Spiti valley is a remote cold desert mountain valley that lies in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The local pronunciation is “Piti” which means “The Middle Land”. I had the opportunity to visit the Spiti Valley twice in 2021 in two completely different seasons. Firstly in April and later in July. Two completely different experiences. This is the beauty of mountains. The landscapes changes as per the seasons. The Ultimate Travel Guide to Spiti Valley has been divided into two parts. Part 1 of the ultimate travel guide to Spiti Valley will give you insight into my experiences in Spiti Valley during the Winter season. The popular Spiti Valley circuit goes like Shimla- Reckong Peo- Spiti Valley-Kunzum Pass- Chandratal Lake- Manali. I did complete this circuit but periodically 🙂 Continuing from the previous post. After spending a night in Nako, the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, I begin my journey to the Spiti Valley.
VISITING SPITI VALLEY IN WINTER: TABO, DHANKAR, KAZA, KEY MONASTERY, LANGZA
I took a bus from Nako in the morning to reach my first destination in Spiti Valley i.e. Dhankar Village. After an hour or so, I finally entered the Spiti Valley from Kinnaur Valley. At the army checkpoint, our photo ids were checked and registration was done. Even though April is not considered a proper winter month. It was just my luck that due to unseasonal heavy snowfall, the temperature drops to minus 10. It is one of the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced. It somewhat reminds me of my time in Park City, Utah during my stint as a volunteer at Sundance Film Festival. I basically lived a monk’s life during my time in Spiti Valley haha. Due to unseasonal snowfall, there was virtually no electricity, no water and no mobile signal for a week or so. I was completely hypnotised by the landscapes. My eyes were experiencing multiple orgasms during a day haha 🙂 I did the Shimla-Reckong Peo- Kaza circuit and returned back from the same route. In the month of July, I did complete the circuit from the other side i.e. Manali-Chandratal Lake- Kunzum Pass- Lossar- Kaza.
DHANKAR VILLAGE: DHANKAR LAKE & MONASTERY
The bus dropped me at Shichling village. 3 hrs ride from Nako village. From the Shichling village, I trekked to the Dhankar Village. It was mostly a steep walk. Trekking in Spiti Valley is way different from trekking in other mountain regions like Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Other parts of Himachal Pradesh. Since Spiti valley is a desert mountain valley, the oxygen level is less comparatively. Also, It was a cold month. It took me around 90 mins to reach the Dhankar village with my around 15 Kg backpack. Trekking through rocky snowy mountains was truly adventurous. For the first hour, there was no sight of the village. When I had the first glance of the village, it felt like I discovered some “Lost mysterious Himalayan village” haha and it starts to snowfall. Truly magical sight! I checked into Bendurya Hotel & Restaurant run by Mr Dim Dul. I totally recommend this place. They have a dormitory room and private rooms as per your requirements. The next day, I couldn’t able to venture out due to heavy snowfall. Just managed to visit the serene Dhankar monastery nearby. On the following day, I decided to trek to Dhankar lake. I was trekking in the midst of heavy snowfall without the proper gear. DO NOT DO THAT! I had a frostbite scare after the trek but it turns out it is after all the colour of my black socks 🤦🏽♂️ When I was halfway to the lake, I saw Mr Dim Dul coming my way. I waited for him and it turns out I was taking the long route to the lake. Anyways, we continued our journey to the lake together. When we reached the lake, it was almost completely frozen. I had never seen a frozen lake in my life. What a majestic view! Mr Dim Dul tried to walk on the lake and almost fell haha. We even spotted the footprints of a Snow leopard confirmed by Mr Dim Dul. It was an adventurous day, to say the least. Mr Dim Dul kept me engaged with several anecdotes about the lake and the village. Shortly after reaching back to the Dhankar village, I got a lift to Kaza.
KEY MONASTERY: A BEAUTIFUL MONASTERY
The key monastery is half an hour drive from Kaza. One can even stay at the monastery. I hitchhiked in a tractor to the Key village and while returning I almost walked till Kaza until a Gentleman gave me a lift for the remaining journey. From Key village, I hiked to the Key monastery. There are well-constructed stairs that will lead you to the monastery. It took like 30 minutes to reach the Key monastery. I meditated in the monastery cave for a while followed by the piping hot lunch served by the monks. It is such a peaceful place. A monk even invited me for the meditation sessions during the proper winter months of December, January when they hardly leave the meditation cave. Umm Minus 25. No thank you haha.
LANGZA: FOSSIL VILLAGE
Langza-Hikkim-Komic is the route people usually follow but thanks to heavy snowfall, I couldn’t able to visit Hikkim and Komic villages in the month of April. We almost got stuck in the mud and snow-laden road. Well, I did return back in the month of July to complete it! Langza is a fossil village where you can even spot the fossils on the walls of the village. It is also known for the huge beautiful Buddha statue. The way to Langza was full of stunning picturesque views of snow-clad mountains. We were 3 people who hired a sharing taxi for the whole circuit @ INR 2000.
KAZA: LIVING A MONK’S LIFE
Kaza town is the HQ of the remote Spiti Valley. When I reached Kaza, there was virtually no electricity, no water and no mobile signal. I spend my days in Kaza doing meditation at Sakya Tangyud Monastery, wandering in Kaza narrow lanes, eating a lot of Thukpa (Local Tibetan dish), keeping myself warm from the harsh cold weather haha. It was such a meditative time for me. I learnt a lot about my mind, body and soul. Digital detox at its best.
TABO, CHICHAM, KIBBER
I missed visiting Tabo town. Tabo lies between Nako and Shichling village. Tabo is known for the Tabo monastery. You can also explore the villages of Chicham and Kibber. Chicham is 20 km from the town of Kaza. It has Asia’s highest bridge. One can walk from Chicham to Kibber. Kibber is famous for Snow Leopards. Winter is the best season for the Snow Leopard expedition. There’s a bus service to the villages of Chicham and Kibber from Kaza which is affected due to the ongoing Pandemic. Taxis also ply to Chicham and Kibber from Kaza.
THINGS TO PACK/KNOW BEFORE VISITING SPITI VALLEY DURING THE WINTER SEASON
- November to April is considered the Winter season in Spiti Valley
- The temperature drops to minus 20-25. Needless to say, you need to have the proper gear. You need to dress up in layers starting with inner thermals, sweatshirt, Sweaters, Fleece Jackets and Thermal Jackets. Woollen cap/Balaclava, gloves, muffler, socks are a must. Wearing two layers of socks really help. Covering up your head and feet properly is really important during harsh winter.
- For eyes, you need to wear sunglasses, especially during sunlight to avoid Snow blindness. It gives your eyes protection against UV rays reflecting on the snow.
- Similarly, to protect your skin from UV rays, apply sunscreen (SPF- 50+) on your face and any other exposed body part. Cold Cream and Lip guard is a must.
- Your boots will be a lifesaver. So it is really important to wear comfortable and good trekking shoes.
- Pack a good amount of Dry fruits. It will keep your body warm.
- Consult your doctor for AMS related medicine. You will be traveling up to 4500 m elevation.
- Do not start climbing mountains on the first day(if you are coming directly from the airport which is not advisable too). Your body should gain elevation periodically especially if you are traveling/flying from the lower elevation regions. Go for short walks. Get your body used to the elevation.
- During winter, there is a possibility of electricity and mobile network breakdown. So prepare accordingly. Carry power bank(s)/ Solar charger, head torch, books.
- There’s an ATM in the town of Kaza but do carry an ample amount of Cash in case of power failure. Well, there’s always an option of sending money digitally.
- Only Jio and BSNL mobile network works in Spiti valley as of July 2021
- As for accommodation, there are more homestays than homes in Kaza. Winter season being the low season, you can easily find cheap accommodation starting as low as 200-300 INR. I stayed at Cliff Palace hotel in Kaza and Bendurya Hotel in Dhankar village.
- Drink lots of water. Since Spiti valley is a desert mountain valley. It is necessary for your body.
- The nearest airport to Kaza is Bhuntur Airport near Manali but the road from Manali to Kaza is closed during winter due to excessive snowfall. Therefore, you need to take the road from Shimla to Kaza. There’s an airport in Shimla. There’s a possibility of even being stuck on this route due to landslides. So be ready to spend a night in a vehicle until the Indian army clears the way 😅
- Transportation: This is for the people who have no interest in riding a motorcycle like me. There’s a bus between Kaza and Shimla. Also, sharing taxis ply between Kaza and Reckong Peo. Local buses ply to Langza, Dhankar and Key village from Kaza but due to the pandemic, the services have been disrupted. You can either hitchhike, take a sharing/private taxi. Go to the taxi union office near Kaza bus station and look for people who are going to your destination. You will be pleasantly surprised at your luck 🙂
- Please take note that Journey time from Point A to Point B shown in Google maps never work out in real-time in this region. Thanks to its mountainous terrain and narrow roads. Be ready for patient waitings 🙂 Always consider extra time while commuting.
- As you can see it is not so easy to visit Spiti Valley during Winter. This is not a honeymoon destination 😉 As the saying goes NO PAIN NO GAIN. My love for Mountains, Adventure, Meditation helped and immensely rewarded me 🙂
- City folks, Please take your garbage back to your city. Let’s preserve our prestigious Himalayan region. For us and the future generation to enjoy. Party hunting people, please visit Goa instead 🙂