Winters in Ladakh are beautiful. The otherwise cold desert-like landscape transforms into a white wonderland. The mountains are covered with snow and so are the trees. Other than that, there are frozen rivers, lakes and waterfalls too. It’s almost like you have been transported to the Ice – Age. The streets that are otherwise flooded with tourists, now see very few people. You can see a lot of kids running around, as the schools are shut for winters. You can visit one of the many Ice skating spots across Ladakh and see kids from 4 years to adults, skating like pros. Since it is an off-season for the tourists, you can find many locals hanging out at one of the local tea shops and discussing all sorts of things. Also, winter is like a celebration time in Ladakh. Many festivals of great importance to the people here are celebrated during winters, which includes the Ladakhi New Year, Losar.
While winter brings in so much beauty and joy, it also comes with a lot of challenges. And after spending just one winters here, there is so much that we learnt including life skills and lessons that we will never forget. And we seriously feel a lot of respect and appreciation for the locals who have been facing these challenges every year for so many years now.
Here is a small glimpse of some of the things that you witness when you live in Winters of Ladakh:
No running water – All pipelines are frozen during winters. At times, the locals drain the water and remove their pipelines so that they don’t burst when frozen. We have to walk to a nearby water source, a non-stop flowing pipe which gets its supply from the mountain streams. To make this source forever running, it is well insulated and dug deep in the ground to prevent it from freezing. So we fill our buckets and use this water from drinking to bathing to household chores.
Laundry – Washing clothes is a pretty daunting task too. There are mostly semi-automatic washing machines in Ladakh because in winters we have to fill the water manually. The motors of the machine get jammed and hence we first put a bucket of hot water in order to defrost it and then use it.
Washing utensils – Since the pipes are removed, we keep a bucket in the outlet of the sink and manually drain it in a nearby ditch.
Dry compost toilet – The flush toilets are not usable anymore and the only solution are the dry compost toilets. These toilets are environment friendly and also save water. There is a hole that you have to use by squatting down and throw dirt once you are done with your business. This not only helps to cover the smell but also accelerates the composting. Also, later this compost is used in agriculture.
Sealing windows and doors – Its not just the sub-zero temperatures but also the wind that make it difficult to keep your house warm. And hence we were advised to put up blankets on the doors and windows to insulate the openings from the wind. It really works!!!
Footwear and clothing – Well, you can’t imagine wearing your usual running/walking shoes on snow/ice, its gonna get slippery. So you need to invest in good Boots that help with good grip on the snow. Also the temperature in Ladakh during day is -10 to -15 degrees celsius and hence warm layers of clothing is very important. During peak winters, we used to wear three layers inside in the house and minimum 5 layers when stepping out. Thermals play a very important role while we layer, along with woollen caps and 2-3 layers of socks and gloves.
Hide n seek with the sun – If you belong to North India or have visited that part during winters, then you would know the importance of the sunlight. Like I remember, visiting my Grandparents and sitting with them in sun to soak warmth to survive the cold nights. However, in Ladakh, even though you see the sun you can’t necessarily sit in open because of the wind. So we wear 3-4 layers of clothes and then go out to sit in the sun. In a week, it’s likely to get a good sunny day just twice or thrice, or else it’s cloudy.
Groceries – During peak winters, Ladakh is completely cut-off from the mainland roads and most essential supplies like fruits and vegetables are airlifted from Delhi or Srinagar. And hence, by the time they reach here, their prices escalate to crazy levels. The lifespan of perishables is also very less as they are are kept in the open in shops where they quickly freeze (due to water content), become squishy and weird to taste. However, the good news is that a lot of local farmers are now learning and implementing green house techniques and that will really help in growing many things locally even in winters. Thus, reducing the costs as well as carbon emissions due to flight transport.
Heating arrangement – If we were living in Turtuk or any other village in winters then our only option would have been a Bukhari(fireplace) or LPG heater because the villages get electricity only between 7-11pm. So, something that can work without electricity was our only bet. That’s one of the reasons we decided to spend our winters in Leh, where there is 24 hours electricity. So, currently we use an electric tower heater and thats about it. Health-wise these are safer than a LPG heater. We use it only during the evenings and switch it off before going to bed. We keep sipping water the entire day as most heating solutions cause dehydration especially to the skin and lips.
Car situation – While we were in the process of deciding whether to buy a petrol or diesel version of Mahindra Thar, our main criteria was the fact that we will be witnessing temperatures to the tune of minus 20 degrees celsius. In such temperatures a petrol vehicle works better than diesel as the freezing point of diesel is far lower than that of petrol (-7 degrees vs -20 degrees). And hence, we decided to go ahead with the petrol Thar.
That being said, we have thoroughly enjoyed the winters in Leh and that’s all because of the amazing local friends and our kind landlord, who have supported us throughout and made our stay here comfortable and memorable.
Also, we would urge you that whenever you come to visit Ladakh, experience the rawness in this place instead of looking for perfection because that is what makes this place different and unique.
The Seeking Soul