While travelling to Ladakh in winter is an amazing experience, which is next to none, it needs lots of planning and preparation, specially for those travelling to such cold places for the first time. Its always good to have few tips handy when you are planning this trip. I have penned down some of experiences from my winter trips to Ladakh.
Keeping yourself warm is the most important thing while travelling to Ladakh or any other mountain region in winter, rest everything else comes next.
Warm inner is absolute must, but not the cotton one, get a pair of synthetic warm inner, 2nd layer of thick fleece, out layer of warm waterproof jacket, I personally prefer a down jacket.
For legs, I use a warm inner, with a thick foam filled pant over it. Just in case if it gets really cold I wear a middle layer of fleece pant, though it becomes very uncomfortable with three layers on, makes the movement of limbs really tough.
A balaclava as first layer to cover your head, ear and part of face. Remember that ugly cap that your Mom used to force on you when you were kid and how much you disliked it?, that’s exactly what you need now :D. I use a second layer of normal woolen cap
Gloves: I use a double layer of gloves, inner layer of fleece gloves and outer layer or water proof thick skiing gloves. Every time I need to click a picture, I just remove the out thick layer and can manage photography with fleece layer on. That way its little less painful during photography.
Shoes and socks: no matter what you wear, your feet will always be cold. It’s a matter of adjusting to it.
But as basics, I recommend a good quality shoes, ankle high is better. And double layer of socks, with inner nylon and outer thick woolen.
Just in case if you miss buying gloves, caps or socks, you can get some good stuff in Leh market. You can even get it cheaper there, worth giving it a shot.
While struggling with cold and high altitude, the first thing that you start loosing is proper diet. And with altitude hitting the body, the overall food appetite goes down drastically, and limited options of food makes things more complicated. The quick solution is to have plenty of soup with garlic, and have some Ladakhi bread with it. I find it absolutely boring and tough eating rice and lentil in this situation. Thukpa somehow still goes in well, may be because of it soup form.
Chocolates or nutrition bars also works well in case of lost appetite.
For emergency, I keep some cup noodles handy, just pour in some boiling water and you have something to keep the stomach happy. This happened with us in January 2015, when we took a chance and got the access to Dumchok region by luck, but we found nothing for stay or food in Koyule or Fukche. Eventually we had to drive back to Chumathang, which we reached by 10 pm driving over the snow. We were without food since morning but luckily I had boiling water in thermos and few cup noodles in my bag. It saved the day for me and the pilot, can’t forget the day eating noodles over the frozen Nyoma section in dark.
Another very important thing to maintain during this trip in winter is keeping yourself hydrated. I keep two 1 ltr steel thermos with during any winter trip. Fill one with super boiling water and other with lukewarm drinking water. Those thermos from milton or few other brands are really good and keep water super warm up to 12 hours and sometime even more.
Besides these two bottles, I keep another 2-4 litter of water in stock, but keep it wrapped in some blanket or else it will freeze and will be useless.
Taxi is not cheap during winter, rates remains the same throughout the year, but most of the taxi owners will provide some good discounts. I always prefer to hire my trusted ones even if they cost me more because of following:
1. They know every corner of Ladakh.
2. I don’t have to worry about stay, they arrange it for all places.
3. Their cars are in best shape, they love their cars like a family members.
4. They are always winter ready with things like shovel, snow chains etc.
5. They know the tricks of surviving in winter and keep the cars running in night as well.
Discuss your plan with your driver in advance as they can recommend if its possible or not. Make sure you check the car for the trip properly, it should have good tires (all five), should have shovel, tow rope and snow chains.
Flight is the only way to reach Leh in winter, all passes from Kashmir and Manali shuts down with heavy snow by the end of November or early December and opens only in May/June next year.
If you are lucky, you can get away with some cheap flight tickets during winter. I have got it as low as 5000 INR in past, last I got was for 7500 INR. There are chances of flight getting cancelled due to bad weather or snow on the runway, be mentally prepared for delays and flight cancellations.
Hotels/Guest Houses/Home Stay
Most of the hotel in Leh city close for winter but for few owned by locals. I had experience staying in hotels like Shanti Guest House, Oriental, Panorama (all on Changspa road). Majority of the hotels have centralized heating now with time controlled heating in morning and evening. few years back, the only way of room heating was gas heaters, which were painful oxygen suckers. Booking in advance is better considering the low supply of rooms in winter.
Beyond Leh, staying options are quite limited to guest houses and home stays. Like for Pangong Tso, you best option to stay is at Tangste, with few home stays remain open during winter. For Nubra, Hunder village have few guest houses which remain open. For Chumathang, the best is Padma Lodge with heating from sulphur spring. In Hanle I have always stayed with Sonam Dorjey (Padma Guest House) in Hanle village.
Your best source of information on where to stay is your taxi driver, just setup a friendly chord with him and you will be surprised at the kind of information and places he can share with you.
All the rules and regulations remains the same in winter as in summer. Perhaps the authorities are little more liberal in terms of giving permits to the restricted areas during winter. You will still need to fill in the self declaration form at the defined check posts.
I am sure its a silly question to ask but, “What can I capture in Ladakh during winter?” And the list is long, very very long
To summarize few,
- Frozen Landscape : That’s the reason you go to Ladakh in winter. A majestic mix of River, Snow, Sand, Mountains and Ice, all in one frame.
- Ice Hockey : Not many people know that India have a world class Ice Hockey team from Ladakh, you can see live matches during winter.
- Wildlife : In plenty, you just need that eye, people spend their life time in Ladakh to capture Snow Leopard.
- Frozen Lakes and Rivers : Frozen Pangong Tso is one rare sight in itself, and add to that are frozen Indus, Hanle and Zanskar rivers.
- Festivals : Spituk Festival, Hemis Festival, Dosmochey, Mathe Festival. You have to struggle to find a nice spot amongst the excited set of locals.
- Monasteries : While you can click monasteries in Ladakh any time of the year, you get the best colors either in late summer or winter.
- Culture : Its a bonus for street photographer, as life goes on in Ladakh even at -25 degree celcius.
Alot of people have asked me about any special care required for the photography gears during winter in Ladakh. the answer is nothing special, most of the professional gears and even amateur gears now a days are quite tough and weather proof. Just carry few extra batteries and keep them warm inside your jacket.
Most importantly keep yourself warm during all that enthusiasm of photography.
Sample Plan: You can try different combinations
Day 1 : Arrive at Leh, check-in to hotel, acclimatize and roam around in Leh city, without pushing too much today. May be you can arrange your permits today
Day 2 : Explore around Leh, Alchi, Lamayuru etc, night stay back at Leh
Day 3 : Leh – Chumathang, night stay at Chumathang
Day 4 : Chumathang – Tso Moriri – Nyoma – Hanle, with night stay at Hanle, this will be a long day and access to lake depends on the amount of snow on the road, worst case you can still go to Puga and visit ice cone at sulphur springs.
Day 5 : Hanle – Loma – Chagga – Chagga La – Chusul – Spangmik – Tangste. Again this route is purely dependent on snow. I had to turn back from chagga village due to heavy snow.
Day 6 : Tangste – Pangong Tso – Tangste – Chang La – Leh, night stay at Leh
Day 7 : Leh – Khardung La – Diskit – Hunder (night stay at either Diskit or Hunder)
Day 8 : Hunder – Leh
Day 9 : Fly out of Leh
- Along with high SPF sun cream, keep a good amount of pure mustard oil handy, as your skin will get dry and rough and not cream will work at such harsh and dry weather. You can buy mustard oil from Leh market.
- If you have a tendency of hands and feet getting cold, you can buy few chemical warmers available at trekking stores.
- Use your spare cap or socks to store batteries and electronic items. Batteries will keep the charge much longer when warm.
- Keep plenty of toilet paper rolls handy, you will only get dry toilets at many places, and using cold water will be painful 😀 .
Places in winter
Pangong Tso : If you seen this lake in summers, you are up for a wonderful surprise to see it frozen completely.
Spangmik : My favorite place for stay overnight when I visit Pangong Tso lake
Hanle : The view gets better and better in winter, and you can see the frozen tributaries of Hanle rivers passing through the valley. Do visit Hanle monastery, as you get so see the vast Hanle valley from top of it.
Chumathang : Its a beautiful halt point on the way to Hanle or Tso Moriri, famous for its hot sulphur springs and you do get boiling water out of the springs in winter.
Leh : While its becoming another tourist city in India, it is still beautiful and amazing. Views from Shanti Stupa during sunset and sunrise are priceless.
Lamayuru : A day drive to Lamayuru is fun, and watching the Indus-Zanskas confluence is different experience in winter.
Winter Treks in Ladakh
The most famous one is Chadar Trek, where you walk over the frozen Zanskar river for days. Some other treks you can explore are Markha Valley trek, Stok Kangri and Snow Leopard trek in Hemis National Park. There are few more, but doing these treks in winters makes it much more difficult and treacherous.
|You can read one of my travel story for winter in Ladakh here.[custom_button style=”btn_large btn_type10″ icon=”icon-location-arrow” target=”_self” href=”http://yellowpeaks.com/travelling-to-ladakh-in-winter”]Travelogues – Ladakh in winter[/custom_button]
||Checkout my article on Photography in Winter[custom_button style=”btn_large btn_type7″ icon=”icon-camera” target=”_self” href=”http://yellowpeaks.com/photography-in-extreme-winter”]Photography in Winter[/custom_button]