Leh in October - What to Expect and What to Pack?

Despite the hanging threat of curfews in Kashmir, high altitude, minus degree temperatures and snowfall of October and my own minor personal hurdles, I made it to Leh. I knew that Leh is beautiful from all the pics I have seen before I went there, but when I actually visited it, I realized that the pics fail to capture the actual and complete beauty of it. So, obviously Leh is now my most favorite place pushing down Gangtok and Cherrapunji. I am also pretty certain that I won't be visiting many such places in my life that will come close to Leh's beauty.

To Leh
To Leh

What to Expect?

  • Snowfall and chilling cold which will force you to retreat into your car soon after you step out.
  • Wind. Imagine snow falling like hail stones because of wind.
  • Leh is at 3500 mts and from there you will be visiting Khardungla which is at 5359 mts. Brace yourself for high altitude, thin air, high UV rays, less oxygen. Also, damn beautiful sky!
  • Curvy roads. Duh, you will be going uphill and downhill. Also, expect concrete roads at some parts, when the car will shake in all directions.
  • The best part about October is there are very less tourists - less noise, less traffic, less competition to click a pic at some nice spot.
  • Being stuck on road. Despite less tourists, you may still get stuck because of two reasons : shooting stones which casually slide off from the mountains on to the narrow roads and military convoys that carry winter stock. We experienced both - though we could easily(scarily) climb over the rubble caused by stones on road, we were stuck for an hour at ChangLa because of slow and stuck military convoys. Try to reach and get out of the places before the military convoys start their commute - your guide would know their timings.
  • Skidding roads because of snow. Don't worry. The drivers are highly experienced and depending on the amount of snow, they often take precautions like chaining the wheels to avoid skidding.
  • Narrow two way roads. Again, trust your driver.
  • No network unless you carry BSNL postpaid SIM. Though we did carry it, it stopped working after Day 1, we can't figure out why, but it's status showed that it was under some cyber inspection. Hotels in Leh had wifi, but you may not have the same at Nubra or Pangong.
  • Less electricity and less hot water. Again, this won't be a problem at Leh, but you may experience it at Nubra and Pangong as most of the electricity is solar based.
  • Weird toilets. A hole is a toilet in Leh. You may find better toilets too at some chai points, but be mentally prepared. (I was scared about this after reading about the condition of toilets in Leh, but I felt that conditions have improved a lot and there are many toilet stops which you can use)
  • Amazing flight ride with snow capped mountains all around you! Make sure to grab those window seats.
  • The most amazing and breath taking scenery every where you look! October had beautiful colors as the trees have started to turn yellow and red. White snow, grey and brown mountains, greenery with specks of yellow and red, blue sky(best sky ever) contrasted with white clouds, sea green and blue water - I miss it already.
  • Clean, low pollution and less noisy environment.
  • Friendly and polite people.

What to Pack?

  • You definitely need a very good jacket to actually protect you from the harshness of the cold, not something that's good enough in your tropical hometown. Pack multiple gloves/scarves/beanies/bandanas/socks. It's best to dress up in layers, I was wearing two jackets at the coldest places!
  • Thermals. Yes, you would need them.
  • Don't bother too much about what top/dress you are gonna wear, as your jacket will camouflage it all. It's actually a good idea to wear your ugly/unwearable clothes.
  • If you are worried that you will look like a person in uniform with same jacket in all pics, pack another to switch. Pack bright colorful gloves/scarves/beanies/bandanas - they will add some colour to your otherwise white snow and grey mountains background.
  • Shoes or boots if you have the patience to look fashionable. You don't really need any sandals here.
  • As with any travel packing, you would need meds here, but the two additional things you might want to pack are meds for motion sickness and altitude sickness. If you still feel problematic, you may need an oxygen cylinder. Small oxygen cans will be available at outlets in airport and market for Rs.500/-. Personally I didn't face any issues, but I saw a guy who was hospitalized with an oxygen cylinder as he had breathing problem after landing in Leh.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses. UV rays are quite harsh at high altitude.
  • If you ever feel nauseous on road, camphor to sniff and cardamom to chew on will help a lot.
  • If you have long hair or for that matter short hair up to shoulders, you would want to braid it up or hold it all in a bun. Bandanas help a lot to keep your hair from becoming messy, especially if you are going on a bike. Despite all these measures, I ended up with tangled hair, so carry a hair serum with you, as you won't be able to untangle without it.
  • You don't really need to pack food for Leh city itself, but you may need food for on road. Leh has so many cafes and bakeries all across the market. On road journeys may last from 5 to any number of hours depending on traffic.
  • Moisturizer and lip balm. You would need lots of it so that you would be able to at least smile without any pain of cracked skin and lips.
  • For women, the best way to deal with any kind of toilet is by buying the disposable stand and pee funnels.
  • Pack toilet paper if you can't deal with Indian toilets.
  • This is definitely going to be one of the most beautiful trip of your life, if not the most beautiful. Make sure to pack a good camera. Even if you would just want to capture it all in your heart with your eyes, you would definitely feel the urge to at least click a few pics.
  • Pendrive with songs if you want to tune into your favorite music on road.
For other generic things to pack for any trip, see Travel Packing Checklist.

PS:Apologies for missing blog post last week(first time ever in a week), stupid me didn't realize that I will be away from my laptop on a Friday. Chances are that no one noticed the missed blog post apart from me, but still blogging is the one thing in my life I have been consistent at for 2.5+ years.

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