A lot of people ask me this many a times on the blog to suggest best time to Travel to Leh – Ladakh and I thought it is better to pen it down in an article so that it helps others too and does not repeat on the blog all over again and again.
Well, there are two roads that lead you to Leh Ladakh viz. Srinagar – Leh Highway and Manali – Leh Highway and both of them generally remain closed for more than 6 months from November to April or Mid-May every year because of heavy snowfall on various mountain passes that comes on these adventure roads. So, the only time to travel by road to Leh – Ladakh is from Mid-May to Mid – October types with second half of October being a risky affair to travel and May being the only likely option for Srinagar – Leh Highway as Manali – Leh Highway generally opens by June first week or late May. But, still the question is, “What is the best time to travel in these 5-6 months?”
Those beautiful curves over Srinagar – Kargil Highway…
April to Mid-May
April is the month when tourists or travellers from all parts of the world start to come in to Ladakh. Restaurants start either to open or to setup for the season. So, are the guest houses, camps at Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri lakes starts to setup. By second week of May, generally the Srinagar – Leh Highway opens and influx of tourists starts to get into Ladakh. Supplies flow in along with fresh vegetables and fruits, hence the life come to normalcy.
In late April, all lakes including Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri start to melt and by mid-May they completely melt and starts radiating the ever beautiful blue hues under sunlight. Tourists / Travellers coming in, gets heavy discounts as it is the onset of season and with least tourists around, it is better place to be.
The passes, both Khardung La and Chang La, are under heaps of snow and passing through them is quite an experience in itself. Carrying shades/glares/goggles is highly recommended at this time of the year.
Mid-May to July
As I said, in May, most likely you will only find Srinagar – Leh to be open, so if you are interested in complete circuit then it is not the right time. In June beginning, Manali road just opens with opening of Rohtang Pass. For the initial 7-10 days the roads are pretty much unstable with common snow slides and intermittent blockages also happens but gradually it settles down. And from Mid of June to July just before the onset of monsoon season, it is a very nice time to travel and indeed a lot of people undertake the road journey to Ladakh at this specific window only.
It is perfect time for those who want to enjoy snow around the road and drive through the snow walls of Rohtang Pass / Rani nalla and sometime Baralacha La too :)… However, keep in mind that Snow starts to melt which means, ferocious water crossings and rivers are pretty common in this period. Later you will reach at a water crossing in the day, slim are the chances to cross it. So, plan to leave early in the day and reach early in the day on destination.
August to Mid-September
In this period Monsoons are on full flurry and rivers, water crossings go ferocious at times when rains are running around. Landslides are common too in this period. However, there is a catch, that the region beyond Zozi La Pass towards Leh from Srinagar side and beyond Baralacha La pass towards Leh from Manali side, being rain shadow region do not get much affected by rains. But, definitely you will be facing the monsoon music up to Baralacha La pass from Manali side and Zozila Pass from Srinagar side. Of course, as happening for last 2-3 years Rohtang Pass most likely to be a nightmare in this period.
Even the rain shadow region definition is changing now and we have started getting rains in Ladakh too or at least over cast conditions with slight drizzle every now and then. So, be ready for surprises even in rain shadow region of Ladakh though not much or major unless it changes drastically in coming years.
Mid-September to Mid-October
Personally, this is my favourite season to Travel to Ladakh with burning colors all over in full glory. Post monsoon, the region becomes devoid of water and moisture too and chill starts to set in with intermittent snowfall. But, the colours of fall/autumn are almost burning with beauty all over the Srinagar – Leh, Manali – Leh roads and of course Ladakh. The road conditions also improve a bit in comparison to the rest of the season, in fact the best roads of the season since the maintenance works also settles by that time.
Even the water crossings are timid in flow with less water in them and are easy to pass by. The rivers are turned aqua blue again giving an entirely different aura to the regions. Your body is at max exposure of UV rays and due to lack of moisture, it become difficult to acclimatize as well. But, beauty on offer is worth anything 😀
Also, it is time when some camps have closed, packed up and some still run. There are occasional snowfall as well which might close the road for a day or two temporarily. And also, Raid-De-Himalayas rally also happen in this window which also disturbs you as traveler to some extent. I will suggest that you DO read: 5 Reasons to Avoid Manali – Leh Highway in October
Mid-October to Mid-November
This is the period when cold has settled into Tran Himalayas completely with sub-zero temperatures at almost all places above 14000 feet especially over Manali – Leh highway and high altitude lakes. The colors though are still beautiful in the region, tourists have almost gone away and only few brave ones remain.
Most of the guest houses, hotels and restaurants are closed by this time along with camps at lakes which are up by last week of September. Dhabhas and camps at Manali – Leh Highway are also deserted and locals go away to their homes to get ready for the hibernation in cold winters.
Though both Manali – Leh and Srinagar – Leh remain open unofficially, it is highly not recommended to travel over them especially Manali – Leh with such cold conditions, with least shelter available and black ice on roads that makes driving very risky affair. Black ice is quite common in this period, in fact it starts to appear in October starting as well at some of the places though does not last longer in early stages or winter season.
Also DO read: 5 Reasons to Avoid Manali – Leh Highway in October
Mid-November to March
This period is the coldest period in Ladakh where January is the coldest month of all seasons and Ladakh is cut-off from rest of the world by road. Only few brave and bold tourists are around even though the roads to Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso Lake over Khardung La Pass and Chang La Pass respectively are kept open all round the year barring few days of heavy snowfall. Mid-January to Mid-March is also the time when many adventure tourists come to Leh – Ladakh to walk over frozen Zanskar River from Padum in Zanskar Valley to Leh, popularly known as Chadar Trek
In this period, you are on the mercy of extreme cold. Snowfall as well is pretty common and mingled with high altitude terrain, it makes life difficult to survive and acclimatize as well. Key is to take rest, ample of rest in the initial days. Then, gradually start over reaching other high altitude places. The food options are very limited and most of the restaurants lives are deserted as their cook are out to their homes.
From November to December / Mid-January types, if the sun is shining the colors in the Lakes such as Pangong Tso or Tso Moriri are breathtaking but the options of stay near them are none or limited just to Home Stays in nearing villages which very basic facilities to brave the extreme cold.
After Mid-January, both Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri along with other high altitude lakes start to freeze and become solid as earth as you can literally drive your car over it, leave alone walking over it :)… These lakes remain frozen almost up to May first week type. So, those looking forward to see the magical changing colors of these lakes with sunlight in the day, shall refrain themselves from making a trip to Ladakh from Mid-January to early May, that is almost for 5 months.
Are you still confused?? Don’t worry 😉 … I will suggest if you want to see heaps of snow and have full adventure in place then you must execute your road trip to Ladakh starting June first/second week up to mid of July types.
However, if you are more interested in nature’s lovely colours pallet and may be you are very much into photography then late season is the time, you do not really want to miss out on i.e. mid-September up to first week of October when colours are oozing out vividly all over Ladakh!!