10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT LADAKH IN WINTERS

A photo essay on why you should visit Ladakh in Winters

Frozen Indus in winters

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

 I understood the true meaning of Marcel’s words when I saw Ladakh in a completely new light, in its harshest but truest form. This was when the roof of the world was cut off from the rest of the world and was wrapped in a blanket of snow, ice and hardship.

A visit to Ladakh in winters is a digital detoxification trip where time and space bear no relevance. A million emotions erupted as I stood admiring the frozen Ladakh’s incredible beauty. Like hundreds, my initial plan was to do the glamorous Chadar Trek but the creator had a better plan in store for me. On reaching Leh airport, I got the news that Chadar Trek has been called off. I was heartbroken but instead of whining about it, I decided to do an alternate trek, Sham Valley. Though the trek was fairly easy and not as half renowned as Chadar , it bought me face to face with the real beauty of the land, which is hardly known or explored. Ladakh in winters is an intimidating yet overwhelming experience. Temperature in winters drop to -30 degree Celsius and the definition of basic amenities gets redefined.

Why did I plan my Ladakh trip in winters? Well I take pride in calling myself as a TRAVELER and not a TOURIST. I chose to explore Ladakh in its harshest times because I wanted to connect with the soul of the place and wanted to explore what is usually not seen. And I must say the reward was beyond anything that I have seen.

HERE ARE 10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD PLAN A LADAKH TRIP IN WINTERS:

  1. EXPERIENCE THE REAL HOSPITALITY OF LADAKH:

Unlike west, Ladakh is not geared to have comfortable winters. But it is the time when you get to see the genuine beauty of the roof of the world. The only way to enjoy this beauty is to acclimatize to the local culture and habits as fast as you can. Most of the hotels in Leh are closed during winters and the only option available are the frugal Home stays – traditional Ladakhi houses. The Home Stays are basic. Most of the time, you would end up sleeping in a sleeping bag or a mattress on the floor. The water pipes freeze and water (hot and cold) is provided only by bucket. Bathing is a luxury, which no one dares to dream. No flush toilets. Only ‘compost toilets’— usually a hole in the floor on one level, where ‘excreta’ drop to ground level below, after which a liberal sprinkling of soil is deposited on top of the growing pile. Food is cooked by the local family and is mostly traditional Ladakhi meal – butter tea, kahwa, thukpa, noodles and soup served in common dining room with Bukhari.

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Ladakhi ‘Compost Toilet’ at Khaltse Village (Pic courtesy Rutwik)

frozen ladakh

Hot Water is a real luxury in Frozen Ladakh

Travel tip: Stay in a kitchen instead of a room for a warm cosy night.

2. GET TRANSPORTED INTO THE ICE AGE SETUP: 

Walking in the Bong Bong La Snow Valley was a setting straight out of ice age or a science fiction movie. Everything was frozen – mountains, valleys, waterfalls, river shores, and vegetation. With temperature plummeting to less than -35 degree and wind chill adding another -10 degree Celsius, it was nothing less than a dream. If you are suitably covered with at least four layers of warm clothing then there is no better sight than being in Frozen Ladakh. The Khaltse to Lamayru way is incredulously beautiful where you’ll come across moon land, frozen waterfalls and frozen Indus Shores.

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Bong Bong La, Sham Valley Trek

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View of the the frozen village from Lamayru Gompa

Travel tip: Explore this area in a small group with a good local guide.

3. DO SOMERSAULT ON FROZEN LAKES: 

In summers, Mountain lakes of Ladakh act as a teaser of nature’s craftsmanship. The brackish water plays with sunlight to produce different shades of blue. In winters, almost all the water bodies freeze, yet the effect they create is unrivaled. The tranquil, azure blue waters of lake become a thick layer of ice sheet on which you can play cricket, drive your car or even do a somersault. The temperature is around -30 degrees Celsius even during the day and hence nobody spends more than half an hour there.

Tso Moriri or the Moon land. Changthang, Ladakh

Tso Moriri or the Moon land in Changthang, Ladakh

Pangong Tso Lake, Changthang. Picture Taken in end of Jan

Pangong Tso Lake in December

Travel tip: Start your day trip before 7 am and try to cross the Changla pass as soon as possible. Diesel freezes at that point, there is no network coverage and seeking help becomes a nightmare.

4. GET HIGH ON ADRENALINE RUSH:

Ladkh tests your mental and physical toughness in winters. Besides doing the world famous Chadar Trek, one can also do other fairly lesser known but more challenging treks like Stok base camp trek, Markha Valley Trek, Sham valley trek at a very cheap price like 10K. They are not at all monotonous and everyday presents a different kind of an experience. When in Leh, don’t forget to watch the Leh Ice Skating rink. From December until March, Ladakh lives and breathes ice hockey.

Bong Bong La - Trekking in -35 degree celsius

Bong Bong La – Trekking in -35 degree celsius

Trekking on a Frozen river is both exciting as well as challenging

Trekking on a Frozen river is both exciting as well as challenging

The frozen Tso Moriri, Changthang

Travel tip: Don’t take trekking in Ladakh casually, train hard, acclimatize well and stay away from heated rooms.

5. BECOME FRIENDS WITH LOCALS WHO HAVE FREE TIME ONLY IN WINTERS: 

Ladakh has very short but busy summers when most locals earn their yearly living from tourism. During summers, they are extremely busy making money out of tourists (not from travelers). Nobody has time to have laid back conversations. Winter is a time when they are looking for company to talk. Soft spoken and polite, a smile is there to greet you no matter which part of Ladakh you travel. Kids have school holidays therefore are always on the lookout of playmates. Also, you get to meet very interesting and diverse variety of like-minded fellow travelers (not tourists) from across the world that inspire you in more ways than you can ever imagine.

A Bhikkhuni, buddhist nun, at Hemis Monastery. Pic taken in end of Jan

Strike a conversation with a Bhikkhuni, buddhist nun at Hemis Monastery

In conversation with a Lama at Hemis Monastery, 45 kms from Leh. Picture taken in Feb

In the middle of a conversation with a Lama

My 66 years old host at Puga, Changthang steal dreams of returning to Tibet

Spend a night in the Rebo Tent of a Chang Pa (Pastoral nomads of Changthang)

Travel tip: Say Julley and strike a conversation with friendly strangers to peak into their local culture and make friends for life.

6. EXPERIENCE LADAKHI FESTIVALS & KNOW THE COOL QUOTIENT OF LAMAS:

Winter is a celebration time in Ladakh. Locals have very little to do during winter months, so free time is turned into celebration time. Tourists and wannabe photographers usually dominate summer festivals. Winter festivals are of different league. Ladakhi Losar, Spituk Gustor, Thiksay Gustor, Stok Monastery Festival, Matho Monastery festival, Dosmoche all fall in winters. Many senior lamas visit key monasteries during winters. Locals come from far away lands to have heart-to-heart conversations with their spiritual gurus.

Lamas at the Kitchen area of Hemis Monastery where free food is served to all. Picture taken in Feb

Lamas at Kitchen area of Hemis Monastery where free food is served to all

The Courtyard at Hemis Monastery, 45 kms from Leh. Pic taken in end of Jan

Travel tip: Have a meal with the lamas in a monastery. You’ll be blown away not just by the simplicity of the tasty food but also how tech savvy and worldly aware those monks are.

7. PHOTOGRAPHERS HEAVEN:

Winters is a great time for photography in Ladakh. With barren land completely covered with white sheet, frozen rivers, frozen waterfalls, frozen shores, wilted tress, blue skies, no tourists interfering in pictures, lots of local festivals, Ladakh is a heaven for photographers in winters. If you can brave cold at night then you can have star trail time-lapse videos that will make your peers go gaga over your photography skills.

Frozen Waterfall at Khalatse, Indus accompanies throughout the Leh-Lamayuru highway. Pic taken in end of Jan

Frozen Waterfall at Khalatse, Indus accompanies throughout the Leh-Lamayuru highway

Indus river

Marvel the frozen Indus

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Frozen Temisgam

View from Leh Palace

View from Leh Palace in winters

Landscape beauty of Ladakh in winters is unparalled

Landscape beauty of Ladakh in winters is unparalleled

Travel tip: With frequent power cuts and temperature getting below -20 degree c, batteries drain out too quickly therefore carry lot of spare batteries, 10000mAh power bank and keep them in your jackets or sleeping bags.

8. BEST TIME FOR RARE LADAKHI WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS:

As the harsh winters set in, most Himalayan animals tend to come down to lower altitudes, making it easier to spot them. Winters is the best time to spot the elusive “Ghost of the Mountains”, the Snow Leopard. While spotting a snow leopard is not easy, you will definitely spot lot of mountain fauna like Ibex, Blue sheep, mountain wolf, wild hares, magpies etc.

Black-billed Magpie of Ladakh, Changthang

Capture the flight of Black-billed Magpie

If you want to see the Double Hump Camel without troubling them visit the Farm at Chochot, Near Leh instead of Hunder Sand Dunes.

See the Double Hump Camel without harassing them at Chochot Farm, Near Leh

Travel Tip: Look out for the flora fauna map in outskirts

9. WALK AND SKATE ON THE FROZEN ZANSKAR – THE CHADAR TREK:

Though it was my bad that because a natural calamity, Chadar Trek was called off but it is a great experience that one should have before it becomes a distant memory. Once the road from chilling to Padum gets constructed, there are chances that Chadar might not form and hence Chadar Trek won’t happen. Hence, do it before it’s too late. I am going to attempt it next year again. Will you?

stok

The Frozen River Trek

Chumathang to Chumur, Changthang

Travel tip: Go via a local trek agent. Travel agents from plains have shallow knowledge and might dupe you.

10. REKINDLE ROMANCE IN GOD’S DEN:

There is nothing like romancing in the coldest region of India. A kiss under a sky full of billion stars or a hug at 18,000 ft above sea level or making love in bone-chilling cold is something that you will not forget till the last breath of your life. You won’t need a lip-balm or multiple layers of clothes when you would have your special one around. If you don’t have one, then you will surely find one. So make the most of it. Go ahead and rekindle your romance.

romance

Travel tip: Before expressing your love, make sure you are wrapped up in multiple layers otherwise be prepared to get a severe cold and cough.

Visiting Frozen Ladakh is like freezing time or existence itself. I discovered the undying spirit of Ladakh. I had relished every bit of the indescribable beauty of the coldest desert. No words or pictures can do justice to what I saw and experienced.

Still thinking to visit Ladakh in winters or sticking to a comfortable summer trip?

All I can say is – let go of the fear of cold and immerse in the insurmountable beauty of God’s favorite masterpiece.

23 Comments

  • Renuka says:

    Well, quite impressive. But I am not sure if I would like to go there during the winter. I am also a traveler, though! Ladakh sounds like an experience. I guess if you take the plunge and explore it, the harsh temperatures wont matter that much. Thanks for inspiring!

  • Fabulous post! Really enjoyed reading it, and agree with every word 🙂

  • Alok Vats says:

    Really nice and informative post Archana.

  • SRIHARSHA HK says:

    I loved the way you put- Travelers not tourist 🙂
    Good read.

  • Manek Abrol says:

    Wow, this is so Kool.
    We experienced the same when chadar was called off and did the sight seening. It was amazing. It’s been less than a week we r back from Ladhak and its different in winter. We experienced -20 and were wearing almost 5 layers.

    But the beauty seen by eyes cannot be captured in camera on no matter what. Finally the last was restful and we noticed snowfall which was a topping on cake.

    Thanks for sharing, I too am thrilled on the beautiful experience.

    • Hi Manek,

      Thanks for reading and sharing your feedback on the post. My inspiration is my readers like you. And yeah, experiencing Ladakh in winters is something that should be experienced. You just can’t explain the feeling in words or pictures.

      Looking forward to hearing youR ladakh and other stories on travelseewrite.com.

      Cheers!

  • Hey, that’s a great post you have here on your blog. This is different too, from the other good posts on Leh Ladakh that normally readers come across.

    Leh Ladakh has been so long on my travel bucketlist but something or the other comes up in between. However, after reading this and seeing those awesome pics, I am definitely going there this year. A new line of thought suggested by you of visiting the place when the tourists aren’t there – is something I will seriously consider.

    And also, I am happy to follow you 🙂

  • Sandeepa says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Archana! You have painted a beautiful picture of the winters in Ladakh.

  • Shubhajit says:

    Well well I love every part of it except not sure about the love factor. I always travel to mountains in winters but never been to ladakh. As I feel I need to stay in ladakh for a long time but not sure about the internet scene. I can’t just leave my work for a month or so, so how is the internet connection out there..what’s the best service provider?

    • Hey Shubhajit,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your feedback.

      Like all mountain places, internet is not good in Leh. The signal is choppy and at best you get 2G. BSNL and airtel works there.

  • Nilesh Tanwar says:

    Hi Archana,
    Really, its nice place but i never make my mind to go in winter, though now i am planing.
    can you please let me know the costing of guide and stay over there. and how i can find the place where i can stay.

    This all just because i never use flight to travel in india but yes local vehical or bus or my car i use.
    I am very glad to read your blog. its too beautiful the way you write this.

    • Hi Nilesh,

      Thanks a lot for your kind words. Ladakh is a different animal in winters. I would say it’s the best time to visit it if you are a nature lover and detest crowds. It’s relatively cheaper to go in winters as compared to summers but you have to prebook your travel and stay as many people come to plains during winters. You can make Leh your base and then go to rest of the places. But let me warn you that many places like Nubra, Pangong, Changthang gets closed in winters. Most of the people go there to do Chadar trek. However, you can visit the monasteries. On an average 10 days trip shouldn’t cost more than 30k.

  • ANNU SHARMA says:

    Hi Archana,

    I have been to Leh & Ladakh in June, 2016 and enjoyed it alot but after reading you blog I so wish to make it in winters soon. And if you don’t have a hot boyfriend or girlfriend with you a hot water bag will help you in that cold (I had to adjust with hot water bag in my sleeping bag at camps) 😛 !!

  • Harsh Gupta says:

    You have really motivated me to plan a trip to Ladakh in winters now. I am speechless after seeing all the gorgeous pictures especially the frozen waterfall one! Marvellous!

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