Wildlife and nature

Brrrrrrr! It’s not warm in the Himalayan heights of northwest Indiaright now (days around 21°F; -6°C). But it’s worth braving the cold for a couple of very special experiences. Wildlife fans should head for Hemis National Park, home to a 400-year-old monastery, and one of the few places on the planet where the elusive snow leopard isn’t quite so elusive. During winter mating season – which peaks in February – the high-dwelling big cats descend to the valleys here to find mates, making them easier to spot. Alternatively, trekkers can check out the Chadar. This challenging winter hike starts near Leh, and uses the frozen Zanskar River as its path – walking on this icy meander is the only way to access the highland villages at this time. February is when the ice is at its most stable; the temperature is biting, but the snow-cloaked mountains spectacular.

  • Trip plan: Fly to Leh. Hemis is 6 miles (10 km) south, where guided treks in the Tarbuns Valley may yield leopards. The Chadar hike starts in Chilling, 40 miles (65 km) from Leh, and takes six days.
  • Need to know: Leh is at 11,483ft (3500m) so stay well-hydrated to help altitude acclimatisation.
  • Other months: Nov-Mar – cold, snowy (Jan-Feb: Chadar possible); Apr-May & Oct – quiet, cool; Jun-Sep – best for regular trekking.

Visit Michoacán’s forests on a sunny February morning and you’ll witness an astonishing spectacle: hundreds of millions of orange-black wings flexing then fluttering as vast clouds of monarch butterflies take to the air. Each winter up to a billion of these incredible insects migrate thousands of miles from northeastern North America to the warmer climes of Mexico, specifically, Michoacán Province’s Oyamel fir forests, some of which are now protected as the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve; head to the El Rosario or Sierra Chincua sections. Here the monarchs breed before returning to their summer grounds far, far to the north.

  • Trip plan: The butterfly reserves can be visited on a day trip from Mexico City or Morelia, but better to stay nearby, perhaps in Angangueo or Zitácuaro. Another option is a clockwise circuit from Mexico City, taking in the butterflies, the colonial charm of Morelia, artsy San Miguel de Allende and the Toltec/ Aztec pyramid site of Tula.
  • Need to know: Wildlife fans travelling now could combine butterflies with whales – either humpbacks off Puerto Vallarta (Pacific Coast) or grey whales off Baja California.
  • Other months: Oct-Apr – butterflies present; May-Sep – wetter season, hot.