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Surreal Spiti

January 26, 2008  •  Leave a Comment

Four adults, one scorpio and a 8 day , 1400km trip into the unkonwn may not be a everyone’s idea of a good time, but our trip to Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti in Himchal was one of our best holidays.

It was a trip which was decided in a spur of the moment. We had earlier planned for a LEH 2006 trip but couldn’t materialize it. September 2007 was also passing by and we had to decide fast about our trip. Suddenly I decided for a trip to Spiti. Discussed with some of my friends and the plan was through. Four of us were on for a trip to Spiti without our families from 14th -23rd September 2007.

We had little time for planning and other stuff but somehow with division of labour we managed to get some of the bookings and also hired a taxi ex Chandigarh.
So after taking leave from our offices we met on 14th September 2007 at 2000hrs for our journey to Spiti.

Map of Kinnaur & Spiti Region

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: New Delhi – Chandigarh- Shimla-Fagu ( 340 kms)

We reached New Delhi the other day at 0900 hrs and straight away headed for ISBT for a bus to Chandigarh. Luckily we got Himachal Tourism Volvo for Shimla and we left New Delhi at 0930hrs.
We reached Chandigarh around 1530 hrs in between stopping for lunch and our driver Gurdeep was there to receive us. Without wasting anytime we left Chandigarh in our Scorpio for Shimla. Initially we had decided to have a night halt at Shimla but after reaching Shimla at around 2000hrs found it to be too crowded a place and went further ahead towards Fagu some 25 kms ahead of Shimla. We reached Fagu at around 2040hrs and checked in Himachal Tourism Peach Blossom hotel.
Fagu is a small little place and this hotel is the only good accommodation and perfect for a night halt.
Sunrise was spectacular and we had a beautiful view of the valley from our hotel.

Sunrise over Fagu

Day 2: 16th September 2007 Fagu-Sarahan-Sangla-Chitkul ( 298 kms)

Distance Chart
From To Kms
Shimla Fagu 20
Fagu Narkanda 42
Narkanda Rampur 109
Rampur Jeori 23
Jeori Sangla 78
Sangla Chitkul 26

We left fagu at 0740hrs enroute stopping for breakfast. We had planned to reach Sangla by evening. At jeori we took a diversion for visiting Bhimkali temple from NH22 for Sarahan which is 17 kms from Jeori. All along the route we could see the mega hydro power projects coming up noticeable among them of the JayPee group.
This is one of those long driving holidays high up in the great himalays where the drive is a constant, breathtaking scenic treat.
We reached bhimkali temple around 1315hrs.

Bhimkali Temple

The Bhimkali temple is the most majestic of the few early timber temples left in the Sutlej Valley. The Sutlej valley is renowned for it's unusual tradition of housing holy shrines on raised wooden platforms. The Bhimkali Temple has two multi-tiered sanctuary towers. elegantly sloping slate-tiled roofs and gleaming golden spires. It is the last temple in the valley to be served by Brahmin priests. This original shrine of the Goddess, possesses the finest pair of silver doors in all Himachal, consisting of panels of mythological subjects in the repossess technique, made at the order of Raja Shamsher Singh in the mid-nineteenth century. A fantastic collection of Hindu as well as Buddhist bronzes are also housed in the sanctum.

We left Sarahan at 1345 and 10kms ahead of Jeori had our lunch of rajma roti and rice at a small dhaba. Left for Sangla at 1500hrs and it was still around 70kms away..

We again left NH22 some 20 kms after Wangtu and took right turn for Sangla and Chitkul. We reached Sangla at 1830hrs but decided to move on to Chitkul 26kms ahead for night halt.

You keep seeing all along with tall Chinar, Pine and Chilgoza trees. There was an absolute riot of colors till your vision reaches the horizon.
We first came across Raksham , which allows the slightly tame Baspa River to play along its borders. The town has a collection of few houses that are built from wood, stone and dried grass.
A few kms after sangla and before karcham a mountain stream was flowing in full swing after recent landslides and the bridge had been washed away. Our driver was reluctant to cross and only after watching state transport bus cross it ,did he crossed the stream.

At karchham , we leave the highway and take the road that climbs steeply above the Baspa, one of the most beautiful mountain rivers. Crystal clear blue green waters gushing over graggy rocks. Then suddenly, without any warning, from precipitous ascents we were into the wide and open Sangla valley, and it was like stumbling into the heart of swiss country side.

Sangla Valley

Our driver was a little upset and tired after a hard days driving and it took some time convincing him that road further ahead is okie and there is a guest house in chitkul to stay.
We reached chitkul around 2000hrs and after having a plain dinner retired for the night at thakur guest house.

For a stressed out city slicker, this place is the perfect antidote. The Conifer trees here effortlessly blend with the snow from the peaks all within walk able distance of your hotel. A good pair of lungs and legs could take you to your own custom made corner of bliss.. The pastel pink of the freshly flowering Chilgoza pine, the azure blue sky dotted with the occasional wisp of white cloud.
In Raksham and Chitkul most local activities revolve around wood. Collecting, cutting, storing and building with wood. Houses function as places to dwell as well as godowns for dry wood and grass.

Apple Orchards

Day 3: 17 September 2007 Chitkul-Kalpa (73kms)

We got up early at 0500hrs to explore chitkul. and walked alongside the Baspa river for quitesome time. Chitkul gives you a feeling of having travelled to the very end of civilization. Beyond chitkul lies the vast expanse of inhospitable mountain terrain and beyond that the forbidden tracts of Tibet.There was a manmade wooden plank to cross the river and went to the other side to a nearby mountain stream joining the baspa.

Wooden Bridge over Baspa

By the time we reached the stream we were tired and thirsty. The cold and sweet water of the stream quenched our thirst down to our soul. Landscape in and around chitkul is just mesemerizing. Lush green valley full of colors, app le orchards and mountain streams joining baspa reminds you of a swiss countryside setting.

Chitkul is the last village the visitors are allowed to go. A few kms ahead is the ITBP check post and around 80kms from chitkul lies the forbidden land of Tibet.

Swiss Countryside setting at Chitkul

We left chitkul at around 1000hrs for Kalpla. It was an eventful drive back from chitkul to sangla and then to kalpa. We were close to nature in its pristine form. The river Baspa was cutting through the moutians to join Sutlej and eventually into the Arabaian Sea.
Autumn was slowly setting in and there was riopt of colors in the colorful Sangla and Chitkul valley.

After carefully negotiating the hairpin bends we reached Kalpa at 1300hrs and were mesemerized by the majestic view of Kinner Kailash peaks.
Majestic Kinner Kailash Peaks covered by Clouds

Beyond Recong Peo, around 14 km from Powari is the former district headquarter of Kinnaur, Kalpa. Kalpa is located at an altitude of 2759 m and also offers some fantastic early morning views of the Kinner Kailash. According to legends, Kalpa is the winter abode of Shiva and all the god of Kinnaur assemble before him during this time for an annual conference. And when the supreme god himself seems to be so impressed by the beauty of Kalpa, how can human beings be far behind? So Kalpa has also managed to enchant many its human visitors. Lord Dalhousie, for one was extremely fond of the outstanding views offered by Kalpa and took frequent ride to the region.

The HPTDC hotel “Kinner Kailash” ( 018786 226159 Room rates from Rs 900-3000) is perfectly located to have the best views of Kinner Kailash. The rooms are cosy and staff is helpful. A perfect holiday destination to unwind and forget about the routine chores of office life.

Day 4: 18th September 2007 Kalpa-Tabo-Kaza (208 kms)

Distance Chart
From To Kms
Kalpa Khab 86
Khab Tabo 75
Tabo Kaza 47

After relaxing around in Kalpa the other day we left for our onward journey to Kaza at 0800hrs. Stopped for breakfast at Spello (2340 mts) 53 kms from Kalpa at 0940 hrs. Had a breakfast of delicious Alu Parathas and left at 1000hrs.

After Spello the landscape changes dramatically and it starts to become more and more arid. 35 kms after Spello comes Khab (2500mts).

Here the Spiti loses its identity and merges into Sutlej coming from Tibet.

Left: Confluence of Spiti & Sutlej

We now start to follow Spiti for our onward journey to Kaza. Spiti would be our constant companion now till it passes on the batten to River Chnadra at Batal.

Around 22 kms after Khab we reached the diversion for Nako Lake at around 1300hrs. From 2340 mts at Spello ,we climbed to 2500 mts at Khab and then steep ahead to 3565mts for - a small emerald color lake called Nako.

After spending about 30 mins at nako lake we moved ahead on the Nh22 towards Sumdo, a military camp and gateway to Spiti valley. From Sumdo, NH22 leads one to Kaurik, the last point in Indian territory. But for visiting Kaurik a permit is required. We left NH22 and proceeded on the state highway to Malling nallah (land slide area) after crossing two loops of Yangthang village.. Landslides are common occurrences here due to water coming out of the recesses in the adjoining mountain.

Nako Lake

Landscape changes forms & colors dramatically at regular intervals. The years of constant eorision by wind, snow and sun has taken its toll on the mountains and has given it unique shapes.

Sinuous Spiti (above)

Play of light and Shadow (below)

Enroute stopping for pictures we reached Tabo at 1430hrs. Tabo is a small town on the banks of river spiti. The town surrounds a Buddhist monastery which a,ccording to legend, is said to be over 1000 years old.

Tabo Monastery

We had our lunch at a tibetean hotel where menu had mostly Chinese dishes. We settled for chowmen and noodles. After visitng monastery we left for kaza, though initially we had decided to stay at Tabo for night.

Since there was light we decided to move on to Kaza. We left for kaza 47 kms ahead at 1600hrs. Landscape was just mesemerizing from Tabo to Kza and the evening play of light and shadow was making it surreal.

Tabo to Kaza

Around 23 kms ahead lies the diversion for Dhankar monastery. The evening light was falling on to Dhankar monastery and the sight was just too incaptivating. I asked my driver to take the diversion eve3n though it meant we might have to drive in the dark to reach spiti but Dhankar was looking stunning in the falling evening light.



After clicking to my hearts content we left for Kaza. We reached Kaza by 1830 and it was almost dark. We reached HPTDC hotel “Spiti” only to find that there is no water and the caretaker wasn’t sure when the pipeline would be repaired. Nowonder all the rooms of this beautiful hotel were vacant.
After searching we found Hotel Sakya but rooms available only for one night. Anyways we were too tired to search any further and after having dinner called it a day.

Spiti-The Hidden Valley

Spiti - ‘a world within a world' as described by Rudyard Kipling (of ‘Kim' fame) - is a relatively unknown world, tucked away in the Trans-Himalayan belt of Himachal Pradesh. Reaching for the skies at average (valley floor) altitudes of 3600 mts, this peculiar geo-climatic cold desert region borders Tibet in the east and Ladakh in the north. Spanning an area of approximately 8000 sq km Spiti is home to a purely homogenous Buddhist Society of just over 10,000, who bear stark cultural similarities with their neighbours in Tibet & Ladakh

Spiti River making its way

Mountain peaks towering at 6,000 metres, 2,500 metres deep gorges that seem to touch the core of the earth, rocks and boulders eroded by torrential rivers and high speed winds that blow across the land.. an inhospitable land that is a desert... an old desert. A land on which winter descends with fury, making temperatures dip to bone chilling figures below zero which turn gushing streams and rivers into solid masses of ice. Connected to Lahaul by the 4,590 m high Kunzam Pass and to Kinnaur by a 117 km long road that touches Sumdo in Spiti and Poari in Kinnaur, Spiti is sparsely populated. Villages are few and far between but in them live simple god-fearing, fun-loving people.

Day5 : 19th September 2007 Kaza

Got up to a bright sunny morning in Kaza and soon found out that we had to search for another place to stay. Finished our breakfast by 0800hrs and went in search for a hotel in the otwn. And to our luck we found a better one named Mandala Guest house, a newly constructed guesthouse very close to Kaza bus stand.

After dropping our luggage we moved for visitng Ki Monastery.
Overlooking Kaza from a height of about 13,500 ft, the Kye monastery is the largest in the valley and holds a powerful sway over the most populous part of the valley around Kaza. The gompa is an irregular heap of low rooms and narrow corridors on a monolithic conical hill.

Key Monastery

From a distance is resembles the Thiksey monastery near Leh in Ladakh. The irregular prayer chambers are interconnected by dark passages, tortuous staircases and small doors.Hundreds of lamas receive their religious training in the monastery.

After visitng Ki we moved further ahead to Kibber. Kibber is located at a height of about 14,200 ft in a narrow valley on the summit of a limestone rock. It is only 16 kms from Kaza and a bus service plies between these two places in summer. Kibber is a rather pleasant village with plenty of cultivation. The moment you get down, you are greeted by lush green fields which look strikingly refreshing against the arid backdrop of lofty hills.

Kibber Village

Myself at Kibber

There are only 80 houses in the village. The remarkable feature about the architecture is the use of stone instead of mud or adobe brick used extensively in the valley.

Kibber Village

We moved further ahead of kibber to a village called Gette. Gette is a small village with a cluster of houses so small that we almost ignored it and moved further ahead to Tashigang. Only when we asked some local nomads who were searching for their runwaya horsewe came to know that we had left gette behind and the place we are standing is Tashigang.
The road to gette and tashigang falls under “PradhanMantri Grammen Sadak Yojna” and is under construction. So all you get is a dirt track suitable only for SUV’s. it was almost time for lunch when we arrived back to Kaza.

After a sumptuous lunch and an hour of nap we started for Langtza.

Langtza consists of two villages ,Langtza-I & Langtza-II with around 35 families in both villages. It’s a picturesque village surrounded by hills on all sides.

Langtza-I Village

People were stocking food and fodder for coming winter months.we walked around the hills and in the villages to get an insight of their lifestyle. Life is very tough in these places. We came back in the evening and watched the falling rays of setting sun on the Key monastry from the other side of river spiti.

After having a delicious dinner cooked by the owner herself we retired for the nigh. The hospitality we received in spiti was unmatched and perhaps the best through out our whole trip. Langtza-II Village

Day6: 20th September 2007 Kaza-Chandratal-Manali

Batal-Manali 129kms

It was time to say goodbye to Spiti. A journey which started with a small idea of traveling to

remote places was finally reaching its culmination. We have traveled on Hindustan Tibet road, witnessed the lifestyle of the people of kinnaur and then Spiti and now we would be going back to Manali crossing two passes in between.

Rangrik Village

After Kaza we climbed to Rangrik a small village situated at an height of 3590mts, hul (3900mts) , Hanse to reach lossar (4085mts)

Lossar is the first inhabited village on the Spiti side if you advance to the valley from Manali over Kunzom pass. Situated at a height of 4,085 m., the village is singularly secluded. Sight of Lossar to a trekker coming down from Kunzom brings instant relief. The neatly white-washed mud houses with red bands look extremely picturesque. The contrast is rendered all the more appealing by verdant fields and willow plantations around the village. According to Gerard, "Lofty as the level of Lossar is, there is little in the landscape to betray its position when viewed in summer, embosomed in flourishing crops and herds of Pashmina wool goats. Yaks and horses meet the eye upon the high activities of the mountains, and an ardent sunshine keeps the air looming from the effect of mirage The flat roofed houses are topped by white flagpole which the superstitious believe saves them from evil spirits and brings prosperity.

Lohsar Village

After Lossar we climbed to cros Kunzum pass at 4500mts
This pass is situated at 60 kms from Gamphu on the Gramphu-Kaza- Sumdo road. It provides chief access to the Spiti-valley from Lahaul which is separated from the Spiti valley by the great Kunzom range, and from where the Spiti, pronounced Piti, the chief river of the area takes its source. Though higher than the Rohtang Pass, Kunzom is safer and provides easier ascent and descent.. The panorama as viewed from the top is breathtaking. The lofty Shigri Parbat can be seen right in front in all its grandeur. The crest of the pass has been marked by a chhorten of stones erected ages ago.

Kaza to Kunzum Road

Some 10kms after crossing Kunzum La we took the diversion for Chandratal Lake. It was 13km uphill climb and cars with good ground clearance can do the route. After an arduous journey we reached chandratal at 1315hrs and the sight was mesemerizing.

Road to Chandratal

The tiredness of an arduous journey was all forgotten by just one look at the lake.There was a tamil film shoot going on at the shores of the lake.we walked around the boundaries of the lake and enjoyed the calmness surrounding the lake.

Chandratal lake

Images of Chandratal lake

At around 3 pm we left chandratal ,mesemerized with its beauty. The roads never improved and it weas a combination of mud,gravel and boulders. Till gramphoo ,where there is a diversion for leh roads are in a pathetic condition and get slightly improved after that.
As soon as we reached Rohtang fog engulfed the whole surroundings. We stopped for a while at Marhi to have tea and snacks and by the time we left at 1910hrs it was dark. No sooner we had moved a few kms the visibility dropped to a mere 3-5mts. We were not able to see anything and it was only the experience & skill of our driver who managed to negotiaite the curves with aplomb. He was a veteran of these roads and practically knew every twist and turn.
Finally we reached manali at 2030hrs. It was long journey but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day 7: 20th September 2007 Manali

It was a rest day in Manali. We did some local sightseeing and some shopping and finally left for Chandigarh on 22nd September 2007.

Details About Spiti

Spiti, originally pronounced 'Piti' (the middle land), was historically part of Western Tibet (Nariss Korssum). In the 11th century AD Nimagon, the king of Nariss Korssum divided his kingdom amongst his 3 sons of which Spiti and Zanskar together formed a separate kingdom. Later, Ladakh took over the suzerainty of Spiti and Zanskar, and the area was governed by the Nono (younger brother of the King of Ladakh).

It was only after the invasion of Ladakh by Zorawar Singh that Spiti became part of Kullu. It remained an independent principality for many years, under the judicial and administrative rule of the Nonos (adopted as the title for the king of Spiti) during the British Raj .

Religion & Culture

Spiti is home to a purely homogenous Buddhist society belonging to the Mahayana (Vajrayana) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. In 11th century AD, Rinchen Tsangpo was born in the Purang area of Tibet and he became a pioneer in establishing the foundations for the Buddhist religion in Western Tibet. He is credited with the establishment of various monasteries in Spiti (Tabo, Kye, and Sarkhang), Ladakh, Gogay, Purang, Tholing, etc.
There are 5 main Monasteries in Spiti (Tabo, Dhankhar, Kungri, Tangyut, and Kye) and some unique Buddhist temples. The spiritual aspiration of the local community often leads the way to a monastic life, which is represented through these ancient monasteries dating back to over a 1000 years.
Chortens & mane walls are present everywhere and the enchanting intonations of 'Om Mane Padme Hum' resonate throughout the Spiti valley

Geography and Geology

Spiti, surrounded by high mountains on all sides, is located on the leeward side of the Trans-Himalayas. Its immediate neighbors are Ladakh, Tibet, Kinnaur & Kullu. The Himalayas are the youngest mountain range on the planet and have a fascinating geological past dating back millions of years. The Spitian Himalayas afford a fascinating insight into the geological past of the Himalayas.

The Spiti river, originating from the foot of a glacial peak marked K-III on old maps, flows approximately160km in a south-easterly direction up to its confluence with the Pare Chu at Sumdo (district border between Spiti and Kinnaur). It goes on to merge into the Satluj at Khab further downstream.

The river has carved out a unique storehouse of Shale. Rock faces in the area are veritable storehouses of the geological history of the Himalayas, dating back to 500 million years. The Spiti valley has an amazing proliferation of Precambrian/Cambrian era fossils. The valleys of the Lingti and the Pin rivers have long been frequented by fossil research scientists. A recent study by the Geological Society of America shows that Spiti houses various unique and rare fossils of marine life (Trilobites, of the Paleozoic Era are some of the earliest legged creatures, relatives of crabs, centipedes and spiders). River Spiti

Lying in the rain shadow of the mighty Himalayas, Spiti receives scanty rainfall. A cold desert at an average altitude of 4000mts, the valley experiences extremes of climate and temperature variations ranging from -25 degree to +30 degrees centigrade. For more than 4 months of the year the Spiti valley remains obscured by harsh winters.

General Information
Ideal time to visit The months from May to October are the ideal time to visit Spiti.

Some More Images

People of Spiti


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