The Spiti Valley, located in Himachal Pradesh in India, is often declared by those who see it as a world within a world. It consists of high-altitude alpine land, with an average elevation of about 12,500 feet above sea level. It is dotted with small villages and monasteries and is surrounded by high snow-capped peaks.
Spiti is bordered by Ladakh in the north, Tibet in the east, Kinnaur in the southeast, and Kullu Valley in the south. It shares the same religion as Tibet – Tibetan Buddhism.
Most of the people living in this area are farmers who barely grow wheat and peas. They wake up early every morning to take care of their crops. Due to the extreme weather, only one crop per year is possible.
Climate in Spiti
Spiti receives heavy snowfall during winters. Due to this many villages have been completely cut off from the rest of the valley. The ideal time to visit Spiti is from May to October. The weather remains pleasant and pleasant during this time. Spiti is also most accessible during these months.
Due to the high altitude of Spiti, special care should be taken to avoid altitude sickness. You should let it acclimate for a few days before heading to the higher villages of Spiti. Also, you should drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Plan Your Trip to Spiti
How to Get to Spiti
Spiti is not far away from the rest of India in terms of distance. Still, due to the condition of the roads, it is not possible to get to Spiti quickly or easily. Even though the drive to Spiti is long, it is far from boring. The constantly changing scenery is so stunning, it’s unlikely you’ll be tempted to at least take a nap.
There are two routes leading to Spiti. These are from Manali and Shimla.
Manali to Spiti
The distance from Manali to Spiti is a little over 200 kilometers (125 mi). You can go by bus or jeep, and it can be covered in eight to 12 hours depending on the road conditions around Rohtang Pass near Manali. It is best to leave Manali as early as possible (before 6 am) to avoid huge traffic congestion and delays at Rohtang Pass.
Rohtang Pass and Kunzum Pass are covered with snow for most of the year, with the roads open only from May to October. Hence, it is possible to travel from Manali to Spiti only during these months. (Note: in recent years the road is opening in late June or early July as opposed to May). Nevertheless, this route remains the most direct route to Spiti. It is also very popular with motorcycle enthusiasts.
There is a police post in Losar village at the entrance of Spiti Valley, where foreigners are required to show their passports and register their details.
Shimla to Spiti (via Rekong Peo in Kinnaur)
The distance from Shimla to Spiti is approximately 420 kilometers (260 mi). It can be covered in about 20 hours by bus or 16 hours by jeep along the Hindustan Tibet Road. The journey is arduous and is best broken down by a stop at Rekong Peo. If you use this route, be aware that foreigners must obtain an Inner Line Permit from the District Collector’s office in Shimla or Reckong Peo. The permit allows travel from Rekong Peo to Tabo in a restricted area.
As per the rules, such permits are issued only to a group of two or more people traveling together. However, Rekong Peo’s office is less strict (and less busy) about enforcing it.
Which Route Should You Take?
Both routes have their advantages or disadvantages. Although it is quite long, a major advantage of the Shimla to Spiti route is its gradual ascent. This allows for better adaptation and reduced risk of altitude sickness. Except for heavy snowfall and really bad weather in Kinnaur, the route is open throughout the year. Also, you will be able to avoid the inconvenience of passing through Rohtang Pass.
The dramatic and at times hair-raising Hindustan Tibet Road is an adventure in itself. However, foreigners do not want to waste time (two to four hours) on getting an inner line permit for this route. If you have enough time, you can do a complete circuit – arriving in Spiti by one route and departing on another.
Types of Transport
If you don’t have your own vehicle, taking a taxi is the easiest way to get to Spiti. However, it is expensive! You can expect to pay Rs 8,000-10,000 for a private jeep taxi from Manali (if you book the vehicle for the entire journey including return this price will come down to around Rs 3,500 per day), or Rs. Rs 1,000-2,000 per person per person. Shared cabs based on vehicle size.
Buses are cheap and cost around Rs 400 per person. There are two Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation services from Manali to Kaza in a day, and they depart exactly in the morning (5 am and 5.30 am).
Expect to pay more from Shimla to Spiti. Bus services run from Shimla to Reckong Peo, and then from Reckong Peo to Kaza. You can choose to depart Shimla early in the morning or in the evening.
Villages in Spiti
The total population of Spiti is around 10,500. These people live in villages spread over three levels of elevation – lower, middle and upper – the main administrative center of the Kaza region. The Kaza, with an elevation of 12,500 feet (3,800 m) above sea level, is in the upper region and is popularly used as a base by travelers.
These spectacular pictures of Spiti Valley show its unparalleled beauty.
A trip to Spiti wouldn’t be complete without exploring the villages and discovering what it’s like to live in such a remote, high-altitude environment. The harsh winters force residents to stockpile food and stay indoors for months at a time. During this, they take possession of handicrafts by making them.
There are several villages in Spiti Valley that are of interest:
- Kibber – Once the highest village in the world with a motorable road and electricity, it is not far from Kaza at an altitude of 14,200 feet (4,270 m) above sea level. It is popular with travelers and has some comfortable guest houses.
- Komic – Asia’s highest village with Spiti’s highest monastery at an altitude of 15,049 feet (4,587 m) above sea level.
- Langza – Known for its fossils, this is a small village presided over by a huge and colorful statue of Lord Buddha. Its elevation is 14,500 feet (4,400 m) above sea level.
- Demul – A lively and charming village, with a panoramic view of 14,300 feet (4,360 m) about sea level. This is a great place to spend a day or two at the homestay. It is also becoming Spiti’s model sustainable village with solar energy and waste management.
- Lhalung – Situated at an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,660 m) above sea level, seabuckthorn is rich in diverse flora including trees.
- Dhankhar is a large and remarkable village, which was once the capital of Spiti. Perched at about 12,760 feet (3,890 m) above sea level, the village is an unforgettable sight as it is balanced precariously on the edge of the cliff. Attractions include Dhankhar Monastery, ruined fort, lake and awe-inspiring views. (Foreigners need a permit for this area, which is available at Kaza).
- Hikkim – has the highest post office in the world.
- Giu – Ki is a 500-year-old mummy.
Monasteries in Spiti
There are five main Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Spiti – Ki, Komik, Dhankar, Kungri (in Pin Valley), and Tabo. Visiting these monasteries is a fascinating experience. Inside, they are filled with mysterious dimly lit rooms and ancient treasures. As you delve into Tibetan Buddhism, you will be able to explore well-preserved artwork, scriptures, and methods.
The monasteries have a significant impact on the lives of the residents of Spiti. Tradition requires that families donate their second eldest son to the monastery in their territory, or pay a heavy (and usually unaffordable) fine.
- Ki Monastery – Located not far from Kaza, Ki Gompa is the largest and most accessible monastery in Spiti. It is full of narrow stairs, room-like boxes, and courtyards. The monastery rewards those who enter with a spectacular view of the valley. Another attraction is looking at the bedroom in which the Dalai Lama slept during his visit to the monastery. Don’t miss the annual three-day Cham festival featuring masked dancing monks, held at the monastery in late July.
- Tabo Monastery – Established in 996 AD, Tabo is the oldest monastery and has a significant role to play. The Dalai Lama will retire from his duties there. Although Tabo is located two hours away from Kaza, it is well worth a visit. There are nine temples in the complex, as well as assembly halls, captivating sculptures, incredibly beautiful artworks, and a public library. You will also find meditation caves nearby. (Foreigners need a permit for this area, which is available at Kaza).
- Dhankhar Math – It is this magnificent rocky setting that makes this monastery special. The sculptures and frescoes are also interesting. (Foreigners need a permit for this area, which is available at Kaza).
- Komic Monastery – This small monastery is situated on a desolate hill in front of the highest village in Asia.
What to Do in Spiti
To make the most of your trip to Spiti, you’ll want to go out and explore and explore its essence. There is a wide range of options to immerse yourself in the attractions of Spiti.
- Trekking – Adventure enthusiasts prefer trekking in Spiti. The opportunities are almost endless. Some of the famous treks are Pin-Parvati, Parang-La, and Pin-Bhaba. Village-to-village treks are also popular, such as from Kaza to Demul via Comic. It is also possible to visit areas of low frequency.
- Yak Safari – If you’re not up for trekking (which requires excellent fitness and stamina!) a yak safari is a perfect option. Each village family usually has a yak, which they allow to roam freely in the summer. Your safari will be on one of these yaks brought by the village boys. A yak safari from Komik to Demul villages takes about four hours, including a stop for lunch.
- Cultural performances – Demul and Lhalung villages are famous for their cultural events, which include traditionally dressed dancers and live music.
- Tracking Endangered Wildlife – Track India’s exotic and endangered Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf in Pin Valley National Park and Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Mountain Biking – Cross lesser-known valleys and plateaus on a mountain bike.
- White Water Rafting – Pin and Spiti rivers offer some of the best white water rafting opportunities.
- Visiting villages and monasteries.
Where to Stay in Spiti
You will find many comfortable hotels, guesthouses, and backpacker hostels in Kaza and Kibber.
In Kaza, expect to pay around 1,000 rupees per night for a clean room with a western toilet and 24-hour hot water. Hotel Deyzor is undoubtedly the most popular place to stay, with rooms starting from as low as 1,400 rupees per night. The next best option is Sakya Niwas (in the newer part of town). Kaza now houses the Zostel hostel and in particular, is the highest backpacker hostel in Asia. There are dorms, tents, and private rooms. The Travelers Shed is another new budget option with a dedicated service center for bikers.
Accommodations in Kibber (where backpackers hang out) are cheaper and more basic. There are many guest houses to choose from. The best place is the Knorling Guest House at the entrance of the village, with rooms for Rs 1,200 per night. They offer tours as well as accommodation with balconies. Plus, beer upon request.
One of the most fascinating things that you can do in Spiti is to stay with a local family in one of the villages. Rustic homestays are very similar in terms of all amenities, though differ in the nature of each village, and cost around Rs 3,000 per night including meals. Be prepared to use traditional composting toilets, which are no more than a hole in the ground.
While staying in the villages of Spiti, you will be able to dine on delicious homemade local dishes, which often include momos (vegetable dumplings), thukpa, and thenthuk (hearty noodle soup).