Among the most wholesome ways to explore the Himalayan range is by trekking. Conquering the expansive stretch of the mountain range, encompassing the utter enormity of the snowy peaks and loss of words at describing the exhilaration of accomplishment isn’t something that’s easily forgotten by any trekker who’s ventured into the Himalayas for an experience. Himachal Pradesh is a parcel of arresting hill stations, boundless mountain peaks and appealing if not quaint valleys, making it one of the top summer getaway destinations of India. The Spiti Valley, literally gleaned as ‘The Middle Land’ is set in the midst of Tibet and India, in the high mountainous Himalayas. Wrapped up by the gigantic mountains and the picturesque landscapes, with smatterings of little hamlets and Barley fields, the Spiti Valley Trek bears the reputation of being a culture and research centre for the Buddhists.
Table of Content
- The Spiti Valley Trek at a Glance
- Regarding the Spiti Valley Trek
- What the Spiti Valley Trek Offers
- The Best Season for the Spiti Valley Trek
- How to Reach the Spiti Valley Trek Basecamp
- Route Options for the Spiti Valley Trek
- The Spiti Valley Trek: Traversing the Surreal Territories
- The Enchanting Places of the Spiti Valley Trek
- Challenges of the Spiti Valley Trek
- Things to Carry for the Spiti Valley Trek
- Getting Fit for the Spiti Valley Trek
- Summing Up
The Spiti valley, Himachal Pradesh is known to be one amongst the most beautiful Himalayan valleys. Located at an altitude of 12,500 ft Spiti valley is the admittance to unblemished Himalayan beauty.
The Spiti Valley Trek at a Glance
- Where it is Located: Himachal Pradesh
- Number of Trekking Days: 5 days
- Max Altitude: 12,500 ft
- Total Trekking Distance: 55 km
- Trekking Grade: Moderate - Difficult
- Livingit Rank: Advanced - Expert
Regarding the Spiti Valley Trek
Spiti is positioned at the eastern stub of Tibet, northern end of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh borders. Due to the near proximity, the lifestyle, culture, and the landscape bear allegiance and similarities to that of the neighbouring Tibetan and Ladakhi. This region shows a predominance of Mahayan Buddhist in its population of just over 10,000 people, which makes it known to be one of the most sparsely populated regions of the country. Owing to the alienation and isolation of this region for many centuries, the culture is exceptionally introverted and is pivoted around its multiple monasteries which contribute to being the oldest monasteries in the Western Himalayas, such as Gungri, Mud, Tabo, and Lidang to name a few. Out if these, the Tabo monastery is almost 1000 years old.
Spiti, which is locally pronounced as 'Piti', has its sub-divisional headquarters located at Kaza. There was a time when Spiti was loosely ruled or headed by a hereditary wazir for many centuries. The constant chanting of the mantra "Om mani padme hum" (or “Om Mani Peme Hung”), which, when literally translated means 'Behold, the jewel is in the lotus', is considered to wash away all sins and bring about good fortune. During the Spiti Valley trek, you will encounter many grand Buddhist monasteries wherein you can learn about religion and of the like beliefs in detail.
Having been to Spiti Valley, here’s what Dr. Ali Tunkiwala said about this beautiful trail in his blog, “Bejewelled with poetic sounding villages like Agba, Skibba and Ribba, the entire journey was an epitome of barrenness that is interspersed with extremely treacherous roads. Beige and brown colours with nothing growing along its way; yet so beautiful. I find beauty in this stark landscape today more than any greenery I have ever seen.”
What the Spiti Valley Trek Offers
The river Spiti stems at the foot of the Kunzam range, from where it flows in an eastward direction to join the Sutlej River at Khab in Kinnaur. The small Himalayan villages, with their simple Himalayan lifestyle, and a rough and precipitous terrain surrounding you is bound to leave any visitor spellbound. Despite its outwardly desolateness the Spiti Valley’s beauty belongs to that of another world. It has acquired the title of being the ‘Fossil Park of the World’ with the three villages of Kye, Kaza and Kibber falling on the favourite route for fossil hunters. These villages are located at altitudes between 13,500 metres and 14,400 metres above sea level. Also famous for maritime fossils is Langza. These fossils can be found on the either side of Kang-yur and Paapen-yu nallahs near the village. The region’s wildlife also boasts about the ibex and the elusive snow leopard.
Apart from all this, what is also a great tourist attraction, are the adventure sports being offered and organized in the Lahaul Spiti Valley. While trekking stands tall among the locals and globetrotters alike, activities such as mountaineering, skiing, paragliding etc. have caught on majorly making Spiti area a favourite. Previously due to underdeveloped infrastructure, trekking in this region wasn’t an attraction of any sort. Of late due to progress in road development, the Spiti Valley has made it to the bucket lists of many trekkers and hikers.
The Best Season for the Spiti Valley Trek
The weather is at its best between the months of June to October and is considered an ideal time to undertake the Spiti Valley Trek. In winters, Spiti valley faces heavy snowfall, causing snow blocks, due to which most of the high altitude passes and roads become inaccessible, restricting any kind of hiking, trekking or mountaineering trips.
When the first spell of snowfall hits, the government bus service from Kinnaur gets halted and any hotels for tourists are closed, the road from Manali being closed off way before this. Post receiving a few more stints of snowfall, the roads are overcome with slipperiness. At this point in time, the only vehicles one can see moving about are government jeeps, local taxis, ambulances, fuel trucks and private vehicles of the Spiti people. At Kaza, the minimum temperature touches at least a -20˚C with all chances of it dropping further as the winter season advances. The villages located higher up face even colder temperature.
- Monsoon: 13 ° C to 18 ° C (day); 0 ° C to 5 ° C (night)
- Summer: 15 ° C to 20 ° C (day); 3 ° C to 8 ° C (night)
- Winter: -2 ° C to 2 ° C (day); -15 ° C to -10 ° C (night)
How to Reach the Spiti Valley Trek Basecamp
The basecamp for the Spiti valley trek, Kaza, isn’t a very accessible spot from the other parts of the country. While you could get there via trains and flights, probably the best and the most viable option is by road.
Heading over from Manali to Spiti Valley, the route goes via Kunzum La and Rohtang La Pass towards Kaza which is the district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti. The distance between Manali to Kaza is 200 km approximately and will take you a minimum of six to eight hours.
There isn’t a frequency to speak about for bus facilities available between Kullu and Kaza, as there is just a single bus available and considering the poor conditions of the road, it could easily take you anywhere from ten to twelve hours to cover the 200 km. The route is also only accessible and roads are usually open between the months of June to October as the passes are at high altitudes and are prone to snow blocks easily.
If you are going to Spiti Valley from Shimla then you can take the route to Kaza via Reckong Peo, which is apparently open and functional throughout the year. The journey distance is approximately 420 km and again, the conditions of the roads aren’t too good.
There is no way of reaching directly by rail. The closest railway station is at Shimla. From here one can then reach Kaza either by hiring private vehicles like cabs or jeeps or utilise public transport like buses.
Again, it’s not possible to catch a flight to reach directly. What you could do is arrive at Bhuntar from where Manali is about a two-hour drive. Once you reach Manali, you can hit the road again to reach Kaza.
Delhi to Spiti Valley Distance
Delhi – Shimla – Kaza is a distance of around 791 km. If you can pull in an overnight stay at Shimla and another at Reckong Peo, the journey will take you three days of 8-12 hrs minimum driving to reach Kaza.
Delhi – Manali – Kaza is a distance of around 772 km including an overnight stay at Manali, the journey will take you two days of 16-18 hrs of minimum driving to reach Kaza.
Route Options for the Spiti Valley Trek
As mentioned above, there are two ways of approaching Spiti Valley; either you take the Manali – Kaza route or the Shimla –Kaza route. If you decide on taking the Manali – Kaza route, know that the distance is shorter, thereby reducing the level of tiredness and travel costs. This route is also less susceptible to landslides in the monsoon season, also giving you a chance to traverse through multiple high-altitude passes.
However, the route from Shimla –Kaza or from the Kinnaur side is beneficial in the sense that it has a gradual increase in altitude, which proves to be better for acclimatization. This is just a bit of heads-up information to decide which route is more suitable for you.
Spiti Valley Trek Map
The Spiti Valley Trek: Traversing the Surreal Territories
The Spiti Valley Trek is a 55 km journey that can be completed in 5 days, but of course, you can increase and decrease the number of days depending how much you want to explore each stop. The trail traverses along a meandering river, passes crystal clear lakes, and scales challenging passes. The journey, if jotted down, would look something like this:
From Kaza to Langza via the Ki Monastery in Kibber
The first of the monasteries of this trek is the Ki Monastery which is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley and is around 1,000 years old. It is located at a height of 13,668 feet and was founded by a disciple of the famous Atisha in the 11th century. A distance of 18 km from Kaza will take you to the picturesque village of Kibber, which is situated at a height of 4,205 metres. Kibber is also a popular base camp from where one can undertake various treks or hikes to the adjoining high altitude mountains.
From Kibber, you could also trek to Chicham Village. Chicham Village is positioned across a precipitous and a sharp canyon which can only be journeyed across via a suspended wire cable basket system, called a Jula.
About this jula, Shivya Nath, in her blog, The Shooting Star, writes, “This local engineering feat is worth a ride for the stunning views of the gorge below and the intimidating aura of the surrounding peaks."
Then, you can head toward the Langza village. Here, you can visit the historic Lang Temple which is judged to be approximately 1,000 years old. This region is famous for its richness of fossils of marine animals, Spiti shells, belemnite and ammonite, all because of a prehistoric era when the Spiti Valley was submerged below the Tethys Sea. There is also a national park for geology you could visit to satisfy your curiosity in the subject.
From Langza to Komik
The trek from Langza to Komik will take approximately three to four hours, involving traversing through parts of the world’s highest inhabited regions. Ascend 15,000 feet above sea level to reach the village of Komik which, sitting at a height of 4,513 metres, is the highest inhabited village in Asia, and the literal translation of the name is ‘eye of a snow cock’. This farming village comprises of a meagre number of around 84 families which are pretty much cut off from the rest of the world for a major chunk of the year.
This region is home to animals such as the snow cock, the Tibetan wolf, Himalayan Griffon, Red Fox, Blue Sheep, Hare, Rock Pigeon etc.
Also along the way, is Hikkim that happens to be the highest post office in the world. Just imagine the fascination of receiving a letter sent from that altitude! Hikkim also bears the title of the highest polling station in the world.
A typical Spiti Valley night could mean the temperatures trudging down to as low as three to four degrees. However, there are mud homes available for staying which comfort you by being a few degrees warmer than the outside climates.
From Komik to Demul via Chemai Lepcha Pass
The next stop is the village of Demul which is yet another alluring Spiti Valley village personifying remoteness at 4,400 metres. The journey will take you past the Chemai Lepcha Pass. You could self-explore the area and the surroundings which are equivalent to postcard like scenery or opt for the traditional yak safari.
If you are there in the right season, you could even learn how to harvest Yher leaves which are commonly used to make momo fillings. Experience the best of Spitian locals welcome you into their homes and give you a glimpse of their lifestyles.
From Demul to Lalung via Lingti Valley
The trek now takes you down a steep descent till Lingti to the village of Lalung. Lalung is situated at the base of the Tangmar Mountains. The name Lalung means ‘Land of God’ and the locals believe that their God resides in the Tangmar Mountains which transforms into varied colours of reds, browns and yellows depending on the mood of the deities. The colour red denotes anger while the yellow colour denotes happiness.
Lalung also is the home to one of the oldest gompas in Spiti Valley. The Lalung Monastery, which is also known by the names Sarkhang and Golden Temple, sits at a height of 3658 metres.
Lalung – Dhankar – Tabo – Kaza
Head on out towards Dhankar which once upon a time was the ancient capital of Spiti Valley and the seat of the Spitian Kings. Dhankar rides above the watersmeet of the Spiti and Pin rivers, and is where the royal’s ruined castle and the 16th century monastery are located.
The route to Dhankar is midway between Kaza and Tabo and runs along a slight detour which is situated on a sheer mountain ridge overhanging the valley. To really appreciate the surroundings of history and tradition of the fort and monastery, it will take you a good couple of hours. There is also the Dhankar Lake which is a must see.
From Dhankar, you can drive in the direction of the old Tabo monastery, which sports a UNESCO World Heritage Site title.
Conclude your trek at Kaza.
Highlights of the Spiti Valley Trek
- Visiting the 1000 years old monastery - Ki Monastery!!
- A chance to send a letter or a postcard home or to a friend from the Highest Post office in the world!
- Exploring the highest inhabited village of Asia – the Komik Village.
- Living with the locals and experiencing their lifestyle, culture and their traditions.
- Experience the colour changing mountain of Tangmar.
- Traversing to Dhankar, the ancient capital of Spiti, and enjoying the scenery of the Spiti Valley.
The Enchanting Places of the Spiti Valley Trek
While traversing the Spiti Valley Trek, you will come across lots of steal-your-breath, sweep-you-off-your-feet places. Here's a list of those spots.
Spiti Valley Monasteries
The Spiti Valley is dotted with lots of monasteries, all of them ancient and more beautiful than the next. Here are the ones you can visit on your Spiti Valley trek:
The Ki Monastery, also known as Kye Gompa, is among the most popular places monasteries of the Spiti Valley, situated in the Kaza region at an altitude of 4112 metres and overlooking the Spiti River. It is also one of the biggest gompas, famous for its Buddha shrine, murals, manuscripts and ancient books. With a beautiful assembly hall and appealing Tengyur room, the fort like structure resembles a Chinese theme.
The Tabo monastery is known to have ancient stories woven around it, as it is one of the oldest monasteries of the Spiti Valley. Famous for its majestic paintings, the multiple stupas are the key attraction. It also consists of 9 temples of Tara and Buddha Maitreya, while the multiple stucco sculptures of Bodhisattvas, the works of Buddha and wall paintings amongst other things add to the list of things to look out for here.
The Lalung monastery was founded by Rinchen Zangpo who was a Buddhist mahaguru and is considered to be one of the earliest monasteries of the Spiti Valley. It also goes by the name of Golden Temple due to the multiple gold leaf deities that adorn the shrine. Consisting of an intricate of nine shrines, this historic monastery is believed to be a hub of Buddhist teachings.
The Gandhola monastery was founded by Padma Sambhava. It is located at the meeting point of Chandra and Bhaga. Though the monastery is basic and simple its heritage value is spiked by its shrines and famous wooden idols. This monastery is almost 800 years old.
Spiti Valley Lakes
The lakes you visit during the Spiti Valley trek offer you a peace of mind like you’ll never find anywhere else.
The Chandratal Lake is a breathtaking waterbody to visit in Lahaul and Piti Valley, with its name being a derivative of its crescent moon shape, meaning Lake of the Moon. It is located near the Kunzum Pass at an altitude of about 4,300 meters. As per the legends, the lake is located in the vicinity of a spot from where God Indra's chariot picked up Yudhishthira, the eldest of Pandava brothers in Mahabharata. The scenic beauty of the crystal blue water surrounded by the snow covered mountains makes for an idyllic photographer’s paradise.
Suraj Tal, which translates to Sun Lake, is a frequent visiting place for photographers, ardent trekkers and nature lovers especially during the summer months of May to October. This lake is situated close to the Baralacha Pass.
The Dhankar Lake also known as the Sar Kund Lake is a phenomenal natural water body sitting on a cliff at a 4270-meter altitude. The tread to this lake is somewhat challenging but when you have the splendid views of the mountains and the clear lake to rub off the weariness, who can complain.
Spiti Valley Passes
The trail of the Spiti Valley Trek leads you through some beautiful Himalayan passes.
The Kunzum Pass lies amidst the Kunzum Range at 4590 metres. This pass spans the Spiti Valley with the Kullu and Lahaul Valley. This region has a magnificent view of the Chandrabhaga Range which is easily accessible as a trek from the Chandratal Lake. What acts as the cherry on the top of the cake, is the ancient Devi temple and the colourful Buddhist flags.
The Baralacha Pass on the Manali –Leh Highway in Zaskar acts as the focal point for the numerous hilly roads between Lahaul and Ladakh. This pass is known to be one of the most treacherous and challenging passes. From here, one can observe the intersection of the Zanskar Ranges, the Great Himalayan and the Pir Panjal. There are two rivers namely, Bhaga and Yunam which flank its sides and add to the lure of this terrain.
Other Places to Visit in Spiti
The Spiti Valley Trek offers you a lot more than the monasteries, lakes, and passes. Let’s take a look at some of the most beautiful places in and around Spiti Valley.
Pin Valley National Park
The Pin Valley National Park is an affluent and abundant bio-reserve of endangered and scarce flora and fauna, making it one of the most sensational places to visit in the Spiti Valley. It is home to chukar partridges, snow cocks, snow leopards and Siberian Ibex amongst others. Apart from this, you can also see deodar trees, cedar, alpine vegetation and multiple medicinal plants here too.
Located at the junction of the Losar and Peeno streams, it gets placed right next to the Indo - Chinese border. Since it’s yet to sample the taste of tourism, it has limited stay and food options. But the lack of luxury and comfort are more than made up for by the splendour of the village. It’s worth a visit for its waterfalls, crystal-like rivers and scenic views.
Very popular for the Marikula Mata Temple, Udaipur is abuzz as a pilgrimage centre to Buddhists and Hindus, whilst not totally eliminating the Globetrotters and curious travellers. It is located right by the Chandrabhaga River and the scenery around the area is more than vibrant and breath-taking.
Darcha boasts of hosting as few as 300 inhabitants, with a simple lifestyle backing them. The valley views and the local delights make this isolated region a great place to camp and delve into calmness.
Challenges of the Spiti Valley Trek
As beautiful as the Spiti Valley Trek is, it has its fair share of difficulties, hostile weather conditions and AMS being the worst of them.
Hostile Weather Conditions
The Spiti Valley receives only 250 days of sunshine in the year. This means that the summer months have temperatures that don’t exceed 20 – 25 degrees during the day and drop down to around 18 degrees in the nights. Therefore, it’s an easy concept that the summers are the best time to visit Spiti Valley. The harsher months of winter bring not only extreme cold temperatures but also hold the capability of shutting down the roads.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Travellers who aren’t used to higher elevations could be prone to AMS. This is a common occurrence at altitudes above 10,000 feet which so happens to be the average elevation of Spiti Valley.
Light symptoms would include sleep disturbance, loss of appetite, and difficulty in passing urine. Moving to the moderate situation would mean symptoms such as bad headaches, irregular breathing, and mild weakness accompanied by nausea. In case of a serious case of AMS, the symptoms would be dizziness and difficulty in standing, swelling up of the hands and face, chest gurgles and zero energy.
In order to avoid or assuage the conditions, rest at least a day before starting the trek, or in the midst of a trek reduce the pace of ascent. This will give you a chance to acclimatize properly. Allow for plenty of time for a gradual ascent. Also be prepared with a personal medical kit with the necessary AMS medications known to ease the symptoms. Painkillers and extra fluids could work their magic, but in case of persistent symptoms, immediately descend to a more comfortable altitude or move for medical assistance.
Things to Carry for the Spiti Valley Trek
Being a cold mountain desert, the varying weather and temperatures in Spiti could get you easily confused. At times the sun's rays will be harsh enough to burn your skin, but the shaded areas will make you want to cuddle up under a mountain of warm blankets and never get out.
- Sturdy Trekking Backpack of a 60-litre capacity
- Trekking Shoes with a good grip, already broken into
- Trekking pole / Walking stick
- Flashlight or a Torch with extra batteries
- First Aid Kit - Personal medication
- A Compass and a Map of the area
- Full sleeved t-shirts, fleece or woollen pullover, warm shirts
- Waterproof Trekking Pants
- Windproof and water resistant jacket
- Down jacket with a minimum of 600 fill power rating
- Thermal inner wears
- Spare pair of comfortable shoes to wear around the campsite
- Windcheater /Raincoat / Poncho/ Rain jacket
- Woollen cap / Baklava / Scarf / Muffler
- Waterproof gloves, Fleece gloves
- Sports socks, Thick woollen socks
- Cap / Hat
- Easy-dry, lightweight towel
- Sunscreen lotion
- Lotion, Lip Balm – skin is likely to undergo drying due to the harsh conditions
- A Government-approved ID Proof (Driver’s Licence, PAN Card, etc.)
- Medical Certificate approved and attested by a certified doctor
- Snacks like chocolate, dry fruits, etc.
Trekking Medical Kit
- Diamox for AMS
- Moov or Relispray for muscular pulls, aches and sprains
- Crocin for fever
- Combiflam as a general painkiller
- Digene for acidity
- Crepe bandage and ointment in the case of any injuries
- A small roll of cotton and gauze
- Betadine, Soframycin or any antiseptic cream
- Avomine for motion sickness
- Avil for allergies
Travellers of the Indian nationality aren’t required to apply for any permit to enter Spiti.
Travellers of foreign identity, when coming from Shimla over the Rohtang do not require an inner line permit. All the border police will do is take down your passport number as registration at the entrance to the valley, a process that doesn’t take more than a few minutes.
Foreign nationality travellers if entering Spiti via the Kinnaur route from Shimla will require an inner-line permit, as this route runs close to the Tibetan border. These can be arranged for in advance at the Reckong Peo border and could take a few hours at the least to obtain it.
Accommodation and Homestays in Spiti
The Spiti Valley is still one among the remote valleys of the country having being introduced to tourism only as late as 1992 so the options of accommodation aren’t as luxurious and advanced as those available in the lower Himalayas. Still, there are a number of professionally run hotels and guesthouses in Spiti which are quite comfortable, majority of which are located in and around Kaza or Tabo. Peak season however, sees most of these hotels and guesthouses being booked out and occupied first.
Not to fret, because the monasteries are open to offering accommodation. Another commonly used option is homestays. Friendly locals are more than welcoming and there is no need of booking in advance. The Spitian households are known for their hospitality and you can be assured that you would be overfed with plenty of tea, biscuits, a good vegetarian meal and kept warm with their huge warm blankets. The options of homestays are pretty decent including all the basic living amenities, quite suitable for even a solo traveller!
Do remember though that the Spit Valley falls under Trans Himalaya and a desert region which means that there are chances of water shortage, erratic electricity even if you are staying at a hotel.
The Cuisine of Spiti Valley
The families in the villages will offer you the local tea, dal, rice, roti and vegetables. You will also find the existence of Tibetan food such as momos and thukpa. Kaza has a few cafes which will be able to serve you fast food such as burgers and pizzas. Also, Israeli food is a popularity since the place sees a lot of Israeli visitors. A few of the bigger establishments will be able to supply more of the fancier dishes such as chicken, pasta etc.
Getting Fit for the Spiti Valley Trek
The Spiti Valley is located at a height of more than 10,000 ft, which means that for 5 days, you will go through snowy trails, rocky patches, and a continuously undulating terrain, all the while carrying a 60 l backpack that will probably full, not to mention the unreliable temperatures that you’ll have to face. So it goes without saying that you’ll need a lot of fitness training before you can go on this trek.
To successfully finish a 55 km trek in 5 days, you need impressive cardiovascular endurance. Jogging, swimming, and running are a good place to start your training. Once you’re able to jog or run for 5 km or walk for 10 km (with 3-4 small breaks) in 25-30 min on plain terrain with a slight incline is better, you can move on to some strength training like planks, crunches and squats to strengthen your core muscles. Try out some HIIT routines like Tabata or Fartlek for further your training.
You need to have a good amount of flexibility to avoid muscle pulls and cramps while trekking. To achieve that, include exercises for your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders in your daily workout routines.
If you could never imagine a heaven existing on earth then exploring the rough, surreal, barren yet enthralling Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh will set all your doubts to rest. As said by Rudyard Kipling ‘a world within a world’ definitely stands true for Spiti which lies nestled away amidst the Trans Himalayan belt.
Also bearing the tag of ‘Little Tibet’ the sprawling cold desert exploits postcard-like beauty with its deep gorges and ravines, and top attractions of the multiple monasteries, leading you to explore calm and serenity in the depths of Buddhism. Yes, the Spiti Valley still is an underdeveloped region, but its untouched beauty is such that there are no other complaints. The Spiti Valley gives you snow-laden mountains, blue and crystal clear lakes, snow-covered peaks, and quaint hamlets and friendly villages – is there really anything more one could wish for? No matter what you are looking for, Spiti Valley has it all.