Winter Visit to the beautiful Cold Desert: Ladakh
Winter is just around the corner. Most travellers would be sitting with their bucket list of locations and busy planning their travel holiday during the winter months. A Leh Ladakh tour is undoubtedly one destination to feature in the bucket list among the many other holiday destinations in India. Ladakh – also known as the cold desert of India has topped the list of all types of travellers ranging from backpackers to nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts from across the world. Winter months in Ladakh is an off-season period on account of the extreme cold weather. But, rest assured that a Leh Ladakh trip in winter will treat you to an entirely different and astounding landscape of Ladakh. Read on to check out the adventures you can experience, places to explore and essential pointers to plan an exciting Leh Ladakh tour package this winter season.
Winters of Ladakh
Ladakh is a place you can visit around the year, but if you wish to see its real raw aura, winter is the time to be there. It does get freezing as you go higher, but you will have memories that will never melt away. Might sound ironical but a visit to Ladakh in winters will warm your heart and soul.
Ladakh is one of the coldest places in the country. The winter season here starts in October and lasts up to March, and the temperature falls extremely low. The weather in Ladakh region is very unpredictable, and sometimes the temperature can drop as low as -30 degree celsius. The reduced hustle-bustle of tourist activity during this period makes it ideal for enjoying your Ladakh tour package without the crowd and chaos. Adventurers are put to the test with extreme situations which is why the winter treks here are very popular.
Preparing for the Ladakh tour
It is important to note that the roads leading to Leh Ladakh are usually closed down due to heavy snowfall in the high pass regions during the winter months. So, it is advisable to avoid the road route into Leh. The best way in and out of Leh would be to take a flight to the Koshuk Bakula Rimpochee airport at Leh. You can start your trip from Leh in a hired/rented car or SUV for sightseeing. Though local taxi stands are operational, it is recommended that you book or confirm the inclusion of road transport provision in your Leh Ladakh tour package in advance.
Provide yourself with a good rest of at least a day or two to let your body adjust and acclimatize to the new climate by mostly staying indoors. The cold temperature, high altitude and reduced oxygen levels in the air are likely to affect anyone travelling from the plains. This rapid change can cause headache, nausea, muscle ache or shortness of breath. Avoiding this precaution is expected to pull one down with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and ruin the holiday.
Ladakh can have unpredictable weather during winter - it can start snowing any time of the day, which can hamper your day schedule. It is good to have a day or two extra added on to your Ladakh tour package for such contingency.
Things to carry
Thermals, sweaters, woollen, fleece or leather jackets, woollen socks, gloves, winter caps for protection from the cold weather. A water-resistant jacket or wind-cheater and rain pants to protect from snowfall.
Hat, sun-glasses and high SPF value sunscreen lotion for protection from UV sun rays and sunburn. Cold cream, moisturizer and lip balm to prevent dryness of the skin.
Hiking or trekking shoes that are water-resistant and good grip. It would be good to carry an extra pair in case shoes get wet.
Documents such as photo identity proof, driving license, address proof for getting permits required to enter certain regions of Ladakh.
First-aid kit made up of necessary medicines for headache, indigestion, fever, cold & cough, body ache, muscle relaxant tablets and ointments etc. Diamox is good precautionary medicine that may help prevent acute mountain sickness.
Extra cash apart from that needed day-to-day expense in Ladakh. The availability of ATMs in this remote region is scarce. Besides, the ATM may be out of order or out of cash.
Extra set of batteries for your gadgets, chargers and power banks for the mobile phone and camera, torch etc.
Quick bite items with high protein such as dry nuts, energy bars, chocolates, low salt/spice snack items to keep you energized in case the eateries or dhabas are closed due to bad weather conditions.
Flask to carry hot water. Keep yourself well hydrated through the day as dehydration can lead to AMS.
Accommodation in winter is not as much a problem despite the rough weather and low accessibility of few resources. Only a few hotels don’t provide accommodation during the winter season, but otherwise, most good hotels are operational and welcome guests with their warm hospitality. So, check out the options available with amenities to suit your comfort while selecting your Ladakh tour package. Homestays are also available, but without room heating, they would be colder when night temperatures drop to -20 to -30 degrees.
Ladakh Cultural Tours
There is more to Ladakh than just the snow-capped mountains and beautiful landscapes. Ladakh has a rich cultural heritage that reflects in the many Buddhist monasteries seen all over the Ladakh region. Most of these monasteries host an annual festival in their courtyard. It’s a very colourful and grand occasion where monks and locals perform dances to celebrate the victory of good over evil, birthdays of Buddha and Padmasambhava etc., and representing the purification of the mind. Here are some of the festivals celebrated during the winter months;
Festival Location Dates
Diskit Gustor Diskit Monastery 14-15 Oct
Thiksey Gustor Thiksey Monastery 03-04 Nov
Chemrey Wangchok Chemrey Monastery 13-14 Nov
Galdan Namchot all over Ladakh 10 Dec
Losar (New Year) all over Ladakh 15 Dec
Spituk Gustor Spituk Monastery 22-23 Jan
Dosmochey Leh, Diskit, Likir 21-22 Feb
Stok Guru Tsechu Stok Palace 03-04 Mar
Matho Nagrang Matho Monastery 08-09 Mar
There are special Ladakh tour packages that cover one or more of these cultural events. Check with your tour operator for exact dates and see if you can plan your tour itinerary such that it lets you attend one or more of these festivals.
Activities to do in Ladakh
The spellbinding beauty of Leh Ladakh in the winter months comes bundled with unpredictable weather which is likely to throw your itinerary off its schedule. Hence, be mentally prepared for last-minute improvisation on your schedule. Yet, in addition to the sightseeing visit to the usual tourist locations, there are a good number of adventurous activities that you can do in Ladakh during winter. Trekking is one of the most popular activities. The two most sought after treks are;
The Chadar Trek –
The Zanskar river that flows through the Ladakh region gets a thick frozen layer of ice during the sub-zero temperatures of winter months in Ladakh. The snow accumulated on the ice makes it look like a white blanket. The Chadar (Hindi word for blanket) trek is a thrilling trail by foot over this frozen river.
The Chadar Trek is about 105 km long, and an average trekker should be able to trek about 15km/day. Along the trail, you will be treated with amazing views of the magnificent mountains. You are also most likely to get a glimpse of some wildlife too.
The months of January and February are best to go on the Chadar Trek. The highest temperature averages around a degree or two below zero, and the lowest can drop to around -20 at night.
The Snow Leopard Trek
At an altitude of about 4000metres, located in the eastern part of Ladakh is one of the world’s highest National Parks – The Hemis National Park. Spanning over 600sq. kms., Hemis National Park is a wildlife and nature lover's paradise. It is an abode to diverse wildlife such as snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, blue sheep, Asiatic ibex, Ladakh urials and more. Birds like vultures, golden eagles, and various migratory birds also nest here.
Snow Leopard Trek is a popular winter trail in this Hemis National Park. Offering a mesmerizing view of the majestic snow-clad Himalayas, this trek will treat you with the richness of the wild, unique flora and fauna all along. There is a good possibility that you get to see some of the many rare species of animals and birds here. You could get lucky to spot the rare snow leopard on this expedition, while you get to take a stroll on the frozen river during some part of the trek. The surprises you experience here will leave you amazed and imprint memories to be cherished for a lifetime.
There are special Ladakh tour packages for each of the treks above and are conducted by experts that guide and assist you in preparing for the trek well in advance. They are highly experienced and ensure your safety all through the expedition.
Another exciting and highly desired activity for most adventure enthusiasts would be to visit the frozen Pangong Tso lake and Tso Moriri lake. Walking on the frozen lake amidst the most beautiful surroundings is an experience that one would not be able to describe in words.
A Leh Ladakh tour in the winter is definitely a very exciting and thrilling experience that is bound to make this journey an amazing adventure of a lifetime.