When I had first booked a flight to Leh in the winter of 2013, it was really uncharted territory. Everyone said that all hotels in Leh are closed in the winters and I will freeze to death. By then I had travelled to remote areas on my own and known that most things are hearsay and that I should not believe what everyone else says.
Anyway, it was not meant to be and my tickets were cancelled. My parents were shell shocked when they learnt about my crazy travel plans and a drama meant I ended up not going to Leh. It was as if the same story repeated year after year until I finally boarded the flight in January 2015. I had finally been able to see white paradise.
While every website on the internet screamed ‘Chadar Trek’, that made me wonder about other things to do in Leh in the winters. Contrary to public opinion, the flight from Delhi to Leh was nearly full and there were a number of tourists (mostly foreigners) on it. Upon a random conversation with a many time winter traveller, even the homestay worries were quelled.
It was quite logical to understand that all locals couldn’t just go out of Leh win the winter months and shut shop. Life goes on irrespective of weather issues and there are many homestays that are open.
A taxi ride from the airport to Fort Road in Leh cost Rs. 170/- and was shared with other passengers. Life seems normal once the sun is out or when you are inside the warm kitchen. Other times you can just freeze. There are few shops and eateries that are open but it is a lifesaver for a first time winter traveller to know that at least there is someplace to go and eat. Anyway, a person coming to Ladakh in the winter is sure to have an adventurous streak and this uncertainty only adds to the thrill.
The Muslim bakeries are all open and the markets are bustling with people from far away places who have come to meet their relatives. The tea lane near Polo Ground is a lesson in the culture of chai drinking, butter is applied generously on freshly baked naan and khambir and other varieties while everyone sits for some old fashioned conversations with their choice of tea.
If the Srinagar-Leh road is still open, then there is a great chance of savouring fresh vegetables even in the crazy cold. Watch what you eat, though : Yummy looking oranges can make you catch a cold when you eat them in the confines of your room. A local recommendation when you eat anything raw is to sit in the sun, let the vegetable or fruit thaw for a little bit and only then eat it!
Moti Market is open and offers a great bargain for buyers looking for fancy looking shoes and winter wear. So technically, you could arrive in Leh with a limited repertoire of warm clothes and yet find a way to buy goodies for the rest of your trip. A better collection of locally made sweaters, socks, etc is found in the shops of Nowshera market though.
I was quite surprised to see a few people wearing a single jacket and a solitary track pant and still managing the cold. Upon some enquiries, I understood that buying a down jacket in Leh is a lovely idea if you know someone trustworthy who knows about the quality. These extremely warm track pants and down jackets can be brought for 1500 and 2500 respectively.
Although I never buy my apricots and other dry fruits from the dry fruit sellers of Leh, conversations with them are some of my favourite pastimes. Plus, I also come to know the prices of various products that they are selling so that I can procure them myself from either Nubra Valley (Best apricots in Turtuk), Tsetsalulu jam (Seabuckthorn jam) from the co-operative in Sumur, grape wine from three hidden villages (shhh.) and apricot oil from a trusted person whoever that may be. These dry fruit sellers are a fantastic people for a peek into the diverse culture of Leh.
Then there are the dogs, or rather ‘Gangs of dogs’ – They are genteel and sleepy during the day but suddenly turn ferocious in the night. It can be quite unnerving to walk in Leh in winters after it becomes dark. Electricity is still only available for 4-5 hours from 6 in the evening till 11 in the night.
Do not think that Leh closes down in the winter! It is open in parts and the traveller is sure to find what they are looking for. Shared transport runs everywhere and the hubs are Polo Ground, Skalzangling & Choglamsar – depending on the various regions you want to go.
More posts on Winter in Ladakh :
- Khardung La in Winter : Part 1
- Walking into the past along the frozen Indus in Ladakh
- Musings from the one home village of Yurutse at 4200m
- Practical tips for winter travel in Ladakh