Ladakh: Best Time to Visit and Top Things To Do
Photo: The stunning scenery in Ladakh
Is your bucket list filled with stunning places to visit like Paris, Rome, Italy, and other European countries? Well, you’re missing something on your big list! Have you ever heard of the beautiful place called “Ladakh”? Ladakh or the “land of high passes” is a vast area of desolate and untouched hills, valleys, and iced mountains located in the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir. It stands between two great mountain ranges, the Karakoram in the North all the way to the Himalayas in the South.
An aerial view of Ladakh will surely astonish you because it’s a picture bursting with colors – the seemingly all-white ice-capped mountains of Ladakh, the warm autumn hues of the vegetation in the temperate Kashmir valley, and the bright, lively colors of the subtropical region of Jammu. Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu are the three areas of the region which possess different climatic conditions. “Unique” and “magnificent” are both understatements when you describe this place. If the creation story is true, I assume that God indeed exerted a lot of effort and creativity when he made the region of Jammu and Kashmir. It’s a portrait of pure nature!
Ladakh is a stunning tourist destination but the weather there may not be very welcoming to tourists. Since it has an arctic climate, the weather of Ladakh is chilly (guaranteed hypothermia if you’re not wearing the right clothes) and harsh all year round. Ladakh has two climates – summer and winter. Yup, no spring and autumn which are your favorite seasons to visit places because of the forgiving weather.
Both seasons have their own overwhelming charms, and both are fit for travelling. It all boils down to the traveller’s preference and capability, really. In my opinion, the summer season is for the tourists while winter is for the seasoned traveller.
Winter (November to March)
The winter season can be very harsh for a trekker. The temperature can go down from 30°C to -35°C. Frostbites, avalanches, and heavy snowfall are the commonly occurring phenomena during this season. The entire Ladakh region is covered with snow and ice. Few travellers brave this season to visit Ladakh because of the unforgiving weather. Winter, no matter how harsh it is, offers a traveller a unique experience that cannot be found in the summer season. Don’t mind the cold, just immerse your body and soul in the unparalleled beauty of the Ladakh mountains.
Summer Season (April to September)
The summer season is the best time to visit Ladakh because the weather rises from an almost freezing point to 20-33°C. Ladakh transforms into a mountain paradise during this season – the skies are clear, the weather is cool, and the ice-capped mountains, as well as the lakes, start to melt, offering a panoramic view. Furthermore, the village passes and bridges resume their job of transporting vehicles in and out of the region in this season. If you still remember, the passes are mostly closed in the winter time. Summer is the most convenient time to go trekking that’s why it’s a peak season for tourists around the globe. Of course, trekking is not the only activity you can do in the summer. Read on for the top activities you can do during summer in Ladakh.
Things You Can Do During the Winter Season
1. Visit Pangong Lake
The Pangong lake is just utterly beautiful!
Pangong Tso is one of the largest brackish lakes in Asia. It sprawls through India and Tibet. It’ll take a 5-hour drive from the Ladakh region.
Pangong Tso is a symbol of excellent nature craftsmanship. The azure waters and the clear white sky are just astonishing! When sunlight strikes the surface of the lake, a million different colors are reflected.
During the winter, the once flowing lake freezes into thick ice. You can skate, drive your vehicle, and play cricket on the iced surface. An ice skating festival is organized on the lake where skiers and ice skaters of different nationalities gather. The temperature in this lake is beyond freezing so it’s impossible to stay there for long hours.
Foreigners need to acquire a permit to enter the Pangong Tso Lake and they should be accompanied by a guide.
2. Experience the Chadar Trek
Mountain passes, as well as some villages are closed during the winter season. The Chadar trek is a route where you can access the inaccessible. It connects villages situated deep in the Zanskar Valley to the road to Leh through the Zanskar River which is also frozen in wintertime. The surface of the river may be frozen but water still rushes underneath it so before you attempt to breeze your way through it, make sure you’re not carrying heavy loads, and a local porter is guiding you.
The frozen surface of the Zanskar River
The Chadar trek takes about a week on frozen river Zanskar. The river is surrounded by steep canyons where you can rest safely in the night. The trek is worth every risk because you get to bring home memorable moments that will forever be etched into memory – the simplicity of the life in the mountains, the breath-taking views of pristine solid lakes and ice-capped mountains, and you’ll experience what it’s like to be a modern caveman.
3. Celebrate with the locals
Tibetan Monks dances with the locals in the festivals
Winter may put every living thing in hibernation but not the spirit of the locals. Most festivals, especially the religious ones in Ladakh are held during winter time.
Dosmochey, Stok Guru Tsechu, Phyang Tsedup, Yuru Kabygat, and the Hemis Festival are among the grandest celebrations in Ladakh. Each of them lasts for a couple of days up to a week. These festivals are meant to give thanks to their Gods and to drive away evil spirits. Local monks host these festivals and take part it in. They dress in ornate robes, hang pieces of jewelry around their necks, and wear masks while singing and chanting to numerous praises and traditional folk songs.
Travellers and photographers celebrate with the locals during these colorful festivals.
Things You Can Do During the Summer Season
The Manali-Leh road is a paradise for bikers
Ladakh’s landscape is every real biker’s dream. The seemingly endless 475-km long and smooth highway of the Manali-Leh region lures bikers around the neighboring countries of India. The route is not only long, but it’s also ridiculously high. Can you imagine a highway road 17,500 ft above sea level? On the highest parts of the road, the infrastructure is not maintained very well so if you plan to rent a bike for the road, be sure to bring other safety tools too.
I’ll advise you to keep your vision on the road but men, you’ll be distracted by the indescribable beauty of the landscape that surrounds the road. I’m sure that traversing the Manali-Leh road will leave you in awe.
2. Rafting in Zanskar River
Rafting in the vast Zanskar River is an unparalleled experience. The river is like no other in the world. The river won’t be hailed as the “Grand Canyon of the Himalayas” for nothing – it’s one of the most navigable canyons worldwide.
Are you brave enough to raft through the rough waters of the Zanskar River?
Rafting in the river would take days, so if you’re only staying for a short time, you better put this activity in your priority list.
The most famous route is the extreme Phey-Nimmo route which will take days and will require a strong determination. Before you can actually do the 11-day strenuous rafting, you’d have to go through navigating the Zanskar region for 2-3 days and riding a rugged off-the-road jeep for a whole day in the Himalayan wilderness first. Yes, it would take a minimum of two weeks just to experience rafting in the Zanskar River. Fret not because the long trip is an adventure of a lifetime.
Other routes include the Upshi-Kharu route which is less intense than the Phey-Nimmo route, the Phey-Saspol route which is a short and relaxed route, and the Kharu-Spituk route which is perfect for first timers and amateurs.
Ladakh is not only every biker’s dream but it’s also in every trekker’s bucket list. Trekking is the common activity of tourists in Ladakh. For those wanting to explore the great Himalayan mountains, the only way is to trek through it.
Ladakh stands 2750 – 7672 meters above sea level and is carved with incredible landforms such as terrains, rocky cliffs, high peaks, and luscious vegetation. A trek to the whole Ladakh region will take you in another world.
There are several trails for trekking in Ladakh. It will depend on preference, your schedule, and the difficulty level you want. Listed below are some of the popular treks in Ladakh and details about each trek.
This is one of the pasture lands you’ll see along the way during the Markha Valley Trek
The Markha Valley Trek is one of the most famous treks and would take 6 to 7 days to complete. It combines hiking, traversing landscapes, visiting Buddhist monasteries, remote mountain villages, and vast pasture lands. Since it runs for a week, you can rest through homestays with hospitable Tibetan families in villages that you’ll pass along the way. The landscapes that you’ll witness are very wealthy with vegetation and dramatic too. The Markha Valley Trek is availed by most tourists so homestays and trails can get pretty crowded especially in the peak season/summer season.
Be thrilled to see hidden villages in the valley of Ladakh
Another frequently chosen trek of tourists would be the Hidden Valleys of Ladakh, Zanskar Range Trek which runs for 9-10 days. The trek follows the Zanskar mountain range beyond the Indus Valley. This route will expose you to the bold beauty of the terrains and the hidden valleys of the region. Also, you’ll get to pass by Buddhist monasteries, ancient forts, and homestays where you can rest the cold nights away. The journey continues to the lake of TSO Moriri in Rupshu where you can take a dip. Don’t forget to bring your camping gear – tent, sleeping bags, etc. because with this route, there will be some days where there are no villages in sight, making it impossible to do homestays.
Stop by this brackish pond on your way to the Nubra Valley
Next is the Nubra Valley Trek which will take 7 to 8 days. Some consider this route as the most beautiful in Ladakh. It also offers a full view of the Karakoram ranges. You’ll also visit Buddhist Gompa’s and curio shops where you’ll be fascinated with the lives and culture of the Buddhist monks. Furthermore, you’ll get to traverse the Khardung Pass which is the highest motorable road in the world at 17,590 feet. You also have the option of riding camels and vehicles that will cut the trek short, only 2-3 days.
The Changthang Plateau hides behind this mountain
Next in our line-up is the Kharnak trek which will run for two weeks or 15 days. It offers a high-altitude trek where you’ll cross the highest mountain passes in the Ladakh region. This trek uniquely features a visit to the Changthang plateau which is not offered by other routes. The plateau is the residence of yak-carrying nomads who frequently move from one place in search of greener pastures. The Puga Valley which is also located in the Changthang valley, accommodates a few rare wild animals – black-necked cranes, bar-headed geese, and Brahiminy ducks.
The great Tsomoriri lake in broad daylight
Lastly, we have the Rumptse to Tsomoriri Trek which can be completed within 8 to 9 days. The biggest reward of this Trek is the Tsomoriri Lake which happens to be the highest-altitude lake in India. The lake is mesmerizing! In addition to the Tsomoriri lake, you’ll also be passing through several mountain passes, a dozen river crossings, and endless isolated lands. The landscapes you’ll encounter on this route are so surreal that they seem out of this world.
You’re a real traveller if you braved winter time in Ladakh
Ladakh truly is the embodiment of mother nature. No mountain range can ever compare to the grandeur of the Karakoram and the Himalayas. The ice-capped mountain ranges will surely overwhelm you with a feeling of bliss. But do not be impressed yet because behind the towering mountains, you’ll surprisingly find hidden gems of pristine lakes, valleys, and human settlements. A visit to the Ladakh region will guarantee a combination of adventure, learning, discovery, and a sense of gratitude to God or to the entity who created Ladakh’s great landscapes.