By: Mohammed Amir khan (B&F)
Traveller’s Guide to Spiti
Lahaul and Spiti are perfect locations for nature lovers and trekkers too. Located at an altitude of 3340 m in the north eastern corner, these are the two remote valleys of Himachal Pradesh. Breath-taking snow-capped hills and the craggy beauty of these regions lure the travelers. Lahaul and Spiti are two isolated Himalayan valleys of Himachal Pradesh that lie as the middle land on the Indo-Tibet border also called Little Tibet because of its Indo-Tibetan culture.
Spiti is famous as the ‘Land of the Lamas and Tabo Monastery situated here has been acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and includes scriptures and wall paintings like Tankhas and Stucco.
Spiti valley is home to some of the oldest monasteries (Tabo, Sherkhang and Dhankar- all around 1000 years old), highest motorable villages in Asia (Langza and Komic), highest post office in the world (Hikkim), Chandrataal lake, beautiful and vast landscape, ancient and intact culture and simple people. The landscape, the high altitude and the people are what make this a place of unlimited beauty.
Lahaul and Spiti offer a wonderful experience to all the tourists who visit these places. The lush green valley, the cold desert and the blend of Buddhism and Hinduism make Lahaul Spiti a worth place visiting in India.
Spiti remains practically cut off from the rest of India for 6 months of the year. Thick Himalayan snow blocks the mountain passes, making it almost impossible for road transport to pass through, even on the Shimla-Kinnaur route. The summer months from late May to late September are therefore the best time to visit Spiti, as the weather warms up, the snow slowly melts and gets cleared away to open up road travel to the valley.
With only 250 days of sunshine in a year, winter in Spiti is a harsh affair. Temperatures on average drop to -30 degrees Celsius, and the lack of any modern form of heating means most families cuddle together in a single room in the house and keep warm around wood fire. To survive the harsh conditions, the Spitian people celebrate festivals and most family affairs (birthdays, weddings) in winter months, stocking up on food and local alcohol, the winter months are privy to Spiti’s unique and introspective culture, though survivable only by extreme adventurers. Although the monsoon season receives moderate to heavy rainfall, this is not exactly the best time to visit Spiti, owing to the frequent downpours and dangerous landslides.
How to Reach
Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh is one of the least developed region in India in terms of the public transport. Although the population density of this district is the lowest (2 persons per sq.km.) in India, but still due to its huge tourism potential there is a requirement of a decent public transport system in this area. If you travel by your own car or a hired cab, you do not face any problems, but if you want to travel this region by using public transport, then be prepare to wake up early in the morning to reach bus stand at right time or else be prepare to spend one more day at your present place.
There are 2 road routes leading up to the Trans-Himalayas of Spiti; one from Shimla via the Kinnaur valley, and the other from Manali. The former takes a minimum of 2 days, with a night’s halt in Kalpa or Reckong Peo, and though longer, gives more time to gradually acclimatize to the altitude. The latter takes 12-14 hours, depending on road conditions.
I travelled through Manali Route from Delhi, the beauty of this route is that it takes lesser time, full of scenic places and a foreign national does not requires an Inner Line Permit, if he/she gets in to the Kaza via Manali. But again If a non-Indian wants to travel beyond Kaza towards Tabo or Nako (especially between Hurling and Spillo section of the highway), there is a requirement of Inner Line Permit. This is the most popular route to reach to the Spiti Valley, but it is not available always. The section of the route between Manali and Kaza is available only for 5-6 months during the summer and monsoon seasons in a year. It generally opens in the month of May-June and closes in the month of November, this route length is 735 Kms and it requires 12 hours 16 mins to travel by a car, but again due to the hilly terrain it requires about 24 hours’ time to cover the entire route.
If you are travelling by public transport then you need to split your journey in two parts, travelling in one go is not at all advisable. From Delhi you can take Volvo or ordinary Himachal tourism buses starting from ISBT or other private busses from Majnu ka tila to Manali, Volvo and other private buses usually starts after 7:00 p.m. and takes 12 Hrs to reach Manali.
From Manali to Kaza travel takes about 12 hrs with a distance of 210 Kms, Two ordinary Himachal tourism buses leaves form manali bus stand to kaza at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. having a fair of approx. INR 200 – 300/- Buses passes though Rohtang Pass – Batal – Kunzum Pass – Lossur and reached Kaza Bus Stand nearly 5:00 p.m. in the evening. You need to book tickets 3 days in advance for travelling by these buses.
Important point is that once the route is declared open by the authorities, you do not get the public buses for next 2-3 weeks. They only allow small vehicles to run on the road initially.
Another option for reaching Kaza is to get shared sumo/Jeep cost about INR 1100/- and takes around 10/11 Hrs depending upon the road condition. You can find these Sumo/jeeps near Manali Bus Stand and starts around 5:00 a.m. in the morning, seats can be taken on first come first serve basis.
Where to Stay
KAZA – The Travellers Shed, Zostel, Spiti Valley Hotel, Hotel Sky Adobe, Hotel Deyzor, Hotel Khangsar, PWD Rest house are famous spots for travellers in Kaza. During peak season, hotels and guest houses get occupied first. If stuck in such a situation, you can always opt for warm mountain hospitality offered at homestays in Spiti. There are many decent homestays with all basic living amenities, perfectly suitable for trekkers and solo travellers.
Kibbir Komik & Langza – The best way to stay in either of these villages would be of paying guest. These are very tiny hamlets, only a handful of houses and if you spoke to any of the villagers, they will let you stay in their home for the night at a very nominal charge. Kibber has a guest house as well by the name of Serkong Guest House. Contact person in Renchan Dolma and number is 9418538140, tariff would be between Rs. 200 – Rs. 400.
Stays in monastery is also a good option to consider, two monasteries at Tabo & Dhankar have this arrangement, Lamas will offer you a cozy bed and simple food, luxuries can’t be expected at these places.
Where to Visit
1. Key Monastery or Kye Gompa is one of the most popular places to visit in Spiti valley, located in the Kaza region. Overlooking the Spiti River at an altitude of 4112 m, Key Monastery is one of the biggest gompas known for the stunning Buddha shrine, ancient books, manuscripts, and murals.
2. Tabo Monastry – Well-known for its majestic paintings, Tabo Monastery is one of the ancient places to visit in Spiti valley. It has 9 temples of Tara & Buddha Maitreya and multiple Stupas that are the key attractions of the monastery.
3. Chandratal Lake – If water bodies bring alive the poet in you, Chadratal is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Lahaul and Spiti. The name has been derived from its crescent moon-line shape. Located near Kunzum Pass, this sparkling scenic wonder is a photographer’s paradise. Also, the crystal blue water surrounded by lush greenery and snow-capped mountains make it an idyllic destination for camping and trekking.
4. Kunzum Pass – Snuggled in Kunzum Range at 4590 m, Kunzum mountain pass bridges Kullu and Lahaul Valley with Spiti Valley. This is an important place on the Spiti valley map. The region offers a jaw dropping vistas of Chandrabhaga Range and can be accessed by trekking from Chandratal Lake. The vibrant Buddhist flags and an age old Devi temple enhance the beauty of this topographical wonder.
5. Pin Valley National Park – Located by the semi frozen streams, Pin Valley National Park is a rich bio reserve of rare to endangered flora and fauna, which makes it one of the most thrilling places to see in Spiti valley. The Park’s sprawling reserve is home to snow leopards, snowcocks, chukar partridges, and Siberian ibex. Many medicinal plants, alpine vegetation, cedar and deodar trees are commonly seen here too. With the backdrop of stunning Himalayas, this Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve is ideal for adventure lovers, photographers, nature enthusiasts, and bird watchers.
6. Kibbir – Spiti Valley has some of the most picture perfect hilly hamlets and Kibber is one of them. Frequented by adventure freaks and hard core trekkers, it is surely one of the most picturesque yet challenging places to visit in Spiti valley. Locally called Kyibar, Kibber is a small village located at 4205 m that has its own monastery and Gompa, and offers breathtaking view of the surroundings. It is also an important stop of the Spiti Valley Trek.
7. Komik, Hightest Motorable village in World– Roughly 20 km from Kaza, it is a small, beautiful village located at 18,000 feet above sea level. Nothing less than paradise, Komik is a trekker and camper’s dream. But remember, there is nothing fancy about it. The weather conditions are harsh and the terrains are tough to tread, Komik is having world’s highest restaurant.
8. Langza Village – Located 16 kms northwards of Kaza, is one of the most beautiful valleys in the Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh and is renowned for its incredible scenery, pre-historic buildings and ancient monasteries. An enormous statue of Lord Buddha guards the village, while a temple behind the statue is believed to be over 500 yrs old. Besides these, this village also contains a large amount of fossils of plants and marine animals, and is regularly visited by historians and anthropologists.
9. Hikkim, Village with Hightest Post office in the World – Hikkim is such a small village, 14 Kms 40 mints uphill drive from Kaza, this place houses the highest post of in the world at an altitude of 14400 Ft it is considered to be highest polling booth in India. and it is famous for highest post office in the world. Remember to send a postcard and carry stamps from Hikkim post office.
Only BSNL Sim cards obtained in Himachal Pradesh work in Spiti, and that too only in Kaza (Spiti’s administrative capital) and some of the lower villages. There is a single cyber cafe in Kaza, that draws on the army satellite to offer an internet connection whose speed reminds you of the dial-up days!
Indian identity holders going to Spiti, from Shimla or Manali, do not require permits to enter Spiti. Foreign identity holders entering Spiti via the Kinnaur route from Shimla require inner-line permits, since this route takes you very close to the Tibetan border. Permits can be obtained at Reckong Peo near Kalpa, and take upto a few hours to be issued.
What to Pack
As a cold mountain desert, the weather in Spiti is almost confusing! The sun’s rays are harsh enough to burn your skin, while shaded areas remain cool enough to wear a jacket. It’s best to pack clothes in layers, and carry full-sleeve T-shirts, sun hats, sun glasses and any other sun protection you can find. Good walking shoes are a must.
Additional Tips/ Suggestions for Travel
- I started from Manali and ended with Manali, but you can start from Manali and end it on Shimla or the vice-versa.
- Do not go to Chandratal directly because it’s really at a considerable height and we are not used to it so, start with Kaza and take it smoothly.
- Do buy a BSNL sim because nothing else works after Manali.
- If you are planning to walk till Chandratal, then start from Kunjum not from Betal as the path is better from there and also be prepared to walk around 16-17 km.
- Do not carry much luggage.
- If you are considering to make a bike trip, there is nothing better than that and be prepared for the pathetic roads.
- Say “Julley” (Hello in the local language of Spiti) to everyone and therefore everyone would be so happy to see you.
Hope you enjoyed reading, if you need further information, let me know in comments below.