The month of October pretty much marks the end of tourist season in Ladakh. Though you can still find tourists there even in the month of November as well but those will be just a few in numbers. As winter progresses, even locals starts to move out to other areas of J&K or even to other parts of the country. During this time, a trip to Ladakh kind of becomes an acquired taste. I am not saying that you cannot do it but will have to carefully plan your entire trip keeping every small thing in mind. In this article I will provide some information on how you can plan your journey to Ladakh in November; some important tips which can ensure that your trip remains hassle free and enjoyable.
To be honest, if asked, my advice to everyone would be to best avoid a trip to Ladakh in November altogether for several reasons. The months from November till April are considered off-season here which means that only a handful of people remain.
Cold would already have settled in and temperature will further continue to dip. Chances of a snowfall at anytime will continue to increase by each passing day. When I say anytime, I do not mean that it would not have snowed by now; because high altitude passes like Khardung La and Chang La get there first spell of snow sometime in September. What I am implying here is that even the places at comparatively lower altitude like town of Leh and Nubra Valley are prone to receiving snow in November. The frequency of snowfall too will increase come November.
This however does not mean that a trip to Ladakh in November becomes completely out of question. As a matter of fact, the road from Srinagar to Leh remains open until mid to late November. Last year it was actually open until December. Internal roads connecting places like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso to Leh remains open throughout the winter. Indian Army regularly uses these roads for their movement; and even if the road anywhere gets snowed out, they will clear it as soon as possible.
Please note that Inner line permit was reintroduced in Ladakh effective 2017. If you want to visit any further than the city of Leh; for example towards Nubra or Pangong; you will need to obtain an inner line permit from DM office Leh. Please take a look at the article below for instructions on how to get this permit.
Also read: How to Obtain Inner Line Permit for Ladakh
How to Plan a trip to Ladakh in November
I will break this article in three parts. First I will suggest a few important tips, then discuss some pros followed by cons of visiting Ladakh in November.
Try to Plan in Early November
If possible at all, then you must plan your trip in first half of November. Biggest advantage of doing this would be that you can still consider to make your trip by road. Srinagar Leh highway remains open in early November and you can use this road for both reaching Leh and returning home. Though the road can remain open even after 15th November but I would not recommend counting on it. There are high altitude passes on Srinagar road as well that can get snowed out anytime; leaving you stranded.
Plan Only Via Srinagar
The road from Manali to Leh gets declared closed sometime in October so it is best to just keep it out of your itinerary. Plan your trip from Srinagar only.
Book Flight if Traveling in Later Part of November
If you cannot make it in first half of November, then it is best to book a flight for getting to Ladakh and return journey. Even if the road is still open, it is best advised to not take the risk of a road trip. Reaching by flight however would mean that you are bound to suffer from high altitude sickness. Read How to handle AMS in Ladakh for details like what acute mountain sickness is; what its symptoms are and how you can handle it better.
Plan your stay
Finding accommodation in Ladakh may become a challenge in November; even in Leh city as well. It is thus better to inquire and plan your stay at other places like Nubra Valley, Pangong and Tso Moriri. Most of hotels and guest houses start to wind up for the year in October; and after that you may have trouble finding a place to stay at remote areas of Ladakh; specially if within a budget. It won’t really be a bad idea to actually book your accommodation in advance.
Keep your Itinerary Simple
By keeping your itinerary simple, I mean to not include areas too remote. You should plan in a way that you reach Leh, visit Nubra, Pangong and Moriri; and be on your way back. Areas like Chushul route, Marismik La, Horla and Charchagan La are best avoided while traveling so late in the season. In November, you may not even get permits for these places and even if you did, chance of getting stranded due to weather or a break down will be greater here in off season.
Prepare for cold
Oh yes, the winter has arrived and Ladakh is one of the coldest regions in India. Weather here is treacherous, unpredictable and extreme. If you are in Ladakh in November, then you must prepare yourself both physically and mentally for the cold days and nights you are about to experience. Expect the temperature to drop several degrees below zeroes during nights.
Pack your clothes accordingly
This is related to the point above. Since the weather can at times turn to extreme; you must carry some good thermals, woolens and a heavy windproof jacket. Good quality gloves, woolen socks are a must. Along with your head, you also need to worry about your ears, face and neck and carry a cap/muffler that can protect all.
Also read: Clothes for Ladakh Trip: What to Pack
Keep Buffer Days in Your Itinerary
While traveling to Ladakh in November, it is safe to assume that it will definitely snow at high altitude passes. There is a high possibility that you are in Nubra Valley and cannot return to Leh because Khardung La was all snowed out and blocked. Same thing applies for places like Pangong and Moriri. Hence it is important that you do not bound yourself to dates strictly and keep at least 2 days as a buffer. In case you got stuck somewhere, you will be able to afford to be there for a day or two.If all went well and according to the plan, you can use the buffer days to either rest in Leh, or to explore some other areas; or maybe to rest at home for a while after you returned from the trip.
Avoid a bike trip
A bike trip to Ladakh in November isn’t really the best idea. Low temperatures combined with cold winds is not the ideal climate to ride a bike through hills. Prefer to travel by your own car if driving via Srinagar and rent a taxi in Ladakh if reached there by flight.
Avoid starting early in the morning
Temperature at night in Ladakh drops below freezing point and as a result, it forms black ice on the roads which can be extremely dangerous. As a practice and precaution; do not start early in the morning. Wait for the sun to come up which will melt the black ice and then proceed as planned.
Postpone for next year if planning by Public Transport
Like all other tourist related activities; availability of public transport too gets scarce in Ladakh after October. Either there will be no transport available at all or it may not be on schedule due to extreme weather or a possible roadblock. If you were planning to use public transport, it would be best to cancel the trip for now and plan it for next year.
Pros of traveling to Ladakh in November
With the above being said, there are of course a few benefits of travelling to Ladakh in November. There aren’t many really but I will list down a couple.
Find plenty of snow
If the idea of a live snowfall is on your mind then chances are that you will catch one here in November. It starts to snow in Ladakh at high altitude passes by September end and by November, a snowfall may even occur at the lower altitude areas as well. If not a live snowfall then you will at least get to see plenty of snow around while crossing over passes like Khardung La or Chang La.
Also read: Mobile Connectivity in Ladakh
Since the tourist season has ended and a lot of locals too have moved to other cities, there will be fewer tourists all across Ladakh. If you reached here seeking solitude and tranquility; then the month of November will suit you just fine. I agree that December and January will offer even a lesser number of people but the weather will not be as harsh in November as it will be in the months of December onward. Facilities though will be limited but not scarce.
Good Deals on Accommodation
If you have a natural talent of negotiating then you may even manage to talk yourself in getting a low cost deal on accommodation. Since there are not many tourists or guests around, some hotel or guest houses may allow you to stay at a lesser price before the finally close for the season.
It was never the way before but off-late, a lot of people came back to me stating that the hotels in Ladakh favored foreign tourists more than Indians; that they were more interested in attending their calls. I have honestly never faced this myself but this will hardly happen in the month of November. With number of tourists getting sparse and less customers, you will be treated well at any hotel or restaurant you visited.
No Water Streams or resulting Slush
In the months of summer, when snow starts to melt, it creates a lot of water streams on the road which further results in slush as well. While traveling in November, snow will be more freezing than melting and hence, hardly any water streams on the way.
Last window to make it a road trip
If you must travel to Ladakh by road; couldn’t do it in the year so far and cannot wait until next year then the month of November is probably your last window to reach Ladakh by road. You will go via Srinagar and return the same way though. After mid November however, even the road from Srinagar becomes a bit risky to be traveling on.
Also read: 10 reasons why you should NEVER visit Ladakh
Cons of Traveling to Ladakh in November
After the advantages, let me list down a few disadvantages of traveling to Ladakh in November.
Cannot cover Manali to Leh route
One of the prime attractions of a trip to Ladakh is driving through the notorious Manali to Leh highway. Every adventure enthusiast and travel junkie dreams of covering this road at least once in their lifetime. In the month of November however, this road would be long closed and you will not be able to keep it as a part of your itinerary.
Chances of getting stranded
This may happen irrespective of whether you are on a road trip or reached Ladakh by air. Any of the passes on Srinagar to Leh route or towards Nubra or Pangong may get snowed out leaving you stranded. In a worst situation, you may even get stranded on the road in a cold weather; looking for the nearest village to seek shelter.
Will be Cold
Ladakh is a dream destination for everyone but not all of us are capable of handling cold weather that well. Nights in Ladakh in November will be extremely cold and even days will be no better. If you are someone who gets bothered by cold weather a lot then it is best to give up Ladakh entirely until next summer.
May be a bit expensive
Cost of living goes up in Ladakh in winter and you may even end up paying more than the actual charge for basic facilities and sundries.
In all probability, I will strongly advise against a road trip to Ladakh in November; even via Srinagar route. Black ice is a huge risk and even a small miscalculation can prove to be fatal. What is black ice exactly? It is a thin coating of ice on surface of the road; formed on relatively dry roads, rendering it invisible to drivers. It is formed because of moisture present in the road texture which when frozen; creates a honeycombed invisible sheet of ice. The ice itself is not black, but visually transparent, allowing the often black road below to be seen through it. There is, thus, a risk of skidding and subsequent accident due to the unexpected loss of traction.
Is November a good time to be visiting Ladakh?
The answer to this question is a straight no. The pros of visiting Ladakh in November are far less than the cons. The only reason people go to Ladakh for in winter is to witness the entire region buried under a thick sheet of snow; to see a frozen version of lakes like Pangong and Tso Moriri; to drive across the high altitude passes through a thick snow wall on both side of the roads. November however doesn’t offer much in any way. Weather will be cold and dry but snow will still not be that much. If you want to see Ladakh in winter then it is best to plan it sometime in January or February. If snow is not on your mind than go to Ladakh in Summer to experience the real fun of the trip.
I hope the information above was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer.