Incredible Spiti

I had heard about Spiti valley five years back from a friend who had worked for an architectural completion and documented Dhankar monastery, ever since then I wanted to visit the area. Even if you have been in Himalayas, this is one unique place one should definitely visit. We had planned to tour the place in August 2013 after days of persuasion over why spiti and not ladhakh, but before any concretization, one of the friend broke his leg in an unfortunate accident and we had to postpone the trip by one year. Finally in August 2014 we went on our most awaited visit to Spiti valley; because of this one year gap we had ample time to research and explore our options and it helped a lot, while we detailed out our itinerary for the 9 day trip. We chose to start the journey from Shimla on Hindustan – Tibet highway entering spiti valley via kinnaur and ending our trip in Manali via Kunzum pass and Rohtang pass. We infact visited three different and beautiful valleys Kinnaur, Spiti and Chandra.

Normally I do like to plan my trip myself, but one day I stumbled over this website of Incredible spiti run by two fine persons Vishesh Shourie and Tsering Bodh and I decided to take their help to ensure a smooth trip and they didn’t prove us wrong , they not only helped in customizing our trip according to our wishes starting from the choice of stays, places to visit but also gave us an insight which only a local could have. Right from the start – from exchanging hundreds of mails and numerous phone calls; Vishesh was always patient and was there to lend a hand and solve the numerous queries we had, a heartfelt  thanks to Tesring for the arrangements  and  a special thanks to Dipu our driver for driving us safely on all those tough and breath taking roads.

Thus this bunch of enthusiasts started their journey knowing that the next few days are going to be the unforgettable days in their lifetime and when I say unforgettable I really mean it!!…going through the road less travelled and experiencing the unraveled; this trip offered us more than we had imagined – rugged beauty of Trans Himalaya is mesmerizing. It is impossible to pen down the splendors of spiti valley; it can’t be described in words, one has to visit the place to experience it.

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Moments relished during the trip.

Places visited – Saharan- Rakcham- Nako – Tabo – Dhankar – Kaza – Key – Kibber – Langza – Komic – Kunzum la – Chandra Taal – Rohtang paas – Manali.

Duration – 9 Days – 9th August  to 17th August 2014

Mode of Transportation – Tempo Traveler

Distance Traveled – 1900 Kms approx.

Climate –  Sunny to Cold and humid

9th August – Day 1

We took Volvo from Delhi on 8th August and reached Shimla early morning the next day, our driver Dipu was already there and without any delay we started our journey for Saharan, we stopped en-route near Narkanda and had some delicious Aaloo pranthas for breakfast. Saharan is a bit off route but the temple of Bheemkali was a must to do in our list of places.

All of us were too tired by the Volvo journey last night and slept like babies in the Tempo traveler till we reached Saharan by lunch time. We had our booking with HPTC Hotel Shrikhand, apparently it is the best option available in Saharan. We visited the Bheemkali temple which is no doubt a marvel of vernacular architecture with meticulous wooden carvings, after soothing our architecture buds there; we took a stroll in the nearby area, we walked by apple trees laden with red ripe apples, I was not able to resist and plucked some of them which was not allowed i guess as those were private properties nevertheless it was fun.

In the evening we sat on the terrace area outside the hotel enjoying the evening breeze and views of the mighty Himalayas, after some time it started drizzling soon it rained cats and dogs and we had to rush back into the hotel restaurant, the dinner was ready then. We retired quite early to our rooms – a trend which was followed for the rest of the trip.

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10th August – Day 2

After stuffing our stomachs with scrumptious breakfast we all moved for our next destination Rakcham in kinnaur valley. We drove along side Sutlej river which was flowing ferociously, as it was monsoons the water was all muddy and it looked like we were driving alongside the mighty river of cold coffee. Along the way one can see the transition in the landscape with the lush green peaks changing into more steep less vegetated and higher peaks, We went off the Hindustan – Tibet highway and took the turn to enter the kinnaur valley and soon we crossed the karcham Dam over Bapsa river, from here now we were along the Bapsa river. Rakcham is a small village 8 kms from Sangla, the road was almost dirt track carved out in the mountains and it is a real skill to drive on these roads, by lunch time we reached Rakcham. Our hotel River Rupin view was situated right on the river bank, we could listen the roaring river. It was an awe – inspiring setting “the untamed river flowing in the middle with its bank covered with pinks and greens (  locals cultivate peas and some local crop on the flat banks) and  the great Himalayas overlooking the valley”. We then drove up till Chitkul the last inhabited village in the valley, pristine is the nearest word I can think of to explain the place.

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11th August – Day 3

We started early in the morning for Nako ,  It was our best experience on the Hinduatan – Tibet Highway, we again met the Sutlej river and started our journey alongside, the landscape was in transition with the vegetation disappearing slowly and the mountains turning into huge chunks of mud and it seemed it was mud all around with hydel power plants, tunnels on the way, but soon all the human altered landscape started disappearing and we entered the untouched world of trans Himalayas with clear blue sky rugged brown mountains and  air so fresh!!, our cameras could not rest and I did not even wanted to blink my eyes.

We reached Nako by the lunch time, Nako is a small village build around a lake, it is from nako we saw the  with typical spitian architecture and a transformation in culture with prayer wheels and monasteries around, we had delicious Tibetian food at a small eating place; there after we walked to kinner camps, our abode in nako. It was the best stay in my opinion in the whole trip, they had bunch of cozy swizz camps strategically placed on a flat ground little higher from the village from where you can have a complete view of the village and the lake in the front and high Himalayan peaks at the rear, the food served was also delicious and the staff was helpful too.

After settling down we immediately went on hike in the nearby mountain area and ended up at place with a large praying wheel, in the evening it was an amazing experience hearing the fluttering of flags from the village houses and gazing the sky full of stars.

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12th August – Day 4

We rose early from our beds and trekked a few kms in the mountains, the views there were astonishing with hues of brown in a backdrop of high snow-covered peaks and the sky deep blue. After brunch we started our journey towards Dhankar Gompa, we visited the Tabo monastery en-route, it is the oldest monastery in the spiti region. It was after Tabo that we drove across plains in a long time, now we had entered the broad flood plains of Spiti River which were cultivated with peas and potatoes. For Dhankar we again climbed up the mountains and by evening we were at Dhankar ( 4500 m), here four of our friends joined us who came from the Manali route so now we were thirteen persons with a tempo traveler and one Sumo. We stayed at Dhankar monastery guest house which is built at the entrance of Dhankar village. The view of confluence of Spiti and Pin River from here is astounding.

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13th August – Day 5

We all went trekking to Dhankar lake which is situated on a slightly higher elevation; the landscapes around Dhankar is more of mud rather than solid rocks so it is all scree trekking which is quite strenuous at times, also it’s the high altitude which play its role. The lake was dried up mostly but it was worth visiting.

After a dramatic photograph session we climbed down, visited Dhankar Gompa and Dhankar village. Dhankar is the former capital of the Spiti region and owing to its strategic location on a cliff it was the safest place in times of invasion. Sadly due to natural erosion and lack of conservation efforts it is in a dilapidated state. By the lunch time we reached Kaza, after a quick-lunch we visited key monastery and Kibber village. Key looks grand from a distance and it is a rare view with all its magnificent surroundings but honestly the feeling is lost as you approach the monastery.

It grew darker as we reached Kibber thus we were not able to spend much time there.

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14th August – Day 6

After breakfast we drove to langza village, this is the village with huge Buddha statue and the area is famous for the fossils found here. From langza you can see all the higher peaks covered with snow in the background which are famous amidst professional mountaineers, from here we drove to Komic monastery, it is the remotest place i have visited till date, here the monk offered us some nice tea and the boys got to see some rituals (females were not allowed in that part of the monastery).Rest of the day we spent in the market at Kaza shopping and eating.

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15th August – Day 7

Some of us woke up early in the morning and went for cycling which was arranged by Tsering our trip helper and our host in Kaza. After breakfast we left for Chandrataal. For a while we were along the Spiti River then we  took a turn in the other direction in the mountains, we had our lunch at lossar this place had few small eating places where we had Maggie and some good home-made roti – sabji. After that the dirt track cum road literally vanished and we drove on river pebbles till kunzum la the gate way to Spiti Valley, as a custom every passing by vehicle stops at kunzum pass, it was quite windy up there and the views of the glaciers were amazing. Around three we reached the camping site at Chandra taal, the motorable road to Chandra taal is the scariest one. Without any delay we started walking towards the lake which was around 2 kms away, but only after 15 mins the weather started changing and when we were a few meters away from the lake it started raining, as soon we reached the lake we had to return back due to the bad weather, I just had a glimpse of the lake, it was stunning and clear blue. At the very moment I decided to come back again sometime definitely  to sit and enjoy the serenity. As we reached the camp side the rain stopped and the sun was shining again and i saw the most beautiful rainbow of my life. The night sky was gorgeous,  with millions of stars visible to the naked sky, I spent quite a time gazing at the sky, but unfortunately it started raining again in the night around 2:00 am, few of the tents had leakage and the water seeped inside, it was a difficult night for some of our friends.

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16th August – Day 8

The next day when we got out of the tent it was snow on the peaks around. Due to the rain encounter last day we were short on woolens; our shoes were still wet and it was chilling cold, not a good combination though but we managed through. Just after the breakfast we started our journey towards our last destination Manali. The mud track was all sludgy; our temp traveler got struck on the way but with help of the Sumo driver and few other fellow drivers, Dipu (our Driver) was able to pull through. It is true “In the mountain one cannot survive alone; you need a Team work”. On the way we stopped at Chatru for some snacks, the place was teeming with people, some nati dancers, solo bikers and travelers like us. The landscape was changed complete with the arid desert replaced by moss-covered green mountains a peculiar feature of lahaul valley.

By the afternoon we reached Rohtang Pass and as expected; it was full of tourists ( It was weekend !!), it seemed like numerous tiny black dots against the white back ground. It was little disturbing for us after coming through such an isolated and untouched part but soon we were accustomed by the ways of life in our side of the world, nevertheless we had to wait for some odd 3 hours on the winding roads after crossing  Rohtang pass in the traffic jam.

By the evening we reached our hotel in old Manali and as i had my pre notions about a regular hill station, to my surprise old Manali did not disappoint me. The place has flavor of its own with all those eating joints, live music, jewellery shops and the bizarre foreigners.

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17th August – Day 9

We spent this day relaxing and shopping in the streets of old Manali. To summarize it, had spent less but quality time in Manali, at five in the evening we left for Delhi to get back to our mundane life but with memories for a lifetime.

 Some Tips

Carry a variety of clothes if you are travelling on this circuit as it can be as hot as a  Delhi summer day in Dhankar to temperature tipping to Zero at Chandra taal. And carry an extra pair of shoes too.

Carry wind sheeter it can be really windy at times

Do carry snacks, chocolate and dry fruits

If you are going for Chandra Taal try to visit the lake before 2 : 00 PM as the weather changes drastically after this time in this part of Himalaya.

One or two beers are okay but do not booze more in high altitude area, you can  have a hangover three times intense than the normal or it is better to avoid booze.

Carry a medical kit with you consists of the basic medicines like disprin, evomine, crocin, volini, ointment and bandage.

Do not expect luxury Hotels and food here, you will find humble yet hygienic stays with simple but delicious food.

Trust me high altitude can turn you cranky at times….but it is completely normal.

If you can, carry stuff like drawing book and color pencils for the school kids.

If possible get your trip organize by some of the local organizers, I won’t say it is necessary but for sure it is worth as the locals know the place best.

You can contact –

Incredible Spiti

Vishesh Shourie

+91 9650675505

Tsering Bodh

+91 9418208987

……Thanks to Rujuta for introducing the place to me and to Anuj for helping me throughout the research.

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