Can you plan a trip to Ladakh in December? The answer to that question; much to the contrary belief, is actually a yes. There are of course a few conditions like you cannot make it a road trip; you will have to prepare for extreme cold; and will make to make all arrangements meticulously. Ladakh for a long time was only considered open for tourism in summers only but things have started to change now. There has been a definitely boost in tourism here and the effect can be seen throughout the year. You will find tourists here not only in Summer but in winter as well. In this article, I will discuss a few tips on how you can plan to visit Ladakh in December followed by some details on how you can lay out your itinerary.
Ladakh in December
A common thought is that roads across Ladakh gets blocked during winter. This is true indeed but only partially. Only two roads that get declared closed for vehicular traffic; and remain so throughout the winter, are the Manali to Leh and Srinagar to Leh highway.
Internal roads in Ladakh leading towards Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri remain operational during peak winter as well. There can of course be a temporary road block owing to snowfall at any of the high altitude passes on the way; but Army usually clears it as soon as they are able to. The city of Leh remains connected to all the other areas of Ladakh so local sightseeing will not be a problem at all. The only condition that applies is that you cannot reach Leh by road and will have to catch a flight there.
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. It is an absolute mandate and you will be required to submit photocopies of this permit at several check posts on the way.
Mobile Connectivity in Ladakh
You mobile phones will only work in Leh. The moment you leave town for visiting any other area, you will be go off the network and will not be on again until you reach Leh. Another thing to remember is that only postpaid mobile connections work here so if you are using a prepaid connection, you cell will not work even in Leh. BSNL / MTNL has the widest connectivity here and will work even at places Nubra and Pangong. Reception will however be extremely bad and data connectivity next to none. For more details, please read Mobile Services in Leh and Other areas of Ladakh.
Also read: How to Obtain Inner Line Permit for Ladakh
Can we Visit Ladakh in December?
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 December.
Below is a view of Leh city towards the end of December. Notice the empty street, closed shops, and not a person in sight.
Plan only by Air
Manali Leh highway usually gets closed sometime in October and the road from Srinagar gets closed in November. There has been however some change to this in last couple of years. In 2016, Srinagar Leh highway remained open until mid December. This year, in 2017, half of November is already gone and even Manali Leh highway is still open. There has been very little snow this year and chances are that Srinagar Leh route may again remain open in December as well. Owing to these facts, a lot of people have recently asked me if they can go by road to Ladakh in December?
I must strongly advise you against doing this. The factor of unpredictability will be very high during this time. The roads can close at any time if there is heavy snow in the region and it will leave you stranded. Danger of frost and black ice is another major concern. Going to Ladakh by road in December is not only risky but extremely dangerous. Plan your trip by air only and spend all your time sightseeing in Ladakh. Don’t worry, there is plenty to see and you will still fall short of days even after spending a week here. For a complete list of places to visit in Ladakh, please read What to see in Ladakh?
Hotels in Leh in December – Book in Advance
Finding accommodation in Ladakh may become a challenge in December; 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 if you called a few days in advance and notified your hosts of your arrival. For a list of some recommended hotels with their contact information, please take a look at the article below.
Another factor to consider here is that December is not the month of tourism. So if your hosts already knew when you would be coming; and for how many days; it will give them sufficient time to make arrangements accordingly.
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 December, 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.
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. Pack a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes and a good sunblock lotion. Since it will be extremely cold, carry a lip balm and a good cold cream.
Also read: Clothes for Ladakh Trip: What to Pack
Keep Buffer Days in Your Itinerary
While traveling to Ladakh in December, 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.
Rent a Private Taxi
You will reach Leh by Air and chances are that you may not even get to rent a bike but I still thought to add this as a point here. Even if you got a motorcycle on rent, please do not take the chance. Low temperatures combined with cold winds is not the ideal climate to ride a bike through hills. Then there is also the risk of snow and slippery roads which may result in a serious incident. Public transport in Ladakh in December is extremely rare so do not rely on a bus or shared taxi. Best way out is to rent a private taxi for complete trip.
Postpone for next year if planning by Public Transport
As it probably is already clear from the above point, if you were planning a budget trip by public transport; better cancel the plan for now and think of doing it next year in Summer.
Pros of traveling to Ladakh in December
After the tips above, let me also list down a few advantages of planning a trip to Ladakh in December. There really aren’t many but I will mention some top ones.
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 December. It starts to snow in Ladakh at high altitude passes by September end; and by December, 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.
Almost No Tourists
Since the tourist season has ended and a lot of locals too have moved to other cities, there will be fewer people all across Ladakh. If you reached here seeking solitude and tranquility; then the month of December will suit you just fine. I agree that January and February will offer even a lesser number of people but the weather will be a little better; not as harsh as it will get January onward.
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 December. With number of tourists getting sparse and less customers, you will be treated well at any hotel or restaurant you visited.
Cons of Traveling to Ladakh in December
After the advantages, let me list down a few disadvantages of traveling to Ladakh in December.
Cannot cover Manali to Leh or Srinagar to Leh routes
One of the prime attractions of a trip to Ladakh is driving through the famous Manali Leh and Srinagar Leh highways. Visiting Ladakh in December will however deprive of you of this journey. You will have to catch a flight in and out of Leh and will have to leave both these roads for another vacation at another time.
Chances of getting stuck
As I mentioned previously in the article, chances of getting stuck at any place in Ladakh will always remain in winter. You may be out visiting Nubra and Pangong when either Khardung La or Chang La got snowed out. In this situation, you will have to wait it out until the weather clears and BRO is able to clear the roads. There is no way that you will be able to make it back to Leh as long as the road remains blocked.
Ladakh in December Weather
Ladakh is a dream destination for everyone but not all of us are capable of handling cold weather that well. Nights in Ladakh in December 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.
Ladakh During December
Life in Ladakh is tough during winter; and even some locals move out to warmer places for a few months. This is the time when even water in the taps freezes; warm water gets limited and you may even have to do your business in a dry pit every morning. You will have to keep yourself wrapped in woolens all the time and if there was no warm water available, even washing hands will become a herculean task.
Ladakh temperature in December
Freezing is the word that describes it the best. Temperature at nights will fall several degrees below zero. There may be Sun in the sky during day but temperature will still remain close to zero, probably a couple of degrees under.
Itinerary for Leh Ladakh in December
Your itinerary will really depend on how many days you have in hand but I will make a few suggestions; based on which you can prepare your final itinerary.
- You should not plan anything for Day 1. Go straight to your hotel after you land in Leh and just rest. Let your body adjust to high altitude and the cold weather. Since you reached here by flight, the gain in altitude was tremendous; from plains to 3.500 meters in a couple of hours; that too when the temperature is at zero. You must not stress or exhaust yourself, respect your body and give it time to acclimatize. For more information on what acute mountain sickness is, please read How to Handle Altitude Sickness in Ladakh.
- If possible, and if you have sufficient time, stay in Leh on Day 2 as well. Visit some local places like Leh palace or Shanti Stoopa.
- Avoid traveling towards a high altitude pass on Day 3 as well. If you are feeling OK by now, take a drive on Srinagar Leh highway and see Magnetic Hill, Indus-Zanskar Confluence and Gurudwara Patthar Sahib on the way. If weather favored, you can go all the way till Lamayuru and see the lunar landscapes there and Maitreya Buddha at Mulbekh.
- For Day 4, go to Nubra valley and stay there. Nubra is at an even lower altitude than Leh so it will be good in terms of acclimatization as well. Do not go to Pangong on Day 4.
- Return to Leh on Day 5
- Go to Pangong on Day 6 and return to Leh on Day 7
- Go to Tso Moriri on Day 8 and return to Leh on Day 9
Is Ladakh Open in December
Contrary to common belief, Ladakh does not completely shut down in December. Government offices, Army establishments, local grocery shops, general stores, restaurant and a few hotels indeed remain functional. You will not find yourself in a completely deserted city.
Places to visit in Ladakh in December
Once you reach Leh City, you will be able to reach any part of Ladakh as long as you rent a private cab. The roads from here lead to border and sensitive areas so Army keeps those clear and accessible throughout the year. Nubra Valley, Pangong Tso, Kargil, Sham Valley and Tso Moriri all remain open throughout December.
Nubra Valley in December
The only time when Nubra Valley may not be accessible in December is if Khardung La was snowed out and blocked. However even if that happens, BRO will clear the road and restore connectivity as soon as they are able to; provided that the weather clears.
Pangong Tso in December
Like Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake in December is accessible. The only time when you may not be able to get here is if it snowed at Chang La and blocked the road. It won’t be blocked for long though. As soon as the weather clears, BRO will restore connectivity. The direct route from Nubra Valley via Shyok remains closed permanently at this time. That only opens during summer.
Pangong Lake temperature in December
If you were thinking of a completely frozen Pangong, then you will not find it in December. That only happens towards mid January to Mid February. In December, you will find a blue Pangong and not white. There may be small patches of snow on the banks or floating in the lake but that will be about it.
Tso Moriri in December
Like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri too remains open in December and you will be able to plan a journey this way. There is no high altitude pass between Leh and Karzok so chances of this route getting closed are very less in December.
Manali Leh highway in December
There is absolutely no way that you will be able to travel from Manali to Manali to Leh in December. This road gets closed in November and the high altitude passes en route are all buried under snow by December. Even Rohtang Pass gets closed so you will not even be able to start. The farthest you will go is till Gulaba check post, a few kilometers from Manali. Even if by some miracle the road remains open a bit late, then Manali to Leh road trip in December is a very dangerous task and an unnecessary risk. Do not plan on doing it.
Srinagar to Leh in December
The only way to reach Ladakh from Srinagar in December is by catching a flight. Like Manali Leh route, the road from Srinagar to Leh too gets closed by November after it starts to snow at Zoji La.
Snow in Leh in December
If the purpose of your trip was to find a complete white Ladakh and Leh city then you will be disappointed. Ladakh maintains it barren brown color even in winter season. Yes there is chance that it may snow in Leh city in December but the snow will not stick to the ground. It will melt away just as soon as it stops to snow and sun comes out. During December, snow is mostly limited to high altitude passes and the roads across; like towards Nubra or Pangong.
Ladakh Bike Trip in December
If you want to make it a bike trip then you will have to reach Leh city by Air and rent a bike. You cannot bring your own motorcycle at this time. After the recent boost in tourism, some motorcycle rentals do remain open in winter season as well. But only take this risk if you are sure that you can manage a bike across on snow and slippery roads.
Ladakh Festival in December
Monastic Festivals and Winter Games are organized in Ladakh during winter. For more information on festivals in Ladakh and their dates, please read Festivals of Ladakh : A Colorful Celebration of Life and Ladakh Festival Dates
Is it OK to visit Ladakh in December
Yes it definitely is. Just be prepared for a harsh life, freezing temperatures and you will have a fun trip.
Is it safe to travel to Leh Ladakh in December
That depends entirely on you. Do not take any unnecessary risks; and you will be OK. Do not go if there is any medical history involved or if you are not someone who can handle cold. Do not rent motorcycles unless you are an experienced rider. Pack enough warm clothes and carry some basic medicines. Do not bring children or elders along at this time.
Ladakh trip in December
I hope the information above about visiting Leh Ladakh in December was of help. If you have any further questions; or need to clarify any further details; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum and I will be glad to answer. If you have been to Ladakh in winter and have some tips that can be of help to others then please do share.