Ladakh In Winters – Mini Road Trips To Tourist Attractions

NH 1 Milestones in Ladakh
NH 1 Milestones

Ladakh in winters typically means Chadar Trek. But not all of us can do trekking in the extreme weather of Ladakh winters. Does this mean Ladakh is out of bound for us in winters ? Thankfully No. There are mini road trips that you can do with Leh as your base location in Ladakh. Where you can comfortably stay in centrally heated hotels like our host The Grand Dragon Hotel. I spent 4 days in Ladakh to discover these absolutely scenic road trips from Leh.

Ladakh – Road Trips

Drive to Chilling via Magnetic Hill

Blue Zanskar River, typical Ladakh in winters
Blue Zanskar River, typical Ladakh in winters

Chilling is the starting point of famous Chadar Trek that happens in winters on the Zanskar River when it is frozen. And trekkers walk on this frozen river. However, if like me, you are not the trekking kinds but still want to enjoy the river & mountain landscape of Ladakh in winters – take a short drive to Chilling. That takes you along the Zanskar River.

Confluence of Indus & Zanskar in Ladakh
Confluence of Indus & Zanskar

Confluence Point of Zanskar & Indus River

On this drive, you must include the confluence point of Zanskar and Indus River. This is one of the most beautiful and discreet confluences that I have seen. Muddy green Indus flows from Leh and merges with the pristine blue Zanskar. For a distance, the waters flow in parallel. Demarcated by a thin layer of frozen water, as if moving together while remaining independent. It is a sight to relish when you see streams of blue and green water flowing together. Typical winter Ladakh images to cherish if you are yet to visit Leh Ladakh.

Frozen Ice patterns on Zanskar. Ladakh in winters
Frozen Ice patterns on Zanskar. Ladakh in winters

Freezing Rivers

In January, you would see the edges of the rivers freezing and the pieces of frozen ice floating in the river. As you drive up the Zanskar River towards Chilling, the blue waters of the river by the icy frame would mesmerize you. At places, the river is more or less frozen and the stream of water flowing below it can only be heard. At other places, the frozen ice would showcase the frosty ice color and the pattern would let your imagination go wild.

I have never done a more beautiful riverside drive than a drive to Chilling in Ladakh.

Magnetic Hill

Not to forget you pass the magnetic hill on way to Chilling. I personally did not experience the magnetic field, but many fellow travelers had stories to tell. Truth is that the hills here are full of iron ore. It is absolutely possible that these hills have more magnetic force than other hills and that may impact the large iron based vehicles.

You can do this drive from Leh in half a day. That is a good time to stay out of your hotel in winters.

Drive to Lamayuru via Moonscapes

Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh
Lamayuru Monastery

Lamayuru or Lamawu as it is called in Ladakh is one of the oldest monastery and monastery towns in Ladakh. Highlight of this drive were frozen waterfalls. I do not think I would ever be able to do justice to what I felt when I saw that frozen waterfall. It was like a moment in time that is frozen. Till I saw this I would have never thought that flowing water could ever be frozen in time. You would see many big and small such falls on the roadside. Yes, you can see them without really doing the Chadar Trek. These frozen waterfalls make Ladakh images immensely popular.

Frozen waterfall on way to Lamayuru, Ladakh in winters
Frozen waterfall on way to Lamayuru, Ladakh in winters

Depending on what time of the day you are driving, the light would keep changing the landscape in front of you. The barren mountains come alive when the shaft of light puts all the focus on them. Sometimes, sunlight illuminates only a part of the mountain creating a unique scene just for your eyes. Photographers get various opportunities to capture unique Ladakh images.

Entrance to Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh
Entrance to Lamayuru Monastery

Lamayuru Monastery

Perched on top of a hill like Dhankar Monastery in Spiti Valley, this monastery makes the whole landscape even more picturesque. Standing on rocks that look fragile like termite hills the whole monastery and in fact, the village looks like a fragile scene passing before your eyes. Your guide will, of course, tell you that nine lamas came and set up this monastery a few centuries ago. And this monastery has been hanging there since then. Though a large monastery that accommodates hundreds of Lamas, it is a rather simple monastery with painted outer walls and simple interiors. Like all hilltop monasteries, this monastery also provides a vantage point to see the landscape surrounding it.

Moonscape in Ladakh
Salt & Pepper Landscape also called Moonscape. Ladakh in winters


Just before you reach Lamayuru from Leh, you see the haphazard landscape often referred to as moonscape or the surface that resembles the surface of the moon. So it is like your very own mini-trip to the moon. I found the place very unique and a bit surreal. On one side were these barren mounds of rocks and on the other side of the road were these hills with snow sprinkled on it – giving it a very salt & pepper look.

Drive to Alchi Monastery

Alchi Monastery, Ladakh
Alchi Monastery

Every village in Ladakh has its own monastery that is usually known by the name of the village. So is Alchi Monastery that can be reached via a small detour on way to Lamayuru. If you are someone who admires wall murals like I do, I suggest an independent half-day tour to this lovely monastery. Make sure you have a Lama guiding you through the painted walls and large mud based stucco work on the walls of the monastery.

Now I have seen Tabo Monastery that is usually called the Ajanta of the Himalayas. I must admit the murals there are much better, but what makes Alchi special is the giant sculptures of Bodhisattvas in all the five or six rooms of the monastery. The sculptures are 2-3 storeys high and stand across these floors with each of the floor and ceilings painted in vibrant colors.

Paintings at Alchi Monastery in Ladakh
Paintings at Alchi Monastery

Lotsa Temple

First temple called Lotsa temple has walls covered with small Buddha paintings in the manner of thousand Buddhas. But of course, there are far more than thousand Buddhas painted in this room. In the Vairocana temple next door, there are Mandalas painted. That is pretty usual in Buddhist monasteries. But what makes the Alchi Monastery Mandalas unique is the embossed work on them that kind of gives them a frame. At places, I also felt that there are placeholders for precious gems and stones but could not verify the same. Being a mud structure with not much upkeep, paintings are lost in many places; some patchy restoration work can be seen at places.

Manjushri Temple

At Manjushri temple, you see four different images of her in 4 colors – golden, orange, blue and green placed back to back. The ceiling of this temple has all the designs that resemble textile designs interspersed with hunting scenes depicting various animals including tigers and horses and arms like bows and arrows. Alchi monastery is the first place where I saw the use of black and white colors for painting. While usually, they are missing from the palette except as support colors for skin tone and hair.

Ladakh landscapes
Ladakh landscapes

Kashmiri Painting style

Style of painting at Alchi is distinctly Kashmiri. As the Lama ji told us, only Kashmiri painters could have worked in the harsh climate of Ladakh. There are lots of Persian features that you can see in paintings that remind you that Ladakh was a part of silk route. And must have seen many races from east and west passing by.

In the courtyard of Alchi Monastery lies a unique stupa that you can go inside. This is also profusely painted inside. You can happily stand inside and admire the paintings – insulated a bit from the cold of Ladakh in winters.

Alchi monastery dates back to late 10th, early 11th CE. And is said to be one of the 108 monasteries built by the great translator Rinchen Zangpo. Other monasteries he built can be seen at Lamayuru, Tabo & Nako.

Drive to Thiksey & Chemdey Monastery

Drive towards Pangong Lake in Ladakh
Ladakh in winters on a Drive towards Pangong Lake

These monasteries lie on the way to famous Pangong Lake. You need to check if the route to Pangong is open and if it can be visited when you are there. In case you cannot visit it, you can still do a half-day tour that takes you half way on this route.

  Read about the stunning Chandratal Lake, the other Himalayan blue lake at Lahaul Spiti, Himachal Pradesh 

For a long stretch, you drive on the national highway along the Indus River before you take a detour to Thiksey, which again is a beauty to watch from a distance as well as from close by. The circuitous route that takes you on top of the monastery reminded me of my Spiti Trip.

Prayer stones leading to Chemdey Monastery in Ladakh
Prayer stones leading to Chemdey Monastery

On way to Thiksey, we saw this small stream half frozen yet flowing ferociously eager to go and meet the river Indus. Surrounded by a barren stick like Poplar trees it was a place to spend some time with. I saw this stream from the top of the Thiksey monastery. Then we crossed a small bridge over it and drove some distance along with it.

Thiksey Monastery view Ladakh in winters
Thiksey Monastery view Ladakh in winters

The drive to Chemdey monastery passed by small roads that were surrounded by tall but barren trees. It was again the surreal part of this drive.

A frozen stream flowing towards Chemdey Monastery
A frozen stream flowing towards Chemdey Monastery

Morning Prayer

We attended the Morning Prayer at Thiksey monastery where we saw the young and old Lamas doing their morning chants while having their breakfast that included several rounds of tea. Even we were offered the same tea. Thiksey monastery has interesting paintings in its courtyard. And like Alchi monastery it has a tall stucco work image of future Buddha i.e. Maitreya Buddha.

Prayers at Thiksey Monastery Ladakh
Prayers at Thiksey Monastery

If you are someone who enjoys monasteries you can even visit the Hemis monastery. We skipped it as its main attraction the museum is closed in winters.

Drive to Shanti Stupa on way to Khardungla Pass

Shanti Stupa at Leh
Shanti Stupa at Leh

Khardungla pass is another famous pass on Ladakh region. I am told that the road leading to it faces serious traffic jams in summers when the place is full of tourists. Again the pass may not be open when you visit Ladakh in winters but that does not mean you cannot admire it. Drive to Shanti stupa that is located little on the outskirts of Leh on way to Khardungla Pass and would be part of most Ladakh Tour Packages.

Sunset from Shanti Stupa in Leh. Ladakh in winters
Sunset from Shanti Stupa in Leh. Ladakh in winters


Stand on the top of the hill or maybe climb up the Shanti Stupa and admire the landscape all around it. On one side you can see Leh palace and a unique dry golf course. Behind them, you can see the whole Stok Kangri range of mountains that looks absolutely stunning at sunset time. Turn back and you can see a straight line cutting through the giant hill and this is the Khardungla pass. Thankfully the boards here tell you all the information around the Stupa.

Dry Golf Course at Leh
Dry Golf Course at Leh

Shanti stupa is a new range of stupas that are coming up in most Buddhist places. I saw a similar one in Rajgir in Bihar. It is a neat and clean white stupa carrying all the signs of Buddhism with symmetric staircases to go up and down.

Drive around Leh, while visiting Ladakh in Winters

Spituk Monastery and Leh
Spituk Monastery and Leh

While your body adjusts to the altitude of mountains, you can drive around Leh town. And visit its Spituk Monastery that is located just outside the town. We attended the annual Gustor festival here. That is a story for another post. You get a lovely view of the Leh city and Leh airport that is almost like an open-air airport.

Walk in the Leh Bazar, most of which would be closed for winters. But the boards telling you about guest houses and lodges will give you an idea of how crowded this place must be during summers or tourist season.

Ladakh in winters has low traffic. It almost feels that all the landscapes – rivers, mountains, vistas are all waiting for you only. Imagine having the whole surroundings just to yourself barring a few monks here and there. Ladakh in winters also offers plenty of opportunities to capture the best of Ladakh images.

Recommend you to read following Travel Blogs on Himalayan Hot Spots on this Indian Travel Blog.

  1. Gulmarg Gondola Ride & beyond.
  2. Ladakh for the Vegetarians.
  3. Kahwah – the warmth of Kashmir.
  4. Chandratal – Blue Lake of Lahaul-Spiti Valley.
  5. Eternity stops to see Kinner Kailash at Kalpa.
  6. Apple out to Prosperity – the story of Himachal Apple.
  7. Dhankar – Monastery, Fort & a village in Spiti Valley.
  8. Bhimakali – Unique Temple of Himachal.
  9. Drive to resolve the curiosity of Giu Mummy.
  10. Nako sacred lake and Ancient Monastery.


  1. It’s probably the best time to visit but I feel like I’ll shiver to death because I just can not handle the cold but I’m willing to risk it because it look beautiful and any place that has lesser tourists is always more attractive to me.

  2. अनुराधा जी, कोई शब्द नहीं, इतने सुन्दर विवरण के लिए ।लगता है हमने आपके शब्दों के साथ साच्छात सैर ही कर ली । वैसे सच तो यह है कोई साथ मिले तो हम भी घूम आए? हमारे (मैं 65&wife 61yrs)घूमने जाने के लिए कोई help कर सकती है ॽ

    • मधु जी, अच्छा लगा की आपको मेरा लेखन पसंद आया. लेह लड़ाख है ही ऐसी मनोरमा जगह की वहाँ के दृश्य मान को छू ही लेते है.
      मैने लेह में अपने संपर्क से कहा है आपके संपर्क में आने के लिए, आशा है वो आपकी मदद कर पाएँगे.