The haunting cold mountain desert of Spiti, in the far north-eastern corner of Himachal, is
The haunting cold mountain desert of Spiti, in the far north-eastern corner of Himachal, isunique in many ways. It not only shares its borders and topography with Tibet, but also its ethnicity, culture and religion. It was a part of a West Tibetan kingdom before it became incorporated in Ladakh in the 17th century. The valley is exquisite, but requires you to give up your notions of lush green beauty. Glacial streams flow through barren but surreal hills into the Spiti River, along which, on tiny oases and patches of green, small villages survive with their great monasteries.
Things to See & Do
Langza is one of the most picturesque villages in the Spiti Valley, with the Chau Chau Khang Nilda (20,679ft) peak, dominating the skyline. The Spiti region was submerged under the Tethys Sea till about 60 million years ago. A variety of fossils can be found in Langza. Hike 3–4km away from the village to visit two lakes: Tsonyeti and Chumo Tso.
This village by the Spiti River is the last inhabited spot before Kunzum La. The beautiful crescent-shaped Chandra Taal Lake is worth visiting. Carry binoculars to catch the migratory birds that stop by at the lake. Losar witnesses sub-zero temperatures even during the summer, so pack warm clothing. Carry your own equipment if you’d like to camp at Chandra Taal.
The drive to the Dhankar village is very pleasant and offers views of the hoodoos (rock formations shaped by snow erosion). At the Dhankar Gompa, witness panoramic vistas of the valley and the confluence of the Spiti River with the Pin (the former’s tributary). You should also visit the Dhankar Lake, an emerald-green body of water set against the mountains.
Pin Valley National Park
The Pin Valley National Park and the Paraiho River catchments, are tailor-made for the adventurous explorer. Trekking is the only way to explore the park. A number of endangered species, including the snow leopard and the Siberian ibex, can be found here. Kungri (9km away) has a monastery dating back more than 500 years. The park authorities maintain bunkers for night halts in Thango. Carry your own tents, sleeping bags, rations, fuel and other supplies.
Kaza is the district headquarters of Spiti, situated along the beautiful Spiti River at a height of 11,980ft. It is the largest township in the valley. The Sakya Tangyud monastery, located 4km from the town, is only a few years old but worth a visit. With several hotels and the only petrol pump in the area, it serves as a base for all your explorations of Spiti.
The landscape visible from the gates of Ki Monastery is absolutely stunning: blue skies, stark brown and snow-covered mountains, the Spiti River, and green fields. This monastery is the largest and highest in Spiti. It has a famous collection of ancient thangkas (a type of Tibetan Buddhist painting), books, weapons and musical instruments.
A small village that seems to have more four-legged denizens than people, Kibber was once part of the over land salt trade. Walk up to the monastery carefully as the path is narrow, and treacherous. The Ladarcha Festival, held each July, attracts Buddhists from afar.
Just 40km from the border with Tibet, Tabo’s complex of nine temples and cave shrines represents the oldest functioning Buddhist enclave in India. The 10th-century Tsuglhakhang (the main temple) has murals and wall-mounted stucco clay sculptures. The other prayer halls in the complex mostly date from the 15th to the 17th century. Small caves, once a part of the monastic complex can be found to the north.
Where to Stay & Eat
The Himalayan Homestays Programme (Spiti Ecosphere, Main Bazaar, Kaza; Cell: 09418860099; himalayan-homestays.com, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) has comfortable homestay options.
The Nomad’s Cottage (Cell: 08988203599, Delhi Cell: 09650824268; Tariff: ₹1500–1,970) serves local, Continental and Mughlai cuisines. The PWD Rest House (Tel: 01906-222572) has two rooms with attached baths.
The Himalayan Homestays Programme is a good bet. Dhankar Lake makes for an ideal camping site as long as you carry your tents and provisions.
Pin Valley National Park
To stay in the national park, contact the park office at Kaza. Trekkers’ huts (Contact DFO, Kaza Tel: 01906-222263) are available at Kungri and Tabo. If you don’t want to camp at the park, you can stay at the PWD Rest Houses or Circuit Houses at Kaza and the Irrigation and Health Department Rest House at Tabo.
Grand Dewachen (Tel: 01906-223301, Cell: 09459566689; Tariff: ₹9,900 with meals) offers beautiful, luxurious rooms. HPTDC’s The Spiti (Tel: 01906-222752; Tariff: ₹1,900–2,200) has running hot water and a restaurant. Try Snow Lion (Cell: 09418208987; Tariff: ₹1,320). You can also contact the Kaza office of the Additional Deputy Commissioner for Spiti (Tel: 01906-222301, 222252) for bookings at the New Circuit House, Old Circuit House or the PWD Class III Rest House.
The Zamgyen Khangsar Guest House & Restaurant (Cell: 09459073731, 08988107504, 09418677218; Tariff: ₹350–800) has eight rooms, attached bath with hot water, and a common TV. The Sarkong Guest House (Cell: 09418538140, 09418411532, 08988- 405341; Tariff: ₹500) has eight rooms, a dining hall, and running hot water. Both hotels do not have credit card machines, so carry cash.
Dewachen Retreats (Cell: 09459566689; Tariff: ₹7,000 with meals) has eight en suite rooms. The Tabo Monastery Guest House (Tel: 01906-223315/ 33; Tariff: ₹300–550) has a popular restaurant. Hotel Tashi Khangsar (Cell: 09418817761; Tariff: ₹700) offers camping. For food, try Monastery Restaurant, Taslin Khangsar, Amit Restaurant or the German Bakery.
When to go
June to October would be the best time to visit this scenic valley. If you’re travelling by road, remember that the road from Manali is open only between mid-June and mid-October. The road from Shimla is treacherous during the monsoon between the months of July and August.
HPTDC, The Spiti, Near Government Hospital, Kaza, Tel: 01906-222752
Himachal Tourism, Tourist Office, The Mall, Manali, Tel: 01902-253531
STD code 01906
Air Nearest airport: Bhuntar, Kullu (249km/ 9hrs). Taxi to Kaza ₹12,000
Rail Nearest railhead: Kalka (503km), well-connected to Delhi
Road Reach Spiti via Manali or Shimla. Hire a taxi from Manali (₹12,000) or Shimla (₹8,500) Bus A bus from Delhi to Reckong Peo (₹700) takes 15hrs