This spectacular tour will make you visit Himachal’s frontier district and Trans- Himalayan region called SPITI. Also referred as “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India, this cold desert mountain valley has a rich heritage and mind blowing landscapes..
Imagine 7000 sq km of snow capped mountains and high-altitude dessert with tiny patches of greenery and picturesque whitewashed houses. Huge barren mountains rising to very high elevations on either side of Spiti river and its numerous tributaries are largely devoid of a vegetative cover. Spiti rivers position across the main Himalayan range deprives it from the benefit of the south west monsoons that causes widespread rain in most parts of India from June to September. The valley and surrounding region is one of the least populated regions in India and is the gateway to the northernmost reaches of nation. As Rudyard Kipling said, ‘This is a world within a world’. The touch of barrenness and a sense of ancient civilization are some add-ons. The unparalleled beauty endowed by the nature binds the wits of every adventure enthusiast carrying out this enthralling trip. It has also been selected as the “Best in Travel 2018” list by Lonely Planet.
Spitian’s are the kindest of people who live the harshest of lives. Local population follow Vajrayana Buddhism similar to that found in the nearby Tibet autonomous Region and the Ladakh region of India. The Pin Valley of Spiti, which is also a national park, is home to the few surviving Buchen Lamas of the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. The high altitude villages and tiny remote settlements are home to several homestays offering basic accommodation and meals. There is no better way to get a feel for the lifestyle of Spiti’s amazingly resilient people in this tough environment. Winters are harsh affair as temperature plummets to as low as -30 degrees Celsius but its a perfect time to spot reclusive snow leopard and the wild ibex.
After the snow melts on the high peaks around the villages of Spiti, the hard working people start their annual summer routine. The livestock is taken to the grasslands for grazing and people get busy with their agricultural activities. Barley, potatoes and green peas are cultivated in the month of May and the crop is harvested at the end of August. It is then the valley gets a shade of green on its barren brown mountains.
There are two routes to enter Spiti valley, one from the northern side which is Manali (196 km) via Rohtang La pass (passable from May to October) or through more circuitous route from the eastern side starting from Shimla (416 km) via Reckong Peo. This backdoor to Spiti traced the valley of the Sutliuj river through Kinnaur district, where the mountains get steadily higher, the gorges more precipitous, and the terrain starker and drier with every passing kilometer. Foreign tourists entering Spiti via Kinnaur require inner-line permits because the routes very close proximity to the Tibetan border.
Spiti is also home to famous monasteries like, Tabo Monastery, Key Monastery and Dhankar Monastery etc.
Complex of nine temples and cave shrines dating back to 996 A.D making it an oldest continuously functioning Buddhist enclave in India. It was Founded by Rinchen Tsangpo, a key figure in consolidating the hold of Buddhism on the Tibetan plateau. Tabo Monastery is in the bottom of the valley unlike other monasteries which are perched on hills. The monastery is known as " Ajanta of the Himalayas" because of its frescoes and stucco paintings. The iconography of this period in the temples also supports the bond that existed between the two cultures of India and Tibet. Inside the gompa’s curious, mud-walled buildings bear outstanding murals painted by some of the best Buddhist artists of their time. There is a stuffed goat hanging in the courtyard above the main stairwell, a room where Dalai Lama slept. Tabo is protected by the ASI as a national historic treasure of India. As such, ASI encourages heritage tourism to this site. ASI had also proposed this monastery, the only monolithic structure of its kind in North India, for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its sanctity in Trans Himalayan Buddhism.
No sooner you leave Tabo for Kaza on your right are the small natural caves above the road, which were an integral part of the 10th century monastic complex.
The largest monastery in Spiti ( 4,166 m / 13,668 ft ) is Key and is believed to be founded by Dromtön , a pupil of the famous teacher, Atisha, in the 11th century. This may however, refer to a now destroyed Kadampa monastery at the nearby village of Rangrik, which was probably destroyed in the 14th century when the Sakya sect rose to power with Mongol assistance. Just 14 km from Kaza this monastery has prayer chambers , tortuous staircases and small doors. There are three floors, the first one is mainly underground and used for storage. The ground floor has the beautifully decorated Assembly Hall and cells for many monks. Like most Buddhist formations of the time it is built at an elevation from the village on top of a hill. It has withstood at least three documented Sikh and Dogra invasions and an earthquake in 1975. Repeated attacks on the monastery resulted in frequent renovation. This monastery has the priceless collection of Thangkas and manuscripts, weapons and wind instruments that feature prominently during the Chham Festival.
DHANKAR MONASTERY / DHANKAR LAKE
It is at an elevation of 3894 m / 12775 ft on the left bank of Spiti river and on a high cliff overlooking the confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers. It was built in 16th century which once also served as a jail and is one of the five main Buddhist centres. Its wedged between the pinnacles of a razor-sharp spur of crumbling rock and alkaline deposits. Dhang or dang means cliff, and kar or khar means fort hence Dhankar means fort on a cliff. The monasteries belong to Gelugpa Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The statue of Vairochana or Meditating Buddha’s idol forms the centre of the monastery. Monastery has ancient murals, thankas, Buddhist scriptures that are worth seeing. There are around 150 lamas residing in Dhankar Gompa. 2 km uphill trek from the monastery will take you to beautiful Dhankar lake.
It is the subdivisional headquarter of Spiti valley and makes a good base for further travels. At an elevation of 3,650 m/ 11,980 ft along the Spiti river it’s the largest township and commercial hub. Overlooked by high mountain ridges on all sides this place has a lot to offer to tourists. Divided into two areas, Old Kaza also known as Kaza Khas and New Kaza also known as Kaza Soma. The former one houses several palaces, gompas and historical buildings whereas the latter one has hotels, cafes and government offices. The famous German Bakery too is here and shops where one can purchase souvenirs. It also boasts of worlds highest petrol pump ( 3740 m / 12,470 ft ) and also the only one in the valley.
Kaza makes for an ideal base camp for all the treks and tours within the valley and provides guides, porters, and most importantly permits for treks.
Located at 3600 m/ 11,811 ft at the east end of Kinnaur Valley Nako is the last point of interest before you reach the landslide at Malling Nullah between Kinnaur and Spiti Valley. Considering the close proximity to Indo- Tibet border the foreign nationals need inner line permits. The area around Nako is known as Hangrang valley.
The village is small and the main attractions here are Nako Lake and Monastery. Nako Lake is a small and beautiful holy lake. Early in the morning it is most scenic as in still water you get a beautiful reflection of the village and mountains in the lake. Nako Monastery was founded by Ringchen Zangpo in 996 AD and is a complex of small old temples with fine old sculptures and frescoes. One can take a stroll in this beautiful village, observe the lifestyle of locals and enjoy magnificent views of snow peaked mountains.
Between the towns of Sumdo and Tabo on an offbeaten track on NH22 Gue is at an altitude of 3048 m/ 10,000 ft. This remote village is famous for a 500 years old naturally mummified body of a monk known as Sengha Tenzin of Gelugapa order. With eyes, teeth and hair on its head still intact this completely dried up mummy is kept inside a glass case. It was found in a sitting position with rosary in one hand and the folklore about it is the monk sacrificed his life while meditating for the prosperity of the village.
Also known as the ‘Fossil Village’ it is perched at an altitude of 4419 m / 14500 ft. It is 15 km from Kaza zigzagging on an uphill road. It is also considered to be one of the highest motorable village in the world. Langza is divided into two sections; Langza Gongma (Upper) and Langza Yongma (Lower). There is a huge Buddha statue overlooking the vast Spiti valley and an ancient monastery to visit. One can go higher on the mountains around to collect fossils of marine animals and plants which are millions of years old.
There are also two high altitude lakes around Langza namely Tsonyeti and Chumo Tso. These lakes are around 3-4 hour hike from the village which could be difficult for travelers, due to the low oxygen and high altitude of the region.
Locals have opened comfortable homestays for tourists and it’s a wonderful opportunity to stay there to learn about their lifestyle and culture . It also helps them to earn at a place where earning opportunity is sparse.
It is nestled at an altitude of 4270 m / 14,200 ft and lies in a narrow valley on the summit of a limestone rock. This scenic village is situated in a cold desert, surrounded by picturesque mountains, barren landscape, and green meadows. It has Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary and is famous for spotting Snow Leopard, Ibex, Red Fox, Blue Sheep and Himalayan wolf.
Kibber is 20 km from Kaza and 6 km from Key Monastery. The landscape of this scenic village stands apart from the entire Spiti Valley as it has more fertile fields that produce sufficient amounts even for trading. The major cash crops harvested here are barely and peas. The village is not deprived of the basic amenities such as electricity, school, post office and even a hospital. Tourists can stay at homestay, guest house or hotel.
A high altitude Himalayan village perched at 3850 m / 12,361 ft deep inside Pin Valley National Park where snow leopard prowls. Its 50 km from the town of Kaza and has a population of 190 people and 30 houses. Every house has prayer flags tied on the roof because of the Buddhist influence. Tourists enjoy the spectacular view of an open valley in front of the village and lofty mountains around and few go on an early morning walk around this spectacular village. One can spot the wild animals such as Ibex, Bharal (Blue Sheep), Snow Leopard, and threatened species such as Snow Partridge and Himalayan Snowcock.
Its also a place where famous Pin Bhaba Pass ( 4908 m /16,105 ft) trek and Pin Parvati Pass trek ( 5289 m / 17352 ft ) ends. There are various long and short treks inside this beautiful valley.
To get the real feel of this valley staying in comfortable homestays is an excellent option. There are few hotels and eatries as well offering delicious food.
PIN VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Established in 9 January 1987, Pin Valley National Park stretches over an area of over 675 square km in the uninhabited area of the Pin and Paraiho river catchments. The altitudes range from 3499 m / 11,480 ft – 5998 m / 19,680 ft . The landscape is typically ‘cold dessert’ , high- altitude terrain with sparse vegetation and boasts of flora and fauna characteristic of cold deserts. Its an oasis of green in the cold mountain region. Though its more desolate and devoid of vegetation yet full of grandeur and unique beauty. The exposed rocks and bare hillsides are a mosaic of different hues. Against the azure sky, the starkness of the scenery stands out clear, proud and pure. This area does not get monsoon rains but western disturbances in winter and spring cause snowfall as a result the wind chill factor is high even in the daytime.
Spiti’s populace is Buddhist and does not kill animals, resulting in the relative preservation of the wildlife of the area. It has spectacular scenery and an opportunity to spot rare creatures such as the Snow Leopard , Siberian Ibex , Chukar Partridge, Snow Partridge and Snowfinch. There are various short and thrilling high altitude trekking options such as famous Pin Bhaba Pass trek ( 4908 m /16,105 ft ) and Pin Parvati Pass trek ( 5289 m / 17352 ft ), all this and more awaits for visitors in this remote National Park.
Its famous for its World’s highest Post Office and Polling Station. Hikkim is also one of the highest year-round inhabited locations in India, with residences from 4330 m to 4400 m. 14 km uphill from Kaza and 6 km from Langza the village houses are clustered close to each other just down the road and one has to descent on a steep muddy trail to get to the village. This place has very basic and few homestays.
NOTE : Do not forget to post a postcard to your loved ones from the world’s highest Post office.
At 4587 m / 15049 ft it boasts of being the worlds highest motorable village. 4 km ahead of Hikkim this place comprise 15-16 houses and above them is Tangyud Gompa. With couple of basic homestays one can also stay in monastery at a minimal cost. The vast barren landscapes , snow covered peaks and unspoilt scenery are the perks for tourists.
At an elevation of 4,590 m / 15,060 ft it is a high mountain pass on the eastern Kunzum Range of the Himalayas approximately 19 km from Losar. It connects the Kullu valley and Lahaul valley with the Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh. It is on the route to Kaza the sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti.
Also known as 'Moonlake' is a 2.5 km wide fresh water lake at an altitude of 4250 m / 13943 ft. The name of the lake originates from its crescent shape and the water is crystal clear. Mountains of scree overlook the lake on one side, and a cirque encloses it on the other. One can sit here for hours and enjoy the beauty or walk around the lake and cover its circumference. It is a sacred lake in which swimming is strictly prohibited. There is a parking lot from where tourists walk 2 km to reach the lake. Accommodation is available 5 km from the lake in the form of comfortable tents. The lake is one of two high-altitude wetlands of India which have been designated as ‘Ramsar Sites (list of wetlands of international importance)’.
DAY 1 CHANDIGARH - SHIMLA ( 120 KM )
The vehicle will pick you up from the railway station and on the Himalayan Expressway you will head towards queen of hills Shimla. The distance is 113 km from Chandigarh and it will take 4 hrs to reach. Upon your arrival you will check in the hotel and later in the evening can visit Mall road and hike to Jakhoo Temple. Overnight stay in hotel.
DAY 2 SHIMLA - KALPA ( 230 KM )
Today you will leave early in order to reach Chitkul by evening. It’s a long but exciting journey as moving on NH22 will lead you to Narkanda. From here the views of Greater Himalaya are magnificient…mind you, this is just the beginning.
Descending from Narkanda will make you enter Sutlej valley and after busy Rampur town the road ascends and becomes narrower. From Karcham here turning right to Powari following a steep road will make you reach the headquarter of Kinnaur district called Reckong Peo. From here covering another 6 km and enjoying the views of mighty Kinner Kailash and other white giants you will reach Kalpa. Overnight stay in hotel.
DAY 3 KALPA – RECKONG PEO - NAKO ( 108 km )
Time to leave your cozy beds and do not miss the magnificent sunrise from behind the Kinner Kailash range.
After enjoying a hearty breakfast you will bid goodbye to Kalpa and via Reckong Peo zig zagging on the road you will notice that greenery is vanishing and giving way to moraine and dry mountains with Satluj flowing towards your right. After crossing a small town called Spello the road becomes more treacherous and narrower with sharp rocks protruding towards your left. After crossing pooh and enjoying the scenic view from a Y junction at Yangthang the right side road will take you to Nako village. You can visit beautiful Nako Lake and Monastery. Overnight in homestay.
DAY 4 NAKO - GUE VILLAGE - TABO ( 79 KM )
Wake up early morning and if the lakes water is still you can witness and capture the beautiful reflection of mountains and village on it. After having breakfast take a stroll and observe the lives of the locals. Time to hit the road and zig zagging on it you will cross the notorious Malling Nullah to reach Chango and then to Sumdo where at a checkpost details of the tourist and vehicle are recorded. This is the point where Kinnaur valley ends and Spiti valley starts. After crossing Spiti river at Sumdo there is a diversion and you will take the road on your right for 8 km which will lead you to Gue village. Visit the 500 years old naturally mummified body of a monk known as Sengha Tenzin for which this village has gained the popularity. Time to hit the road again and you will head towards Tabo via Hoorling. Now you will witness the barren clay color hills with snow at the peaks. No trace of any grass or tress could be found in these hills. Tabo monastery will be towards your left. Check in the homestay followed by delicious hot dinner in a beautiful traditional dining room. Overnight in homestay.
DAY 5 TABO MONASTERY - DHANKAR MONASTERY - MUD VILLAGE / PIN VALLEY ( 81 KM )
Today after hearty breakfast you will visit Tabo Monastery which is an oldest continuously functioning Buddhist enclave in India. The structures made from mud gives the feel of an ancient kingdom. Time to hit the road again and enjoy the scenic views as the river will be on your left. Its hard to understand how dry mountains can have such beautiful shades. You’ll be able to see Dhankar Monastery towards your right on a hill. Another 8 km drive and you will reach the beautiful Dhankar village. You need to walk to visit Dhankar monastery. Capture the magnificent vast landscape complemented well by the confluence of Spiti and Pin river. Time to move on and again after the descent the river will be on your left and after crossing a bridge on your left you will enter Pin Valley National Park. Another 33 km of one of the most scenic journey, dry mountains giving way to greenery, small villages far away and Pin river being on your right throughout you will reach Mud village. The village overlooks the fields and spellbinding view of the valley will truly rejuvenate you. Though the entire Spiti valley offers magnificent views but the landscape of Pin valley ups that by a few notches. Overnight stay in homestay.
DAY 6 MUD VILLAGE - HIKKIM - KOMIK - LANGZA ( 80 KM )
Today get up early and go for a walk in this beautiful valley followed by breakfast. Time to say goodbye to this unforgettable place and by the same route you will reach Kaza, the subdivisional headquarter of Spiti valley. Now you will head towards Hikkim which is 14 kms uphill from Kaza and 6 kms from Langza. You will be visiting the worlds highest post office at Hikkim followed by Komik which is just 4 km ahead and boasts of being the worlds highest motorable village. Time to head towards Langza which is 9 km away and will take approximately 30 minutes to reach. Upon your arrival you will check in a homestay followed by visiting Buddha statue and the Monastery. The Village Langza lies immediately at the base of Chau Chau Kang Nilda peak ( 6302 m / 20,679 ft ). There is more to it as the rays of the setting sun will fall on the mountain and make it shine. Overnight in homestay.
DAY 7 LANGZA - KEY MONASTERY - KIBBER ( 32 KM )
Time to leave your cosy bed and enjoy breakfast. You will bid goodbye to Langza and zig zagging on the road will reach Kaza . Another 14 km of drive will take you to the largest monastery in Spiti called Key Monastery. You will be amazed by the first glimpse of the monastery. From the parking lot one has to walk for 10 mnts to enter the main monastery building. Visit the temple but inside photography is strictly prohibited however you can capture the premisis. After spending some time in the monastery you will leave for Kibber and another 6 km of drive will take you there. You will check in homestay followed by village expolration. It’s a magnificent picture postcard village where the houses are made of stone instead of mud or adobe brick used extensively elsewhere in the Spiti valley. Overnight in homestay.
DAY 8 KIBBER - LOSAR - KUZUM PASS – CHANDRA TAL ( 71 KM )
Time to leave your cosy bed and followed by hearty breakfast bid goodbye to this village and get ready to witness and cross the Asia’s highest suspension Chicham bridge. Vehicle will stop at this point for you to walk on the bridge and gaze down from it. Time to move ahead and you will witness the spellbinding landscapes. The amalgamation of river and dry mountains and at places naturally formed razor sharp mud structures along the road will leave you speechless. You will pass Losar which is at an altitude of 4114 m /13500 ft and is relatively unexplored, due to its remoteness and inaccessibility. After Losar the road becomes narrow, muddy, uneven and treacherous all the way till Chandra Tal. Gear yourself up for the bumpy ride ahead as you move on towards Kuzum pass which is 18 km. Vehicle will stop for some time at Kunzum Pass for you to take pictures and enjoy the lofty mountains guarding this place. As you cross the pass the roads descents and you will head towards Chandra Tal which is 9 km ahead. The road becomes narrower and more treacherous with couple of water crossing sections (nullhas) in between. Upon you arrival you will check in the comfortable tents followed by lunch. The vehicle will then take you till the parking from where you need to walk for 1 km to witness Chandra Tal. The jaw dropping view of this beautiful crystal clear lake and surrounding area will shed tiredness and rejuvenate you. If you wish you can walk on a narrow trail covering the distance around the lake which will take an hour. Time to leave and vehicle will take you to your tent and later you will be served hot dinner. Time to slip in your cosy beds. Overnight stay in tent.
DAY 9 CHANDRA TAL - ROHTANG PASS - MANALI ( 124 KM )
Time to come out of your cosy bed and witness the beautiful morning views. After breakfast you will leave for yet another adventurous journey. Moving on the road the first place you will cross is Batal where there is famous tea and snack point of an old couple (Chacha Chachi) who took care of travelers, including children, at their home for ten days under hostile weather conditions. The road condition further deteriorates and at sections where water flows on the road, you may have to get down and cross. Well that is the part of this adventurous trip. You will reach Chhatru where there are few shops serving hot food to travelers and its also a point where famous Hampta Pass trek ends. As you will move further finally the dry landscape will give way to greenery and waterfalls. Upon reaching Gramphoo you will soon be on Manali – Leh highway and finally reach Rohtang Pass ( 3978 m / 13051 ft). Now the road descends and you will be covering another 50 km to reach Manali while enjoying the lush green views.Upon your arrival in Manali you will check in the guesthouse / hotel followed by dinner and well deserved rest
DAY 10 MANALI – CHANDIGARH ( 305 KM )
Today after hearty breakfast you will leave Manali and with sweet memories of this unforgettable trip via Kullu you will reach Chandigarh by evening for your onward journey. The trip will terminate here.