Winter is usually an off-season time to visit the mountains. However, recent years have witnessed a significant footfall of tourists even in extreme areas such as Spiti and Ladakh. Everyone wants to experience snow, and that is completely understandable, but we all need to be aware of the risks involved in doing so.
Recently, 5 succumbed to death and 5 others were trapped as an avalanche hit Khardungla Pass in Ladakh. Even though an avalanche is a natural hazard that we don't have control over, it is important that we as travellers, make informed and responsible decisions while planning trips.
Know the reality before you plan a trip
Most of us are so enamoured with stories and pictures that romanticise winter season in these regions that we barely stop and think about the ground realities. Here are a few things you should be aware of:
1. If you're heading to Spiti and Ladakh between January - March, you should know that temperatures can dip as low as -30°C. For an average city-dweller, this temperature difference is of at least 35°C; it is even worse if you're coming from a coastal area.
2. Did you know that during such low temperatures, water freezes in pipes? This means that even carrying out daily chores is a difficult task. Locals melt snow for their water needs, and the same water is used for as many chores as possible. So forget about luxuries like taking a bath and using the washroom – yes you have to do your business in dry pits, out in the open.
3. Spiti and Ladakh don't only receive excessive snowfall, but are also remote locations that do not have electricity around the clock. In fact, some places in these regions have power cuts that last as long as a month, if not more! Be prepared to stay unconnected with the outer world and without any access to conveniences like heaters or heating blankets.
4. The two regions anyway do not have too many ATMs, and the ones that are present do not operate during winter. If you're heading during this time, ensure that you have enough cash on you as you may get stranded in one place for days.
5. There are major inconveniences of surviving through the winter in these regions that most of us are not aware of. We wouldn't think that petrol and diesel in cars could freeze overnight – but they do. We wouldn't even imagine holding a metal railing and getting stuck to it because of freezing cold – but that happens too! It is very important to read about the conditions in these regions and be mentally prepared beforehand rather than getting a shock when you reach.
6. It is also important that you read weather prediction reports for the days you are visiting. In case there are avalanche or blizzard warnings, simply change your dates of visit rather than taking a fatal risk. Visiting all these places during winter always comes with an additional risk, so go well prepared, or don't go at all.
Travelling is fun and adventure is great, but when you are travelling to extreme places during winter, planning is key.