The region of Ladakh in Kashmir is one of the most astounding places you can visit in all of India. You mustn’t let its harsh terrains deter you. Nestled between gigantic mountain ranges, Ladakh is a destination of sublime beauty. It is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world with a fascinating history and cultural significance. What makes Ladakh different from its neighbouring regions of Kashmir is that it falls under the rain shadow of the Himalayas, which means that the giant mountain ranges deny entry to rain clouds into Ladakh. This is why Ladakh is often categorized as a high altitude desert – one that can get pretty darn cold, paradoxically.
With Tibet to the east and Kashmir to the west, Leh (aka ‘Little Tibet’) is the largest city and the capital of Ladakh. It is the most well connected city in the region, with seasonal road access and an airport. It is an absolutely stunning place to explore in itself.
Together with rich history, the regions of Leh and Ladakh are known all over the world for their vast and surreal landscape. With extreme geography and weather conditions throughout the year, including some of the tallest mountain ranges in the world, deserted landscapes, frozen rivers and glaciers, visiting Ladakh is like embarking on a journey to a new planet. But before you start prepping for your trip, it is crucial to understand which time of the year suits you best. Weather here plays a major role in deciding the best time to visit – although, admittedly, many adventure-minded travellers look forward to the frozen Zanskar river (chadar) trek in the frosty winter. This is not everyone’s cup of tea, obviously, and there are only a few windows of opportunity that allow you to visit Ladakh without facing extreme weather conditions and accessibility trouble. Each time of the year has its perks of travelling to Ladakh, but many feel that the best time to visit falls in the months from May to August. This is when the atmosphere is freshly energized with summer in full bloom and softened snow. End of August is a great window for those keen on avoiding the influx of tourists. With this in mind, here is a comprehensive guide to the best time to visit Leh-Ladakh.
Seasons in Ladakh
Owing to its high altitude and the aforementioned rain shadow, Ladakh is generally a cold and dry place. The temperature varies between the extremes of -20 to 20 degrees Celsius throughout the year.
The best time to visit Ladakh and the overall tourist season in the region appears to be between end of April to the first week of August. This is when the region experiences the best road accessibility and the guesthouses and hotels are open for business. But every season in Ladakh brings with it its own experiences. The vibrant atmosphere of summertime faces stiff competition from the arresting hues of autumn, for instance. Lets take a closer look at the seasons:
Spring (March to May)
The temperature in Ladakh during spring ranges from -15 to a high of 16 degrees Celsius. The month of March marks the tail end of winter, and so is still quite cold, especially during the nights when it goes sub-zero. In mid-April though, the region starts to warm up and the great lakes like Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri begin to melt. By the second week of May, the Srinagar-Leh highway opens up and brings with it a grand influx of tourists. Most of the guesthouses, hotels and restaurants in the region are open during this time.
May and June are the most bustling months in Ladakh, and also some of the most colourful.
Summer (June to August)
June witnesses high tourist season in Ladakh, since both the Zoji La (Srinagar-Leh highway) and Rohtang La (Manali-Leh) routes are open. The first week of June is still considered treacherous for Rohtang La because of freshly melted ice and landslides. The temperature in June drops to as low as 7 degrees Celsius to a high and pleasant 21 degrees Celsius. Mid June is the best time to do the fabled Srinagar-Leh-Manali circuit. The Saka Dawa, Yuru Kabgyat and the Hemis festivals take place during this time in Ladakh, and the atmosphere is generally cheerful and vibrant. July and August bring slight monsoon and a chance of cloudbursts in the region. The festivals of Stongday, Karsha, Dakthok and Phyang take place during this period.
Autumn (September and October)
The roads are still accessible till mid September to Ladakh, although the high tourist season has come to an end. This means that you might get a cheaper deal for your stay at a guesthouse. However, you might find many campsites closed during this time. The weather and colours of autumn are amazing – with a pleasant chill in the air and deep blue lakes that glimmer in the sunlight. Come October, and the temperature starts dipping back down to sub zero and most of the establishments close down. The snowfall begins in the higher altitude areas of the region. Tourist influx is very little but still present.
Winter (November to February)
Winter brings with it heavy snowfall that causes all the road access to shut down. The only way to get to Leh from this point is by air. The great lakes start to freeze and fresh water becomes scarce. Thick ice sheets cover the lakes and plains during this time and the landscape becomes a surreal mix of shades of white and grey. The month of January witnesses only sub zero temperatures. Zanskar river freezes over during this time, and this opens you up to the extremely difficult and enticing Chadar trekking route which involves trekking along the frozen river to reach the Zanskar gorge. It is only recommended for advanced and experience trekkers.
All in all, Leh and Ladakh can be a mix of adventure and relaxation according to the time you visit. To know more and for help with planning your perfect customized itinerary, get in touch with TripFactory!