India that is not India. Ladakh is one of those Himalayan region that every seasoned backpackers want to go. Those who have trouble getting into Tibet, alternatively choose to come to Ladakh. As the area is a part of India and governed by them, it’s relatively easy to get to Ladakh. And tourism is the main source of income for a lot of people there. Which means while the place is remote, you won’t be a lonely man on a lost island. Locals will be expecting you.
With its high altitude and weather because of it, high season for Ladakh travel is during summer. Their summer is pretty short. Just a few months around June to August is considered to be an ideal time to go. That’s when the area gets majority of its tourists. Almost no tourists venture into Ladakh during winter time. And thus very few tips on this is available online. I’m sure there are some travelers out there thinking, “is it ok to visit Ladakh in winter?”
Well don’t you worry now. Here I am to let you know all about it. Because I’ve done it myself. I’ve gone to Ladakh in winter, in April. Now you might want to say, wait a minute, April is spring! But nope. In Ladakh, it’s still winter. Maybe a warmer winter. Time when spring is slowly making its way. Not as cold as, say, January. But it is still full on winter and that’s when I travelled Ladakh. If you are wondering how it’s like, here, let me show you now.
Leh is the capital of Ladakh region, and it’s probably where you will start your trip. I flew from Delhi, and suffered an altitude sickness for a few days. The town’s situated over 3000m above sea level, so if you fly in this will probably happen to you as well. Guesthouses and places to stay will be aplenty. You will probably get some discounts too, as almost no tourists are around. Only a few tourists you will see, they’ll most likely be Indians looking to experience ‘winter.’
You might get some toilet problems at your guesthouse. Winter time it’s possible water freeze over and your accommodation also doesn’t get running water. I’ve had this problem and surely it wasn’t pleasant. But bearable. Another thing is that you really won’t have much choices regarding food. There will be no way to get meat. Most of restaurants won’t be open until middle of April. No dining out. Your guesthouse also will be only able to provide vegetable meals, and most likely what you eat will be same everyday. I really wanted to eat meat but what can you do. I had to put up with it. But in a way, it’s a money saving situation. You can’t waste your money even if you want to!
However, don’t you think the city will be empty. Tourism places are indeed closed. But people are still there. Life goes on. Markets open, and people are around. You still can enjoy city life. Nothing to do after sunset but nonetheless. I don’t know how it’s like in summer time. I’m sure itms much more lively. To me this wasn’t bad at all. Then again, I’m more of a photographer than a traveler so you might think differently.
I’m not sure about January but by April, most roads are open. You can pass by those highest motor roads the region is famous for, namely Khardungla Pass. Although extreme snow can change things. While you will see a lot of snow and it will definitely be cold, life goes on here as well. You might need some sunscreens though as those white snows will reflect plenty of sunshines on your face!
Most importantly, all the monasteries are open. It seems obvious, but in case you were wondering. I mean, the monks are not going to close up the temples just because it’s cold. It’s their home so they keep up with usual daily routines. It’s actually pretty good time to visit these monasteries as there won’t be hordes of tourists trying to get photos. You can be a sole visitor examining the way they pray, how the little ones play around and such. All the places I’ve been it was extremely quiet. The atmosphere almost made me want to pray and ask forgiveness for all the things I’ve done wrong in life!
One sad news I have to tell you is that Pangong Tso Lake will be completely frozen. I’ve heard of its beauty and how its water colors are amazingly emerald. I wished maybe it has melted by April. Nope. It’s still frozen. So this was a let down, but then I thought, this will be a unique shot. Not so many have seen Pangong frozen up like this. Because no one comes around this time of the year! Yes and true enough, most accommodations were closed. I’ve got one place where it wasn’t that good, but I didn’t have a choice. Again foods were very limited here as well. You can still spot local people and there might be some fun moments awaiting for you though. Like when I’ve met a local family trying to vaccinate their goats.
I can’t sit here and tell you traveling Ladakh in winter is better than traveling in summer. It’s probably not. I’m sure summertime affords so much more options and things to see. I only wanted to show you it’s not impossible, and you can still get some authentic experiences if you decide to go. I was traveling India at the time and it was my only chance to go to Ladakh, so I took it knowing it’s not an ideal time to go. I sure wished the weather was warmer, but do I regret visiting Ladakh? Not at all. So if your schedule doesn’t let you go there in summer, you can still go in winter. That’s all I am saying. I’ve still managed to get beautiful images, and also enchanting experiences that I won’t forget. So why not. Winter in Ladakh is still better than winter at your home. That’s a wanderlust in me speaking. I know you have one inside you as well.