Traveling to Ladakh in the best of weather is a challenging task, visiting it in peak winter is something only a brave few (or foolish depending on your perspective) dare to do. So I decided to compile a list of commonly asked questions that I feel a first time traveler to Ladakh in winter might have, based on my winter trip to Ladakh and from what I have observed by helping fellow travelers over the years. In case you have any queries, please leave a comment below.
Ladakh Winter Travel, Frequently Asked Questions
Can I travel to Ladakh by road in winter?
No, Srinagar – Leh as well as Manali – Leh Highway gets covered under several feet of snow and hence you can only travel to Leh by flight in winters. If you want to travel to Ladakh by road, you will have to wait till the end of April in case of Srinagar route and end of May in case of Manali route.
What are temperatures like in winter?
In winter, temperature in Ladakh can range from anywhere from 1 to 2 Degree Celsius maximum to -15 to -30 Degree Celsius minimum, even though on majority of the days, sun shines harsh enough to give you sunburn.
Are Hotels and Restaurants open in winter?
Majority of hotels and restaurants in Ladakh are run by people from outside Ladakh and they close their businesses by middle of October and travel to other regions of India. Several Ladakhis also do that during winter. Hence only a handful of hotels and restaurants remain open, though majority of local shops selling necessary items as well as government offices, remain open.
Is accommodation easily available in Ladakh?
Yes, accommodation is easily available in Ladakh, even though only a few hotels are open at that time.
Should I book hotel in advance?
While you can easily find hotels after arriving in Leh, it is generally a good idea to book at least first couple of nights in advance. Also if you are planning to spend a night at Nubra Valley, Tangste (just before Pangong Tso), Hanle etc. then it is a good idea to either book the rooms there in advance or alert them of your planned arrival through your taxi driver or hotel in Leh, so that they can have rooms ready for you.
What are some of the hotels you would recommend at that time?
Hotel Tso Kar and Panorama in Leh, both have central heating and Wi-Fi, though Hotel Tso Kar is closer to the main market.
Habib Guest House in Hunder, Nubra Valley. They don’t have central heating. However, they have heaters and top it all off, excellent hospitality.
Even though there are home stays available at Pangong Tso, Changla Yakmik Guest House at Tangste (30 km before the lake) is a better bet.
Hot Spring Resort at Chumathang, no heating and for food you have to walk quite a bit, however it is built just above hot springs, so it stays comfortably warm throughout the night.
Padma Guest House run by Sonam Dorjay in Hanle is the best place to stay there during winter and also summer!
Which areas of Ladakh can I travel to in winter?
Majority of tourist routes remain open, even in peak winter, unless there is heavy enough snowfall to close the passes for a few days. Hence you can easily travel to Kargil, Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri, Hanle etc. even in winter. However, it is always a good idea to keep a buffer day or two in hand to deal with unexpected delays.
Are inner line permit issued during winter?
Yes, DC Office in Leh is open for business and permit for foreigners as well as Indians are issued on a regular basis.
Which modes of transport are available in winter?
You can easily find taxis to travel to your intended destinations in Ladakh, though shared tourist taxis are a little hard to find, due to few tourists being present in Ladakh in winter. Buses also run on some of the routes, however all motorcycle rental shops are closed during winter. In any case it isn’t safe or practical to travel on a motorcycle, when temperatures hover at several degrees below freezing, even during day.
What should I carry (cloths, food and other essentials)?
Checkout this List of things to carry for winter trip to Ladakh for information on the essentials you should be carrying for your winter trip.
Is food easily available in Ladakh?
Yes, food is easily available in Ladakh during winter. However, due to few restaurants remaining open and scarcity of fresh vegetables, menu is somewhat limited. Best places to have food in Ladakh in winter are Neha Sweets in Leh Main Market (there is another sweet shop there, which is also open), dhabas at Karu and small restaurants in Nimmu. If you are lucky enough to get accommodation at Observatory in Hanle, then food there is also good.
Will I get to see frozen Pangong Tso?
If you are traveling after middle of January and till the end of February, then you will get to see completely frozen Pangong Tso, which is generally solid enough to sustain the weight of an SUV being driven over it.
Would I get to see completely white Ladakh?
No. Ladakh is a high altitude desert and even during peak winters, it manages to retain its arid mountains. However, heavy snowfall can make everything completely white for a day or two.
Do I need to have certain level of physical fitness, in order to travel to Ladakh in winter?
Not really. If an overweight person like me can travel to Ladakh in the dead of winter and come back unscathed, so can you. However if you are suffering from any pre-existing condition, please consult with your doctor, before traveling to Ladakh.
Will I get help in case of emergencies?
Yes. Hospitals in Leh as well as army, paramilitary and police posts are fully active during winter and in case of any health issues, you should immediately approach nearest army base, so that the doctors there can help you. In case of avalanches and landslides, administration and BRO normally swings into action, as soon as the weather clears and makes all efforts necessary to evacuate travelers. Having said that, you should always respect nature and not take any unnecessary risks while traveling and avoid traveling to high altitude passes, if the weather is turning nasty and chance of snowfall are high.
Should I buy warm clothes from my own city or after reaching Leh?
While you can buy warm clothes in Ladakh, it is best to buy them before traveling to Ladakh. So as to avoid falling sick due to arriving in Leh, without enough warm cloths.
Can I buy souvenirs during winter or do shopping?
While most of the souvenir shops are closed during winter, some are open, in particular those run by cooperative societies and government. During my winter trip to Ladakh, I had bought a pashmina shawl and muffler from such a shop, located behind Leh Main Market. You can also find fake North Face gear in Leh, though it is made of decent quality and isn’t all that expensive.
Should I carry a tent and sleeping bag?
It is best to avoid camping in such extreme conditions and if you want to carry a sleeping bag as backup, you can certainly do that. Alternatively you can rent sleeping bags from your hotel or a trekking company in Leh. We had rented couple of good sleeping bags from Shanti Guest House, which were never used during our trip, but we were glad with the knowledge that we had backup in form of them.
Do festivals or any events take place during winter?
Yes, Monastic Festivals as well as Winter Games are organized in Ladakh during winter and locals participate with all their enthusiasm and you should definitely attend one, if you get the chance. You can find Ladakh Monastic Festivals calendar here.
Any additional tips to make our Ladakh Winter Trip successful?
Make sure you are eating enough food to stay warm and energetic, especially food rich in protein and fat.
Make sure you are hiring a good and experienced driver like Dorjeychubi Inder (+919906971501) or Rigzin (+919622954779 and +919469472772), who knows how to drive over frozen nallahs and knows most if not all the trails in Ladakh.
Also make sure you are scheduled to spend last couple of nights in Leh, so that in case of any delays en route, you do not end up missing your flight.
Do not throw garbage in open or in lakes, it is nature which draws people to Ladakh and garbage sullies it, so let’s not spoil Ladakh for others and ourselves as well.
As always, go with the flow, rather than a plan etched in stone.