A year and a half and the pandemic still persists. This year when it hit again as the ‘second wave’ in April 2021 it was grimmer and way more serious, at least in India. So many people lost their close ones, and media was full of heart-breaking news. I myself went through a turmoil in these months, and by the time it was June, I was drained out and needed a desperate respite.
The opportunity presented itself when I was generally chatting with a friend, and she mentioned her plans of heading to Spiti Valley for 10 odd days. My ears popped up. Spiti has always been on my bucket list and it felt like a sign. I was already done with one dose of my covid vaccine and the second one was due within a week. If I managed to get that I would actually be able to join my friend on her trip and that prospect excited me to the core.
More than me my dad was super excited for me to go. He had been on a 2 month backpacking trip to that part of the country, and still said that the landscape in the valley was the most beautiful sight of his life and he remembers his adventurous travel escapade with great fondness.
So he took it upon himself to ensure that I could manage to get a slot for my second dose on time so that I could go ahead with the plan. This by the way, he managed successfully; by driving me two hours out of town (at this time the slots were not available in my city and were getting booked within seconds of the slots opening online). I am so thankful for his passion to make sure his daughter sees the beauty that this country has to offer and to experience the pure joy of being amidst exhilirating landscape all around :).
Anyways now that medically I was good to go, I had literally 4 days to get packing and plan out for anything and everything that I may need for the valley. Mind you, we were in June and Spiti valley (which is cold throughout the year) was just opening up to the tourists since the Kunzum-La pass (enroute to the valley) is usually blocked with heavy snowfall which happens all of March and April.
What to Pack?
Mind you, even though you may think it’s summer and all parts of India are boiling, and so- like how cold can it be up in the mountains, you are going to be in for a shock if you find yourself in Spiti and haven’t packed enough warm clothes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you :/. Not only is it extremely cold at night but even during the day, the wind is super chilly. The good part though is that you will have enough and more sunshine and hence if you are aptly layered, the cool, fresh wind on the face on a nice sunny day is the perfect weather to ask for.
Considering we were driving down to Spiti, we had mutually decided on keeping a limit of one suitcase, one hand bag and one laptop bag per person (we were 5 people driving down in two cars). 2 jackets, 1 overcoat, 6 sweaters, 3 track pants, woollen caps, mufflers, socks and other obvio items all went into that one suitcase of mine. Phew..I still am proud of my accomplishment 😉
How to Reach? DELHI TO CHICHAM VILLAGE (SPITI VALLEY)
While there is always an option of taking a flight up to Kullu- Manali(Bhuntar) airport and then driving from there by hiring a cab, we decided to drive it up right from Delhi as we had the time and worked out to be more economical in a group of 5.
The route we took was:
Delhi-Karnal-Ambala City- Chandigarh- Sundernagar- Mandi- Kullu/Manali
The above journey took us close to 14 hours. We took a night halt in a cute homestay called Kullu Kitchen which had super comfy beds and OMG yummm food.
Ths route via Manali is actually not the only route to Spiti. We got stuck more than twice in crazy traffic jams because of road construction work and the extra hours were a bummer. So if you have time in your hand, don’t take this route. Some people later told us that the other route through Shimla though a bit longer, is actually more scenic.
Since the roads to Spiti valley had opened just a day or two prior, the authorities were only allowing heavy 4 wheel drives through, and hence our hosts(we had booked our stay in Tethys Himalayas in Chicham Village), had arranged for transport to pick us up from Kullu Kitchen to take us to Spiti. The cab drive one way can cost anywhere between 8k-15k depending on the vehicle you choose and the season when you travel.
So the journey on Day 2 had us taking the below route:
Kullu/Manali- Burwa- Atal Tunnel- Koksar- Chatru- Batal- Kunzumla Pass-Losar- Kaza
The above journey should take you close to 4-5 hours depending on how many stops you make and assuming there are no road blocks, because in case of landslides you could end up spending the whole night in the car till the roads are cleared out:/
Since we were travelling in Covid times, we had to carry our RT-PCR tests and even have an e-pass which thankfully was all in order. The HP police did a good job of ensuring timely checks yet managing the traffic without unnecessary delays. We even had to do an extra rapid test in Sissu (right after the Atal Tunnel).
Koksar will have some more checks by the authorities and once that is cleared, expect to be in the wild. There are no proper roads most of the way, though the locals mention that it is so much better now than it was few years back when there was literally nothing. We were travelling in an Isuzu and an Innova and hence even the rough roads were bearable. The highlight ofcourse were the amazing landscapes which we gawked all through the journey. I am not kidding when I say that you will literally have your mouths open throughout the journey with the beauty all around. I cannot believe it still that I witnessed that kind of tryst with the nature. Loved every second of it.
After around 4.5 hours on the road, which included lunch at Chacha-Chachi dhaba in Batal(we ate yum rajma chawal), a 20 minute photo shoot at Kunzumla-pass and several hundreds of bathroom breaks(all were in open nature because duhh, obviously no bathrooms in the wildnerness bruh), we reached Kaza where we were to spend the night.
Do note that Chicham, which was our final destination actually comes before Kaza(need to take a slight detour), however Mohit, our host had recommended we take a break at Kaza for a night just so that we could acclimatize. Chicham village is located at an altitude of 4,150 mtrs(13,615 ft) and one needs to be well adjusted to that kind of height in order to avoid dizziness, continuous headaches and vomiting for days which would ruin your trip.
Hence a night stay at Hotel Deyzor in Kaza (altitude of 3,800 m) is highly recommended. I was perfect all of the days I was up there and had no health issues at all 🙂
Easy-peesy, after a good night’s sleep, and a heavy brunch at the amazing Hotel Deyzor which not only has beautiful rooms, but also the best food in town(all thanks to the owners- Kim and Karan),we headed straight to Chicham village(close to Khibber village- the erstwhile haunt of adventurers who managed to make it all the way to Spiti, before Chicham took the limelight 😉). The journey was less than an hour and the landscape of course was mind-blowing. We also crossed the Key Monastery on our way, but decided to come and visit on one of the other days)
Kaza Village- Key Monastery- Khibber Village- Chicham Village
Note: For your return journey, you can go back the same route, or opt to come via Shimla and stop over at some other beautiful places like Jibhi, Jhalori, Mashobra, Naldhera, Thanedaar, Barog etc.
What to do in Spiti Valley?
There is literally so much to do, to see and to explore and experience in Lahaul-Spiti Valley. Our original plan of staying fo 10 days also seemed too less by the end of it(we added few extra days while heading back to Delhi, and halted at Manali and Mashobra for 2 days each). I just wanted to stay back in this gorgeous place for days and weeks to come, but alas we had to manage to see it all in the limited time we had in hand.
Below are some places I highly recommend you to see/visit. Trust me. You will not regret it.P.S: Not listed as per ranking or preference. Randomly penned down.
1) Dhankar Monastery and Lake: Brings such happy memories when I think back to those views from the rooftop of the monastery. Literally the valley stretches in front of you and you will not stop clicking those pictures. Dhankar is around a one hour journey from Kaza. A beautiful drive(as are most of the journeys done in this part of the country), and some rough roads will keep you busy all throughout the journey. You can also keep a look out for some wild animals like the Himalayan ibex, Blue sheep and if you are lucky some Red fox(and if you are realllllyy like then maybe even the snow leopard 😊).
The monastery is at an elevation of 3,800 meters and in the 16th century served as prison. Unfortunately, we arrived at a time when it was going through some renovation(is almost 1000 years old), and so we could not go inside. But the visit to the roof was worth it all.
If you don’t mind some slightly tough uphill climbs, I highly recommend taking the route up to the Dhankar Lake. Will take you around an hour plus to walk up to the lake which is perched up there at an elevation of 4,140 meters. The initial 35 minutes is a little hard, but once you reach the flat land, it is mesmerising to be walking in the middle of an rid landwhich is stretching far and wide. And there when you least expect it, you will see that beautiful water body. Just sit there and enjoy the peace. We were lucky to be the only ones there when we reached, but have heard it can get pretty busy in peak seasons. So time your arrival well.
2) Key Monastery: Easily approachable and mostly you will be crossing it some day or the other. Would recommend to stop by and spend some time inside. We had a monk who offered to show us around. When we arrived, the dinner time was on and hence we had to waitfor half an hour or so. Took that time to walk around the monastery and chanced upon a biker who directed us to the perfect sunset spot. While we missed the sunset, but it was a very pretty spot to visit anyhow. By the time we were back, the monks had finished dinner and we went to the meditation rooms, to the main prayer area and also had a look at the kitchen where the meals were prepared for around 100 plus monks residing in the monastery. The place has a simple, peaceful and spiritual vibe which rubs on to you and I for one definitely came out of the place feeling lighter and more mindful(it lasted for exactly 20 minutes 😉).
3) Hikkim and Komic: We actually did both these places on our way to Demul and I recommend you do the same. We were in an Isuzu and me and my friend decided that the best way to enjoy the beautiful landscape was by parking ourselves in the back of the car, the open trunk area. We literally got two stools placed there and then hung on to the rods for our dear lives(50% thanks to the rocky roads and 50% to the driver who literally was driving as if he couldn’t wait for a great humpty dumpty fall.:D).
The driving time from Kaza to Hikkim is around 40 mins(15 kms). Hikkim village is located at an elevation of 4,400 mtrs and is majorly famous for the post office. Hikkim’s post office is one of the highest post offices in the world. Vastly popular among tourists, and even more common is the act of getting a post card sent from this post office to your loved ones 😊.
The village also has a small monastery but definitely something you can afford to miss.
After getting the mandatory pics clicked, you can then head ahead and drive another 3 kms to reach the ‘Highest village in the world connected with motorable road’, and this village is called Komic. Most of these facts though are under dispute(both Hikkim and Komic), however, it still doesn’t take away the excitement of being there.
4) Langza and Demul: After Komic, one can continue the journey and head to Langza village. While for Demul one will have to come back to Komic, but since we wanted to take a lunch break, the closest village for some good restaurants is Langza and hence we decided to take a detour.
The distance between Komic and Langza is around 10 kms and the same will take you close to 20 minutes. By the way these time estimates are given with the assumption that there are no road blocks, landslides on the way. If you are un-lucky enough to get stuck in one, forget looking at the clock. It could take hours, and in some cases even a day for the same to be cleared off and for you to carry on your journey :/. Hence recommended that one should not visit the valley in monsoon season(End June- Aug).
Langza is actually a decently big village with close to 40-50 houses and is divided in two parts- the ‘Upper Langza’ and the ‘Lower Langza’. This village is majorly famous for ancient fossils. We went to freshen up at a friend’s-friend guesthouse(Lara’s Homestay), and there they had a good collection of some beautiful fossils on display. Apart from the fossils, the grand Buddha statue which overlooks the village is also a popular attraction of Langza. There is a popular belief that behind this statue, is the home of all the deities of Spiti valley.
After freshening up, head back to Komic and then drive up to Demul. Demul village is around 25 kms away from Komic and the road connecting them is a dirt one and can be quite tricky to drive on. Demul village is very popular because of its unique homestay options. With close to 50 houses in the village, you will have enough and more options to choose from in case you plan to spend a night. We stopped en-route in a place called Balari(or as some call it Palari) top, from where the winds will literally make you fly and you can at the same time take in the panoramic view of the magnificent snow covered mountain all around you. One can also see the Lingti and Pin rivers merging with Spiti river from up here. If you know where to look, one can also spot the Dhankar Monastery.
5) Tabo village and monastery: Another day you can plan to also visit Tabo village. About 1 hour 20 mins drive from Kaza(48 kms), the roads are smooth and the journey is comfortable. Tabo is at an elevation of around 3,280 m and is majorly popular for the Tabo monastery which is the pride of the villagers. Another option is that on your way out of Spiti, if you take the Shimla Kaza highway, then Tabo will be en-route and you can just stop then rather than making a special visit all together.
A popular legend says that the Dalai Lama has expressed his keen desire to retire in Tabo and believes this monastery to be one of the holiest in the world. The monastery has some new constructions happening, and there is now the Old and the New Tabo monastery which one can visit. The complexes have some beautiful wall paintings and mud statues to admire and one can easily spend hours just sitting and meditating in this beautiful and serene environment.
6) Ladarcha: Not too far from our homestay in Chicham, is a small village called Ladarcha, which is mainly famous for the annual festival held in July and even more for the fair that is held in this period. This fair has a historic significance in the history of Spiti. The traders from Ladakh, Rampur, Busher and Spiti would meet and exchange the goods of one another.Hence this fair and the village overall is thus associated with the barter of goods for the locals. The fair also has a lot of dance and singing performances and thus is definitely one that you should visit in case around in July.
We had a special day picnic in Ldarcha, where our hosts from Tethus Himalayas organised a wonderful tea party in the middle of the luch green hills. With the cold winds blowing and the bright sun keeping us war, the laughter that echoed all across from our small bunch, was proof enough of the great time we were having.
7) Kibber Village: Before Chicham village became popular amongst tourist, Kibber or Kyibar village was the most popular village for the hard-core adventurers who ventured into the Spiti valley. The village is famous for several things- a monastery, Kibber wildlife sanctuary and recently the Chichan-Kibber bridge is also super popular since it is the highest man made bridge in Asia. Actually since this bridge was made, Chicham village became more accessible and hence the tourists started venturing a bit further from Kibber into Chicham.
The village has a number of homsetay options, and restaurants to eat as well.
I had a super interesting and memorable time exploring the steep slopes of the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, where I accompanied a passionate photographer to go spot some ibex and blue sheep. Though the journey was not an easy one, but it was indeed a successful one as we spotted a whole herd of Mountain Ibex up close and got some great shots of them in their natural habitat. It was fun to literally watch them play, run and roll down the slopes.
8) Pin Valley National Park: Unfortunately we missed visiting this place because of the shortage of time, but have heard great stuff about it.In fact from the rooftop of the Dhankar monastery, once can actually see the Pin valley and it looked really tempting. Pin Valley National Park is the only National Park in Himachal Pradesh which is situated in the cold desert area. The park covers an area of around 675 sq km and has more than 16 villages inside the park. The valley is at an altitude of 3,300 mtrs.
To reach the park, you have to come to Mikkim from Kaza and cover a distance of around 32 km. From Mikkim, you then have to walk around 10 km to reach the park. An adventurous journey indeed.
9) Chandra Taal Lake: Located at an altitude of around 4,300 mtrs, this lake is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes of the country situated on the Samundra Tapu plateau oin the Lahaul region. The name Chandra Taal- Lake of the Moon, comes from its crescent shape. The lake had just opened up in the same week but yet was not fully operational in terms of the stay or food options. It is also not very close to Kaza(around 100 kms away). It is infact recommended to visit this lake on your way to Kaza from Manali or on your way back when you are heading to Kunzum La Pass and then back to Koksar. It is around 15 kms from Batal(remember Chacha-Chachi dhaba) and one can either drive to it or even trek if you are feeling a little adventurous.
Spending a night at the lake is ideal as the star gazing from the lake, with the reflections in the water is a sight you will remember for years to come.
So this in short was how I spend the wonderful days in Spiti-Lahual valley. Honestly the most beautiful place I have been to yet in the whole country. I still remember the night where I saw 5 shooting stars in a strtch of 15 mins. The best day ever 😊
So wait no more. Just pack your bags and head there, because paradise is calling you.
Where to Stay?
Kullu: I recommend Kullu Kitchen. A very homely plce with the best food you can think of. The staff is super sweet too.
Kaza: Hotel Deyzor. For food you can also go to The Himalayan Café
Langza- Lara’s homestay. Lara is also the most famous guy in the valley. Apparently everyone knows his 😊
Chicham Village: Tethys Himalayas. A home away from Home. A place where we haad a week of pure bliss.
Hope you plan a visit to this beautiful place super soon, and got some relevant tips for your journey from my travel diary.
Keep reading for more of my experiences.