Enchanting Spiti Valley: Your Extensive Guide

Enchanting Spiti: Your Extensive Guide

Introduction to your Destination

Nestled in the north-eastern mountain range of Himachal Pradesh, lies a tranquil cold desert valley known as Spiti Valley. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers, this this barren and cold piece of valley that makes for the most sought after alternative to the overcrowded Indian tourist destination, Laddakh. Named Spiti (middle land in Tibetian), specifically because it is the middle land between India and Tibet.

Known for its quaint villages, picturesque landscape, breathtaking river views, hidden meadows and springs, Spiti is quite popular among riders and travellers who are looking forward to an adventurous yet peaceful experience.

Separted by Kunzum Pass, Lahaul and Spiti were historically two separate districts that were merged in the year 1960 to form single entity. Lahaul-Spiti features among the least five populous districts of India. So, if your idea of vacation to wade away from the hustle-bustle of city life and spend time with nature, this is the place to be.

Following is an exhaustive sketch for you to plan a road trip to Spiti.

Quick facts

  • Distance (from Delhi): 735 km

  • Ideal trip duration: 7-9 days depending on what all you want to cover

It is advisable to keep 1-2 days in buffer for unexpected road closure or vehicle breakdown

  • Altitude: Kunzum Pass – 4,590 m

  • Maximum and Minimum temperature:

    • Summer: 8 degree to -15 degree Celsius

    • Winter: -4 degree to -17 degree Celsius

  • Snow time: Late October to March

  • Accessibility: Extreme conditions starting snow season in November with most hotels closed and roads frequently blocked.

People and Culture

Similarity between Spiti and Laddakh does not restrict to its scenic beauty. Culturally too, Spiti plays a relatable destination. Spiti is populated with most of the people following Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist monasteries being one of its major attractions. The language locals communicate in is Spiti Bhoti. Many of residents raise a living from agriculture, with potato farming being the most common. The Losar festival (also known as Halda in Lahauli) is celebrated between the months of January and February, which is comparable to the grand Diwali celebrations in northern parts of India.

Many locals also convert their homes into home-stays for tourists seeking low cost accommodation and specially, in winter season when all outsider-run hospitality services are shut down due to extreme conditions.

Food

The all-time favourite thukpa is certainly the first choice to gain respite from the chilly air. Dishes made out of chhurpi aka chhuru (female yak) cheese is a local delicacy, difficult to find once back to the hot plains. A mix of Punjabi dhaba food along with steamy quick-to-make noodles and add-on boiled eggs are some fairly commonly available options. But a not-to-miss item is the uniquely flavoured herbal tea which is probably a speciality of this region. And of course the special Tibetan bread which is made up of barley and looks like a thick round naan. Quo is another famous dish that’s made of cubed barley flour, potatoes and Yak cheese.

Key Attractions

Some of the not-to-miss tourist attractions in this valley are:

  • Chandratal Lake – one of the most beautiful lakes in Himachal Pradesh and ideal destination for a summer trip
  • Kunzum Pass – the gateway to Spiti valley, offers promsing views on the way, including a glance at Bara- Shigri Glacier, which is the second longest glacier in the world
  • Key Monastery – a thousand years old monastery and also the largest one to be found in the entire Spiti Valley located on an altitude of 4,166 metres
  • Pin Valley National Park which is host to unique fauna species including Snow leopard, Bharal (blue sheep), Ibex, and the lupus (Himalayan Wolf)
  • Dhankar Fort one of the main attractions of Dhankar Village, where the key structure rests on a cliff base, is accentuated by the of Dhankar lake from this fort.
  • Rohtang Passa not-to-miss spot if taking the Manali route to or from Spiti valley
  • Trilokinath Temple – worshipped equally by Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus, this ancient temple allegedly dates back to the 8th century.
  • Solan valley – perfect place for beauty and action, Solan valley boasts of scenic view and lot of outdoor activities including parachuting/paragliding, zorbing and horseriding in summer and skiing in winter.
  • Manalimost commercial stop-over on the way to Spiti valley, with mall road shopping, beautiful temples and sanctuaries, Manali is a complete package in itself.
  • Popular trails – Pin Parvati, Parang La and Pin Bhabha are some popular trekking trails in the region

Best Time to Visit

Summer months, starting mid-May to Mid-October are perfect to make the best of your experience, in terms weather, facilities and opportunities.

Owing to conducive weather conditions, all the mountain passes remain open in summer. The days are longer and brighter, enabling tourists to indulge in adventure activities such as paragliding, mountain cycling, trekking and even camping. Sightseeing points are more accessible because of clear roads.

Some of the major carnivals happen around summer and if you are planning a trip during this season, it makes sense to time it in such a way that you can attend at least one of them. Pauri fair, Ladarcha fair, Tsheshu carnival are some of the attractions to seek for.

A downside of this season could be sudden rainstorms, sometimes causing occasional avalanches and landslides, thus blocking the otherwise smooth roads. While in limit, rain showers would only accentuate the stunning beauty of this place and of course your experience. Visit to Chandratal Lake and Dhankar Lake can be good options to pursue in the monsoon. Adventurous people plan for river rafting sessions too around this time.

Infrastructure

Road condition:

The route from Delhi to Spiti, via Shimla and Kinnaur is a treacherous one. While Delhi to Shimla road is usually accessible all the year round, areas close to Kurfi and Narkanda may cause some delay in winter months. Further the extreme conditions play their role only once you have entered the Spiti valley after Tabo. Tabo – Kaza – Kunzum Pass stretch is sometimes closed down in winters due to heavy snowfall.

Amenities:

  • Service network: Mostly BSNL. It is advised to use BSNL/MTNL post paid connections in this area
  • Fuel Stations: Mainly located in Kaza but unorganised sale of fuel at some nooks and corners does happen thoughout the route. Still, it is recommended to carry your own extra fuel.
  • Nearest railway station: Shimla
  • Nearest airport: Bhuntar airport, Kullu
  • Sub-divisional Headquarter: Kaza
  • Banking/ATM: In considerably commercial towns such as Shimla, Rampur, Sangla, Kaza and Manali. Yet, it is better to carry enough cash because the issue is not finding an ATM, rather finding cash in those ATMs.

Planning your road trip to Spiti Valley

Considering Delhi as the base, there are two possible routes to reach Spiti valley:

#Route 1: Via Shimla

Delhi – Shimla – Narkanda – Kinnaur Valley – Tabo – Kaza

#Route 2: Via Manali

Delhi – Manali – Rohtang Pass – Kunzum Pass – Losar – Kaza

Many tourists prefer the first route i.e. via Manali as it takes lesser time to reach the final destination. However, theer are certain advantages of taking Route#2 i.e. via Shimla:

  1. The altitude of Manali is 2050m and that of final destination (Spiti) is 4270m. Starting from a plain like Delhi would mean reaching high altitude in short time, which can sometimes cause the problem of mountain sickness in travellers. Whereas, going via Shimla would enable the body’s acclimatisation to increasing altitude in a gradual manner, thus avoiding sickness.

  2. Travelling on the Manali route is not possible in winter as the northern route is often cut out for 5-6 months due to heavy snowfall. However, the southern route (via Shimla) is mostly accessible around the year, apart from some brief closures at the time of snow storms.

  3. The Shimla route also provide an opportunity to travel through the Hindustan-Tibet highway which in itself is a treat for eyes.

  4. Entering Spiti via Shimla and exiting Manali allows a traveller to go through the complete hilly circuit and hence contributes to a wholesome experience.

Therefore, the best route for Spiti road trip would be:

Delhi – Shimla – Narkanda – Kinnaur Valley – Tabo – Kaza – Manali – Delhi

Split over 7 days, here’s the recommended itenary:

Day 1: Delhi to Narkanda – 405 km – 9 hrs

Suggested Highway stop-over joints on NH 22

  • Puran Singh ka Dhaba, Ambala and Sethi Da Dhaba, Zirakpur are some popular choices on the NH 22 route
  • If you are planning to stop over at Chandigarh, then Pal Dhaba and Tehal Singh Dhaba are some good choices available
  • Ishwar Sweets, Jabli, Modern Dhaba, Dharampur and Giani Da Dhaba, Dharampur can be tried for some quick bites
  • Being a commercial hub Shimla provides some excellent food options such as Sahini’s Food Corner, Himkiran Pappi Ka Dhaba
  • Negi Dhaba (The New Himalaya Dhaba) is one of the popular choices at Narkanda that serves Indian delicacies such as Mutton Curry, Kadhi and Rajma-Chawal

Accommodation

Narkanda and Rampur are host to various low to medium budget hotels such as:

  • Shyam Regency, Sheglta Morh,, Narkanda (Mobile no.: 083770 04514)
  • Hill’s View Guest House, Narkanda Bus Stand Dongri road (Mobile Number: 083770 0451)
  • Ananta Resorts, NH5, Matiana, Narkanda
  • Hotel Hidimba (Shalli Bazar, Naya Bazaar, Theog, Narkanda)

Places of attraction

  • Tanni Jubbar Lake
  • Hatu peak (7 km from main Narkanda) and Hatu temple
  • Slopes of Dhumari and Jau Bagh while going towards the peak
  • Skiing & Winter sports
  • Stokes Farms

Day 2: Narkanda to Sangla/Chitkul – 161km – 5-6 hrs

Accommodation

Sangla and neighbouring areas such as Chitkul provide some decent low budget hotels, camps and home-stays. Some of the hotels available are:

  • Hotel Rock View
  • Hotel Rupin River View
  • Baspa Guest House

Places of attraction

  • Sarahan Bridge
  • Kamru Fort
  • Chitkul village
  • Hindustan ka Aakhiri DhabaIt is the last dhaba (Roadside food joint) located in Chitkul village. It gets its name from the fact that Chitkul is the last inhabited village near the Indo-China border, after which Indian road ends.
  • Bering Nag temple
  • Hanuman Ji Temple
  • Kinnaur
  • Reckong Peo
  • Baspa River

Day 3: Chitkul to Kalpa – 62km– 3 hrs

Untouched by the commercial surge, the way to Kalpa offers relaxing feel of an authentic hilly countryside. If you are traveling in the right season you might get lucky to taste delicious Kinnauri apples that grow all over the way.

Accommodation

Since the place is not invaded much by organised hospitality industry, you won’t find too fancy hotels and restaurants. But there are some guest houses and low budget hotels that can be booked at rates as low as 1000-2000 rupees per night such as Hotel Destination Kalpa, Hotel Shivling View.

Day 4: Kalpa– Nako – 100km (via NH5 and NH 505) – 3.5 hrs

Places of attraction

  • Nako Village
  • Prayer of Wheels
  • Nako Lake

Wathcinh sunrise at Nako is major favourite. So, once you have witnessed the sunrise and the above places, you can head further to Kaza.

Nako – Kaza (Kaza Ki Kibber) – 112km (via NH 505) – 2.5 hrs

Places of attraction

  • Key Monastry
  • Kibber Village
  • Komic Village
  • Langza Buddha Statue

Accommodation at Kaza

Being the subdivisional headquarters and largest commercial centre of Spiti Valley, Kaza allows you to choose between a range of hotels and guest houses, based on your stay preference, such as:

  • Spiti Valley Hotel (Phone: 094182 00183) having clean rooms and reasonably priced
  • Hotel Sakya Abode (Phone: 094595 24103) – one of the highly recommended hotels
  • Hotel Deyzor (Phone: 094184 02660)
  • Hotel Khangsar: good option in case if budget restrictions, costs 200-300 rs per night
  • PWD Rest House (Phone: 01906-222202)

Day 4 – Preferabely stay at Kaza and enjoy the many sight-seeing options in and around Kaza including Dhankar, Tabo.

Kaza – Tabo (50 minutes: 48 Kms)

Tabo – Dhankar (45 mins : 36 Kms)

Dhankar – Pin Valley National Park (40 mins : 32.7 Kms)

Places of attraction

  • Tabo Monastry (Tabo)
  • The Golden Temple (Tabo)
  • Dhankar Monastry (Dhankar)
  • Dhankar Lake (Dhankar)
  • Komic Village
  • Pin Valley National Park

Day 5: Kaza to Kunzum La Pass/Chandratal

Kunzum La Pass is India’s hightest motorable mountain pass, located at 4551 meters above sea level. Its key attraction is Goddess Kunjum (Durga/Parvati) temple, which is located on the top of Kunzum, in addition to magnificent sight all around. So, did you prep your bike?

Accommodation

Chandratal is a secluded area and the nearest town is Losar which is kilimeters away. The only available option at Chandratal and even Batal is camp sites as there are no cemented hotels or guest houses. It is best to book Swiss camps as they are safe and capable of protecting from bitter cold night weather. Parasol camps, Jamaica’s camps, Samsong camps are some of the trusted options available.

Day 6: Kunzum La Pass to Manali – 126.7 km (via NH505 and Leh Manali highway) – 2 hrs 52 min

Wide and busy Mall road, enchanting views, temples, adventure sports – you name it and you find it in the Honeymoon Capital of India – Manali

Manali, being a popular resort town in Himachal Pradesh, offers a high range of hotels and guest houses to select from.

Some of the Oyo Properties close to NH 505 are:

  • Hotel Manali Palace
  • Hotel Hill View, Manali
  • Hotel Nagesh, Manali
  • Hotel Orchid Inn, Manali
  • Hotel Mountain Nest, Manali
  • Hotel Nature Bliss, Manali

Day 7: Manali – Chandigarh – Sonepat – Delhi – 505.4 km (via NH 44) – 10 hrs 43 min

Trip Budget

Assuming a 7-9 days trip, these are the variables that might affect along with estimated cost for each contributor:

Parameter

Average Cost (Rupees)

Comments

Food 8,000
Accommodation 20,000 Mid-range Hotel: 40,000 maximum
Low-range Hotel: 15,000 maximum
Fuel (Owned vehicle) 6,000 Diesel car: 8,000
Bike: 4,000
Fuel (Rented car) 25,000 3,500/day including rent and fuel
Vehicle Servicing

(Before and after the trip)

20,000 Car
6,000 Bike

Have more questions related to initiating a road trip through terrains? Refer to my previous blog that will act as a complete guide to your travel checklist.

If you like reading and hearing travel stories, subscribe to my youtube channel RoyalRider Dinesh where I keep posting regular vlogs.

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