Travel in India is often about forts, palaces, heritage hotels, backwaters, temple heritage, craft, culture and cuisine. However, remote areas of the Himalayas are a bit different. Here, you are often taken out of your comfort zone as you embark on an experiential journey through high mountain passes, ancient monasteries and rugged drives. The Spiti Valley is one such area.
Discover all about the spectacular Spiti Valley in the latest blog by our travel partner Holxo. Feeling inspired? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and save 10% on your trip.
Spiti Valley – An Introduction
Spiti Valley (12000+ ft) is one of the most remote corners of the Himalayas, having a very sparsely populated human landscape (30,000+ population spread over 13,000+ sq km). The entire Spiti region is an arid desert like area that gets very little snowfall or rainfall having a snow-fed river running right across. Spiti Valley has one of the harshest winter climates and has some of the world’s highest inhabited villages, where locals brave temperatures of up to minus 40 degree celsius in winter.
Spiti Valley is where you arrive for ancient Tibetan monasteries, amazing drives and stunning Himalayan beauty. Spiti Valley even today is a road less travelled and remains a completely “off the beaten track” remote Himalaya experience.
For lack of direct access or any kind of access, Spiti Valley is always visited as part of an itinerary combining a few destinations and experiences en route. The stopovers also help travellers to get acclimatised to the higher altitudes of Spiti Valley.
Arriving for Spiti Valley
Chandigarh is the Airport to arrive for a Spiti Valley trip. From Chandigarh you travel for about 180 kms (60 kms ahead of Shimla) to a little Orchard town of Narkanda (8000 ft asl).
Destinations en route
Narkanda with its laidback countryside character, apple/apricot orchards and walking trails, is the perfect base for a bit of acclimatising before pushing ahead. You spend a day walking around, breathing fresh air and catching your first glimpse of the Himalayas before proceeding to Sangla.
Narkanda to Sangla is a 150 km drive (4 hours) with a river on one side and Himalayas on the other. You are often greeted by shepherds herding their cattle. This would be one of many awesome countryside drives you would experience over next few days. En route you may take a short detour to visit 800-year-old Hindu temple, a multi-tiered wooden temple offering superb views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Sangla (9000 ft asl) sports a stunning riverside character in Baspa Valley with snow capped Himalayas looming large right above it and apple orchards around it. Sangla has stays by the riverside where one can spend endless hours marvelling at the Baspa river and Himalayan ranges. Walks around pristine pine forests and the village around Sangla offer superb photography opportunities. A drive to the windy border check post of Chitkul (24 kms) is where you are greeted by an amazing panorama of Himalayan ranges. If you can handle the wind then Chitkul is where you can just sit and sip a hot cup of tea/coffee for endless hours admiring Himalayas.
Right after Sangla you enter the Upper Kinnaur area for some of the most scenic, rugged and adventurous drives. The landscape changes from evergreen Sangla to a barren desert like Upper Kinnaur as you travel through a “Grand Canyon” like views and roads that are literally carved on the edge of the mountains overlooking deep gorges.
Nako (11,000 ft asl), the last village in the Upper Kinnaur region is where you would stopover to experience your first remote Himalayan village experience. Nako (110 km from Sangla – 4-5 hours drive) is the gateway into Spiti Valley, home to a Tibetan monastery and a quaint character. The lake, surrounding Nako village, enjoys panoramic Himalayan views for a mesmerising experience. Stays in Nako are camp style with simple amenities. The stunning panorama and experiential character of Nako more than makes up for the lack of modern comforts.
The Spiti Valley Experience
Leaving Nako, you head for Kaza (110 km), the largest town of the region. Right from the entry into the Spiti Valley region you are greeted by barren mountains, rugged drives and superb Himalayan panorama.
En route you take a short detour to visit Giu to see a well-preserved 500-year-old mummy of a Tibetan monk. Thereafter you proceed to the ancient Tabo Monastery (dated 996 CE). Tabo is one of the oldest and most significant monasteries of the region and where many western travellers arrive to spend a few months exploring within. Tabo is also an excellent lunch stop, where you get a taste of simple and authentic Tibetan cuisine.
Moving onwards towards Kaza, you take a short detour to visit Dhankar monastery, considered one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world and where you enjoy some stunning views.
You arrive at Kaza (12000 ft asl) by late afternoon. Kaza is set on the Spiti River having a monastery at its centre overlooking snow-capped mountains on all sides.
Next day at Kaza is spent exploring Kyi Monastery and the high altitude villages of Langza and Kaumik. Kyi Monastery (dated 11th century) is set atop a hill (136000+ ft asl) and is one of the oldest and the most significant monasteries in the region, offering stunning views of the valley.
Thereafter, a visit to Langza and Kaumik offers insight into high altitude villages, village homes, their lifestyle and Himalayan panorama surrounding them. It is incredible that in such a high altitude desert like climate, villagers are able to grow peas, potato and apple and survive a very harsh winter climate. Homestays in these villages are popular for experiential travellers looking to live with the villagers.
Additional stay in Kaza can be considered if you’d like to do a bit of high altitude walking between these villages.
Leaving Spiti Valley
If you are arriving before June you may require to drive back to Shimla (with a stopover at Kalpa / Reckong Peo enroute). However if you arriving anytime during June-Sept then you leave Spiti Valley for another stunning Himalayan experience i.e. crossing over Kunzum La (15000 ft asl) and Rohtang Pass (13000 ft asl).
While Sangla–Nako drive was one for the deep gorges and narrow roads, Kaza–Manali route is about the mountain passes and a drive through “no man’s land” area between Spiti and Lahaul Valleys. Roads here are downright rough, the panorama cannot be more stunning and you literally drive through riverbeds and glacier bases, crossing two stunning mountain passes into the tourist town of Manali.
If 200 km and 10 hour drive to Manali is a little too daunting then there is an option to take a detour after Kunzum La pass for a stopover at Chandertal Lake, a high altitude lake (14000 ft asl) offering stunning photography opportunities.
Manali – Back to our world
Right after leaving Shimla, it feels like you’ve arrived in another world. The terrain get tougher and harsher, the drives more rugged, stays are simpler and views more stunning by the day. However you continue to live a feeling of being in another world altogether. Returning to the tourist town of Manali indeed feels like a return to our regular world we are used to living and travelling.
Manali, a popular tourist town by the riverside has a number of charming accommodation options. You may stay here for a couple days enjoying a spa or savouring some local trout and the wood fired pizzas.
Proceeding back to Chandigarh is definitely the least scenic and interesting drive of the trip. 300 kms of drive (6-7 hours) instead is one for reflection. It would seem ironical that villagers of Kaumik and Langza are able to live happily with most basic amenities in harsh climates where as us “normal world” citizens crib over trivial matters. You may feel dazed to a point where you pinch yourself and your fellow travellers saying “Did we really do what we actually did ?” !!!
Alternative Spiti Valley Itinerary Ideas
- Ex-Manali (6 Days) – A shorter Spiti Valley trip is possible ex-Manali during June-Sept when Rohtang Pass and Kunzum La Pass is open.
- Detour from Manali – Leh Route – Kaza is about 135 km off the popular overland travel route of Manali – Leh (Ladakh) and therefore can be considered as a 3 night extension of a Ladakh trip during June-Sept.
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