[media-credit id=63 align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]Somewhere close to the Indo-Tibetan border, lies a spectacular valley unknown to many. The largest and unquestionably remotest—hence striking—district of Himachal Pradesh is known by the name of Lahaul and Spiti, and those who have been fortunate enough to be charmed by this Himalayan desert valley swear by its splendor.
Situated in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, Spiti Valley, with its pretty hamlets, patchwork fields, golden hues of barren landscapes and colorful monasteries perched on impossible climbs, makes for enchanting exploration. Spiti is an ideal destination for people with any preference, be it adventure, culture or just gaping with mouth wide open at the surreal landscapes. And if that is not interesting enough, there is Spiti’s history, which includes the fact that this area was under Tethys sea millions of years ago. Remnants of this past can be seen in the unique landscapes, sedimentary rock formations caused by the tectonic forces and fossils found here and there. And if even that doesn’t interest you, you could always indulge in a wildlife exploration to spot some of the rare, endemic and endangered species such as the elusive snow leopard or the age-old Tibetan wolf.
Before I start with the very detailed posts, here is a ready reckoner to plan a trip to Spiti.
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Where the hell is Spiti anyway?
Spiti is part of the combined districts of Lahaul and Spiti located in northernmost part of Himachal Pradesh, sharing the Indo-Tibetan Border. To the north of Lahaul and Spiti lies Ladakh, to the west lies Chamba and Kulu districts and to the south lies Kinnaur.
How to reach Spiti?
You can reach Spiti only by roadways or on foot, trekking. One route joins Manali with Spiti and the same route extends down via Kinnaur to Shimla. So you can either reach Manali and head to Spiti or reach Shimla and head upwards to Spiti.
Manali – Kaza – Shimla route
This rugged route starts at Manali. After approximately 60–70 kilometers, after crossing Rohtang, you will find a diversion at Gramphoo. The road heading straight leads you to Leh while the U-turn would take you below to Spiti Valley. The total distance from Manali to Kaza is 200 kilometers and can be done in a day if you start early.
The roads are just about okay until you reach Chattru, from here the roads take a positively rugged turn. Spiti River flows wildly just by the roadside and things cannot get prettier than this. Slowly, as you descend into the valley, the greenery from Kulu gives way to barren desert landscapes and clear blue skies.
The same route extends from Kaza to Tabo to Sumdo and enters Kinnaur district. This road ends at Shimla. If you have time, it would make for a good round trip to start from Manali, visit Spiti, enter Kinnaur and end at Shimla. And if time is a constraint, you can always start at Manali and traverse the same route back to get out.
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What are the places of interest?
As with most mountain places, the journey in Spiti is better than the destination. Yes, it does have lot of monasteries , pretty hamlets, crystal clear lakes, amazing culture and history. But the journey itself is the biggest pleasure passing through some remote lands and scenes.
I shall try to put down the important places though, in the order of their appearance.
1. Kunzum La: Gateway to Spiti, after Batal, the road climbs by the Chandra riverside to reach Kunzum top at an altitude of 4,551 meters. As with any pass in India, you’ll find a small temple on the top of the pass. The views are excellent from this vantage point. Shigri Parbat rising right in front of this peak offers splendid opportunities for photography.
2. Chandratal: The elusive moon lake, which can be only reached on foot. Not for long, but for now it can only be reached by trekking either from Batal or Kunzum top. There seem to be a few expensive resorts by the lakeside but your best bet for accommodation would be the camps runs by the shepherds. Better yet if you have your own camping equipment. The trek from Batal is apparently long but rewarding and the trek from Kunzum top to Chandratal is for the lazy bones.
[media-credit id=63 align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]3. Ki Monastery: Ki/Key is a hilltop monastery located 12 kilometers before Kaza at an altitude of 4,166 meters. The setting is wondrous with the sweeping valley views and the Spiti river flowing down below. Ki is one the biggest monasteries of Spiti and a must visit.
4. Kibber: Kibber was the erstwhile highest inhabited village at an altitude of 4,200 meters but the now the honors have been taken by some other village. The road from Key winds up alongside a narrow valley gorge while Kibber sits pretty atop the climb. There is another village on the other side of the valley and that looks pretty as well. As I said earlier, it’s the journey that takes the cake; there is nothing touristy about this village other than the pretty colored houses. If you are interested in more rugged terrain, you might proceed towards Gette and Tashigang. It is located 16 kilometers before Kaza.
5. Kaza: Kaza is the largest township of Spiti Valley and makes for a good base for your travels in Spiti. It is located at an altitude of 3,800 meters by the riverside. Kaza houses the colorful ,onastery. It is the only place in Spiti which has one SBI ATM and a dispensary.
6. Pin Valley National Park: The road from Kaza diverges at Attargu, one heading to Tabo while the right diversion across the river is your entry to Pin Valley NP. Pin River flows gently and wildly, cutting through the mountains and paving the way to reach the interiors of this remote land. You will pass by villages where the population can be as low as 50. The road is bad and goes all the way till Mudh, the last village in the National Park. Mudh is a small hamlet with few houses and fewer shops. A pleasant place to stay to escape the crowd. Kungri monastery, which is one among the oldest can also be visited. Do not expect a full-fledged safari to be taking place; none exists here.
7. Dhankar: As you come out of Pin Valley at Attargu, you might notice a monastery dangerously perched on a rickety hill top. That, is Dhankar Gompa. Dhankar can be reached by taking a diversion uphill between Kaza and Tabo. Five kilometers from Dhankar lies the Dhankar Lake which can be accessed only on foot.
[media-credit id=63 align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]8. Tabo: Forty-six kilometers from Kaza lies the ancient village of Tabo at an altitude of 3,050 meters. Tabo houses one of the oldest monasteries, dating back to 996 AD. The monastery looks nothing like what you have seen before. The chortens are made of mud and most of the structure seems to be made of mud. It has lot of history for those inclined and the interesting thing is that the main temple has a statue of Lord Ganesha inside. Go figure! Apart from this, Tabo is also famous for its apples.
9. Gyu: I write this in good spirit hoping the sanctity the place is still maintained. Two kilometers before Sumdo, a road goes high above to your left. Nine kilometers from here lies the small hamlet of Gyu which houses a 500-year-old mummy perfectly preserved till date.
Gyu was where my trip ended last year but if you wish to continue further down, after Sumdo, you reach Nako and then you enter Kinnaur district at Reckong Peo. From here the route is not as remote as Spiti but there are few places worthy of a visit such as Kalpa, Chitkul, Sangla, Sarahan, Narkanda, Kufri. The road will end at Shimla.
Do we need permits?
While Indians do not need inner-line permits, I believe foreigners will have to take one at Reckong Peo.
What are the options for transportation/accommodation?
Transport is best arranged by any of the SUVs or personal vehicles. Public transport is also available between the villages.
Accommodation options are limited. While you can find quite a few tented luxury camps here and there, your best bet would be homestays, local tents and small lodges.
- Chattru and Batal: Tents run by locals. Bedding and a blanket is all you will get here.
- Losar: Has small lodges with dingy rooms.
- Kaza: Decent accommodation can be found at many homestays/lodges here
- Mudh: Very few options. Decent and just about manageable. By the time I was there, few were under construction.
- Tabo: The Tabo monastery itself has stay options in the dormitory.
- Demul, Komic, Langza: If you’d like to experience typical Spiti homestay, accommodation can be arranged here through travel agents. These are small hamlets situated off the main destinations.
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What is the average altitude?
The average altitude of Spiti valley is around 3,800 meters or so which makes it high altitude. Acclimatization is necessary before you embark on any adventures. Makes sense to climb from Shimla to get used to the altitude slowly.
What will be the temperatures?
Quite similar to Ladakh, the sun will be hot while the winds can be cool. Nights do get very cold.
What is the best season?
Sources all over internet say June–September is a good time. Although the locals say June–August is the best time, with awesome weather. The road from Rohtang and Kunzum is open only for a short duration (June–September) due to snowfall. The valley stays cut-off from the Manali side for rest of the time while the road from Shimla is open all through the year since it does not cross any pass.
What to look out for?
Buddhist Monasteries, awesome lunar landscapes, Chandratal, Pin Valley National Park, Kunzum top, glaciers—Chota Shigri and Bada Shigri
What are the lakes in Spiti?
Chandratal and Dhankar Lake are the lakes that I know of.
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Day 1: Manali – Rohtang – Chhattru – Batal – Kunzum – Losar – Kaza (or)
Day 1: Manali – Rohtang – Chhattru – Batal – Kunzum – Chandratal (if you are heading out of Shimla)
Day 2: Kaza – Ki – Kibber – Komic/Langza/Tashigang/Demul – Kaza
Day 3: Kaza – Pin Valley NP – Mudh
Day 4: Mudh – Dhankar – Tabo – Gyu – Tabo
Day 5: Tabo – Sumdo – Nako –> proceed towards Shimla or retrace the same route back.
How many days are required for a comfortable visit?
To do the whole trip from Manali to Shimla, 10 days would be comfortable else only Spiti can be done in 5–6 days Manali – Manali.
While I have tried to give information to the best of my knowledge, correct me if I am wrong and let me know if you need more information.
Happy tripping! 🙂