The climate is extreme and shows high fluctuations both on a daily and seasonal basis. Precipitation is quite low, averaging at 160.5 mm. In winter, temperatures are close to freezing point during the day. The Zanskar River and its tributaries are frozen and temperatures drop to as low as -150C to -200C at night. Since the winters are very harsh, so it's best to plan a trip during the summer. April to June and September to December are the best seasons for bird-watching. For animal viewing, September to June is suitable.
Hemis is mainly visited by trekkers. There are no facilities for pucca accommodation but dormitories and tents may be used for an overnight halt. The East West guesthouse is a long walk from the Hemis gompa, where one can get a double room at Rs. 150. Places around the gompa allow camping. You can either set up your own tent for Rs. 35 or use the pre-set tents for two at Rs. 50.
By Air: From June to September, one can fly to Leh from Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar or Jammu. Indian Airlines is the only airline with flights to Leh. In winter, however, proceeding by road is a safer option.
By Road: Approachable by road from Leh, this national park contains several camping sites. The area is barren and rocky, covered only sparsely with vegetation. There is a daily bus service from Leh to Hemis.
On foot: The route from the Spituk Gompa just below Leh, through Jingchen valley onto Gandu La and the Markha valley, proceeding to Hemis via Kongmaru La is a fabled trek that the adventurous would be happy to experience.
Hemis is home to a large number of rare species, found exclusively at these altitudes. The highlights of the area are the rare shapu, bharal and the snow leopard.
Other species include the wolf, Pallas' cat, ibex, Tibetan argali and the Ladakh urial. The bharal and urial populations are especially found in healthy numbers, affording easy sightings.
The avifauna also includes species that are relatively rare in the lower reaches. Some 30 species have been recorded, the most prevalent being the Himalayan Snowcock Tetraogallus himalayensis and the Chukar Partridge Alectoris chukar.
Hemis extends from 3,500 m. to 6,390 m. in altitude. The terrain is characterised by rugged valleys, peppered with rocks and huge boulders. The peaks can rise as high as 5,000 m. or sometimes, even 6,000 m. The high altitude deserts include Markha, Rumbak, Khurnak and Alam valleys of central Ladakh. Close to the southern tip is the Shang catchment, which is drained by Marchelung Takpo, a small tributary of the Indus. Rocks include slate, phyllite, schist, quartzite, crystalline limestone and dolomite.
Vast tracts of sparse grasslands characterise the valleys and several shrubs and patches of trees are found in the valley bottoms, covering about 10 per cent of the total land. Vast meadows on the valley bottoms are dominated by sedges, namely Carex spp. and Koresia species. Mixed scrub that grows to a height of 5-10 m. like buckthorn Hippophae salicifolia, willows Salix spp., Myricariaelegans and rose Rosia webbiana are found in dense patches up to a height of 3,500 m. Poplars Populus spp. occur on the moist soils at the bottom of the valley, up to a height of about 3,700 m. Juniperus macropoda, the juniper, grows on slopes between 3,300 m. and 4,000 m. and also at the valley bottoms. It grows best in the catchment of the lower Khurnak Chu.
As you proceed to altitudes between 3,500 m. to 4,000 m., the mixed scrub is transformed in character to plants less than five metres in height. H. salicifolia and H. rhamnoides occur on the valley bottoms, and pure Salix spp. grow in some of the side valleys. Above 4,000 m., H. rhamnoides clusters densely forming low thickets, about 30 cm. tall. Myricaria squamosa, on the contrary, occurs as isolated plants. R. webbiana, Lonicera spp., Ephedra gerardiana and J. macropoda are found scattered on the mountain slopes up to 4,000 m. Patches of the Caragana sp. are found between 4,300 m. and 5,000 m. Shrubs cover less than five per cent of the total land area. Graminaceous and herbaceous plants form the predominant vegetation. The main species include woundwort Stachys tibetica, cinquefoils Potentilla spp., wormweeds Artemesia spp., Bistorta spp. and Agrostis spp.
The snow leopard is not easily seen as it is camouflaged in the surroundings. The Khurnak Valley is prime snow leopard and bharal habitat. The ibex is not usually found in the Markha Valley but they may be seen to the west of the Zanskar River in the Chiling Nala. Argali are seen in the upper Rumbak Nala, having migrated there several years ago. The limit of the normal range of this species lies some 75 km. to the northeast.
For passes to enter Hemis, contact the Wildlife Warden at Leh.
The Director of Tourism, J&K Government, Srinagar. Tel.: 72449/ 73648/ 77224. After working hours: 77303/ 77305.
Alternatively, Jammu and Kashmir tourism offices at all major cities can provide information.J&K Tourist Offices (New Delhi) Tel.: 345373. (Mumbai) Tel.: 216249. (Ahmedabad) Tel.: 20473. (Calcutta)Tel.: 205790. (Hyderabad)Tel.: 63276. (Jammu Tawi) Tel.: 48172/ 49527. (Chennai) Tel.: 562355.
Hemis has a resident population of about 400 people in nine villages in the Rumbak and Markha valleys. The villages are located on or adjacent to valley floors up to about 4,000 m. The locals are mostly Buddhists and there is also a monastery at Markha Village.
The Hemis Gompa, after which the park was named, is the largest and wealthiest monastery in Ladakh, just outside the northern boundary of Shang. The Hemis gompa is also known as Chang-Chub-Sam-Ling, meaning the 'place of the compassionate'. The gompa has the largest Tibetan religious cloth painting (called a thangka) in Ladakh. It is over 12 m. long and is displayed only once in 12 years, with the next display being in 2004.
The annual Hemis festival is held from the 9th to the 11th day of the fifth Tibetan month, around June-July, in honour of the saint Padmasambhava. Hemis was notified as a national park on February 4, 1981.