My hair stood on an end, a shiver raced down my spine and a lump came to my throat. “Will I survive this?” I asked myself. Probably a gazillion times, I ‘almost’ went ahead to book the trip to Spiti Valley but backed out immediately. At that time riding on a motorbike to a cold far away mountain desert located at an very high altitude in the Himalayas with oxygen deficiency in the atmosphere sounded quite intimidating and scary. More often than not, I found myself delaying to book this trip. But then what I did not know then was what Spiti Valley would offer me? The answer was Alluring mountains, passes, valleys, lakes, history, rich culture, local food and most importantly the thing I was just looking for – an adventure of a lifetime!
Did you know? Spiti valley is located at an altitude between 12,500 feet i.e. about 3000 meters above the sea level to 15000 feet i.e. about 4500 meters above sea level. The entire valley is located in the north-eastern area of the Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The middle land”, i.e., the land between Tibet and India. Spiti valley is also popularly known as the ‘land of lamas’ which means the land of Buddhism gurus. It contains important centers of Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh. Several monasteries are spread across the entire valley with a purpose to impart knowledge, wisdom and act as a center for religious work.
TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN SPITI VALLEY:
How would you like it if I tell you that there’s a place in Himalayas that’s filled with green meadows, serenity, peace and waterfalls? A place where one can leave all their worries behind and just live with the sounds of the birds, rivers and trees. Tirthan valley located in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh offers exactly the things most people seek a.k.a. Peace. Standing at an altitude of 1600 meters above sea level, Tirthan valley is filled with the natural treasures and is also known as Himachal’s best kept secret. The name Tirthan is derived from Tirthan river that originates from the freezing glacial springs of Hanskund, a snow-capped peak in the dense Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). It’s an ideal place to chase waterfalls, trek and and explore the calm and transparent lakes in the region. Some recommended places to visit in this valley would be Choi Waterfall, Tirthan river, Serlosar lake, Jalori pass, Jibhi and the lush forests of the Great Himalayan National Park.
No way would any traveller visiting Spiti valley should miss the mesmerizing village of Chitkul on the way. A laid back and serene village located at 3450 meter above sea level in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh is also known as the last village of India for the civilians. Ahead of Chitkul, civilians are prohibited. But why? THat’s because Chitkul is located near the Indo-Tibetan border on the banks of river Baspa with the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas. Going ahead means going to the border which is prohibited for the civilians. According to a study by Centre of Atmospheric Sciences at IIT Delhi Chitkul is known to have the cleanest breathable air in India. The mesmerizing views of the river Baspa and the mighty Himalayas makes Chitkul a part of a beautiful painting. This captivating village hosts the last post office of India and the last restaurant of India which is frequented by people from all over the country. This is declared with pride on a big banner next to the cafe and the post office. The humble villagers of Chitkul hosts backpackers, bikers, campers, hikers and explorers throughout the year. It is a must visit destination for photographers, nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Another quaint town located above Reckong Peo in the Sutlej river valley in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Kalpa is famous for its Apple Orchards. It’s one of those offbeat villages of Himachal Pradesh which is often a stop for those travelling to Spiti valley. Kalpa is located at an average elevation of 2,960 metres i.e. at 9,711 feet. It is located 265 kilometre beyond Shimla on the NH-5. Even though this tiny offbeat hamlet has less visitors, the views of the Himalayas it offer are unbeatable. People often visit here with an intention to take a break from the crowds and to chill amidst the mighty Himalayan mountains. It’s a great village for those looking for a stay cation. Some of the places to visit around Kalpa are Sapni Fort, Narayan Nagini Temple, Chakka Trek etc. Also visible from this place is the sacred Shivling rock on the Kailash mountain that changes its colour at different times during the day.
Want to experience the Tibetan culture on your adventurous trip to Spiti? Don’t miss out on the amazing Tabo Monastery in this region! Tabo monastery was built in the year of 996 CE by the Tibetan Buddhist Rinchen Zangpo lotsawa for the then King of Western Himalayan Kingdom. It is spread over an area of 6300 sq. mtrs. and is situated at a height of 10,000 feet. Believe it or not but this ancient monastery is one of the oldest and the highly respected monastery among the Tibetan Buddhist. And at present it is very well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The entire monastery premises comprises of 9 temples and gompas. The old wall paintings and carved sculptures inside each of the temple & Gompas depicts the cultural and historical importance of Tibet & India. One can find ancient manuscripts, writings, thangkhas and other ancient architecture here.
The monks of Tabo monastery dive deep into meditation in the Tabo caves located near to the Monastery. The meditative vibes inside the Tabo caves makes one feel calm & relaxed. It’s pertinent to note that Tabo Monastery allows visitors and travelers to stay in their budget hotels and dormitories located inside the monastery complex and get a firsthand experience of the monastery life. Accommodation facilities are limited and one should not expect any luxurious options here. The monastery has one restaurant where visitors can have veg and non-veg food.
Kaza also known as Kaze is the main city of the mountainous Spiti Valley making it an important administrative and commercial center. It is the biggest township in Spiti valley and is divided into 2 parts – Kaza Soma and Kaza Khas. While the New Kaza i.e. Kaza Khas accommodates the king’s palace, gompas, monasteries and other historical buildings, the old Kaza i.e. Kaza Soma is home to several government offices and other commercial centres. Kaza being the sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti Valley has the most hotels, markets, main bus depot, hospitals and schools. Infact Kaza is the only town that houses the highest petrol pump in the entire Spiti valley region. Not just that but several treks like Pin-pravati pass, Pin-Bhaba etc starts from Kaza as their base camp. Visitors can find several cafes serving western and authentic food and souvenir shops in the Kaza market thus making it an ideal place for tourists. It is recommended to buy your souvenirs from the Kaza market as they are cheaper as compared to those available at the tourist spots. Also explore the local cafes like the Himalayan cafe that serve delectable local food.
Known as one of the highest village in world connected with a motorable road, Komic village is situated at an elevation of 15027 feet above sea level. With a population of just 150 people, It is one of the most visited village in Spiti valley. The village has a beautiful monastery in the area and offers unbeatable views of the valley below. One can head to Komic from Kaza and finish exploring the village in just half an hour. If looking to stay then Komic takes pride in providing accommodation at the highest homestay of the world. You could also eat at the highest restaurant in the world during your visit or your stay. I had the chance of eating home cooked food at the highest restaurant of the world. I tried their schezwan fried rice and thukpa and believe me the food was simply delicious. Totally recommended!
How would you feel to head to the remotest village in the entire Spiti valley that hardly has a population of around 300? Langza is one such place located at an height of 14500 feet or 4420 meters above sea level. Visitors who come to Spiti valley make sure to visit Langza for the most popular and tallest Buddha statue that is located atop the hill overlooking the valley. It is the postcard picture of Langza found on the postcards of Spiti valley. The villagers believe that the idol of Buddha protects them from evil spirits and thus they pray and honour the statue with utmost respect. Apart from that plenty of wildlife enthusiasts stay in Langza to get a glimpse of the endangered animal species of snow-leopards, Himalayan wolf, red fox and Ibex in and around this village. There are several guided treks and trails that start from Langza in search of the endangered wildlife. Langza is a perfect place to stay to see the Milky way on a cloud free night from the Buddha statue. Even though Langza is a small village, it still offers magnificent experiences that one would carry with them throughout their life.
Located at a bewildering height of 13596 ft, the strong Chicham bridge connects the two villages of Chicham and Kibber in the Spiti valley. Chicham bridge is an engineering marvel in itself and also is the highest bridge in the entire continent of Asia. It took a total of 15 years to construct the bridge and it is fairly recently in the year 2017 that Chicham bridge was inaugurated. Since then travelling between the two villages has reduced by 40 km and has thus has become time saving and convenient for travellers, bikers, visitors and also for the villagers themselves to travel to these two villages. But mind you crossing this bridge is not for the fainthearted. Chicham bridge is constructed on 1000 feet deep gorge named as Samba Lamba Nallah and if you look down the depth of the gorge, it surely leaves you stunned and bewildered! The marvellous bridge surely makes one want to stop and photograph it and has become one of the Instagram worthy spot in Spiti valley region. One can see plenty of travellers, bikers, backpackers clicking pictures around the bridge.
Kye Gompa also spelled as Ki, Key or Kee is one of the most visited Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Gelugpa sect in the Spiti valley. This 1000+ year old monastery is located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres i.e. 13668 feet above sea level and close to the Kaza township. An oldest and biggest Buddhism training centre of Lamas, Kee Monastery is a heap of several rooms and narrow corridors on a monolithic conical hill. The monastery is a 5 minute uphill climb and is interconnected by narrow passages, small staircases and low heighted doors. One can also opt to stay at the key monastery for one or two months for a nominal fee to experience and learn more about the Buddhism religion and its culture. Inside the monastery there are beautiful murals, thankas, rare manuscripts, ancient images and white strolls tied up everywhere. The picturesque construction of the Monastery can be found across various tourism banners and postcards of Spiti valley.
Housing one of the highest post offices in the world, Hikkim another gem of a village in Spiti valley is situated at an elevation of 4,400 m (14,400 ft). This village is just 2 km from Komic and 46 km from Kaza. People come to Hikkim only to post cards and letters from the highest post office. It is a boon to the villagers as it also acts as a savings bank where villagers can deposit or withdraw money. Postmaster Rinchen Chhering has been here since its inception in 1983. Hikkim village was the world’s highest polling station which was recorded in the Limca book of records. I had sent plenty of postcards from Hikkim post offices to my friends and family. Infact I posted one to my own address to Mumbai with cute messages and within a month I received the postcard in Mumbai. Believe me it was one of the happiest feeling I had so I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Spiti to try this out! One of the happiest day of my life!
The Kunzum Pass or Kunzum La is one of India’s highest motorable mountain passes located in Himachal Pradesh that acts a gate to the majestic Spiti valley. It connects the two towns of Lahaul and Spiti and is situated at an height of 4551 meters. During winters the Kunzum Pass is filled with snow which is bad news for the travellers, bikers and backpackers as it closes the door to Spiti from Manali side. This motorable road is also known for the Goddess Kunjum temple guards over the pass and protects the people from the evil power. The temple is on the way from Spiti to Lahaul. It is visited mainly by the bikers to seek the blessings of Goddess and visit Chandratal Lake. Kunzum pass offers majestic views of Bara-Sigri Glacier, the second largest Glacier in the world. While biking at kunzum pass, one can enjoy views of the majestic snow clad mountains and massive glaciers. There are no tourist facilities available on this motorable road but one can head 16km to the nearest village ‘Losar,’ from Kunzum Pass for accommodation and/or restaurants.
The unbeatable beauty of Chandrataal lake located at a height of 14100 feet is surely the highlight of the entire Spiti valley. This crescent shaped lake is also known by various other names like Tso Chigma or Chandra Taal, or Chandra Tal or moon lake. It is a sweet water lake which is around 2.5 km wide and is the source of Chandra River. Did you know? The lake remains cut off and frozen throughout the year except during the months of June to September. Though the place is far away from any human settlement, it is a famous camping site during summer. There are just camps here & no other accommodation option are available and yet travelers in huge numbers visit the lake during the three months and prefer camping. The greenish blue colour of the lake connecting the pristine mountain of Chandra Bhaga is surely a sight worth beholding. The lake is normally crystal clear and bluish green in colour but it changes its colour often as per the shade of the sky. Isn’t that something worth seeing live with your own eyes?
Interesting fact: Hindu mythology says that Indra, the King of Gods, came down on his chariot to Chandrataal lake to transport eldest Pandav Yudhishthira in his mortal form to heaven.
HOW TO REACH SPITI VALLEY – Routes
There are 2 routes to reach Spiti valley from Delhi/Chandigarh.
Route no 1: Delhi/Chandigarh – Teerthan Valley – Chitkul – Kinnaur – Kalpa – Tabo – Kaza – Komic – Langza – Hikkim -Kunzum La pass – Chandratal- Manali -Delhi/Chandigarh
Route no 2: Delhi/Chandigarh – Shimla-Narkanda-Kalpa-Nako-Tabo-Kaza-Komic – Langza – Hikkim – Kunzum La pass – Chandratal-Manali.
One can also start from Manali and end the trip at Shimla or vice versa.
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
November to February (Winter season)
The road to Spiti Valley remains open throughout the year through Shimla – Kinnaur route as there is no high mountain pass that comes on this route which gets heavy snowfall but the road starting from Manali completely closes in winter as soon as Rohtang Pass and Kunzum Pass closes down on account of heavy snowfall. Having said that it is important to know that travelling to Spiti valley in the winter months of November to March is surely possible but it is difficult, uncomfortable and highly dangerous. Temperatures go below -20 degree Celsius during this time and most of the accommodations are shut off leaving room only for a few homestays with bare minimum facilities to function. Most importantly, it is during the winters that the chances of road closures are high due to untimely and heavy snowfall so it is important to keep some extra days in hand over and above the duration of the trip to be on a safer side.
March to June: (Summer season)
It is in the month of March the snow starts to melt and the Rohtang Pass and the Kunzum Pass slowly starts to welcome travelers from Manali side in the territory. March to June is considered to be the best time to visit Spiti Valley for those travellers who want the entire Spiti Valley for themselves with minimal crowd. The ones who are into a relaxing vacation should visit Spiti during this season as the temperatures range from 0 – 15 degree Celsius. Hotels and Homestays start to welcome travellers with better facilities, and the bustling local markets start to sell the fresh produce of fruits and vegetables. Travellers interested in watching snow-studded peaks or playing in the snow at Kunzum Pass should go to Spiti Valley during this season.
July to October: (Monsoon season)
July to October is the peak season for travellers and tourists to visit the cold mountain desert. Even though these are the rainy months, it is during these months that a large number of tourists make their journey to Spiti. Not just that, all the roads to various sightseeing places in Spiti valley and in the nearby villages in Spiti Valley also open in this period. Hotels in Spiti Valley function in full swing with plenty of bikers/travellers/tourists all around the area. The most serene and beautiful Chandratal lake becomes accessible during these months as soon as the Kunzum Pass opens. However, the rainy months are quite dangerous due to massive landslides that takes place in and around Kinnaur valley. So its important to keep an eye open throughout the trip and to steer clear of such areas as much as possible. The temperatures during the day touch 20 degree Celsius however at night is quite cold with almost close to 2-3 degrees Celsius.
ROADS OF SPITI:
By now I am sure you have figured it out that the Spiti valley is a super cold mountainous desert located at a very high altitude in the north eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. For the most part of the year the roads to reach Spiti valley is covered with a thick blanket of snow. During the rest of time the Spiti valley roads forms the most part of the adventure. The amazing landscapes of Spiti might blow you away with its beauty but to witness these mind blowing spots one has to cross dangerous patches of the freezing water roads and narrow dirt roads.
The roads in this region is one of the toughest, adventurous & most dangerous roads in India. At times the road goes pretty steep and is more dangerous than the roads of Leh Ladakh region. Sections of the road are really smooth and good however majority of the parts are narrow enough to barely let a small car pass. Inexperienced drivers in Spiti valley is a big no no as it might lead to accidents and the vehicle tumbling down the valley. If you intend to travel by car than it is important to make sure that your car has good clearance. If you intend to travel by motorbike then its necessary to only travel by bullets with 350 CC or higher cylinder capacity. However, the best part is that due to negligible traffic and amazing driving skills of the locals, any accidents hardly occur in this region.
Interested to experience the roads of Spiti valley with the locals do contact them and give my reference for a fun filled adventure:
Mr. Chhering Gompo: +91 – 94596 89419 (for travelling in tempo traveller)
Mr. Cherry ji : + 91 – 9459914831 (for bike rides on bullet)
Mr. Jaspreet Singh: + 91 – 84477 39620 (bike mechanic in Manali)
I vouch for them as I completed my Spiti Circuit with them and they made my journey smoother and hassle free.
ESSENTIAL THINGS TO CARRY FOR SPITI VALLEY TRIP
In order to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness it’s essential to protect yourself from the unbearable cold at all times and hence layering of clothes is the advisable fashion trend to follow in the high altitude mountains of Spiti. Here are some of the things to carry in your backpack before heading to Spiti:
- A rucksack (50-60 liters) and a small backpack
- Water bottle
- Thermals 2-3 pairs (must have)
- 2-3 long sweatshirts or pullovers and 2-3 short sleeve cotton t-shirts.
- 1-2 fleece jacket or windcheater jacket or windproof jacket or warm hoodies (must have)
- At least 2 long cargo or trekking pants or jeans.
- 1 pair of gloves.
- Good insulated boots or trekking shoes.
- Woolen socks 2-3 pairs and other undergarments.
- Carry at least 1-2 caps, beanie or monkey caps and sunglasses to protect yourself from the harsh and direct sunlight.
- An extra pair of shoes/gumboots for bikers as there are a lot of water crossing regions.
- Medications like first aid kit, glucose powder, Diamox, Dettol, cotton, sprain relief spray, crepe bandage, headaches cold and cough related medicines and any other personal medications you take.
- Toiletries including a strong sunscreen.
- Power bank
- Enough cash as the ATM’s are limited and mostly non-operational.
- Bikers should get their helmets, knee and elbow guards, biker jackets and gloves for maximum safety.
- Complete vaccination certificate or Negative RT-PCR Test Report.
ATM’s, PETROL PUMPS & PERMITS
It is advisable to carry enough cash for this trip as after crossing Delhi/Manali/Shimla the next ATM is at Sangla and then directly at Kaza. There are just a handful of ATMs in and around Spiti valley which are most of the time out of cash. Also there are no currency conversion shops available anywhere in the entire Spiti Valley.
Petrol pumps are available at Delhi, Shimla, Manali and only 1 petrol pump is available in the entire Spiti Valley that is located at Kaza.
As far as permits are concerned, the foreign nationals are required to get Inner Line Permits to visit Khab, Samdo, Dhankar, Tabo, Gompa, Kaza, Morang, and Dubling. However, the foreign Nationals can visit the Inner line tourist places of Kalpa, Sangla, Chitkul and Sarahan without any permit.
No permit is required to visit Spiti Valley for an Indian National except for a vehicle permit to cross Rohtang Pass. This permit is needed only if he/she decides to enter Spiti Valley from Manali by his/her own vehicle or self driven rented vehicle. If going from Shimla, then this permit too is not required. This permit is available online on the government website and can be easily obtained. No permit is required for the reverse direction – i.e from Spiti Valley to Manali.
Indian citizens are not required to get any permits to visit upper Kinnaur or Spiti but it is highly recommended to carry certain documents. A valid Government ID proof, E-pass to enter Himachal, a negative RT-PCR Test or a Full Vaccination Certificate. We were stopped by the local police asking for such documentation at various places throughout Spiti Valley.
MOBILE CONNECTIVITY AND INTERNET
Manali – All mobile networks and Internet available, both prepaid & post-paid.
Chandratal – No mobile networks work here.
Other places in Spiti Valley – Only BSNL/MTNL and Jio mobile network works, WIFI available at few hotels.
Kaza – Only BSNL/MTNL and Jio mobile network works, WIFI available at few hotels.
Kalpa – Only BSNL/MTNL and Jio mobile network works, WIFI available at few hotels.
Chitkul – Only BSNL/MTNL and Jio mobile network works, WIFI available at few hotels.
Tirthan Valley – Only BSNL/MTNL and Jio mobile network works, WIFI available at few hotels.
HOW TO PREP YOUR BIKE & RENTING
Spiti Valley is a difficult terrain to conquer not just for the biker but also for the bike. One cannot get up one fine day and start a trip to Spiti without getting the bike thoroughly checked. A trip to demanding terrain requires lot of practice for the biker and a proper back up of bike supplies for the machine. In order to ensure that it survives the trip and brings you home safely, you must prepare your bike for Spiti Valley and pay close attention to its overall performance and each part here’s how:
- Get the bike serviced
- Replace all the cables including clutch, accelerator, brakes, and possibly the speedometer cable as well. Keep the old ones as spare for the trip if they are not too old.
- Check the tires and change them if either of the them are too old.
- Refill the engine oil, gear oil, brake fluid, and suspension oil and carry extra ones if possible.
- Get the wheel alignment and carburetor tuning checked and corrected if required.
- Replace the clutch plates, chain set and suspension if these are too old.
- Ensure that all the nuts and bolts to are tightened enough and that nothing is let loose.
- Get the brakes checked along with disc brakes and if required get it corrected.
- Check the efficiency of your bike’s battery, engine, head light, tail light, brake light, and indicators and keep extras if possible.
- Check the bearings and get them properly greased.
- Keep bike’s first aid kit ready. If possible learn basic bike repairing from your mechanic before heading out to Spiti.
- Keep an eye on every other part of your bike and get it checked. Repair those parts if required.
SPARES TO CARRY WHILE BIKING AT SPITI
If you are planning to conquer the demanding terrain of Spiti on bike then you need to carry plenty of supplies and spares to ensure that you have a smooth trip. In Spiti it is difficult to find a mechanic and spare parts. Hence its advisable to carry the following things along with you when biking in Spiti by yourself:
- Documents: Carry all necessary documents including your driving license, RC, PUC, and Insurance certificate. Carry both original and photocopies of each.
- Puncture repair kit including tools.
- Extra tubes to replace the puncture.
- Tool Kit to tighten the nuts and bolts and for other minor repairing.
- Spare Keys of your bike and keep them in different places in your luggage..
- Spare fuse for both front and rear wheel.
- Nylon Rope to tie your luggage on the back seat along with extra ropes.
- Carry backpacks and not trolley bags.
- Spark Plug.
- Extra screws, nuts, bolts, wrench, screwdriver of all shapes, spanners etc.
- Clutch, Brake, speedometer and accelerator cables.
- Soft cloth in case your rear end hurts due to sitting on bike for long hours.
- Chain Links
- Engine Oil (About half a liter of it) and break oil.
- Bungee Cords.
- Oxygen cylinder if possible in case of breathing problems.
- First aid for yourself and any other personal medication as prescribed by the doctor.
- Fuel pipe to take out fuel from another vehicle in case of reserve fuel situation with you and someone else is ready to lend you.
WHAT TO BUY?
Spiti Valley and decades old Tibetan influence on its culture go hand in hand. This prominence can be seen even in the modern times. The majority of the people in this region follow Buddhism followed by Hinduism. Hence several products in the market and in the local shops are inspired by the mix of these two religions and the culture. One can buy Prayer wheels, flags, beads, masks, carved Chhang pots of brass or copper, bamboo baby cradles, work baskets, Buddha statues and statue of Guru Padmasambhava. Apart from that one can easily find copper and brass carves singing bowls that are said to have healing powers when sounded.
That’s not all, the Tibetan traditional dress, Pashmina Shawls and jackets, Himachali shoes, caps and skirts. In jewelry section one can check out the local Himachal jewelry collection of neckpieces, bracelets, anklets, rings and earrings. Apart from that wood from walnut, mulberry, fig and chestnut trees are used to make a wide variety of boxes, cradles, beer mugs, toys and even rosary beads etc.
Another highlight for the shoppers is the apple wine and the blackberry rum found in abundance in Spiti valley.
WHAT TO EAT?
Every region has something different and unique to offer not just in terms of places to visit but also in terms of delicacies. Similarly even Spiti valley offers some delectable local delicacies to its visitors. Momos, Thukpas, sea thorn juice, sea thorn tea, apple and apple made products, fresh water fish Trout fish, dumplings etc. are some of the popular dishes around Spiti. These dishes have slowly made a way into the hearts people residing in other parts of India.
To sum it all up, Spiti Valley is an offbeat destination for adventure, photography and meditation and visiting here can surely be a lifetime experience filled with plenty of memories. Also I hope the information provided above will guide you in planning your trip to the far corners of Himachal. I highly recommend travelling to Spiti with the India’s Coolest Travel Community – WanderOn like I did and trust me they surely made our trip memorable, hassle free and completely safe and secure in a challenging terrain like Spiti.
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