High-altitude Ladakh, in the far northern Indian Himalayas, has an extreme climate with a long and brutal winter. Hence, the most popular and best time to visit Ladakh is during the region's summer when the snow on the high passes melts (that is, unless you're heading there for adventure travel!).
The climate in Ladakh is divided into only two season: four months of summer (from June until September) and eight months of winter (from October until May).
Summer temperatures are pleasant and range from 15-25 degrees Celsius (59-77 degrees Fahrenheit). Winters are really cold though! The temperature can drop as low as -40 degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit.
- If you want to beat the tourist rush and get discounted accommodations, visit Ladakh in late April or May when the weather is starting to warm up and businesses are beginning to re-open.
- If you want to see plenty of snow but experience warmer weather, and don't mind the crowds, visit Ladakh during June or July.
- Alternatively, the bursts of colorful leaves on trees make mid-September until mid-October picturesque. Temperatures start dropping and the tourist season is over, so it's much quieter.
Getting to Ladakh
Flights to Leh (the erstwhile royal capital of Ladakh) operate all year round. Roads within Ladakh are also open throughout the year. However, the passes leading into Ladakh are buried under snow during the colder months.
Therefore, if you wish to drive (the scenery is spectacular and it helps with acclimatization, although the two day journey is long and grueling), the time of year will be an important consideration.
There are two roads to Ladakh:
- Manali-Leh Highway -- the most popular route. It through five high mountain passes including Rohtang Pass in the Pir Panjal range, and three passes in the Zanskar range (Baralacha Pass, Lachulung Pass, and Taglang Pass at 17,480 feet above sea level). This route does have a steep ascent, which may cause altitude sickness. It's open from around mid-June until early October. However, travel becomes risky from mid-September onward due to chance of snow, and reduced options for accommodations and transport (many buses and taxis stop running). Read more about visiting Manali in this Manali travel guide.
- Srinagar-Leh Highway (NH 1D) -- the most reliable and least challenging route. It runs alongside the Indus River and via Zoji Pass, Drass (the second coldest inhabited place on Earth), Kargil, and Fotu Pass (the highest pass on the route at an altitude of 13,479 feet above sea level). It's usually open from mid-May or early June until the end of October or mid-November. However, July and August are best avoided, as you'll have to contend with both monsoon rain and the bulk of pilgrims going on the Amarnath Yatra. In addition, some people may wish to avoid Srinagar and Kashmir due to the ongoing civil unrest there. Read more about visiting Srinagar in this Srinagar travel guide.
You can check the open or closed status of both roads on this website.
Adventure Travel in Ladakh
The main trekking season extends from June to September in Ladakh. However, the Chadar Trek is a renowned winter trek in the region. From mid-January until the end of February, the Zanskar River forms a slab of ice so thick that it's possible for humans to walk across it. It's the only way in and out of the snow-bound Zanskar region. The Chadar Trek, with durations ranging from seven to 21 days, moves from cave to cave along this icy "road".
Hemis National Park is open all year round but the best time to visit to spot the elusive snow leopard is between December and February, when it comes down to the valleys.
Festivals in Ladakh
One of the highlights of visiting Ladakh is experiencing the state's unique festivals. The most popular ones occur as follows:
- Sindhu Darshan Festival (June) -- performing arts and culture on the banks of the Sindhu River.
- Hemis Festival (June or July) -- two days of traditional music, colorful masked dances, and a fair full of striking handicrafts at Hemis Monastery.
- Ladakh Marathon (September) -- various running races in and around Leh, for Indian and international competitors.
- Ladakh Festival (September) -- the tourist season winds up in Leh with the biggest festival of the region. It features a captivating street procession, polo matches, archery shows, cultural performances, and handicraft exhibitions.
- Nubra Festival (September) -- folk dances and music at different villages.
- Thiksey Festival (November) -- the annual two day gustor ritual at Thiksey Monastery.
- Losar (December or January) -- a 15 day festival that marks the beginning of the New Year in Ladakh. The main celebrations happen on the first three days.
- Spituk Festival (January or February) -- the annual two day gustor ritual at Spituk Monastery.
- Dosmoche (February) -- a grand two day celebration of good over evil, originally started by Ladakh royalty, at Leh Palace, and Diskit and Likir monasteries.
- Nagrang Festival (February or March) -- the highlight of this annual festival at Matho Monastery is the appearance of trance oracles that perform stunning acts and give predictions.
A copy of the annual festival calendar with dates for 2018-2020 can be downloaded here.
More About Leh and Ladakh
Plan your trip with this Leh Ladakh travel guide.