whiff or two of bottled oxygen from the army medical camp there — more to ‘drink’ to the occasion than for any other reason, because we won’t stop long here — and you may be tempted to yell Ki Ki Soso Lha Gyalo, the traditional Tibetan yell of exultation celebrating another successful crossing of a high pass. Also surprisingly tempting: a bowlful of humble Maggi noodles — yes, instant noodles — which you’ll affectionately remember years after you’ve forgotten that swish Michelin-starred meal in Paris, France. It must be the altitude: this roadside stop is one of the world’s highest restaurants.

This high point behind us, we descend to Diskit in the Nubra valley — at 3,144m (10,300 ft) actually lower in altitude than Leh — and drive along the banks of the Shyok river, where a bit of patience, a touch of luck and a long telephoto might capture you red fox, partridge, hare, weasel and migratory ducks resting in river pools.

There is much to pleasurably distract us here: if the light is good you’ll be asking to stop every mile or so to capture an amazing atmospheric river valley landscape, a field of shockingly vivid lavender or yellow barley, or just to ask our Shoot Director to set us up with an impromptu roadside shoot with passing Ladakhis.

And here in the Nubra villages, we have other fascinating local encounters waiting for our cameras: Ladakhi people going about their everyday lives and special opportunities for portraiture.

Tonight is at a comfortable guesthouse, not far from tomorrow’s dune explorations.

A visit to Diskit Monastery – A camel shoot – Fertile shooting grounds – Overnight at Diskit hotel

Here, high up amongst the world’s tallest peaks, with snowcaps glinting in the distance, the last thing you expect is a sand dune. But thanks to the peculiarities of local geography and the natural rain shadow of the Himalayas, that’s precisely what we find — and they make for fascinating, often surreal forms and landscapes in the low light of morning.

But first we head to the Diskit monastery — a real cliff-hanger, this one, clinging in a picturesque pile to the side of a precipitous hill. We’ll engage with the monks and shoot inside and outside the monastery: this is a productive and beautiful place to shoot, rich in character and worn textures, with fabulous rooftop views over the valley. Keep your trigger finger ready for the bharal (Himalayan blue sheep) and ibex that visit the monastery regularly.

As we leave the monastery, another photo opportunity is the massive 32m tall Buddha statue, built relatively recently with local funding (including a rumoured 8kg of solid gold) and consecrated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2010. It sits impassively on a hillock below the monastery, all red and green and gold, a surreal sight in the late evening sun as it gazes steadily down the Shyok River.

Next up, a camel train shoot to give us compositional opportunities amidst the surreal dune-mountain-sky backdrop. We’ll spread out, looking for our own personal experiments with form, light and shade, taking full advantage of the crystal-clear light and pure Himalayan air in this high-altitude desert. These grey-white dunes have been sculpted by winds barrelling down the Shyok river valley. It’s a great place to explore: nearby towering dark mountains dwarf the human figures below while sunlight, cloud and moisture are the lead actors staging an awe-inspiring special-effects show for us over the Shyok valley.

Even when you know what to expect, this surreal desert can take some getting used to: in a single photograph you can capture desert dunes, camels and impossibly high mountains with snow-capped peaks. Sometimes it seems perfectly natural; sometimes, it looks like nature got it wrong, mixing up the stage set with the wrong photographic backdrop.

Back at our comfortable Nubra hotel, we’ll chat and socialise, then head in for dinner and a rest-up.

Surreal dune shoot – The road to Tangtse via the Shyok Valley (6h) – Overnight at Tangtse

Magical things happen on the sand dunes at Hundar around sunrise. And we’re going to be there — armed with our cameras and our Shoot Director’s knowledge of the best angles, opportunities and scenics.

After breakfast we head out on the drive south-east to Tsangtse. We follow the line of the Shyok, a glacier-fed river that freezes in winter. It has an ancient and fearsome reputation as the River of Death, probably because it is an old and treacherous trade route from Central Asia to Ladakh. Here the opportunities for photography are marvellous: the route is both fertile and abundant in fruit and walnut trees, and stark in its vast summer expanses of marsh colours and textures, all walled in with high mountains either side.

Our destination is a magical emerald lake, but we break our journey to overnight at the village of Tangtse. The village offers little more than our hotel, a roadside café or two, a splendid gompa (monastery) with remarkable paintings, and some amazing views of the Shyok valley.

At Pangong – Cerulean landscapes – A stone’s throw from China — Overnight at Pangong Tso

One of the natural highlights of this tour is Pangong Tso — an ethereally beautiful lake cradled 4,350m (14,270ft) up in the Himalayas. En route it’s not unusual to run into friendly Indian army personnel — and a quick look at the map will tell you why. We’re moving right up close to the international border with China. In fact, Pangong Lake — a long, shallow sliver of water 130km (81 miles) long and barely 7km (4.5 miles) wide at most — lies partly under Chinese control: the international border cuts right through the lake and the Indian Government insists (probably wisely) that no water traffic is permitted.

Pangong Tso is natural and unpolluted by the hand of man, but this eau de Himalaya is by no means pure. The lake has no outlet for the water it collects, so millennia of mountain snow runoff and solar evaporation have concentrated salts and minerals into a pristine-looking but brackish soup in which nothing survives. In a few months, the lake will freeze solid, despite its saltiness — but right now it’s supremely beautiful, eye-wateringly photogenic. Surrounded by high, brown-hued and snow-capped peaks, it’s a highly reflective aquamarine jewel accented by white-edged shores that curve sinuously into the distance, providing hours of great compositional exploration.

And if the waters don’t support life in the lake, they are certainly indispensable for the teeming wildlife on and around it in its marshy wetlands. Expect to see and shoot various flavours of duck, gull, geese and land mammals like kiang (wild ass) and the Himalayan marmot, all in this magnificent mountain setting.

On top of all this, our Shoot Director has organised a spectacular photographic surprise. Enough to say for now that it’s not your average bit of holiday shooting.

We’ll spend the night on Pangong Tso’s shores, at Spangmik, which is as far as international politics will allow us to go. Spangmik is one of a scattering of tiny villages along the Indian shores of the lake: this is where the nomadic pastoralists and herdsmen of Tibet, the Changpa, come for the summer to cultivate thin crops of barley and peas. (Come winter, they pack their unique tents and take their flocks of sheep, yaks and pashmina goats out to even more distant pastures.)

Exploring the valleys and roads back to Leh – Chang La mountain pass – Scenics and encounters en route – Exploring Leh – Overnight in Leh hotel

After breakfast we leave the spectacular serenity of Pangong Tso and head back over Chang La pass (5,360m, 17,556 ft) to our comparatively bustling base at Leh. En route, we’ll do impromptu stops for scenics and encounters with Chang Pa herders and their sheep.

At Leh we’ll rest up, explore and perhaps agonise over which one of our gigabytes of surreally beautiful Pangong Tso photos is going to take pride of place on the wall back home.

The hornblowers at Thiksey – Time at an ancient adobe farmhouse – Rest, creative review and explore at Leh – Overnight Leh hotel

At the first glimmer of dawn we’re up, heading out the door with a portable breakfast to shoot one of the most photographed monasteries in Ladakh. No apologies for this touristic stop-off: Thiksey is worth it.

In the right light, Thiksey is simply spectacular. Tier upon tier of buildings rise on a crag above the River Indus, white fronts bouncing the prevailing light back at you against the deep Ladakh sky. With chortens in the foreground and the monastery buildings in the middle distance, you’re shooting practically before you’ve got out the car.

And it gets better — way better. We ascend to a monastery rooftop and the wide zooms come out fast, because here stand two monks, side-lit by the dawn light, blowing conch shells and huge bass horns to rouse the villagers from their beds in the green valley below. Who knows, maybe one of your favourite images of the trip will click right then and there.

We wander next through the monastery complex, the photo opportunities coming thick and fast. (You know those iconic National Geographic-style Tibetan/Ladakhi/Buddhist shots that got you all fired up about coming here in the first place? — they probably came right out of this same monastery.) The daily morning rituals — prayers, breakfast, the shaven-headed little monks buzzing around with their chores; spinning meditation wheels; mysterious low-key 500-year-old monastery interiors draped in rich fabrics, propped by scarred wooden posts and gnarled beams and lit by smoky shafts of morning sunlight; and this wonderful 15m Buddha that everyone shoots and then ponders how to shoot differently. Everything a travel-shooter could want is here: tiny details, strong shapes and symmetries, colour contrasts, patinas and textures, low-light interiors, landscapes over the valley, human interest, observational shooting…

We tear ourselves away to go a few minutes north to Shey, a palace and a monastery that also tumbles splendidly down a hillock. Once the home of royalty — the Namgyal kings were required to father their sons here — it now houses the largest metal statue of Buddha in Ladakh. It’s 7.5m high, built from Zanskar copper hammered out into sheets on a nearby rock and gilded with five kilograms of solid gold. Spectacular shooting.

Next up: A close encounter with traditional Ladakhi farmhouse lifestyles, where we will be offered butter tea and photographic opportunities. It’s a unique mix of real-world people encounters and insights, with opportunities to make beautiful occupational portraits. The light in the ancient mud farmhouse is achingly subtle.

Back in Leh we’re free to stroll around, exploring, shooting and grabbing opportunistic slices of life in the narrow, ancient lanes and archways. Want to get in behind the scenes at the tandoor where they’re churning out roti for hungry passersby on their way home? A word from your Shoot Director, friendly crowds part and before you know it you’re in the thick of the production line.

Where two rivers meet – The monastery at Alchi – To Uley and Tia villages for people encounters and portraits – The monastery at Lamayuru – Last rays on a Lamayuru hilltop – Overnight at Uley hotel

Today’s mission is to follow the Indus river westward, stopping for monasteries, people encounters, landscapes and portraiture opportunities.

The first point of interest will be Sangam, the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers, near Nimmu. It’s a meeting of the Indus’ brilliant blue with the murky green of the Zanskar, a stopoff much favoured by river-rafters and geologists. Then we head on to the monastery at Alchi, a spectacular complex of Buddhist temples dating back 1,000 years. Here we’ll see massive statues of the Buddha, elaborate wood carvings and dazzling paintings — some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh. Unlike the other monasteries we visit, this one permits no interior photography, but the exterior is breathtaking enough.

On to Uleytokpo and Tia, charming mountain hamlets where the welcome is warm and friendly and where the street and portraiture opportunities come thick and fast. Our Shoot Director has hidden surprises in store of us here!

Further west, we visit the village and breathtaking monastery at Lamayuru, photographing monks as they go about their afternoon chores. As the sun falls lower, we scramble into the waiting cars to go to our sunset vantage point, where we wait — weather gods willing — for the last rays of the day to spotlight the monastery amidst the deepening evening gloom.

Overnight at our comfortable hotel at Uley.

To Korzok for the big festival – Lakes and landscapes at Kyagar Tso – Overnight Korzok hotel

Over the next three days we’re going to encounter some of the strongest impressions and most powerful images of the entire tour — and yes, that’s saying an awful lot given the amazing days of photography we’ve already had here in Ladakh. Our ultimate destination is Tsomo-Riri – a vast and incredibly beautiful lake.

On today’s long road trip, we’ll encounter mountainscapes so vast that the average wide-angle lens will still feel claustrophobic. We’ll transit high passes, drop into stunning valleys so elevated that plants, animals and people must struggle to eke out a living even in the summer, and we’ll engage with nomads whose identity, well-being and ancient way of life are under threat, ironically, from the improvements an increasingly wealthy India is bringing to their lives.

We’ll set off early in our vehicles, criss-crossing and following the Indus river southwards, stopping whenever the mood takes us or where the tea-cravings are particularly strong! If time permits and the light is beautiful (it usually is!), we’ll stop awhile at Kyagar Tso, a small but stunning lake en route to Korzok. All the while, we’re looking for that elusive but ever-present combination: light, land forms, water and colour, sky and cloud formations, and when these come together you’ll begrudge even the essential pauses to change batteries.

And then we move on again through the high plateau until we reach our lodgings at Tsomo-Riri lake — perhaps our most amazing lake yet.

Faces flock in from far and wide – Korzok Gustor rituals and animals – Thangka display, dances, prayers – At home with the Changpa nomads – Overnight Korzok hotel

Today we’ll witness and shoot a monastery festival — the famous Korzok Gustor, held in the monastery at Korzok on the edge of Tsomo-Riri lake.

Your first impression will be of crowds, colour, and an anticipatory buzz. Ladakhis from valleys far and wide have been drawn to this spot like honeybees returning to the hive: Changpa nomad families and colourfully dressed locals of all descriptions are here to witness days of pure religious theatre. This is a visually breathtaking spectacle and you’re part of a relatively small audience with wonderful access to people and shot opportunities.

Of course, all of this high drama and religious fervour takes place against the stunning backdrop of snow-capped peaks and Tsomo-Riri lake itself. When you do wander down to Tsomo-Riri, you’ll gasp, you’ll rub your eyes in disbelief, and you’ll shoot, because there is something about this high-plateau setting — the constantly shifting colour of the salted water, the tawny buffs and tans of the surrounding snow-capped peaks, the mirror-reflectivity on calm days that puts sky and clouds both above and below your photograph’s horizon line — that inspires every photographer. This is photography heaven.

Up close with the Changpa – Goats, kids and goat-kids – A visit to Korzok Monastery – Drive to Tso Kar – A shooting walk by the lake – Overnight at Tso Kar

Tsomo-Riri Lake is a beautiful high-altitude lake on the shores of which sits the little hamlet of Korzok, where we find ourselves this morning. We’re here for the beauty of the lake, for small but stunning Korzok Gompa, and for a close engagement with the Changpa nomadic people.

At Korzok monastery and in the village around it, you come face to face with the collision of an ancient lifestyle with the 21st century. Increasing prosperity, the comforts of modern life, economic pressures, the dying out of old traditions and emergence of new opportunities… these forces mean that many young Changpa today have chosen not to bring up their families in the yak-hair tents of their parents.

Your Shoot Director, a Ladakh veteran with many Changpa friends and acquaintances, is here to get you close — real close. Although impossible to predict as the nomads come and go, expect to shoot in their tents over smoky stoves and altars and sheepskin beds, play with their children, walk with their animals and, sometimes, just sit quietly as they chatter, soaking up the atmosphere and taking truly privileged photographs.

Perhaps, too, you’ll find yourself shooting with a story in mind rather than single images. We promise you much to think about and many contradictions to resolve. For example, how should we feel about the popularity of Pashmina goods — one of their key sources of income — when this drives them to keep more sheep and goats on a hard-pressed land, and delivers to them the funds to buy the 4x4s that displace and push their ancient yak- and horse-herds into decline?

Next up, we explore the beauty of Tsomo-Riri Lake. Shoot Director Sridhar has some special vantage points up his sleeve and, with the right light and atmospherics, photographic miracles could be waiting for us.

We’ll leave Korzok and head for another spectacular mountain lake not too far away — Tso Kar. Here we may see kiang, marmots, blue sheep, gazelle, antelope, lynx and — if the gods truly smile upon us — even snow leopard and grey wolves. On the wing, horned larks, sand grouse, bar-headed geese, black-necked cranes and many more varieties. A lot of these are under threat from retreating glaciers and diminishing snows which release ever-smaller quantities of water into the lakes, resulting in lake shrinkage and habitat loss.

Tso-Kar used to be gently mined for its salt by the Ladakhi and Tibetan nomads — this is another high lake with no way of losing water except by evaporation so, over centuries, the salts washed in with the meltwaters build up to create a brackish potpourri rather than the pure mountain water you might have expected.

This is another roving-ground of the Changpa, who are technically nomadic pastoralists. For these incredibly hardy and amazingly cheerful people, almost everything they have comes ultimately from plants — which provide food for their animals, which in turn provide them with meat, cheese, butter and even the roof over their heads. Plant life at these rarefied and cold heights is tenuous and fragile, hence the nomadic lifestyle which sees the Changpa up sticks and move from one temporary encampment to another, literally seeking fresh pastures and avoiding overgrazing.

We’ll overnight at Tso Kar on the shores of the lake.

Sunrise at Tso Kar – Drive back to Leh – Overnight at Leh hotel

Those of us who prefer a little lie-in are welcome to enjoy one; the rest of us will head out around dawn to see what magic the new day’s sun will bring when it skips tentatively over the mountain peaks, glints across the salty lake and bounces straight into our waiting cameras.

After breakfast and a bit more photo-exploration, we head out on the drive back to Leh. We’ll reach Leh by evening, exhausted but exhilarated, with a pleasant final tour night ahead and the prospect of our return to Delhi the following morning.

Morning flight to Delhi – Tour ends on landing at Delhi airport

We’ll catch the morning plane back to Delhi, gazing wistfully downwards as we climb above the Himalayas. When we first flew in, these mountains were daunting strangers; as we leave, we’ll know them at least a little better — and will be taking many special moments back home on our camera cards.

On arrival at Delhi airport, the tour ends. You’re perfectly positioned to catch your international flight home or, if you’ve decided to take up an extension to shoot Delhi, Agra or Jaipur with us, the next adventure begins. Julley!

Flights in and out of Leh are often delayed by mountain weather conditions. Allow plenty of time before your onward bookings from Delhi.

High times in the Himalayas


Behind the click


Much of Ladakh's staggering beauty can be understood from this simple airplane window snap. You'll fly over these snowy peaks en route to Leh, Ladakh's main city, and you'll see the photographic DNA of Ladakh… endless rolling mountains and limpid lakes, sharp pure air, fluffy clouds, and the shadows cast by those clouds.

The introductory photo for this tour shows you how those elements combine to create magic on the ground.


When I'm photographing people, I like to connect and be in the thick of it rather than simply be present as an observer. So, unless I'm going for outright headshots and close-ups, using a lens over 50mm or so can feel a bit stand-offish to me. (Your mileage may vary.)

In Ladakh, the people who let us into their homes aren't subjects: they're people we're getting to know and collaborating with. I want them to relax. I want us both to dig in and be part of the story-telling. And in this photo — of a client sharing her images with our Ladakhi farmer friend — I think some of that comes through.


Little Tsering shares a yak-hair yurt with her mother, father and two brothers. All around her, all the time, is the evidence of the family's primary source of income… pashmina goats. Yeah, them shawls.

We visited by invitation before the family had even risen, and witnessed the simple morning rituals. The stoking of the fire, the sleepy awakening of the children, the humming of the kettle and the strong Himalayan rays shafting through the tent fabric, backlighting the floating motes of soot and stray strands of cashmere wool.

Here, utterly confident and at home with her family flock, she adopts a proprietorial pose as she helps her mother with the dawn chores.

Tour map

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