Leh in Winter
Ladakh, a district of erstwhile big state Jammu and Kashmir, was reborn as union territory in 2019. Every journey in the territory starts from Leh, a touristy town that becomes quiet in winter. The harsh winter applies brakes to life here. Most of the shops keep their shutters down; lanes and by lanes remain empty. Festival venues in the deserted town fill to brim even in winter.
Leh is well connected to national capital of India. At least five airlines fly on Leh - New Delhi route: Air India, Go Air, Indigo, Spice Jet, and Vistara. Although planes fly year-round in favorable weather yet winter may affect the frequency for less traffic. Sudden emergencies, like COVID pandemic, may snap all the air links. A small basic airport does not allow passengers before 06:00am. Photography is prohibited at this defense airport. Book airport taxi in advance and have enough extra time, especially, for early morning flight during winter. In case the taxi breaks down, repair would be difficult. Leh - Manali road is closed in winter for heavy snowfall. In winter, air transport is thus the sole link between Leh and rest of the country.
Local buses ply within Leh town. The buses also stop at the airport. Non-shared and shared local taxis are available at the airport and near entry gate of the town and the main market.
Buses run between Leh and other parts of Ladakh from Polo Ground and the main bus stand. Check the schedule a day in advance. Prior reservation is permitted for some of these routes.
On foot: If you are a regular hiker or trekker, you can walk around the town that is not very big.
Eat, Sleep, Stay
In tourist season, summer, Leh offers a wide variety of boarding and lodging. Nonetheless, winter, an offseason, offers very few choices for stay and food. Only limited number of guesthouses, homestays, and hotels operate. For example, to name a few, Grand Dragon Hotel, an upend hotel; Sia La guesthouse, a midend guest house; and Leh Palace View guesthouse, a budget place remain open during winter. The accommodations may charge extra for heating. Only bucketed water is provided on request as water in pipes freezes.
Only postpaid SIMs of Airtel, B.S.N.L, and Jio, work well in Leh. However, bad weather may affect the signals. Internet cafes primarily remain closed in winter.
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District Leh, Ladakh, India
Life slows down in entire Ladakh during winter. Even government offices work slowly. If you want a permit for remote restricted areas of the union territory, keep enough extra time than you assign in summer. At the same time, tourist traffic would trickle in permit office.
Leh has more than one petrol pump.
Money, Bank, ATMs…
Both Jammu and Kashmir Bank
(J&K Bank) and State Bank of India (S.B.I.) have branches and A.T.Ms in and around the main market.
Winter in high altitude cold desert is taxing. So,
1. Acclimatize well.
2. Bring good quality woolens to survive harsh winter.
3. Keep yourself warm.
4. Do not travel in sandals and bathroom slippers. Wear comfortable woolen socks and shoes.
5. Drink sufficient amount of liquids. Maintain desired hydration level as dry cold wind quickly steals moisture.
6. Eat enough.
7. Sleep well.
8. Do check Ladakh-specific COVID guidelines for the next trip.