Wind-carved mountains, whitewashed settlements, patches of green on an arid terrain and confounding moonscapes to offer, it is difficult to disagree with Kipling. To have our treks either start (Pin Parvati, Kanamo Peak) or end (Hampta Pass, Pin Bhaba Pass) in these surreal landscapes of Spiti Valley is just a cherry on top of the trek experience.
The moment you hit Kunzum La pass (known as the Gateway to Spiti), with fluttering of prayer flags in the high winds to greet you, you know you have entered a completely different world. You can see Bara Shigri– the second longest glacier in Himalayas and Chandra Bhaga mountain from the Pass. As you descend from the Pass, the Himalayas show you a completely different face. The untouched culture is a product of this region’s seclusion, cut off by snow at least 7 months of the year.
We have listed out our favourite experiences in the Spiti Valley region of Himachal Pradesh here:
Distance from Manali: 48.3 km
Transport: We recommend getting a taxi from Manali instead of a public transport. Buses and share taxis only drop you off at Batal.
The Pangong Tso of Spiti! This stunning crescent lake is included in our Hampta Pass and Kanamo Peak itinerary and is a must-do! Not only that, if you are trekking anywhere near Manali, perhaps the Bhrigu Lake or Pin Bhaba trek, you can easily add another day to your itinerary and visit this gorgeous lake.
Distance from Manali: 200 kms
Transport: There is State transport bus leaving Manali for Kaza at 6 am.
This is where our Pin Parvati and Kanamo trekkers go to on their Day 1. Kaza is the capital and the largest settlement of Spiti region, sitting on the floodplain of Spiti river. This is also your last place with an ATM and petrol bunk. Being the largest settlement in Spiti Valley, it is well-equipped to meet needs of travellers. If you are trekking in months of July/August, you may able to catch the Ladarcha Fair. Originally it was a conference of traders from Kullu, Ladakh, Lahaul, Kinnaur to barter goods in Kibber Maidan, until the trade routes with Tibet closed. Now, the Fair is held in Kaza and is a shopping paradise.
Distance from Kaza: 15 kms
Key is the largest monastery in the Spiti Valley region and possibly one of the oldest in the region. Perched on a hilltop, boxes of buildings stacked on top of each other, with Spiti river breaking the desert valley, this monastery is quite a sight! If you are lucky, you will get a tour from a friendly monk (and a helping of herbal tea!) and even get to go through old manuscripts. Our Kanamo trekkers are lucky this monastery is part of the itinerary, and they get to stay here overnight!
Look up monastery festivals before you go, you might be able to witness the Cham Dance!
Distance from Kaza: 19 kms
Here’s where our Kanamo Peak trek starts. Kibber, dubiously claimed as the “highest village in the world” before Komic stole its glory, is a beautiful village with whitewashed houses made of mud and stone. The farmlands of peas and barley add striking colour to the desert landscape. The area is under Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary where you can spot elusive snow leopards (these animals only come down from the mountains in winter), Himalayan wolf, ibex, blue sheep and red fox.
The trolley ride from Kibber to Chicham
This is not for those with acrophobia– the video above should give you a good idea of the scale! The means of commute between Kibber and Chicham village is trolley ride between the gorges. The trolley will have you looking at almost a 150 metre drop, with sparkling blue river snaking its way below! Don’t assume that this is operated by a machine. You have to pull yourself onto the other side holding onto the yellow rope!
Distance from Kaza: 15 kms
Hikkim village, sitting in a bowl in a mountain, has the distinction of having the world’s highest post office and also be named as world’s highest polling station. It is not everyday you get to send postcards from the highest post office in the world!
Distance from Kaza: 14 kms
Behind Hikkim is Langza- a geologist’s paradise! Millions of years ago, Spiti was under Tethys sea. There are innumerable fossils of sea creatures and plants to be found under rocks, or in the higher reaches of the mountains. With grand views of Chau Chau Kang Nilda peak, the village is one of the most beautiful villages in Spiti. Langza also has a large, golden Buddha statue which is said to be over a 1,000 years old.
Distance from Kaza: 34 kms
Dhankar (“Fort on Cliff”) used to be capital of Spiti during the 17th century- now it is just a tiny village. The buildings in the village is built in a way that it almost seems share their back wall with mountain. The Dhankar Monastery is listed as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. It is not hard to see why. The monastery, wedged between eroded rock pinnacles, overlooking the confluence of Spiti and Pin river, is at a site vulnerable to soil and wind erosion. The setting of the monastery, however, is incredibly dramatic! You can even hike up to Dhankar Lake above the monastery.
South of Dhankar Gompa, starts Pin Valley National Park, the only cold desert National Park in Himachal- where Pin Parvati begins and Pin Bhaba ends.
Once you have completed Rupin Pass, if you wish to visit Spiti- you can take the Hindustan Tibet road.This road, bored through a cliff and full of hairpin turns- though scenic- is also one of the most treacherous highways in the world. You start following the Spiti river a little before Sumdo and Tabo falls right after.
Distance from Sangla: 160 kms
Gue is a diversion between Sumdo and Tabo. Gue, a village straddling a trade route between India and Tibet , houses a 500 year old, remarkably well-preserved mummy in a glass chamber. The monk- said to be Sangha Tenzin underwent natural mummification and was found by villagers in 1975 when earthquake struck the region. The village is controlled by ITBP because of its proximity to Indo-China border.
Distance from Kaza: 48 kms
This is a world heritage site and Dalai Lama’s favourite place! Tabo monastery is known as the “Ajanta of Himalayas” because of its fresco and stucco paintings. It is one of the few monasteries which is integrated in the valley with the village as opposed to being perched on a hill overlooking the village. The mountains also have meditation caves for lamas.
Tabo and Gue come right after you enter Spiti from Hindustan-Tibet Road that goes through Kinnaur.