Ladakh Winter Travel Guide – An Ideal Itinerary
This article is a continuation from my PREVIOUS ARTICLE covering the necessary preparations and precautions that one must consider while preparing and during a Ladakh winter trip. In this article, I will cover the places that you can visit in Ladakh in winter season and a basic itinerary that you can follow. Please click on the links below in order to go to the previous two articles in the series.
Driving on your own will of course not be an option in winter in Ladakh primarily because first it will be very hard to find a self-drive taxi at that time and secondly because it will be dangerous considering the terrain and the weather. So the only option would be to hire a taxi along with a driver, a few tips of which I have covered in the article HERE. After doing that, the next big question is of what all places can you cover or visit.
A general myth is that Ladakh gets completely shut down during winter season and it is just snow and snow all around. The fact however is that almost all the internal roads in Ladakh remain open even during peak winter. Locals still commute on these roads as well as the Indian army. The only exception would be that the road may get temporarily shut down after snow fall but then BRO clears the road as soon as they can. As a matter of fact, parts of even the two highways leading to Ladakh still remain open for Army vehicles; it is just the civilian traffic that comes to halt completely due to safety reasons. Some of the questions that you may wonder about while planning a trip to Ladakh in Winter are,
Can you visit Pangong Tso in winter?
The answer to that question is yes. The road from Leh to Pangong Tso remains open in winter as well. The only exception would be if the Chang La Pass that you will have to cross to get there is closed due to snowfall but even if that happens, the road will open again as soon as BRO is able to clear the way. During the months of January and February, Pangong Lake is completely frozen, enough to hold the weight of an SUV (trust me this is true). This will probably be the most rewarding view of your trip. You can either start early from Leh, visit Pangong and come back by nightfall or make it an overnight trip. There will however be no camping site at the banks of Pangong and you will either have to find accommodation at Tangste, Man or Merak. Food and facilities at this time will be very basic but the locals will provide you with hot water and a gas heater for the room.
Can you visit Nubra Valley in winter?
Answer to this question too is yes. Once again, like in the case of Pangong Tso, the only exception would be if Khardung La is closed due to heavy snowfall. If that happens, you will have to wait for BRO to clear the way and then you can make your trip to Nubra valley. You can either cover Nubra valley and return to Leh the same day or stay at Nubra for the night and go back to Leh the next day. Accommodation here too is limited during winter and you should plan to stay at either Diskit or Hunder. These places are your best option of finding a place to stay as compared to rest of the valley.
Can you visit Tso Moriri in winter?
Answer yet again is yes. You can visit Tso Moriri in winter via either of the two routes, Leh to Tso Moriri or Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri. Like Pangong Tso, Moriri too is completely frozen in winter and presents a magnificent sight. Unlike Pangong Tso which is a salt water lake, Moriri is a sweet water lake and you will find a lot of vegetation and may find even wild life around it. It is a sanctuary of migratory birds and a wetland reserve as well so well worth of spending some time. It is best recommended to make it a day trip however if you are travelling from Leh to Moriri direct as chances of find accommodation at Karzok is almost next to none in winter. Start early so you can comfortably make it back to Leh by evening. If you are able to find accommodation at Karzok, you may choose to stay. There is a hotel by the name of Hot Spring Resort in Chumathang which is pretty much the only option to stay in this area in winter. If you are not able to find a hotel in Karzok but to stay for the night, this hotel is where you should be headed to. Hotel is located right next to a hot water spring so definitely worth a stay.
Can you visit Hanle in winter?
This is the second route to Tso Moriri that I referenced above. You can chose to go to Moriri directly from Pangong Tso but be advised that you will need permits for this route, chances of getting which will be very low especially in winter.
Please read through the following article for information on obtaining permits in Ladakh.
If you are able to manage the permits though, then yes you can continue from Pangong to Hanle via Chushul, break the journey there for night and continue to Tso Moriri the next day via Loma, Nyoma, Mahe and Sumdo. There are two guest houses in Hanle. One is the observatory guest house which is not actually open for civilians. Other one is Sonam Guest house where you can stay; it is a decent enough place operational in winter season as well. In Hanle, you must pay a visit to highest altitude observatory in India.
What other places can you visit in Ladakh in winter?
Apart from the ones I mentioned above, there are several other places that you can include in your visit. A drive on the Srinagar Leh highway is highly recommended. You can either make it a day trip, drive as far as you want to go and return to Leh by evening. Or you can make it a 2 days trip with an overnight stop at Kargil. The road between Leh and Kargil remains open in peak winter as well so a drive to Kargil should not be a problem at all. Some other places that you can visit on Srinagar Leh highway are Magnetic Hill, Gurudwara Patthar Sahib, and Indus and Zanskar confluence. While in Leh, you can visit Leh palace, shay palace, and Shanti Stoopa. There are several monasteries both in Leh and on Srinagar Leh highway that you can pay a visit to.
Having said that, the big question again is what would be an ideal itinerary. Well it will depend on how many days you have in hand but I will provide a basic itinerary that you can follow. You can make adjustments to it as per your requirements, i.e., days available and places of choice.
Day 1 – Arrive in Leh: All the flights to Leh land there early in the morning so you will have an entire day that you can spend in the city. This will allow you to adjust to high altitude and the cold weather. Either spend this day at the hotel itself. If by evening you are feeling all right, you can visit Leh palace and Shanti Stoopa in Leh.
Day 2 – Leh: I will recommend that you spend the second day as well in Leh but if you are on short on time, you may remove it and move on to day 3. You can use this day to obtain permits if you are planning to visit Chushul and Hanle, planning and getting ready for your trip ahead.
Day 3 – Leh – Sham Valley – Kargil: Take a drive on Srinagar Leh highway. Visit Magnetic Hill, Indus and Zanskar confluence at Nimmu, Gurudwara Pather Sahib, Alchi, Likir, Basgo Palace. Stay for the night at Kargil.
Day 4 – Kargil – Leh: I am keeping this itinerary as broad as possible so added a day here for Kargil. If you do not wish to visit Kargil, remove this day and you would have returned to Leh on Day 3 itself.
Day 4: Leh – Khardung La – Diskit / Hunder: Visit Nubra Valley and stay overnight at either Diskit or Hunder. See sand dunes and Bactrian camel in Hunder and monasteries in Diskit.
Day 5: Diskit / Hunder – Panamik – Khardung La – Leh: Return to Leh after paying a visit to Panamik. See hot water springs in Panamik.
Day 6: Leh to Pangong Tso: Drive to Pangong. Stay overnight at Tangste.
Day 7: Pangong Tso to Leh: Return to Leh taking the same route.
Day 8: Leh to Tso Moriri: An early start in the morning is highly recommended if you are planning to make it a day trip. By early I do not mean 6 AM in the morning because that will be impossible considering the winter season. Start around 8 to 9 AM. Visit Tso Moriri. Stay in Karzok if you are able to find accommodation or else stay at Hot Springs Resort, Chumathang.
Day 9 – Tso Moriri to Leh: Return to Leh the next day
Day 10 – Rest in Leh
Day 11 – Fly back home
You can alter this itinerary in the following manner as well if you would like to add Chushul and Hanle to this.
Day 7: Pangong Tso to Hanle: Travel from Pangong Tso to Hanle via Chushul. Stay overnight at Sonam guest house, Hanle.
Day 8: Hanle to Tso Moriri: Leave for Karzok via Loma, Nyoma and Sumdo. Visit Tso Moriri. Stay in Karzok if you are able to find accommodation or else stay at Hot Springs Resort, Chumathang.
Day 9 – Tso Moriri to Leh: Return to Leh via Chumathang.
Day 10 – Rest in Leh
Day 11 – Fly back home
As I mentioned, this is a just a broader itinerary. You do not strictly have to follow it. Make adjustments depending on how many days long your trip is and what all places you wish to cover. An honest advice would be that you keep a couple of days as a buffer and book your return tickets accordingly. There is a high chance that you may get stuck at either of these places due to snowfall in which case your entire plan will chance and you may miss your return flight.
I hope this information was useful. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and ask and I would be glad to answer. If you have any further information like information on hotels and places people can stay, please add it in the comments section below so it can be useful for anyone planning to pay a visit.