Rudyard Kipling, the author of the lovable Jungle Book described Lahaul – Spiti as a “world within a world… surely the Gods live here!” It truly is such a magical world!
The valley is a land lost in time. The mountains are huge and barren with vegetation patches scattered in few places. The sky is so clear that you could spot Milky Way with naked eyes. And the people are so warm that you cannot help but fall in love with them. With pristine lakes, some of the world’s highest inhibited villages and precariously perched monasteries on cliffs Spiti look like a postcard picture.
How to Reach
The road trip to Spiti valley is going to be a journey that you will remember for all of your life. This trip will give you a taste of many things in terms of vistas and culture. The slow transformation from lush green hills to barren brown of Spiti will leave you mesmerized.
Spiti is only accessible by road. Not by train or flight. There are two routes:
Manali to Spiti: The distance from Manali is around 200 km which can be covered in 8-10 hours. It might take longer depending on the weather and the condition of roads. You will cross Rohtang Pass and Kunzum Pass which are covered in snow all year long.
The roads only open from May to October. Therefore, it’s only possible to travel from Manali to Spiti during these months. This is the shorter route and it ascends quickly. Therefore you have to be a little careful as Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) can be a serious issue here.
Shimla to Spiti: Shimla lies 410 km from Spiti, and the distance can be covered in 16-18 hours. It is advisable to break your journey in 2 days. The route is one of the prettiest you will see in Himachal. You will be passing through small towns and villages like Narkanda, Sangla and Kalpa. The road conditions are a little better here and due to the gradual ascent, you won’t be having AMS.
Note: Many people start their journey from Shimla and end it in Manali, hence doing the complete circuit.
Best Time to Visit
Spiti Valley experiences a pleasant weather from June-September. This is also the time when the Manali route starts opening. The apple trees are bearing fruits, and there is a hint of green in the middle of the cold desert. All the major attractions are accessible, the hotels and the cafes open their doors to welcome you.
If you want to beat the crowd, then visit Spiti in March-May. This is the time when the snow starts to melt and the temperature rises. You might have to skip few places but seeing the entire valley coming out of hibernation is a whole new experience.
October is the onset of a cold winter. Visiting the valley from October-February is a challenge. Most of the roads are closed and the temperature drops to as low as -20 degrees. But this is also the time to spot the beautiful snow leopard. These days the winter expedition trips to Spiti are becoming famous and you will see Wildlife Photographers and adventure enthusiasts exploring the area.
What to see in Spiti Valley
Kaza: This is the main town in the region. Adorned with small cute cafes and a beautiful river flowing by, Kaza is popularly used as a base by travelers.
Key Monastery: The biggest monastery of Spiti Valley, Key Monastery is located at the top of the hill, with views of the Spiti river and of the imposing mountains. The monastery’s structure, as visible from the base of the hill, is a photographer’s delight.
Kibber village: This used to be the highest motorable village until Komik took its place. The mountains around Khibber are home to the famous and elusive snow leopards and Siberian Ibex. If it’s a frightfully lucky day, you might see one! The village homes in Spiti are constructed in the typical Himachali style with timber bonded stone. The villages, with their serene surroundings, Tibetan prayer stones and wandering yaks are a sight for sore eyes.
Dhankar Monastery: It’s the spectacular rocky setting that makes this monastery special. There is a beautiful lake here, but it requires a 45 minute steep hike to get there. And at these altitudes, it can be a difficult climb.
Dhankar lake is beautiful, blue and absolutely crystal clear. The views from here are breathtaking and from here you can even see Manirang Peak (6593 metres) – the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh.
Tabo Monastery: Over 1000 years old, this monastery is a must visit. The paintings and murals on the walls of the main sanctum make it a masterpiece, and it’s also known as the “Ajanta of the Himalayas”.
Pin Valley: This region is most famous for the last of the Buchen Lamas, home to Ibex and Snow Leopards. Wildlife photographers, nature lovers, stay here for days at stretch hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard. It is also the starting point of two famous treks – the Pin Parvati Trek and the Bhabha Pass Trek. The Pin river runs along the length of this valley, before merging with the Spiti river.
Langza: Known for its fossils, is a small village with a huge and colorful statue of Lord Buddha presiding over it.
Hikkim: The village is famous as it is home to the world’s highest post office. The best thing to do here is write notes to your loved ones on colorful postcards.
Komic: This is the highest motorable village in the world. And even though you can drive, I suggest you hike from Hikkim. The entire path is mesmerizing and you will want to capture it all in your eyes. Visit the Komic monastery. Sit with some monks, have some chai, discuss life in Spiti, how they live, and learn to fall in love, appreciate the smaller things in life.
Chandratal Lake: Chandratal Lake is to Spiti, what Pangong Lake is to Ladakh. The lake is a photographer’s delight. It is deliciously blue, it changes appearance almost every passing hour, and you will get some fantastic pictures here. Camping near the lake will be an amazing experience. There will be a thousand stars in the night sky, and one of the most beautiful lakes in the world lying just ahead of your eyes.