My love for Leh started way back in 2009 and since then not a year has passed by without me visiting this heavenly place. After doing enough trips to Leh via bike, car, plane or whatever mode of transportation you can think of, during the tourist season (June – Sept), I decided to do something different; Leh in winters.A deep-seated desire for new challenges or my affection for the mountains, whatever the reason may be it was worth it! If you were bedazzled by its beauty in summers , you got to see it in winters.
Sheer beauty!! The town looks completely mesmerizing and captivating with blanket of snow all around it. The outskirts of Leh and the town itself, turns into a magical land, covered in snow flurry. One does not go to Leh in winters with a specific schedule (If you planning to do so think again!) The alluring beauty comes at a cost. Unexpected snow storms can throw your schedule or delay you flights for days!! So be prepared for it.
Freezing temperatures tend to turn every pool in town into an ice hockey rink. An irrigation pond in summers, Karzoo Dzing, becomes the talk of town and central attraction for ice hockey lovers, not only from the town but also from around the world. You can see people of all ages flocking around to be a part of the game or just grab a cup of tea and enjoy the lazy morning. The rink also hosts a Ladakh-Canada ice hockey tournament every year.
How to go?
There are a number of flights from Delhi to Leh but the frequency reduces around February. During my visit, only jet and go-air were operating. Cheapest option is to take early 6am flight that lands around 7:30am in the valley of Leh. There is absolutely no other way to reach Leh during winters. And don’t forget to take the window seat with your camera in hand. It is totally worth it.
When to go?
Considering the climatic change it is difficult to be specific, but the best bet would be late winters: i.e. around February. By February, Leh has already been through majority of the snow fall, providing a certain amount of predictability to the weather. The clear blue skies and snow-white town will make it picture perfect for all budding landscape photographers. To visit nearby places one can hire a taxi. If you are lucky, with clear skies for few days, you might be able to visit Khardung-la and Tso Pangong as well.
Where to stay?
Now that’s a trick one. Most or almost all resorts and regular tourist hotels are closed except for few of those that are run by locals. You might need to lower you expectations and priorities while searching for one! Rather than looking for “which ones got a better view?” or “which one has a room service” you go for “which one is open? “. Found one? Stick to it! Hotels will generally provide you one bucket of water for the day. Leh is a cold desert and things get worst during winters, but there is abundance of water in other forms (ice and snow :) ). Electricity has a fixed schedule so please confirm with your hotel owner and be ready to charge your phones (A piece of advice – Leave your smartphones back home. Shortage of electricity, freezing weather and bad reception will make your smartphone no more than a piece of paper weight. Get hold of old and reliable Nokia, that run for days :) ).One can call up all the local hotels beforehand and try to get a place booked or do as I did; Grab the taxi from the airport and ask the driver to take you to an available hotel in town (In place like Leh cab drivers know about more hotels than Google itself).
If you ever been to Himalayas or thought of planning a trip, then you must be aware of A.M.S. (Acute mountain sickness).It is an effect of high altitude on human body. With the rise in altitude the atmospheric pressure drops (thin air) with decrease in oxygen levels, triggering exhaustion followed by possible A.M.S. Symptoms include headaches, stomach illness, dizziness and sleep disturbance ( In short goodbye vacations). There is a good reason why people go to Leh by road. Ascend becomes gradual hence providing more time for the body to get acclimatized. Unfortunately, during winter, you have to fly in from Delhi. That means you reach an altitude of 11000 feet from 750 feet within 1 hour. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one has to brave the rapid fall in temperature along with high possibility of A.M.S. Once in Leh, give your body a day to acclimatize to the weather before you plan to travel around. Reduce any physical activity and increase the intake of fluids.
Leh weather conditions can be ruthless and break down the best of the athletes. So please don’t try to test your fitness levels. Plan a day or two for rest and then enjoy the enchanting beauty of Ladakh “The roof of the world”.
This trip was originally published on 'Jas A Drifter'.