India, the land of diverse landscapes, colorful festivals, great food, and iconic monuments, is not a place often associated with cold weather. The tropical South Asian country has a hot and sticky climate for the most part, with long, warm summers and heavy monsoon rains. If you’re after sun and sizzling temperatures, India is a great place to go, but it’s not all about the heat waves.
Some regions in India experience unbearable high temperatures that often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, heat isn’t the only extreme conditions you’ll come across. You might be surprised to hear that a few areas of the country face bone-chilling cold spells and even snowfall every year.
Our guide explores all of the coldest places in India so you know where to avoid in the dead of winter or which regions to head to if you’re after a change from the sweltering heat. From the Dras valley and its record lows to the snow-capped Himalayas, it’s all here. Let’s get started.
Located 3,350 meters above sea level, Dras is India’s coldest destination and the second coldest inhabited place on earth, after Oymyakon in Russia. Average winter temperatures dip as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, with the lowest recorded temperature being -45.
Despite its astonishing cold weather, Dras is a bustling tourist hub thanks to its high altitude trekking routes and notable landmarks. Dras is considered “The Gateway to Ladakh” and there are plenty of adventurous activities on offer, although they’re, understandably, most popular in summer.
Dras is home to a population of 1,200 hardy inhabitants, and is a place where Muslims and Buddhists live in harmony. These Dardic and Balti communities have called Dras home for hundreds of years and learnt to adapt to the extreme cold and frozen terrain. Despite agricultural restrictions, the locals are known to be cheerful and welcoming with ample resources like food and water.
As well as plenty of trekking routes, you’ll also find a War Memorial in Dras to the Indian Soldiers who fought in the Kargil War. Dras is 62 kilometers from Kargil, where the Indian-Pakistan war of 1999 took place. Dras is also a spring board to other popular hill stations and the cities of Jammu and Kashmir.
Spliti Valley, Himachal Pradesh
The cold desert mountain valley of Spliti is nestled high up in the Himalayas in the north-eastern part of the Himachal Pradesh state. Spiti connects Ladakh with Tibet, and its name literally translates to “middle land”.
Known for its natural beauty and distinct cultural heritage, Spliti Valley is also one of the coldest places in India and temperatures vary between -22 and -40 degrees Fahrenheit in the peak of winter. A blanket of snow envelopes Spliti during this time, contrasting the stark blue skies to bring new magnificence to the mountainous scenery.
Spliti is also home to some well-regarded monasteries, uncluded Tabo, known for its intricate murals, ancient temples, and decadent stupas. Often described as “beautiful but brutal”, Spliti Valley weather is best braved in spring where grassy patches punctuate the hillsides and the treks are more doable across the windswept altitude landscapes. Be warned, Spliti is very isolated, but this only adds to its wonder.
The mountain desert roads that climb the Rohtang pass to Spliti are poor and treacherous, but it remains a popular choice for Himalayan driving trips. Kaza, the center of Spliti, is around 200 kilometers from Rohtang and sits at around 4,000 meters above sea level.
Sela Pass, Arunachal Pradesh
The high-altitude mountain Sela Pass, situated between the Tawang and West Kameng districts in Arunachal, stands at an elevation of 4,4170 meters. The Sela Pass connects the Indian Buddhist town of Tawang to Dirang and Guwahati and the area holds huge significance to the Buddhist community.
There are around 101 lakes in and around Sela, and each has its own religious importance. Particularly famous are the twin lakes at the top of the pass known locally as the ‘Eyes of God’. The Sela Lakes are sacred in Tibetan Buddhism and locals worship the sites around which yaks graze.
The Sela Pass is popular with tourists and remains open throughout the year, although sudden landslides after heavy snowfall can cause temporary closures and dangerous conditions. The Sela Pass is particularly popular as a summer destination with lush greenery and tranquil landscapes for trekking and lakeside relaxation. Temperatures vary between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. However, winter experiences average lows of around 14 degrees Fahrenheit which can create harsh conditions for a vacation.
Hemkund Sahib, Uttarakhand
Formerly known as Gurudwara Shri Hemkund Sahib Ji, this iconic site is home to the highest Gurudwara in the world and a prominent place of Sikh worship in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Enclosed by seven snow-capped peaks and a glacial lake, the Gurudwara is devoted to Guru Gobind Sinh, the tenth Sikh Guru, who is believed to have spent 10 years in meditation here. As such, the whole area is a highly-revered pilgrimage site.
Hemkund Sahib sits at an altitude of 4,362 meters and attracts thousands of tourists every trekking season. However, it is only accessible in summer and spring as the region is completely snowbound from November to March. Temperatures dip to around 12 degrees Fahrenheit which can make for unbearably harsh conditions.
If you’re lucky enough to visit in the summer, be sure to check out the ‘Valley of Flowers’, a national park located nearby in Uttarakhand. Expanding 87 square kilometers, this sea of endemic alpine flora and fauna can be seen in full bloom between July and mid-august reaching across the eastern and western Himalayas.
The city and joint capital of Ladakh is the second-largest city in the region, located around 200 kilometers to the east of Jammu & Kashmir. The metropole is best known for the 1999 Kargil War between Indian and Pakistan fought in Kashmir along the now-renowned Line of Control in India. After 12 hours of fighting, Kargil and Dras were recaptured by India, and Pakistan’s Army withdrew forces leading to the end of the conflict.
Kargil is a high-altitude city, perching at 2,676 meters above sea level. Kargil lies along the banks of the Suru River and temperatures can fall to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, it’s still a perfect destination for adventure lovers when the weather is less extreme.
Summer is still cool in Kargil with average temperatures hovering between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but you’ll find plenty of blue skies and pretty flora. Located 15 kilometers from the city is the historic town and ruins of Pashkum, you’ll also find the Buddhist village of Mulbek just further down the Kargil-Leh road. The city is also a springboard for exploring Sani, Rangdum, and Zonghul, all boasting unique and picturesque hiking opportunities.
The second joint capital of the Indian Ladakh region, Leh is best known for its spectacular scenery, decadent Buddhist temples, pristine mountain air and natural beauty. Thanks to the influence of Tibetan Buddhism, Leh has been dubbed “Little Tibet” and “The Land of the Lamas”.
Rugged valleys, rolling mountains, winding roads and a distinct culture help this altitude city set amidst the Himalayas maintain all of its authentic charm. Leh is the largest town in Ladakh and was also the historical capital of the ancient Kingdom of Ladakh. Important monuments like the Sankar Monastery, Leh Palace, Gata Loops Leh-Manali Highway, the Shanti Stupa and the Zanskar River spring can be found here, making it a top tourist site.
Leh has served as a stopover for Indus Valley trade routes between Tibet and Kashmir and also for India and China for centuries. Yet, Leh is also one of the coldest places in India. The city stands at an elevation of 3,500 meters above sea level and it can take two to three days for visitors to acclimatize to the altitude. Low oxygen can cause nausea but there are plenty of local remedies to help tourists get through it for sightseeing and more serious trekking.
Temperatures dip to between 17 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and snow envelops the hamlet. The bone-chilling cold is hard to bear, but temperatures can reach up to 80 degrees Fahrenehit in summer, a huge contrast making it a diverse place to vacation in.
Nestled in the dramatic state of Sikkim in northeast India, North Sikkim is the seventh least populous district in the country. Sikkim is bordered by Bhutan, Tibet, and Nepal and includes India’s highest mountain, Kanchenjunga, that towers at 8,600 meters above sea level at its highest point.
North Sikkim is part of the Himalayas with glaciers, alpine meadows, wildflower fields and steep hillside paths winding up to Buddhist Monasteries like Pemayangtse, dating back to the early 1700s. The Lachung Monastery is the most famous site in North Sikkim, tucked between fresh mountain streams, waterfalls, and apple orchards. It’s one of the oldest in the region, sitting just above the Diskit Monastery and it also houses an ancient but still functional school for its young residents.
However, temperatures dip to 5 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, with the coldest temperature ever recorded here was around -40, making the region near-impossible to reach for tourists in winter. Lachen and Thangu Valley in North Sikkim are especially isolated and freezing cold but the rough terrain is easier to navigate in spring and summer and a popular tourist hotspot.
Does it snow in India?
India might be more commonly associated with record-highs than lows, sweltering cities, and sizzling beach resorts, but it does, in fact, snow in a number of Indian regions, and not just in the mountains. States like Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhan all experience heavy snowfall in winter. Not forgetting Sikkim, which is part of the Himalayas and home to India’s tallest peak. Sikkim even has glaciers amidst sweeping views of snow-capped mountains.
Where is the coldest place on earth?
The coldest place on earth is much chillier than India’s cold deserts, with the Eastern Antarctic Plateau plummeting to temperatures of -137 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, the top three coldest places on earth are all located in Antarctica. Although, the coldest inhabited place is a Russian city called Oymyakon, to which Dras in India comes second.
When is the best time to visit Sikkim?
The best time to visit Sikkim is between March and May or September and November when the weather isn’t as harsh as it can be in the peak of winter, but you won’t have to face the summer monsoons and humid highs. Springtime also provides the best opportunities to witness the fruitful natural beauty and meadows of Gangtok, while Autumn offers the clearest views of the surrounding Himalayas.