Ladakh in January – A Complete Travel Guide & Itinerary

by Vargis.Khan

When you think about a trip to Ladakh in January, you already know that this can never be a regular “just another” vacation. This is the time of peak winter season and winters in Ladakh are always tough. Life here around this time gets harsh; so harsh that even locals move out to other areas of state or country and return after winter has passed. Basic amenities like electricity can go missing for day’s altogether. Due to temperatures dipping several degrees below zero; hot water becomes a luxury and running water can become out of the question because even the pipes freeze. So can and should you actually plan a trip to Ladakh in January? While the answer of “Should” will be a personal choice, the answer to the “Can” part of the question is a definite yes. How and why is what I will provide details on in this article.

Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Leh Ladakh – A Complete Travel Guide

There are several things and aspects of the trip that you should seriously consider before finalizing a trip to Ladakh in Winter Season. First of all, you need to think about what you are exactly expecting out of the trip so that it does not become a disappointment later on. Next, you need to plan well so that the trip is not a troublesome one. You cannot just pack your bags and head to Leh Ladakh in January. Every part of your trip would be to be thought over seriously and planned meticulously.

ladakh in january

Why would a person want to visit Ladakh in January? There can possibly be but just 2 reasons to it. First and the most common reason is of chasing snow; being at a place for a few days that gets completely buried under a thick layer of snow in winters; to witness those white hills and valleys all around. I agree that this can be done at several other hill stations like Manali as well but those places have started to get crowded a lot. So if you want to see ample amount of snow everywhere with just a handful of people around, Ladakh is the place to go to.




Second reason if of being adventurous. Due to its tough climate and challenging terrain, a trip to Ladakh always has an angle of adventure to it; irrespective of the month you reach here in. Adventure increases even more if you plan a winter trip to Ladakh.

Both of these reasons are however in my opinion best applied when you have already visited Ladakh once in summer. A winter trip here is best as your 2nd or 3rd Ladakh trip; making it the first one is not really the best of ideas. If this will be your first time in Leh Ladakh, then my sincere advice would be to delay it by a few months, visit Ladakh first between June to September; and then plan for winters next year. This way you would have already familiarized yourself with the terrain and climate when it is not so harsh as it would be in January.

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 even in winters and you will be required to submit photocopies of this permit at several check posts on the way.

Also read: How to Obtain Inner Line Permit for 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.

Can we visit Ladakh in January?

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 January. In the end, I will suggest an itinerary that you can follow for a winter trip to Ladakh.

Ladakh Roads in Winter

A common thought is that roads in Ladakh get completely blocked during winter. This however is not really true. While the connecting roads from Manali and Srinagar do get closed; internal roads in Ladakh leading towards places like Nubra Valley or Pangong remain open even in the month of January. There could be a temporary road block due to heavy snowfall at any of the passes in between 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. However from Leh, you will be able to visit majority of the tourist attractions.

Also read: Ladakh Checklist – Things you should carry for Ladakh Trip

Plan Only by Air

This is somewhat related to the point above. Manali Leh highway usually closes sometime in October or early November followed by Srinagar Leh route in late November or early December. What this necessarily means is that there is no way you can make this a road trip. Be it by a car, or motorcycle or shared taxis; you will not be able to reach Leh from either Manali or Srinagar by road. You must and will have to book flights to reach there.

Hotels in Leh in Winter

Finding accommodation at this time in Leh and other areas of Ladakh will be a challenge. Most of the hotels and guest houses do not operate during winter season. There are however a few guest houses in Leh that entertain guests at this time as well but you must call them in advance and inform of your stay. January is not tourist season in Ladakh and your hosts will have to be prepared for your arrival. Same applies for other places like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso as well. If you were not able to book you stay here from home, then do so after you reach Leh city, thus informing the hotel at least a day in advance.

Below is a view of Leh city towards the end of December and in early January. Notice the empty street, closed shops, and not a person in sight.

leh city in january

Do not Plan night stays anywhere other than Leh City

Phone connectivity in Ladakh is not that great and booking your stay in advance may prove difficult. An easier way around this is to not plan to stay anywhere except for Leh city. Draft your itinerary in a way that local sightseeing is only a day trip. For example, you stay early from Leh, visit Nubra valley and return to Leh by evening. Same thing applies for Pangong and Tso Moriri as well. Keep the plan flexible though. So let us say that upon your arrival in Nubra valley you were able to find a place to stay for the night; then you may choose to stay for a day and return the next. This point only applies if you were unable to book your stay. If you did then you can ignore this tip.

For a list of some recommended hotels with their contact information, please take a look at the article below.

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 January,  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.

Ladakh Winter Clothing

It goes without saying, you need to pack all your woolens and warm clothes. Ladakh in winter is a place where the temperature will remain several degrees below zero. You must carry some good thermals, thick 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 January, 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

 This is your only choice of commute for a trip to Ladakh in January. There is absolutely no public transport available at this time and you cannot even think about renting a motorcycle. As a matter of fact there are actually no rentals available in January but by some miracle if you get your hands on a motorcycle, you must not take the risk. Low temperatures combined with cold winds is not the ideal climate to ride a bike here. Then there is also the grave risk of snow, black ice and slippery roads which may result in a serious incident.

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.

Also read: How to travel to Ladakh with children or infants

Plan in  Group of 4-5 People

A solo winter trip to Ladakh is not the best of ideas and this is related to the point I mentioned above. If you were traveling in a group, apart from the usual benefits, the biggest help will be in terms of overall cost of the trip. You will have to rent a private taxi; charges of which in Ladakh are high enough to burn a hole in your pocket. A 2 day trip to Pangong will cost between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15000. Same applies for Nubra and Moriri as well. This will make the taxi cost the biggest expense of your trip. If you are in a group of 4-5 people, this cost can be shared and will bring down the overall per head cost of the trip.

Keep your expectations Low

No I do not mean it in terms of sightseeing and the scenic beauty of Ladakh; that of course will be one of its kind and astounding like always. What I meant here was in terms of your stay. Unless you were able to book a luxurious hotel that remains operational even in winters; chances are that your stay will be at a very basic guest house or home stay. Hotel of course will be limited just in Leh City; elsewhere in Ladakh it will be either a simple guest house or as a paying guest. You will be provided with everything required to keep you warm and comfortable but do not expect a highly luxurious treatment.

Also read: 10 Reasons why you should NEVER visit Ladakh

Be Prepared for the tough Ladakh Life in Winters

You must prepare for the tough life that Ladakhi people go through in months like January and February. Running water will not be available and hot water will be provided in bucket in small amounts. You may have to go without a bath for days. Morning business will have to be done squatting over a dry pit. There will be cold winds all around. Nights will be merciless with temperatures dropping down to as far as -30 to -40 degrees. Your skin may get dry and start to hurt, your lips may get badly chapped. Worse, you may catch a cold or even run a fever. First day in Ladakh after you land will be worse with such cold temperatures combined with acute mountain sickness. No I am not trying to scare you but just listing a few things here so that you are better prepared mentally.

Advantages of Visiting Ladakh in January

After the tips above, let me mention a few pros of visiting Ladakh in January. There are not really many but I will list a few that come to mind.

Snow All Around

I believe this one goes without saying. Witness the valleys and hills of Ladakh buried under a thick sheet of snow in January. If your trip lasts a few days then in all probability, you will also catch a live snowfall. The amount of snow you will find here in winters is hard to find elsewhere in the country.

Almost no Tourists

Everyone has their own reason for going to Ladakh but majority of the people want to experience the peace and solitude; away from the busy cities and crowded tourist destinations. If you too fall in that category than you will not be disappointed at all. I know I said tourists in the heading but the fact is that there will only be a handful of people around. You will truly know the meaning of the phrase “in the middle of nowhere”. It will mostly be just you in a white Ladakh.

Frozen Lakes of Ladakh

Have you been to Ladakh before? Have you already see the beautiful lakes of Pangong and Moriri? Do you want to see how they look like when they freeze and turn in to a sheet of ice? Visit in later of January and you will know.

Also read: 11 Things you must not do in Ladakh

Adventure

A trip to Ladakh always means a lot of adventure which increases even more in the winter. Traveling on slippery roads through snow, freezing temperatures, cold winds, harsh weather, tough living conditions make the trip even more adventurous than it will be in Summer.

Disadvantages of Ladakh Trip in January

After the advantages, let me also list down a few challenges of being in Ladakh in winter season.

Ladakh Weather in January

Cold, unpredictable and unforgiving are the words that describe it the best and this will be your biggest disadvantage. All the snow makes the trip sound exciting but not all of us are capable of handling such extreme cold.  If you are someone who gets bothered by cold weather a lot then it is best to give up Ladakh entirely until next summer.

Ladakh temperature in January

At nights the temperature will dip down to between -20 to -30 degrees or even less than that. Days too will be no better. Even if Sun is in the sky, temperature will keep hovering between 0 to -10 degrees.

Will be Expensive

There is really no way around this. This trip will definitely cost you more than usual and the only way to reduce the cost is to plan in a group. Try booking your flight a few months in advance so you can get a good price. Cost of Living in Ladakh rises during winter so be ready to pay some extra bucks for hotels and meals. Biggest expense however will be of commute. You will hire a private taxi which can cost several thousand as I explained above. Plan in a group of 4-5 people so that you can share the cost.

Also read: How to Plan a Trip to Ladakh with Children

Tough Living

As you probably already have an idea of this by now, spending these few days in Ladakh will be an experience one of its kind but definitely not easy. If you cannot go without bath for even a single day, cannot squat over a dry pit, cannot work around cold, cannot stand the freezing nights, fall sick quickly or often, do not plan. If there is any medical condition involved like Asthma or cold related diseases, you MUST NOT PLAN.

Manali to Ladakh in January

Traveling from Manali to Leh in January by road absolutely cannot be done. You will have to reach Ladakh by Air which will deprive you from the charm of traversing on this one of the most famous highways of India. I will definitely consider this as a disadvantage of winter trip. Ladakh is a beauty in itself but the two roads connecting it to rest of the country too are quite a charm and an important part of Ladakh trip. If you plan in winter, you will definitely miss out on it. The same reason applies for Srinagar Leh highway as well. This road too will remain closed in January and cannot be traveled on.

Ladakh Winter Trip Itinerary

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. For more information on what acute mountain sickness is, please read How to Handle Altitude Sickness in Ladakh.
  • If possible, and if you have 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. 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. If you could not find a place to stay at Pangong for the night, return on the same day itself but ensure that you get an early start from Leh.
  • Go to Tso Moriri on Day 8 and return to Leh on Day 9. If you could not find accommodation at Karzok, then return to Leh the same day.
  • If you need help finalizing your itinerary, you are most welcome to ask.
Visit Leh Ladakh in January

After all said and done, if you asked me, a winter trip to Ladakh is an amazing experience after a few conditions I mentioned above. If you can afford to travel to Ladakh in January then by all means, please do so. I hope the information I provided above was of help. 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.

Related Articles

36 comments

Avatar
Carla Maragno July 20, 2020 - 4:15 am

Thanknyou for the brilliant guide. You have just further sharpened my desire to visit Leh in winter, and as soon there is permission after the pandemic, hopefully next January I will be there.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan July 20, 2020 - 11:23 pm

Thank you Carla

Reply
Avatar
R V ANAND May 9, 2020 - 5:01 pm

I’m planning to go to Leh on Jan/Feb next year, so is there any chance that I can take a bike ride at all?

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan May 10, 2020 - 12:41 pm

Yes you can

Reply
Avatar
rahul October 20, 2020 - 6:30 pm

your article mentioned bike is not available during Jan and even if available its better to avoid. my mean of going to Leh is exploring it in winter by bike at least near by regions of Leh . Is it posible.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan October 26, 2020 - 1:13 pm

Now a days it is available Rahul. You can rent an explore as long as you know how to handle a bike on snow.

Reply
Avatar
Paresh Vikram Shrivastava December 29, 2019 - 7:41 pm

is it possible to do cycling in leh in january?

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan December 29, 2019 - 8:27 pm

Yes, definitely

Reply
Avatar
Sudhakar November 25, 2019 - 1:35 pm

Can i visit all the places in leh ladakh (pangong lake, nubra valley) in mid january

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan November 25, 2019 - 9:06 pm

Yes you can

Reply
Avatar
Ganesh December 7, 2019 - 5:53 pm

Hi ..when you are planning..what r your dates for leh?

Reply
Avatar
Terrence Joy December 11, 2019 - 7:50 am

Thanks for all the details mentioned here. It is really helpful. You have done a great thing here.
I was planning a Chadar trek, and wanted to see if you had mentioned anything about that, but I guess you are sharing a different contact for that. Hope it all ends up to my budget. Anyways thanks again. Have a good one.

Reply
Avatar
Sudhakar November 24, 2019 - 8:04 pm

Hi, i want to visit Leh through road trip from delhi in january mid week. Do i face any problems out there??

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan November 25, 2019 - 1:51 am

You can’t go to Leh by road in January

Reply
Avatar
UJJWAL October 16, 2019 - 12:31 pm

WERE FROM U BORTHER???

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan October 17, 2019 - 5:53 am

I am from Delhi Bhai

Reply
Avatar
Raj Tank October 20, 2019 - 3:16 am

I want to do chadar trek including sightseeing of leh Ladakh so can you suggest me a good itinerary that covers most of place of leh Ladakh.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan October 21, 2019 - 7:16 am

It would be better if you spoke to Rohit in Leh @ 9999622213 or 9910722252. He organizes Chadar trek each year and will be able to better guide you.

Reply
Avatar
Annie September 11, 2019 - 8:00 am

All the information proved really helpful.You have taken up all the possible queries anyone would have while planning a trip like that.Keep up your good work.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan September 11, 2019 - 10:25 am

Thank you for taking the time to drop a note Annie

Reply
Avatar
B m Mohseen September 3, 2019 - 2:35 pm

Hai sir my name is Mohseen I have planned my trip in January ending my trip details are Shimla Manali and leh
As u have mentioned that from Manali to leh the roads will be blocked please suggest me the right opinion as I have booked a flight tickets from leh to Delhi

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan September 4, 2019 - 9:48 am

There is no other option Mohseen. You will have to catch a flight from Leh to Delhi.

Reply
Avatar
Premkiran June 24, 2019 - 4:32 am

Me and my friends are planed for ladakh trip from manali in January ,but everybody says we cant go to manali in January. We love adventures and that will be the only month we all r free. I know main highways are closed in January,but i want to know there is any chance to go ladakh by road

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan June 24, 2019 - 4:40 am

No. Ladakh in January means by flight only

Reply
Avatar
shehzad mohammad January 20, 2019 - 6:16 pm

v helpful… thx.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan January 21, 2019 - 10:05 am

Thanks for taking the time to drop a note.

Reply
Avatar
Mukul M Desai June 14, 2019 - 9:28 am

Great sirjI thanks for YOUR point blank opinion about Jan trip of Ladakh, sirjI we are a typical adventure lovers we are reaching leh on 8th Jan for a WEEK ONLY( aS PRECOTION A WEEK ONLY- NEXT TIME LONGER STAY)
THANKS ONCE AGAIN FOR GOOD INFORMATION
Mukul M Desai
[email protected]

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan June 14, 2019 - 12:55 pm

Thank you Mr. Desai for taking the time to drop a note.

Reply
Avatar
Nishant kumar January 5, 2019 - 9:28 am

Hi Vargis. Planning a trip to leh dis January around 20th. Will be travelling solo with all my camera gears. Have kept 5 nights for it. My only question is , is der anything extra and special which I could witness if I stay overnight at pangong, nubra and tso moriri? Because I am planning to visit all d three and return back d same day.. and I have decided to make my stay at d grand dragon hotel…

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan January 5, 2019 - 5:19 pm

Hi Nishant – Nothing extraordinary that is worth a night stay to be honest. Even I will recommend that you come back the same day.

Reply
Avatar
akhilsharma257 December 28, 2018 - 12:15 pm

you solve every doubt i had in my mind and i am going there ..chasing snow of course and want be alone for sometime.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan December 28, 2018 - 2:24 pm

Do let me know how your trip went in January Akhil.

Reply
Avatar
Ganeshbabu Shanmugam December 17, 2018 - 5:06 pm

I did visited Leh in July by road from Manali, then to Srinagar from Leh. Stayed for 6 days, ‘m truly Lehd.
Your info is excellent.
‘m planning this Jan for 3 days.
Will be Tibetan art shops ( it was a cluster of shops in the market ) be opened during this time. It was good.

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan December 17, 2018 - 10:00 pm

A few shops may remain open but not all of them.

Reply
Avatar
Ian Mccabe December 1, 2018 - 9:10 pm

Thanks for taking the time to write this article Mate,really helpful advice. I’m still thinking about a January trip!

Reply
Avatar
Vargis.Khan December 2, 2018 - 2:31 am

Thanks for taking the time to drop a note Ian. I appreciate it.

Reply

Leave a Comment