How to reach Ladakh in winter
Winters start from November and continues till March in Ladakh. If you are a regular traveller who loves road trips, then the best way to travel to Ladakh is by road. But the roads remain open only till November end and get closed after that due to heavy snowfall. If you want to travel in December-January then the best and only way is by air. Flights are available from Delhi to Leh every day. You can choose Air India, Jet Airways and Go Air as these are the only 3 companies that operate on this route. You can travel by bus or taxi after landing down at Leh airport. You can also take your own car if you go there before November ends.
There are many winter packages that offer stay in Leh hotels and guesthouses, as well as homestays in Ladakh. These include photography tour, trips to Leh and Suru Valleys, etc. You must travel through tour operating companies and inform and the airlines of your choice, at least 1 week in advance. Companies provide value for money packages for Ladakh trip in winters. You also need a single person and/or group permits if you travel with your friends as Leh- Ladakh regions are strategic locations guarded by ITBP and Indian army.
Places to visit in Ladakh in winters
Then there is Shanti Stupa with its white dome and has relics of Buddha at its base, set there by the 14th Dalai Lama. It provides a panoramic view of the surroundings for which it is famous among tourists. There are also other places like the War Museum, Victory Tower and Sankar Monastery and village. The last one is just half an hour walk away from Leh.
The Pangong Lake is the world’s highest saltwater lake (4250 meters) which gets frozen during winters, thus providing a splendid view with mountains behind it. There aren’t any fishes or any other aquatic life in the lake, except a few small crustaceans due to its saline water. If lucky, you might catch a glimpse of goose and ducks. It takes a 5-hour drive by road to reach Pangong Lake from Leh.
River Shyok flows through the Nubra valley. Another important tourist spot is Samstanling monastery that lies between Kyagar and Sumur villages. This valley too is one of the best places to visit during your Leh Ladakh bike trip; as it is known for its scenic beauty, Bactrian camels and silent monasteries that have great architecture. You will have to cross the famous Khardung la pass to reach it.
There are many stories and legends related to it. The best-known story cum legend is that a monk travelled to this place and decided to build a monastery here after experiencing the presence of some divine power, about a 1000 years ago.
Local people who stayed in the last village before this place joined him to build it. Moved by his efforts, the king of this region decided to finance the monastery. Originally, there were 5 buildings but only 1 survives now. The monastery is located on a barren rocky mountain with white snow-covered Himalayas on its left.
Khardung La is a mountain pass that lies in Ladakh region of J&K, India. It lies towards the north of Leh, and is considered as a gateway to Shyok and Nubra valleys. It was built in 1976 and was opened for public and for motor vehicles in 1988. Since then it has been visited by many adventure lovers through car and bike expeditions that usually happen in groups especially Manali Leh bike trip.
The pass is maintained by Border Roads Organization (BRO), as it is of strategic importance for India. One must carry sufficient amount of packed food and water as there aren’t any hotels or guesthouses near Khardung La pass. It becomes more important due to the traffic jam on the road.
Khardung La Pass is at a height of 5,359 meters. If you have time then you can go further north of the pass and find some Bactrian camels at a place called Hunder, if you are lucky.
Tso Moriri or the mountain lake in Tibetan language is located Changthang plateau of Ladakh in J&K, India. The lake and its surrounding areas are protected as they are part of the Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation reserve. The lake is set at an altitude of 4,522 meters and is one of the highest lakes in Ladakh as well as in India.
It is about 26 km in length and between 3 and 5 km in breadth. Its water is alkaline by nature, and thus inedible. The lake is fed by springs and snow-fed mountains located nearby. One stream enters the lake from the north while the other enters from the south-west.
One can visit the lake during summers if you want to see the 34 bird species that live on and around it; of which 14 are water birds. You can also catch glimpses of Tibetan geese, Lynx, Himalayan blue sheep, Tibetan ass, Tibetan sand fox and Tibetan wolf during your Manali Leh Srinagar bike expedition.
This monastery too is similar to the Potala style of building of Tibet. It has a separate set of buildings for women monks and as well as tourists. It is a fort style of Tibetan monastery which was built in the 15th century or in 1433 by Sherab Zangpo, 1 of the 6 disciples of the Gelug School or the ‘Yellow Hats’.
The monastery is built on a sacred hill located about 7 km north from Stagmo village. It is famous for its ‘mask dance’ or ‘Cham dance’ that happens from October to November every year.
Things to do in Ladakh in winter
The Chadar Trek
The total distance of this trek is about 105 km. If you are an average trekker then you won’t be able to cover more than 15 km/per day. The best time to go on the trail of Chadar trek is from January to February, when the temperature drops to -30? at night.
You must also go for the Chadar trek as it is widely popular among both- national and international adventure tourists. The trail will provide you magnificent views of mountains and surrounding areas, along with glimpses of local birds and wild animals.
Snow Leopard Trek
The park is home to many wild birds and animals that appear in the Himalayan region. During the trail, you will witness rugged mountains, snow-covered peaks, trees and frozen water bodies. During the trek, you will see many animals such as snow leopard, blue sheep, horned sheep, Eurasian brown bear.
You will also find several bird species such as golden eagle, vultures, migratory birds and water birds as well. You will also get first-hand experience of cold desert, dry lands, rocky plateaus and local folklore of Rumbak valley. Fresh air and freezing winds will welcome you on the trek.
Play Ice Hockey
Ice hockey is a game first introduced to the world in Northern Europe around 1990 and was developed from field hockey. In the beginning, it was adopted only by countries that have a very cold climate, but with its rapidly growing popularity, it spread out to other countries too. In India, ice hockey was introduced about a 100 years back in Shimla.
Ladakh too adopted the sport somewhere around the 1990s, at a time when it was spreading to other parts of the world. Many clubs were opened that taught and played ice hockey in Ladakh but Ladakh Ice Hockey Club is the first and only registered club that was established in 1995.
Ladakh has the advantage of snowfall and ice availability to form the ice-rink naturally. Since its equipments are very costly, not many can play it. Currently, the game is played in Karzoo, Leh. It attracts many tourists during winters.
Don't forget to check out the Delhi to Leh guide before you start planning your next trip.
Ladakhi Losar Festival
Losar is one of the most important festivals of Tibetan Buddhists in Ladakh, as it marks the beginning of the New Year. It is celebrated with great zeal and grandeur. Its history dates back to pre-Buddhist Bon era of Tibet. In ancient times, a spiritual ceremony was held every year in winters. Later, keeping its significance in mind, it was developed into a full-fledged festival.
Homes, streets and surroundings are decorated with lights, artefacts and decoration items to bring prosperity and good luck. The houses and offices are cleaned from inside and outside, along with roads and surroundings; and all old and unused items are kept out of the vicinity. This is done to ward of any kind of evil.
The Ladakhi Losar Festival begins with the monks of Namgyal monastery by giving religious offerings to goddess Palden Lhamo to bring peace and prosperity to all Buddhists and their kin. Adventurers during their Manali Leh expedition often come and be a part of this festival.
Spituk Gustor Festival
Spituk Gustor Festival is a two day annual festival that is celebrated in Spituk monastery every year, in the 11th month of Tibetan calendar. It is celebrated as the symbol of victory over evil. Monks and local people start offering prayers 7 days before the two day event. The mask dance is the highlight of this festival. These masks represent certain fiery, kind and pleasant spirits.
These masks are painted using natural colours and are polished with gold and silver to give a finishing touch. The dresses of masked dancers are made of silk and brocade; who dance to the tunes of long horns, conch shells, bells and other instruments.According to Indian calendar, it takes place on 7th and 8th January every year and is attended by a considerable number of tourists as it falls in winters. The festival ends with the burning of an effigy of evil. Some dances are also performed in pairs while others are performed in groups.
No doubt, Ladakh is considered as one of the unique wildlife destinations across the world. It is home to many exotic breeds of animals and birds, who keep roaming freely in their natural habitats. They are not disturbed by humans and efforts are made to keep them safe from poachers.
One can experience and see a variety of flora and fauna in Ladakh on rocky mountains, on dry cold deserts, plateaus, swampy grasslands, with snow-covered mountains in the background. You can find yaks, ibex, Tibetan hare, blue sheep, wild ass, bharal, Tibetan antelope, red fox, Tibetan wolf, mountain weasel and many others.
You will also find a variety of birds such as Lamagier, wall creeper, Himalayan snow cock, black necked crane, rock bunting, fork tailed swift, Brown Accenture, Robin Accenture, Tibetan snow finch, etc. You can capture all this natural beauty with a camera and keep them to share with the world and as memories of your Manali Leh jeep safari expedition.