Spiti Valley-The Hidden Gem

Long winding roads and picturesque valleys presenting glimpses of cold deserts and snow-crowned mountains, with intermittent greenery and picture-perfect villages welcome you when you set foot into Spiti Valley. Bordered on all sides by the Himalayas, Spiti Valley, located in Himachal Pradesh, has an altitude of 12,500 ft above sea level, and gets around 250 days of sunshine in the year, making it one of the coldest places in the country. With the thick Himalayan snow cutting Spiti off from the rest of the country for around 6 months a year, the summer months are the only time Spiti is directly accessible via motorway.

The term Spiti means ‘The Middle Land’, and the place is very appropriately named, as Spiti Valley separates India from Tibet. Scantily populated, Spiti is an adventure lover’s paradise, with the famed Spiti trek attracting thousands of adventure enthusiasts every year. There are many trekking trails in Spiti that tourists can choose from. All of these treks start from Kaza (Spiti’s capital, where you make your base camp), to various peaks from where you can get panoramic views of the Himalayan mountains. An easy 1.5-kilometre trek along the Spiti River from Dhankar Monastery to Dhankar Lake promises gorgeous views of the villages below, and the Dhankar Lake itself is a place where you can sit back and relax amidst the cool mountain air.

 

1. Key Monastery

 

The Key Monastery is a famous Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Lahaul and Spiti District of India. It is located at an altitude of 13670 ft above the sea level, the monastery is very close to the Spiti River in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. The Key Monastery is over a thousand years old, and apart from being the oldest, it is also the largest monastery that can be found in the entire Spiti Valley. One must visit this place and feel the positive vibes. Prefer visiting the Key Monastery between June and October to make the most out of your trip and to enjoy your journey.

1.1 Festivals at Key Monastery

The Key Monastery celebrates an annual festival in the month of June or July. This celebration involves the Chaam dancers and is followed by a procession by the lamas who perform a dance in the ritual ground located right below the monastery.

1.2 How to Reach Key Monastery

In order to reach the monastery, you can first reach Kaza from Manali, and then board a daily bus to reach the monastery. Keep in mind that all the buses that take you up to Kaza terminate at that point. From Kaza, you will have to hire your own private vehicle to reach the Kee Gompa.

The cars are not allowed beyond a point. Reaching the monastery involves a steep climb from the car parking which is not suitable for elderly people and small kids.

Tips

  1. Driving from Manali to Kaza can be quite risky, so avoid the self-drive. It is recommended to hire a driver or go by bus.
  2. There are only one or two ATMs in Kaza, therefore, make sure that you carry enough cash.
  3. If informed well in advance, the monastery provides accommodation options. The charges are INR 250 per night including food.
  4. The monks at the monastery are really friendly and helpful.
  5. Do try the herbal tea available here. It’s very refreshing and good for oxygen circulation in the body.

 

2. Kibber Village

Kibber is a village high in the Spiti Valley in the Himalayas at 14200 ft in the Himachal Pradesh. It contains a monastery and a Kibber wildlife sanctuary.  Kibber lies in the narrow valley on the summit of a limestone rock. It is located 16 km from kaza and a bus service connects them in the middle summer months. Agriculture forms the backbones of the local economy lush green fields are abundant. Villagers count on the 3-day traditional trade route over Parang La to Ladakh to barter their horses for yaks or to sell for cash.

The village has around 80 houses, unique, given that they are made of stone instead of mud or adobe brick used extensively elsewhere in the Spiti Valley. Kibber has a civil dispensary, a high school, a post office, a telegraph office and a community TV set in the village. Kibber Monastery was founded by Serkang Rimpochhe of Tabo.

Locally known as Khyipur, Kibber at an altitude of 13800 ft. above sea level is one of the highest villages in the world. One can spend a day at the rest houses here, with the mountains watching over.

There isn’t much to do, but the sceneries and landscapes around you, as well as the altitude, will keep you fascinated. At a little distance from Kibber is Gette, the highest village in the world at a height of 14000 ft above sea level. Visit this village just to witness a settlement at this altitude and its overwhelming surroundings.

3. Komic Village

Komic monastery has the honor of being the world’s highest motorable monastery at 15000 ft above the sea level.

The Tangyud Gompa (also written bTang-rGyud, Tangyuth) or Sa-skya-gong-mig Gompa at the village of Komic, 2 km southeast of Hikkim in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, is built like a castle on the edge of a deep canyon, with massive slanted mud walls with vertical red ochre and white vertical stripes which make them look much taller than they really are.

4. Langza

Langza village is situated at an altitude of 14450 ft. above the sea level and is divided into two sections, namely Langza Yongma (lower) and Langza Gongma (upper). It houses a population of approximately 137 people, who are dependent on agriculture and business for their livelihood. The village has an ancient temple, which is regarded as the headquarters of all the Deities of the Spiti Valley.

Life is not easy in Langza during winter and the village remains disconnected from civilization as the temperature drops below zero, making it difficult for the villagers to continue their day-to-day task. As soon as summer approaches, the snowfields transform into green pastures and Langza opens its door for a few fortunate visitors.

 4.1 Attractions

Langza Village is primarily dominated by the statue of Lord Buddha, overlooking the valley, an ancient monastery, and mud houses that the tourists can see during their visit in the village. Visitors can also take a trail to few high altitude lakes, around Langza and indulge in adventurous activities like mountaineering and trekking. This place is very rich in fossils of marine animals and plants that were found here millions of years. This is the reason archaeologists and historians love visiting this place.

5. Lhalung Village (Monastery)

Tayul monastery namely Tayul Gompa is assumed as the oldest monastery in the Northern region. The monastery is standing tall in the midst of the mighty mountains. It is located at an elevation of 12775 above the sea level in the Bhaga Valley of Lahaul and Spiti. Satingri village is home to the Tayul Gompa that can be reached by a steep footpath from Upper Keylong.

Interesting fables are associated with the founding of the monastery. Once, Lama Serzang Rinchen of Khan Region in Tibet spotted this monastery when he was walking on and around the sacred Drilburi Peak. While walking on the peak, he spotted a small glade in the juniper forest. He showed the same to his pilgrimages, later he concluded that the place is an auspicious site to build a monastery and decided to name it as ‘Tayul’ which in the Tibetan language means chosen place. Built in the 17th century, the monastery is home to the Drugpa or Red Hat Sect of Buddhist monks.

6. Hikkim

Hikkim is 14 km away from kaza. This place houses the highest post office in the world. The village of hikkim is situated at the towering altitude of 14500 ft above the sea level. Hikkim also has the highest polling booth in india. It is located at a distance of around 6 km southwards of Langza, on the way to route to Komic. At the first glance, you might mistake Hikkim for being an extension of Langza or Komic as this village too is bowl-shaped and equally tranquil.

There are two options to go to hikkim, first is to hire a private taxi from kaza but it is a bit costlier. The second option is to take local HRTC local bus from Kaza to Hikkim which runs twice a week i.e. Tuesdays and Saturdays and depart at 2:00 pm. It is advisable to recheck the bus schedule one day prior to the journey. It takes almost an hour to reach Hikkim from Kaza.

 

7. Pin Valley 

Set amidst semi-frozen rivers in the Pin Valley, the Pin Valley National Park is situated in the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve situated in the Lahaul and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh. The elevation of the park ranges from about 11500 ft. above sea level near Ka Dogri to more than 19700 ft. above sea level at its pinnacle. One of the fascinating facilities of its kind, the Pin Valley National Park is home to the rare species of famous Himalayan snow leopards and their prey, the Ibex. Due to its high altitude, only a limited number of animals and plants thrive here. However, Pin Valley National  Park is most famous for its incredible trek which is a delight for all its visitors.

Pin Valley National Park acts as a joint between the separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti, and the Dhankar Gompa on the Tibetan border can be deemed as its exact starting point. With the picture-perfect backdrop of snow-covered mountain ranges, a trek to this destination is easily a nature lover’s dream. Animals here include woolly hair, Tibetan gazzle, snow leopard, fox, wolf, ibex, bharal, Himalayan marmot, Indian porcupine, blue sheep etc. Visit this national park to witness species and sceneries you don’t get to witness every day.

7.1 Flora and Fauna of Pin Valley National Park

Due to the park’s high altitude and extreme temperatures, the vegetation density is sparse, comprising mainly of alpine trees and groves of Himalayan cedar or Deodars. In summer, rare birds such as the Himalayan snowcock, chukar partridge, snow partridge and snow finch flourish in the park. Because of its snow-laden unexplored higher spots and slopes, the Park forms a natural habitat for a number of endangered animals including the snow leopard and Siberian ibex.

7.2 Trekking in Pin Valley National Park

If you have a taste for trekking through tough terrains, Pin Valley National Park is for you.  There are two routes to reach this destination, the first one is called the Summer Route which is open from July to October, and the second one is called the Winter Route which is open from March to December. The Summer Route begins from Kullu where you can take the bus. From Kullu, you reach Kaza via the scenic beauties of Manali, Rohtang Pass, Kunzam Pass. Once you reach Kaza, you need to board another bus to reach Mikkim, which is the last motored spot. From Mikkim, you need to trek a distance of about 10 kilometers to reach the Pin Valley Park Area. On the other hand, the Winter Route takes you from Shimla to Tapri by bus, and then Tapri to Kaza again by bus, and then to the Park on foot. The best time to visit this destination is from May to October, as the weather is comparatively less cold.

7.3 About Pin Valley National Park

Approx trekking distance (Both sides):20 km

Base Camp: Mikkim

The highest point of trek: 14600 ft. above sea level

Nearest Airport: Bhuntar, Kullu

The starting point of trek: Manali

Tips

  1. Make sure you carry warm clothes irrespective of the fact that what season you are traveling in.
  2. Carry your own trekking gear and equipment and be always prepared.
  3. Carry a medical aid kit and your usual medicines for the way.
  4. A good pair of trekking shoes is a must.
  5. Carry raingear no matter if you are traveling during monsoon season.
  6. Make sure you obtain all the permits well in advance required for trekking in the region.
  7. Make sure you carry spare batteries and film roll for the camera as there will be no electricity supply.
  8. A well informed and trained guide is very important and does make sure to sort out all trivial things well in advance to avoid misunderstanding.
  9. You will not find eateries at any place during your trek. It’s always a good idea to carry your own food during trekking.
  10. Pin Valley does not offer any proper accommodation for the trekkers. Most of the tourists carry their own sleeping bags and tents. Camping is allowed at Mud Farka.
  11. Carry your own water as well during the trek. However, you might get an opportunity to refill your water stock from the rivers flowing during the trek.

 

8. Dhankar

The beautiful Dhankar Village is one of the most stunning attractions in Lahual and Spiti Valley, a home to the most beautiful and awe-inspiring Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Fort that are perched on the top of the hill in Dhankar. Dhankar is located in the cold desert of Spiti Valley and looks like a bowl-shaped structure in the hills. It looks almost as if all the old Dhankar houses and fort have emerged straight from the mountains with their back wall being merged on the hill.

One of Spiti Valley’s beauty secret is the Dhankar Lake. Perched above the Dhankar village and Gompa, Dhankar Lake lies after a steep trek of 45 minutes. Though the trek seems an easy hike, it is quite difficult. The loose pebbles and the crisp mountain air make you breathless within a few seconds.

Dhankar Lake can be reached after a quite strenuous trek. You would want to quit and not continue with your climb but the surprise you get once you reach the lake is beyond words. The breathtaking expanse of cerulean waters is set against the backdrop of snow covered peaks. From the Dhankar Lake, you can also get a magnificent view of Manirang Peak (22600 ft. above sea level), the highest peak of Himachal Pradesh lying on the border of Kinnaur and Spiti district.

It is forbidden to camp next to the Dhankar Lake, as it acts as a source of water for Dhankar village. This lake is also sited at the beginning of Spiti Left Bank trek.

The beauty of the lake is spellbinding. If you spend enough time at the lake, you can see the sky change colors and reflections on the glassy lake. Within a span of just a few hours, you would have seen a profusion of colors, each one fascinating in its own way.

 

9. Gompa

This beautiful monastery is locked between the rocky spurs at the top of the cliff in the Dhankar village at an elevation of over 3,800 meters in the Spiti valley. It is a 16th-century old fort monastery, which has also served as a prison in the erstwhile era. The Dhankar Gompa is over 1000 years old and is connected to the rest of the valley through a Motorable road, which is good for a small vehicle only. There is a new monastery in the small village of Shichilling below the old monastery. The old monastery is associated with the Great Translator, Rinchen Zanggpo, and its complex comprises a number of multi-story buildings perched together.

Not just this, but the old monastery has five different halls, including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang, and a huge life-size silver image of Vajradhara, kept in a glass altar adorned with scarves and flowers. The Lhakhang Gompa is a must visit the spot, which is situated on the uppermost peak above the main monastery. This place is beautified with depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa, and Lama Chodrang on the central wall. There are around 150 lamas residing in Dhankar Gompa. Dhankar means ‘a place in the mountains that can be easily reached by visitors.

 

10.0 Tabo Monastery

Standing tall and strong at a dizzying height of 10,000 ft. above the sea level, the Tabo Monastery is a testimony to the innate beauty and elegance of the Buddhist culture. It is the oldest monastery that in India that has been functioning continuously since its inception. Built by the revered Buddhist king, Yeshe-O, the Tabo Monastery is now a priceless treasure to the Buddhist community.

This alluring monastery is renowned as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’. This is because the walls of the monastery are decorated with fascinating murals and ancient paintings, much like the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra. Resting peacefully on the left bank of the sparkling Spiti River, the Tabo Monastery is proud of having preserved the glorious traditions and heritage of Buddhism in the form of artistic murals, intricate paintings, elegant stuccos, and exquisite frescoes.

As the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” goes, it might first appear to you as a congregation of mud huts in the middle of nowhere. This perception is bound to change as one sets foot inside. For any individual seeking some peace of mind, this is the place to be. It gives a first-hand experience of monastic life

10.1 Activities at Tabo Monastery

Worship is the primary activity at the monastery. One must not miss the 6:00 AM morning prayer when the chants of the Buddhist monks reverberate through the walls of the assembly hall and soothe senses. The cliff above the monastery also houses some peaceful caves where monks and lamas sit in deep meditation. Tantric rites are also performed within the compound.

10.2 Tabo Monastery Timings

The monastery stays open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM every day, including weekends and public holidays. Morning prayers start at 6:00 AM and must be experienced once. Classes are held from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM for monks which you can attend with prior permission.

10.3 How to Reach Tabo Monastery

There is no direct way to get to Tabo Monastery. The most convenient way of reaching it is through Reckong Peo which is at a distance of around 150 km. The famous Kaza Bus runs between Tabo and Reckong Peo and is the only bus you’ll find on this route. It starts from Reckong Peo Bus Stand at 6:30 AM and reaches Tabo around 4:00 PM.

Alternatively, you can reach Tabo monastery through Kullu, which is 295 km away and then continue along the path of Rohtang Pass, Gramphoo, Batal, Kunzam Pass and Kaza. However, Rohtang Pass remains closed after October.

You can also opt to arrive at Tabo Monastery via Shimla, which is around 337 km away. The path from Shimla to the monastery will go through Narkanda, Rampur, Jeori Wantu, Karcham, Powari, Jangi, Puh, Khab, Chango, and Hurling. You can find hotels on the route for overnight stops.

The monastery is just a 5-minute walk from the highway which can easily be covered on foot. The trail is suited for old and aged people as well as there are no ups and downs on the path.

Tips

  1. A one-night stay at the monastery guest house is recommended for tourists wanting some peace of mind or for those who want to experience the monastic culture.
  2. Temperatures remain low throughout the year, so heavy woolens must be carried.
  3. Local Tabo dishes are a must try. The monks offer butter tea with Tibetan bread, which is a specialty there and is a must try.
  4. Carry a torch when you visit the monastery because the premises don’t use electricity throughout. It is always best to ask a monk to accompany you when you explore the monastery because the monks are very well versed in the history of the region.
  5. There are gift shops here where you can buy souvenirs, thangka paintings or picture postcards. All the proceeds are used for preserving the monastery.
  6. It is best to visit the Tabo Monastery between April and October when the cold is tolerable.
  7. Photography in the temples is prohibited.

 

11.Chandratal Lake 

A camper and trekker’s paradise, Chandratal Lake is often referred to as one of the most beautiful lakes located at an altitude of about 4300 m in the mighty Himalayas. The name “Chandra Taal” (Lake of the Moon) comes from its crescent shape. Once a tentative residence for Tibetan traders traveling to Spiti and the Kullu valley, it attracts thousands of adventure enthusiasts from all over the world. Vast stretches of green meadows house the best camping sites and an array of different wildflowers during springtime.

The lake is also a part of the Samudra Tapu plateau which overlooks the Chandra river. The trek from Batal to Chandratal can be quite a tedious trail for those who are going to trek, but the captivating views and charm of the place will be worth it. One can break free from daily monotonous routines here and experience real nomadic life. Nestled between the hills and mountains of the Peerpanjal range, sight of this lake’s brimming beauty is truly a feast for the eyes. The sun’s light reflecting on the surface of the lake makes it seem crystal clear.

11.1 Chandratal Lake Trek

The Chandratal Baralacha Trek is a fun and adventure filled experience amidst one of the most picturesque views of the spell bounding mountains and majestic blue waters. The trek goes through vast landscapes, rocky mountain passes and lush green meadows while overlooking the turquoise blue waters of the lake; and the adventure is multiplied with occasional sightings of exotic wildlife that is endemic to the region! All these factors undoubtedly make it one of the best treks in the entire region.

The trek goes through a scenic route with a panoramic view of the Lahaul range with snow clad peaks of Minar, Talagiri, Tara Pahar and Mulkila, all of which are over 6000 meters high in the sky. The trek eventually takes you to the point that is 5000 meters up in the air. What a thrill!

The trek does not require you to be a pro at it, and the difficulty level is quite moderate. However, high fitness levels and good stamina are a must when you’re walking at such a high altitude. The only times the trek becomes a little challenging is during river crossings, but can be managed.

The trek to Chandratal Lake is organized in the months between June and October, both inclusive. However, it is best to avoid going in the monsoon as the water levels of the rivers and lake are unusually high which may create restrictions on your movements.

11.2 Camping at Chandratal Lake

Chandratal Lake is an official camping site where one can lay in nature’s cradle all night long and admire the spectacle that it is. Laying by the lake as the stars twinkle in the night sky, feeling the soft warmth of the bonfire cuddling your skin as the cool breeze gently tingles your senses; the moon smiling at you as you gaze towards the sky making you feel protected under the nurture of the beautiful nature; a night by the Chandratal Lake is definitely an enriching experience for the mind and body both.

11.3 Chandratal Lake At Night

The Chandratal Lake is named after the moon not only because of its shape but also because of the way it reflects the moon. In fact, tourists from all over the country visit the lake to witness its unparalleled beauty in the night.

The pristine lake appears deep aquatic blue in the morning, turns greenish as the evening starts approaching, and looks like a vast pit of pitch black metal as the darkness of the night sets it. The clear reflection of the moon in the still black waters will give you the feeling of having the sky at your feet; it mirrors the night sky with a milky way of stars surrounding a calm white sphere. The Chandratal Lake is indeed a testimony to the majesty and unmatched beauty of nature.

11.4 Best time to visit Chandratal Lake

The best time to visit Chandratal Lake is between July and August. The water levels of the lake are high and the roads are cleaned off of the snow till the very end making it easier to walk to the lake and breathe in the beauty of the surroundings as they cleanse and rejuvenate you from within.

11.5 How to Reach Chandratal Lake

The nearest small gauge railway station is Joginder Nagar. However, rail traffic here is quite low. Another option is the broad gauge railway stations of Shimla and Chandigarh. You can rent a cab or hail a bus to the Chandratal Lake from these stations and pass through routes with impeccable scenic beauty.

Private and state buses ply to Spiti frequently and are an economic way of travelling here. However, the most convenient option is to hire a private vehicle to get to this altitude.

Cars can be hired from Manali to Chandratal. However, this will be expensive. Another option is to take a bus to Kaza in Spiti Valley and get down at Batal. From Batal, Chandratal lake is a 14 km trek. Those who are not willing to trek can hitch-hike.

 

Our Itinerary 

DAY 1: Delhi——–Manali (24th June 2018)—–14 to 15 hrs.[550 Km]

The journey started from Delhi at 4:00 am & then we drove to Manali. After full day journey and taking stops from breakfast, lunch and tea break in the evening time we reached at Manali at 6:00 pm, then we drove to hotel Mohan Palace and took rest. Around 9:00 pm we had dinner & then there was an overnight stay at hotel Mohan Palace. The journey was very tiring so we went to sleep after a short walk after dinner.

DAY 2: Manali——–Kaza (25th June 2018)—–8 to 9 hrs.[202 Km]

The next morning we were ready by 6:00 am. After having breakfast we checked out from the hotel around 8:00 am and were excited about visit to Kaza via Chanderatal .To reach Kaza we took the Leh-Manali Highway. On the way to Kaza we crossed Bahang, Palchan, Gulaba Viewpoint, Gulaba Tourist Spot, Marhi, Maharishi Vedvyas Temple, Rohtang Pass, Gramphu. From here we took the Gramphu-Batal-Kaza Road. In this way, we witnessed the Chhatru Bridge, Subhamoy Paul Memorial, and then we entered Batal. On the way from Batal there was a  State Bank Of India. Chicham was next to Batal, and after Chicham was Kibber. Before reaching Kaza, we also witnessed the beauty of Kibber Village and after that at 3:50 pm we reached the ki monastery, finally after visiting ki monastery we went to Kaza and there was an overnight stay in Kaza at Khun Khen Homestay.

DAY 3: Kaza—–local sightseeing and Komic village (26th June 2018)

DAY 4: Kaza——Pin Valley——Kaza (27th June 2018)

The morning after breakfast we visited various places like- Langza, Lahlung Village, Hikkim and Pin Valley. We left the hotel at 7:00 am in the morning and returned to Kaza by 6:15 pm.

DAY 5: Kaza——Via Dhankar Lake——Tabo (28th June 2018)—–1 to 2 hrs [50 Km]

Next morning, we drove to Dhankar and visited Gompa which is situated high above the valley. We reached tabo by night and spent the night in hotel Name Say Home Stay there.

DAY 6: Tabo——Via Kaza——Chandertal Lake (29th June 2018)—–2.5 hrs [85 Km]

The morning after breakfast and drive to Chandertal Lake & Overnight Stay into UC camps at Chandertal Lake.

DAY 7: Chandertal Lake——- Manali (30th June 2018)——8 to 9 hrs. [200 km approx]

DAY 8: Manali——-Delhi (1st July 2018)—–14 to 15 hrs [550 Km]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *