A road trip in Ladakh is one of those travel experiences that needs to be on everybody’s bucketlist, no matter how short or long it is. We spent weeks driving from Delhi to Leh and Ladakh during summer months. That was when we first fell in love with Leh – Ladakh
This year we decided to revisit during winter months just to see how the area looks during cold winter months. We had an amazing week and here is our guide to visiting Leh Ladakh during winter months along with the top 6 winter experiences in Ladakh
When to go?
In order to experience winter activities listed below, we suggest visiting Leh, Ladakh anytime between 15 December & 15 February. Regular flights operate from Delhi in the winter season as well. While it’s not possible to drive from Kashmir to Ladakh or Manali to Ladakh in winters, you can fly there and use local taxis to get around as roads within Ladakh are usually open.
Who should go for a winter trip to Leh Ladakh?
Extreme winters at a high altitude are not for everyone. We would not recommend taking elderly parents, heart patients, or babies/toddlers to Leh Ladakh during winter months. Everyone else can go and enjoy themselves.
Just make sure you devote the first 2 days to acclimatising to the high altitude – eat light meals and drink lots of water. You should also carry an altitude-sickness pill such as Diamox with you, in case you need it. Once your body is used to the altitude, it is time to enjoy the surreal beauty of Leh Ladakh during winter months
Where to stay in Leh during winter months
Very few hotels are open during winter months in Leh – Ladakh. As temperatures are very low and winter is very harsh we suggest choosing a hotel that is comfortable and offers good heating. We chose Grand Dragon Ladakh and would recommend it wholeheartedly. The hotel is a very short drive away from Leh Airport. You can opt for hotel transfers or take a pre-paid taxi from the airport, which costs INR 400.
Views from the room can be a hit and miss (except for if you’re on the higher floors that offer mesmerising views of the Zanskar range) but they are extremely well-equipped – expect huge beds, an array of toiletries, and mini bar. The suites also have additional luxuries like bath tubs and spacious seating areas. Heating is top-notch and truly welcome during winter months. But the best part at Grand Dragon Ladakh is the hospitality – no wish is too little and the staff goes out of their way to fulfil their guests’ requests. We met so many other guests at the hotel who felt the same.
Packing for a winter trip to Leh Ladakh
If you want to truly enjoy the beauty of Leh Ladakh during winter, then you must pack well. We suggest packing full-body thermals, warm sweaters, snow boots, gloves, warm caps, and a protective puffer jacket which is wind and water repellent. We have a guide for packing for extreme winters which will come in handy 🙂
6 Best Winter Experiences in Leh Ladakh
Now comes the best part aka the winter experiences that make a trip to Leh Ladakh special. Here are some of our favourite experiences
1. Sangam Point & the village of Chilling
The aptly named village of Chilling makes for a gorgeous day trip from Leh and it is definitely one of our favourite winter experiences. Make sure you pack lots of snacks as there aren’t any shops or shacks on this road. In this case, the drive truly IS the destination. You will see Sangam point – where the rivers Indus & Zanskar meet. The stark green-blue colour of the rivers stands out against the browns of the mountains and makes for an incredible panorama. Further ahead, snow-laden villages and panoramas abound.
Top Tip – we also suggest driving ahead of Chilling Village, beyond the bridge and taking a left turn. You will see a winding road going up the hill towards Skiu Monastery. Take the road if you want to treat yourself to these stunning views.
2. Magnetic Hill
This crazy phenomena of nature is a short drive away from Leh city. Magnetic Hill is called so because your car seems to go downhill on an uphill road. This is due to an optical illusion but it is pretty strange to witness in person. Magnetic Hill is on everything road trip itinerary for Ladakh but it can get crowded during summer months. If you visit during winter months, you will get it all to yourself.
3. Drool over gorgeous views of Namgyal Tsomo & Stakna Monastery
Devote one day to exploring Leh City and and the surroundings. You will undoubtedly enjoy relishing it’s landmarks such as the local market, Thiksey Monastery, and Shanti Stupa. But if you enjoy scenic views as much as us, then we would highly recommend driving up to Namgyal Tsomo Monastery or Namgyal Gompa as it is sometimes known. Here you will find stunning views of prayer flags against snow-capped Himalayas.
Another spot you must visit is the river bed from where you will see gorgeous views of Stakna Monastery perched on a hill. Try visiting this spot at sunset for best lighting. You can find it midway between Thiksey and Hemis right by the National Highway.
4. Take a day trip to Khardung-La
No trip to Leh Ladakh is complete without a visit to Khardung-La, one of the highest motorable roads in the world. A winter trip to Khardung-La is an adventure in itself – this is because the road leading to the iconic spot can sometimes get snowed under during winter months. If you do make it there, you must pat yourself on the back for this achievement. And don’t forget to take photos there. If you have a few more days to spare, then head on to Nubra Valley and spend a night there – it is a beautiful part of Ladakh and often feels like another planet.
5. Picnic on frozen Zanskar River
We totally saved the best for the last. If you don’t mind sitting outside in the cold, then wear an extra layer of thermals when you visit Sangam point. As you go beyond Sangam point, you will see many places where Zanskar river is completely frozen – you can walk, relax, and even picnic here. We heard people even skate here.
Since you should not be walking in areas where the river is not completely frozen, it is best to consult someone local such as a cab driver or staff at your hotel or any villagers you see around for the best spot to do so. Once you’ve found your perfect spot, relax as you sip on some hot tea and snacks. It’s an experience you won’t forget for a lifetime.
6. Extreme Winter excursions and treks for adventurers
Extreme temperatures (-15°C and -25°C) in Leh Ladakh during winter months mean that while day trips are fun, it is also extremely comforting to come back to a warm hotel room at night. So it takes another level of adventure to stay in sub-zero temperatures during cold nights too. If you are up for that, then we would suggest keeping aside a few days to do either of these two experiences
- Camp on the shores of Pangong Lake – Pangong Lake is stunning during summers months but seeing it frozen with barely any people around is surreal at a whole new level.
- Chadar Trek – The frozen river Zanskar is also the starting point for the Chadar Trek, one of the most gruelling treks in the world. You need to be in great shape physically to undertake this trek. This week-long trek will take you through some stunning panoramas including frozen waterfalls, sheets of ice, ice-stupas, and snow-laden Himalayas.
That’s it. Winter in Leh Ladakh is not for the faint of heart but I hope we gave you some exciting ideas for experiencing winter in Ladakh and planning a winter trip to Leh Ladakh.
You can also read everything about planning a summer road trip to Leh Ladakh