Different people have different ideas of Spiti. Some imagine it as a land of rugged mountainous terrain and a cold desert much like the neighbouring Ladakh region, others as a region dotted with quaint villages, lush green surroundings, rivers, streams and waterfalls, and others still as an arduous adventure destination with unforgiving trek trails. Interestingly, all of these descriptions are on-point. Spiti is all of this and much more.
Besides abounding in raw natural beauty, the region is a cultural extravaganza in its own right. The name Spiti, which literally translates to ‘The Middle Land’ owing to it being located between India and Tibet, is the perfect summation of the character this unique land. Influences of Tibetan Buddhist and Indian cultures have so seamlessly blended together that it is hard to tell them apart, giving birth to distinct lifestyle unique to this region.
So if a Spiti trip is on your bucket list, no matter the experiences you seek from it, rest assured the place has enough wonders tucked in its folds to bowl you over. That said, you need to plan well to get the most out of our escapades. Here’s everything you need to know about planning your maiden Spiti holiday:
There are two approaches to Spiti valley – via Shimla and via Manali.
The route from Shimla goes through Reckong Peo and Kaza, where as if you are travelling from Manali, you’ll pass through Rohtang and Gramphu before arriving at Kaza. The Shimla-Kaza route is open all year round but it is advisable to check on the road conditions before embarking on your journey, as weather elements often wreak havoc on accessibility.
On the hand, the Manali route is open only during summer months, as Rohtang and Kunzum passes are closed for at least half the year due to heavy snowfall.
The Manali route is often the preferred choice for tourists, owing to the picturesque locations en route. It is also a popular route for bike expeditions, but be warned that the terrain is rugged, muddy and slippery and roads nearly non-existent in most places. Mobile connectivity vanishes as you drive farther away from Manali, so you are pretty much on your own with no connection to the world you’ve left behind.
Besides motorbikes, you can also travel by your own car. Alternatively, you can fly to either Bhuntar or Shimla, depending on your route, and hire a taxi from there. This is going to shoot up your travel cost significantly but if you are not comfortable with driving on precarious hill roads, this is your safest bet. And if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, you can cut back on the cost by taking a bus to Kaza, either from Manali or Shimla, and then taking a taxi from there.
Best Time to Visit
A lot of travel guides will give you a straight window from May to October, but it doesn’t work because monsoon is a treacherous time to be out of the roads in mountain regions. Landslides will not only hold you up in hours-long traffic jams but also pose a risk of mishaps. So, the best time to visit is either May-June or September-October.
Places to Explore
The Spiti valley is a treasure trove waiting to be unravelled. Of course, the places of interest depend on the kind of experiences you seek out of your trip, but here is a low down on some of the most sought-after attractions the region has to offer for you to take your pick from:
This popular crescent share lake – the Moon Lake – deserves a top mention for its breathtaking beauty. Located nearly 8 km from Kunzum Pass, it has long been a favourite among trekkers, photographers, campers and backpackers.
One of the oldest, most sprawling monasteries in all of Spiti, Key is known for idols of Buddha in meditative state, intricate murals and a rich collection of ancient scriptures.
Established in 996 AD, Tabo Monastery is the oldest in trans-Himalayan region. Standing tall at a dizzying altitude of 10,000 feet, it is truly a one-of-its-kind structure – something you cannot afford to miss out on.
The pass connects Manali and Lahaul to Spiti Valley and can also be accessed from Kaza goes through eastern side of the Kunzum Range. It offers jaw-dropping views of the picturesque landscape that includes the Bara- Shigri Glacier, Chandrabhaga Range and the Spiti valley. A photographer’s delight.
Baralacha pass, known as Baralacha La locally, overlooks the confluence of three valleys at a height of nearly 16,000 feet, making it a stretch abounding in scenic views. It also connects Lahaul to Ladakh.
Sitting at an altitude of 4,205 metres above sea level, Kibber, popularly known as Khyipur among the locals, is one of highest villages in the world. If you want to appreciate the beauty of towering mountains in absolute peace, a night at rest houses here is highly recommended.
Pin Valley National Park
A paradise for lovers of nature, the Pin Valley National Park is a stark contrast from a typical national park. Flanked by frozen rivers and rugged mountains, it is best known for being a habitat to the snow leopard and its preys, especially the Ibex. It also abounds in nature trails perfect for treks out in the wild.
Dhankar Monastery and Lake
Situated on a steep cliff between Tabo and Kaza, the Dhankar Monastery is a tranquil retreat with spell-binding views of the Spiti river flowing beneath. About five kilometres from the monastery lies the stunning Dhankar lake that can be accessed with hour-long trek along a well-marked trail criss-crossing through the mountains.
Things To Do
Besides exploring the serene yet splendid landscape of Spiti valley, there is a lot you can indulge in to stimulate the body, mind and soul:
Rafting on the Spiti and Pin rivers with the adrenaline thrill of the rapids underneath juxtaposed with calming views of snow-capped mountains and quaint monasteries is an experience of a lifetime.
Visit a 500-year-old Mummy
The Giu village located between Tabo and Sumdo is home to a unique shrine with a 500-year-old mummy. You can to scale a 8-km-long steep climb to access this quaint village but the mystic experience worth the toil. According to the local legend, the mummy is of a meditating Lama, which definitely adds to the mystic appeal of the experience.
Spending a night camping out in the wilderness, nearly 15,000 feet above sea level, gazing at a zillion stars twinkling in the sky is a slice of heaven in its own right. Even though the government has enforced some restrictions on camping sites to preserve the local ecosystem, you can still indulge in the experience with a special sanction from the local authorities. The experience will be worth having spent precious hours of your holiday at a government office.
Tickle Your Taste Buds
Just like its culture, the food of Spiti valley is unique to the region. You can tickle you taste buds – and you must – either at the local cafes or by treating yourself to a meal at a monastery. If you are staying at homestay, you’ll have enough opportunity to relish the local cuisine.
See the World’s Highest Post Office
Operating at an altitude of 4,398 metres, the local post office at Hikkim is a place you must visit for its sheer uniqueness.
Shop for Local Specialities
When in Spiti, ditch the chunky Tibetan jewellery or the Himachal emporium stuff. You can find it a dime a dozen in every other hill station. Instead focus on local specialties such as Spiti Tea, which the locals claim is infused with anti-ageing properties, and the delicate and exquisite Thangka paintings made on silk and cotton cloths that bear a striking resemblance to those ancient Chinese scroll paintings.
You’ll have no dearth of decent hotels up till Kaza, irrespective of the route you take. In fact, you can even find some plush hotels and heritage resorts on the way. Once in Spiti valley, your choices are limited to either homestays, which are still an up and coming trend in the region, or guesthouses that are pretty basic but equipped to cater to all your daily requirements.
Some Other Things to Keep in Minds
Given its rugged terrain and high altitude, the Spiti valley, despite all its beauty, can be a challenging destination. Here a few things to bear in mind to make your stay as comfortable as possible:
- Give your body time to acclimatise, do not rush with your explorations, as it can take a toll on your health.
- Carry Diamox to manage altitude sickness, along with a basic medication for upset stomach, fever, allergies (if any), cough and cold and a first-aid kit.
- High altitude does not mix well with drinking and smoking. Go easy on those cigarettes and liquor, complete avoid them if you can, otherwise you’ll be in for a lot of breathing trouble and terrible hangovers.
- Road conditions are bad in remote areas. Drive carefully, let the thrill of speed take a rest.
- Be prepared for a no-connectivity existence.
- Get a local guide for treks
Most importantly, go with an open mind and let Spiti sweep you off your feet.