Travel to this cold mountain desert and you will have a bag full of adventurous stories to share. If you are one of the luxury travellers, then sorry to say, this isn’t your holiday destination. Spiti awaits you with rustic rugged terrains, denudated rock faces, quaint villages, Buddhist culture, divine monasteries, luscious local meals, bone chilling temperatures and lots more. This place is undoubtedly a photographer's dream destination!! (A bollywood trivia - Paap and Highway were shot in Spiti).
Let me tell you a few things about Spiti:
Spiti, the word itself means "the middle land". It is situated in the Himalayas and is divided into 2 districts - Spiti and Lahaul. Both are cut off from each other by the Kunzum Pass. The local population are followers of Buddhism and it is also known to be the favourite place of Dalai Lama. Spiti is very prone to snowstorms and thick icing conditions, hence it is avoidable to travel here in the winter months from November to April, as most of the roads are unreliable and the connection to the highways are cut off (apart from the freezing temperatures of course!!).
First let’s get the facts right!!
Best time to visit – Late May to October
How to reach - ONLY ROAD TRIPS!! (It's definitely a delight for bikers)
2 Routes – (i) Shimla to Kinnaur Valley – Takes 2 days giving time for acclimatization
(ii) Manali to Kaza – Takes 12-14 Hours
What to pack – The weather is quite confusing in Spiti. The sun’s rays are harsh enough to burn your skin, while the shaded areas are cool enough to don a jacket. So it’s best to wear layers – full sleeve t-shirts, thermals, windcheaters, sun glasses, an effective sun block lotion and a comfortable pair of shoes.
Connectivity – Only BSNL Sim cards work here.
Mine was an 8 day all girls trip. This was our trip summary: Chandigarh-Manali-Spiti-Lahaul-Manali-Chandigarh
Day 1 – Chandigarh to Manali (9-10 hrs)
We started around 1.30pm in a van from the Chandigarh airport stopping at a Dhabha on the outskirts for a yummy Punjabi lunch. We then started our long beautiful journey to Manali. Driving on the edge of a narrow road, gem-blue river streams running by your side, roads carved out of mountains, it was nothing less than an adventure. Our next stop was at a dhabha in Mandi for dinner. After crossing Mandi, Kullu and a 3km long tunnel, we finally reached Manali at around 12.30a.m. Even at this hour of the night, the streets of Manali were bustling with young crowd. We were put up in Dragon Inn at Old Manali.
Day 2 - Manali
The main purpose of this day was to acclimatize yourself, as Spiti is situated at a great height and has scanty vegetation. Hence, travellers may find it harder to breathe. We explored the Old Manali market, where we found a small dhaba and hogged on some local cuisines (more like choley tikki and chaat). It was yummilicious. Walking down the busy streets of this little hippie town was a thrilling experience. With artistic tattoo shops, leather accessories shops, boho clothing stores, hand-made dream catchers, colourful cafes, this town had it all. The best thing to do in Manali is Cafe crawling!! Yes that's right. Each and every cafe is different to the other and has something special to offer. Most of the cafes are placed on the edge of Beas river and offer spectacular views. We chose Born Free for our coffee/juice break. With the best graffiti on the walls, this small cafe is cozy and trendy. When in Manali you don't need to follow any specific itinerary, just go with the flow!! We got back to our hotel, dressed up and ventured into the city to explore the night life. We headed to Cafe 1947. The best place to sit is outdoor facing the river, but its usually hard to get as its always full. This place has an amazing ambience serving hookah and one of the best wood fired pizza in Manali. We just got lost in the laid back atmosphere, with some amazing food, sound of the river, soothing live unplugged music and the smell of the magical herb!!
Day 3 - Manali to Kaza (10-12 hours)
The heart of Spiti Valley and its Capital, Kaza is the most inhabited place in this empty corner of the planet. The moment you start seeing pebbled roads (or no roads in some areas), diminishing vegetation, scarce population, you have entered Spiti. We stopped on our way near Rohtang pass for lunch. It was a cute little shack on the side of the road, serving some delicious Rajma Chawal and Aloo Gobhi (Red Kidney Lentils, Rice and Potato, cauliflower Curry). This was supposedly a famous pit stop for most of the tourist en route to Kaza and also for army men. After a satisfying meal, we continued our way to Kaza. We were put up in a colourful hotel which was located right beside the Jewel of Kaza - the Sakya Monastery. There was a local celebration that was happening at the monastery. So we went ahead to watch it. We witnessed cultural performances, singing and dancing. It was a treat to watch them enjoy and perform. After that, we went walking around in the streets of Kaza exploring the market area. We finally hopped in to The Himalayan Cafe in the main market area. This place has all kinds of dishes which you wouldn't have imagined getting in such a remote location. It has an incredible ambience and tasty food. You can't ask for anything more. (Now that it has become really popular, you might have to reserve a table a week in advance).
After overindulging, we headed back to our hotel. Our travel guide had requested us to assemble on the terrace at around 11pm. What we witnessed post that was truly magical. Tucked in our throws, lazing on a chair, listening to slow music, warming ourselves with the bon fire we looked up at the sky. Dark skies with no pollution, all we could see was a blanket of stars twinkling down at us. It was the most stunning sight ever. We kept staring at the sky and noticed quite a few shooting stars as well. It was my first experience to spot shooting stars!! And I went insane!! We wanted to spend the whole night doing so, but the night had to end.
Day 4 - Kaza - Dhankar - Tabo (4 hours one way)
Well after all the sins you would have committed in Manali, you do need a day for spirituality. This day we visited Dhankar and Tabo Monasteries. By now we had entered the rugged part of Spiti, where we hardly had any roads. But we never felt the need for it, as we were more focused on the beauty around us!! Dhankar was the erstwhile capital of the Spiti Kingdom. It is popularly known for its ancient monastery (1200 years old) which is built on a high cliff overlooking the Spiti and Pin rivers. Situated at 10,760ft, Tabo boasts to be the oldest monastery in India (found in 996CE). Both the monasteries have a different grandeur and serenity. The aura of the place is very soothing and the continuous chanting of the Buddhist Mantra just leaves you spell bound. After this sacred visit, we continued on our way back to Kaza.
Day 5 - Kaza - Kye - Kibber (4 hours), Kibber to Komic (2 hours)
We started our bumpy ride to Kye, Kibber and Komic. En route, we saw a car struggling to get past the stone clad road. To the rescue came a few Royal Enfield bikers. It was an exciting sight to see them help passersby. We reached Kibber, which is located at an elevation of 14,010ft is a remote village in the valley, with a population of 341. At such an altitude, it has a post office, a polling booth and a senior secondary school. The post office is said to be the world's highest one at 14,567ft. We wrote letters from there to our families back home, which were received after a month. Our next stop, not very far was Kye monastery. This monastery houses 250 monks and during summers, they work in the fields with their families. Here we gained an insight on their lifestyles. It was very motivating to see them enjoy their life despite so many hardships. We then headed towards Komic.
Komic is located at an elevation of 14,800ft and is known as the highest inhabited village in Asia and also has a motorable road. Our guide was from Komic. He very sweetly took us to his house and fed us some snacks and tea. As the vegetation is very scarce in these areas, breathing is difficult, hence refrain from doing any physical activities. Also, because of the low level of oxygen, you could have a discomforting headache as well. Just remember not to panic. Just breathe slowly and keep yourself calm. We were put up in a local home stay for the night. This was again an experience in itself. We were helping the owner to cook, having an informal dinner with the other tourists and sleeping on floor mattresses. Snuggled up and cozy, we dozed off after a long day.
Day 6 - Komic - Chandertaal (7-8 hours)
Chandertaal or the Moon lake (as it is in the shape of a moon) is situated on an elevation of 14,100ft. It takes quite an effort to reach the lake, as you need to trek your way through. The hike is quite elevated and what adds to the difficulty is low levels of oxygen. But once you get there, its definitely worth the struggle. The lake changes its colours depending on the sun's rays and clouds. You can either reach it on foot from Batal or Kunzum Pass, or opt for the motorable road that takes a little longer route but goes almost till the base of the lake. Since we were put up in camps for the night at the base, we drove down towards it. Throughout the trek, we passed naked hills on one side and rolling green hills on the other, quite a rare sight. We kept taking breaks in between to recover our breaths. Finally after 45 minutes of hard work, we saw a glimpse of the magnificent lake. We suddenly felt our speeds increasing and we were soon at the shore of the lake. A small stone sits at the corner of the lake with the colorful Buddhist prayer flags. You could walk around the lake as well. The circumference is around 4 km and takes around 1 to 2 hours depending on your speed. We lazy bums just sat down by the lake, gazing at the pristine aqua water. The route back to the base camp was easy as we had jeeps transporting us back to our camps. We were provided with sleeping bags and extra blankets. The temperatures had dropped down to 0 degrees Celcius in the night. There were other groups as well who were camping along. We had maggi noodles, sat by the bon fire and sang songs with all of them. Finally we tucked ourselves into the cozy bags. The night was an eerie one, because you could hear the wind swishing by and the bigger fear being that our tents would fly away by the strong winds. But all went well and I slept like a baby!!
Day 7 - Chandertaal - Manali (8 hours)
We were back to our herb city. We were put up in the same hotel as day 1. We quickly freshened up and left to explore the night life again. This time we headed to Lazy Dog cafe. And as the name suggests, the atmosphere and ambience was as lazy as it could get. This was exactly what we needed. And to our coincidence, our melody for the night was the same singer as we had in Cafe 1947. It was like a cherry on the cake, as we had really loved him!! It was the best end to a rocking trip!!
Day 8 - Manali - Chandigarh (9-10 hours)
All good things have to come to an end, and so did this trip. We were soaking in all our memories from day 1 and the breathtaking views we have had throughout this stunning journey. I'm glad I visited Spiti at a time when it wasn't very famous and hence wasn't commercialized as much as it is getting now. We saw the real, rugged, untouched Spiti.
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