A charming beauty situated 12,500 feet above sea level, Spiti Valley is a traveller’s delight. Spiti translates into the middle land, which is located between India and Tibet, dividing two countries. The cold desert is sparsely populated with whitewashed mud-brick homes and is the northernmost region in India where tourists can visit. Often dubbed as the hidden world of India, Spiti Valley is famous for its Snow Leopard treks in the winters and monasteries that are over 1,000 years old.
Spiti is safe to travel either in groups or individually. The locals are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet and happily offer you help and steaming hot food. You are in for an adventure if you are travelling solo. You will get to live your dream of boarding random buses, hitchhiking with strangers, and going from one homestay to another to check if a room’s available. Most of them don’t have an online website, so you can’t pre-book them.
You get to experience nature at its best. Even though the mountains are barren, they change colours throughout the day, which is an amusing but relaxing sight to the eyes. If you want to indulge in some soul-searching, Spiti Valley is the place you need to head to as it is considered the centre of Buddhism.
Indians travelling to the region via Shimla or Manali are not asked for permits, while foreign nationals need to secure permits if they are travelling via the Shimla route because of its close proximity to the Chinese border.
From feeding food to the endangered Buchen Llamas to viewing the Milky Way at Pin Valley, Spiti Valley is literally every traveller’s dream come true. The best way to experience the region is going on 10 days long trek. It is home to numerous lakes and rivers with the most famous ones being Chandratal Lake and Spiti River. Two of the oldest monasteries, Tabo Monastery (996 AD) and Kye Gompa (1008-1064), are located in Spiti. Kye Gompa is also the largest monastery in the valley and a religious training centre for Lamas. Visiting Komic Village is a must because it is the highest motorable Indian village located at an altitude of 15,027 feet above sea level. It is a beautiful tiny hamlet whose name literally means snow cock. Temperatures drop to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius in the winters.
Kunzum Range, a high mountain pass, is another great location to view the valley and its beauty. You should also visit Pin Valley National Park to watch snow leopards, Ibex, and other rare Himalayan animals and birds. The Suraj Tal (lake) is one of the most photogenic lakes in Spiti and a delight for photographers. Other places we highly recommend you to visit include Baralacha pass, Trilokinath Temple, Shashur Monastery, Kardang Monastery, and Kibber Village.
Spiti Valley enjoys 250 days of sunshine but the winters are brutal. Most of the tourism happens in the summer between June and September but there are a few winter treks that give you a real taste of the region. Every season you visit, Spiti is going to paint a different yet beautiful picture of its rawness.
If you are visiting with family, summer is the best season to visit the valley. You can enjoy the culture, food, sceneries, and but need to be prepared for a lot of tourists around.
Visiting during winters is a real challenge and not for the faint-hearted, but it comes with perks. Since it is the off-season, hotel and camp rates are really low, food is cheaper, and there aren’t many tourists around. You won’t have any tourists awkwardly standing in the photos you click. However, you will need to pack a lot of warm clothes and eat a lot of food because it will be very chilly.
You will mostly find homestays, camps, and budget hotels in Spiti along the highway. Most of them aren’t available online, so you have very limited online pre-booking options. If you want to live in homestays and get to know the locals better, you will find a lot of them in Lhalung, Mane, Komik, and Demul. You will have a difficult time finding a homestay with an attached bathroom, so if you consider it a luxury.
Sangla, Tabo, and Kalpa have a number of good quality guest houses and hotels that you can pre-book online. If you want to continue being your adventurous self, you can stay at camps at Chandratal Lake, Spiti River, and Dhankar Lake.
To reach there, you have to start driving north from Manali, Himachal Pradesh via pass the Rohtang Pass or Keylong via Kunzum Pass. Both journeys take 12 to 14 hours and there aren’t many restaurants or cafes on the routes, so make sure you carry a lot of snacks and water with you.
There is another route, but it is very long and difficult. However, it gives access to Spiti throughout the year. You start the journey from Shimla and cross the Kinnaur Valley. The route measures 412 kilometres and is a two-day journey. Not that we are complaining, but you tend to waste two days when you would have reached it using another route in half a day. It isn’t the most practical route but if you live for the thrill and adrenaline rush, you are going to love it. It is open all days of the year while the other two close in the winter season.
There are multiple accommodations available on all three routes if you plan to stay overnight. You can take a local guide’s help to assist you with the accommodation. Wear comfortable clothes because you will be sitting in the car for very long hours.
Always start your journey early in the morning so that you can make pit stops at different locations, click pictures, eat local food, and even ride a yak.
Inhabited by friendly locals, surrounded by pure beauty, and scrumptious food are three reasons enough for us to pack our bags right now and head to Spiti Valley. It is spread over 13,800 square kilometres and is completely untamed and raw. The lakes are surrounded by marsh lands where you get a chance to see migratory birds. Visiting the valley is also a humbling experience because it gives an insight into how people with very little resources available are leading enriching and happy lives.
When you start your tour, you have keep an open mind. It isn’t going to be comforting especially if you live in a tropical region. There are going to be a lot of difficulties, you will be out of breath after walking for only 10 minutes, and start shivering when the clock hits 6 pm. However, you will get to experience something you have never before and come out stronger. Surrounded by big, lofty mountains and barren land teaches you a lot about life.
The food in Spiti Valley is surprisingly very affordable. If you visit places like Kaza, you will find a variety of cuisines including North Indian, Ladakhi, Tibetan, and if you are lucky, Israeli food as well. Other villages where you will find restaurants include Keylong, Lahaul Spiti, and those that fall on the highway. Plan your journey to Spiti Valley and nearing places according to these locations.
Some of the local foods you should definitely give a try include thukpa, momos, barley beer, barley whiskey, Tibetan bread and apricot jam, peas snack, and Himachali mutton curry with barley roti.
Treks in and around Spiti Valley are designed to not exceed the carbon footprint of the region and preserve its natural beauty. The Spiti Valley trek is one of the most challenging treks because of the rough terrain and long hours of walking. It is all about finding a new you and living for the thrill. Treks are hosted all around the year but we recommend you to take one during the winters.
The best way to explore Spiti Valley is on a motorcycle. Rent one in Shimla or Manali and take a round trip to the valley. It is the most convenient way to travel because you can stop whenever and wherever you want. Don’t worry about petrol pumps before all routes have a sufficient number spread throughout.
Take a flight to Delhi and rest for a day. Hire a bike or board a bus to Shimla or Manali. From there, you can reach Spiti Valley by another bus or continue on the rented bike. If you are travelling in a group, you can hire a car, so you can create a personalized itinerary. You need at least 10 days or two weeks to completely enjoy Spiti Valley. You will be spending most of the time travelling, so a trip shorter than that will be very hectic and you won’t get to cover all the locations.
Summer lasts from mid-May till October during which the temperature ranges between zero to 15 degrees Celsius. It becomes colder as October ends. Winters, on the other hand, are extremely chilly because the temperature during the daytime can fall below zero degrees Celsius. At night, be prepared to experience a temperature drop of below minus 20 degrees Celsius. The valley receives only 170 mm of rainfall but it floods the Spiti River, so it is best you avoid visiting during monsoon.
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