SPITI VALLEY – The Land of Lamas

Location: Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh

Weather: Pleasant in summers and bone-chilling in winters

Places to See: Tabo Monastery, Key Monastery, Pin Valley Park & more. 

Best Time to Visit: May to October

The Spiti Valley is a cold desert mountain valley, and a sub division of Lahaul & Spiti district in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The word “Spiti” literally means “Middle Land” or “Middle Country” as it is the land between India and Tibet. It is popularly called “Little Tibet” seeing that its terrain, vegetation and climate are similar to Tibet, along with their rich Buddhist culture. Spiti Valley is a research and cultural centre for Buddhists; and the locals follow Vajrayana Buddhism.

The Spiti Valley is found in the north-east part of Himachal Pradesh, bordered by Tibet, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Kullu. With its sub-divisional headquarters at Kaza, the Valley is the entryway to the northernmost parts of the country. With an average elevation of 4,270 meters, Spiti is more barren and difficult to pass through. It is surrounded by lofty ranges, with Spiti River traversing through the region. The main Spiti valley is divided into eastern and western valleys, which are connected with Ladakh and Tibet (on east), and Kinnaur and Kullu (on west) via high passes.

Lahaul and Spiti are encircled by high mountain ranges. The Rohtang Pass (3,979 m) separates Lahul and Spiti from the Kullu Valley. Lahul and Spiti are separated from each other by the Kunzum Pass (4,590 m). The road connecting these two valleys is often closed in winter and spring due to heavy snow. Spiti, together with its twin valley of Lahaul, has retained its pristine charm as these places are still far-flung from the reach of common travelers. Since it receives heavy snowfall during winters and access to this valley gets blocked, Spiti can be visited only during summers.

Spiti is undoubtedly a beautiful place given to its spectacular sight-seeing options with scenic mountain views and clear rivers. Here you can visit amazing monasteries like Key Monastery, Lhalung Monastery, Tabo Monastery and Dhankar Monastery. Or explore regions like Chandratal Lake which is immersed in pristine natural beauty. For wildlife lovers, there are places like Pin Valley National Park and Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary to spot some rare species of animals. Apart from the exotic wildlife, the Spiti Valley has amazing flora with 62 species of medicinal plants found here. If all that is not enough, the Valley of Spiti also offers great trekking opportunities to places like Parangla Pass, Pin Parvati Pass, Bab Pass, Hampta Pass and many more. Skiing and Yak Safari are other two adventurous activities that can be enjoyed here.

Climate in Spiti Valley

Spiti is marked by harsh climatic conditions. Summers, here, are quite pleasant where the temperature ranges between 26.8°C and 1.38°C. However, the sun can be quite harsh during daytime. Being a typical mountain desert area, it receives meager rainfall of just 170mm annually. Winters are extremely chilling when the temperature touches sub zero levels. During this time, the regions remains completely cut off from rest of the country as all the entryways get blocked due to heavy snowfall. Ideally, summers make the best time to visit the Valley of Spiti.

Tourist Attractions in Spiti Valley

At an elevation of 3,660 meters, Kaza is the administrative headquarters of the Spiti Valley. It is the largest township and commercial center of the Valley, situated along the Spiti River. The town is divided into old (Kaza Khas) and new (Kaza Soma) sections. Surrounded by snow-clad mountains on all sides, Kaza is the one of the coldest towns in India. Its central location makes it an ideal base camp for trekking, mountaineering and tours to other parts of the valley. Located 4 kms from Kaza, the Tangyud Gompa is the major attraction that dates back to the early 14th century. It is constructed like a fortified castle with huge slanted mud walls and battlements.

Located near Kaza, Pin Valley National Park is a national park located in the desert habitat of the Spiti Valley, within the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve, in the Himalayas region. Established in 1987, this park marks the border between the earlier separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The elevation of the park ranges from 3,500 to more than 6,000 metres. Amidst snow-covered slopes, the Park makes a natural habitat for many endangered animals including the snow leopard and Siberian ibex.

Key Monastery, located about 12 kms from Kaza in Key or Ki Village, is one of the biggest and oldest monasteries in Spiti and that’s why it is the prime tourist destination in this region. It enshrines idols of Buddha in meditating position. Located at an elevation of 4,112 meters, this 14th-century monastery is built in the Chinese style of architecture. Kibber, at an elevation of 4,205 meters, is one of the permanently inhabited villages in the Spiti Valley. Located 16 kms from Kaza and 8 kms from Ki Village, Kibber serves as a base for several high altitude treks. It is famous for its monastery and Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.

Sited at a distance of 56 kms from Kaza, Losar is a small peaceful village where one can spend some relaxing time while cherishing the stunning views of the mountains. It is found in the extreme end of the Spiti Valley. Gette is known for being the highest village in Spiti, at a height of 4270 meters.

Kunzum Pass, at an altitude of 4,590 meters, is a high mountain pass sited on the eastern Kunzum Range. It acts as the gateway to Spiti from Kullu and Lahaul valley. It is located at a distance of 122 kms from Manali. While reaching to this pass, the view of Bara-Sigri Glacier which is the second longest glacier in the world is enthralling. From here, one can enjoy striking views of the Chandra Baga Range and Spiti Valley.

Located at an altitude of 4,300 meters, Chandratal Lake is said to be amongst the most beautiful lakes in the mighty Himalayas. Its name “Chandra Taal” (literally Lake of the Moon) is derived from its crescent shape. Surrounded by snow for most of the year, Chandratal is a paradise for trekkers about 6 kms from Kunzum Pass. This deep blue-water lake has a circumference of 2.5 kms and is the prime source of the River Chandra.

Giu is a small village, at an altitude of 3600 meters, famous for its naturally preserved mummy which is believed to be more than 500-years old. Located 11 kms from Sumdo village, Giu or Geu village has become a major attraction among tourist for this mummified Lama. At an altitude of 3,050 meters, Tabo is a small town on the road between Reckong Peo and Kaza. It is mainly famous for its Tabo Monastery which is believed to be 1000 years old. This 10th-century monastery is often called the “Ajanta of the Himalayas” seeing that it owns rare collection of scriptures, well-preserved statues, wall murals, frescoes, art pieces and wall paintings. Tabo Monastery is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure of India.

Situated at an altitude of 3,370 meters, Dhankar is a medium-sized village that used to be the capital of earlier Spiti district. It is located between Tabo and Kaza. In local language, “Dhankar” means a fort and that is what Dhankar Monastery once was. Dhankar Monastery is a brilliant example of traditional architectural skills of Spiti. Once has been the castle of the ruler of Spiti, Dhankar, in present times, is a repository of Buddhist scriptures in the Bhoti (local language) script. Dhankar Lake is located above the monastery.

Lingti Valley is the longest (60km) and largest side valley of Spiti. This is no less than a living geological museum that comprises shales and fossils dating back 250 million years. Gaya Peak, at a height 6794 meters, is the highest peak in Himachal Pradesh. It is located above the northern head of the Valley, making a stunning monolith where the boundaries of Ladakh, Spiti and Tibet meet. The mountain peaks on the northern side of the Lingti Valley are Pari Lungbi (6160m), Shila (6111m), Chau Chau (Kang Nilda 6303m), Tserip (5974m) and Kuwa (5913m), while on the southern side are Tangmar (5901m), Langma (5761m), Sibu (5700m), and Kamatang (5902m). Lhalung Monastery is one the earliest monasteries founded in Lhalun village of Lingti Valley in Spiti.

Accommodation – Hotels/Resorts in Spiti Valley

Considering the isolation of Spiti Valley, accommodation options are limited to few hotels, guest houses and home stays. Most of the hotels are located in Kaza, though luxurious facilities are still restricted. Guest Houses are available at small villages like Tabo and Losar. Home stays are available in villages of Demul, Langza, Lhalung and Dhankar. If you are staying at hotels, you can eat from their in-house kitchens. There are few restaurants in and around Kaza where Indian and Tibetan dishes are available.

How to Reach Spiti Valley

By Air

Kullu-Manali Airport at Bhuntar is the closest airport to Spiti Valley, though it has few flight connections. Same applies to the Shimla Airport which is connected to one or two destinations. Chandigarh Airport is the major airport that is well-connected to most of the cities. However, from all the airports, you are required either to head Manali or Shimla to cover the remaining distance by road to arrive at Spiti.

By Train

Joginder Nagar Railway Station and Shimla Railway Station are the nearest narrow gauge railway stations. The second nearest broad gauge railhead is at Kangra. Again, the Spiti Valley is accessible only through Manali via Rohtang Pass, or Shimla via Kinnaur by road.

By Road

To access Spiti, there are two road routes that bring you to the Trans-Himalayas. One route is from Shimla via the Kinnaur valley, and the other from Manali via Rohtang Pass. The motorable road (412 km long) from Shimla via Kinnaur up to Kaza remains open for 8 to 9 months. The road passes through Sumdo via Hangrang valley. The Spiti valley starts from Sumdo, which is approximately 74 kms from Kaza. Through this route, it takes a minimum of 2 days, with a night’s halt in Kalpa or Reckong Peo, and even if longer, gives more time to steadily adapt to the altitude. The way from Manali via Rohtang Pass takes about 12-14 hours, depending on road conditions. HPTDC runs regular buses from Manali and Shimla to Kazo. Otherwise, sturdy jeeps or SUVs must be hired to reach the Spiti Valley. For easy understanding, both routes to reach Spiti Valley are stated below.

Via Manali: Manali – Rohtang Pass – Gramphu – Chattru – Kunzum Pass – Kaza (Spiti Valley)

Via Shimla – Kinnaur Valley – Kinnaur – Nako – Sumdo (Spiti Valley) – Tabo – Kaza

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