Here we walk up to the villages and lakes in this pristine valley still unknown to the masses. The route along the Beas River is very picturesque.
From Kothi, we ascent part by jeep on the road to Rohtang Pass and then ski to the pastures of Gulaba, where we establish our camp. In a kaleidoscope of unimaginable colors, at night, the starry sky is priceless. Here we climb some of the magnificent peaks of the area (Gulaba Peak 4650 m, Bhundarli 4250 m, Rohtang 4190 m, Munsiyari 4600 m). Along the approach, we ski until Seri 3900 m, in Jagatsukh valley. From here, you can climb beautiful peaks (Shirguntu 4400 m, Pashchim Pahar 4610 m, Taina Cirque 4700 m).
Manali to Kaza
If you were asked to think about the road to excellence, your answer would be the legendary Route 66 in the USA. But there is another road in India that is more remote. We are in the North on the Manali-Leh highway linking Leh at an altitude of 3505 meters in Himachal Pradesh. It is part of the ancient Silk Road that led to the East from the Persian Gulf.
The 500 km long Manali-Leh highway is one of the most picturesque roads of the world that is only viable between May and October. Its average elevation is more than 4000 meters above sea level with a maximum of 5328 meters at Tanglang La.
Carved along the Himalayan chain, it is virtually a scratch in the great mountains. Who decides to realize his dream to travel it by any means, whether, in 4x4, motorcycle, bicycle, or bus knows that the surprise is on the journey and in the beauty of the landscapes, mountain ranges, rocks, sand and lakes parading all around.
The route is one or two lanes, but complicated, often interrupted by landslides, frozen waterways or just split with the spring. The wheels, whatever they are, cling to the dirt by tapping the precipice and on the other side, there is no guard rail.
The landscape is versatile and changes from green to rock and rock to green but the tops of the mountains are invariably covered with snow and sparkle of light. The Rohtang Pass, separating Lahaul valley from Kullu, located 50 km from Manali, is the first high peak we see. At an altitude of 3980 meters, it remains covered with snow during the months of December to April.
During the journey in this magnificent uninhabited barren desert, we stop at one of the Dhaba on the roadside. Dhaba is a sort of cheap and basic restaurant, that allows us to lie down to rest a bit. After Rohtang Pass, the steep descent begins from Baralacha La at 5030 meters to Zingzingbar at 4270 meters. At the end, we come across an ice flow that crosses the road and that during the hottest hours melt, turning into a torrent.
The highway passes through some of the highest passes and mountain passes in the world, including Rohtang, Pir Panjal, Baralacha La, Lachulung La and Tanglang La. The Rohtang La Pass and Baralacha La receive more snowfall than Taglang, but all three passes are locked in winter. Among Lachulung and Tanglang La, the high plains are spectacular.
Once over the Rohtang pass, it presents a crossroads as one road goes on for over 30 hours, overcoming passes over 5000 mt and end in Ladakh, another road instead veers east and goes in the spectacular Lahaul Valley. We cross the famous and beautiful valleys of Kullu and Manali before entering Spiti.
Located in the Trans-Himalayas, the region borders the Tibet to the east and Ladakh to the north and has strong natural and cultural similarities of its neighbors. We cross two passes to reach this valley and we understand why this region has remained cut off from the outside world for many years, finding there some of the highest villages in Asia.
From here we pass the Kunzum La, which divides Lahaul and Spiti, to reach the region of Lahaul, where vast glaciers and high peaks are in the spotlight, where we spend a full day in Keylong to visit some monasteries in the surrounding area.
After visiting Shashur Gompa, located right above the village, we climb the Chandra valley and continue past Chhatru river valley to Batal. It was a very wild environment where glaciers meet the valley floor. The turreted mountains seem magical citadels suspended in the sky, that enchants. The dreamy mountain towers of granite and glaciers adorn the southern side.
We stretch our legs and admire the stunning views of the Chandrabhaga chain. We visit the Buddhist shrine and get back in the jeep to enter an even more spectacular Spiti Valley. Spiti is the most remote region of India and the last Tibet. It is almost as arid and perhaps, even more, savage. We find the first settlements in Losar and reach Kaza, the capital of the Spiti valley in the evening.
The over 100 km long Spiti valley, with many villages at around 4000 meters altitude, sometimes resembles a mini Grand Canyon. The ubiquitous Spiti river unfolds between the steep walls like a snake. At other times, the valley opens up becoming more of a sort of deep-sea desert changing colors. In one way or another, the size and impact with nature here reach immense proportions.
To give a more human appearance to the territory, there are sporadic villages on the river sides. The white houses, with roofs made up of wood piles, stacked high up to 2 meters. They are built in typical Tibetan style, and wind along tiny alleys that run through the village. The green lands with crops of peas and grains such as buckwheat appear like a mirage among the barren walls.
We visit the village and Ki Gompa, the largest monastery in Spiti, where Dalai Lama gave a great Kalachakra initiation. After the visit, we get back to the jeep to head to the high altitude village of Kibber after crossing the Parang La pass. It is located at about 4200 meters above sea level along the road that heads to Ladakh.
A short hike in these places encouraged better acclimatization trek for the next few days. In the evening we wander through Kaza, to its market. Here we find interesting local handicrafts and the traditional art of pottery.
Kaza to Langza
After breakfast, we head to the village of Langza, located in a large high mountain meadow. Here the spectacular Chau Chau Khang Nilda dominates the panorama. Once in Langza we visit the Lang (temple) and hear some interesting stories associated with it. After enjoying a delicious lunch with a local family, we continue with a short hike to the village pastures and the habitat of the Himalayan wolf and snow leopard.
Langza to Komik
After breakfast, we cut through the Komik plateau. Various routes are available and based on your degree of preparation and forces you can choose the most suitable one. The steepest paths, as usual, have more to offer! Komik is one of the highest villages in Asia and is home to one of the highest monasteries in the world. We visit the monastery before going to the village. In the afternoon we explore the village.
Komic to Demul
Spiti is a high-altitude region and often trekking in these parts can be tiring, so we do this yak safari. The route gives us a breathtaking view of the highest peaks of Spiti that goes through mountain pastures with a wide range of varieties of flowers. We explore the trans-Himalayan pastures that are the hunting ground for the Himalayan wolf and snow leopard along with Blue Sheep herds.
Demul is one of the most interesting villages of Spiti. A place that has given rise to many legends and stories. We have a taste of the local life by interacting with the villagers and attending to their daily chores. We continue with a trek of steep walk and take a yak safari reaching a vantage point from which we enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the Spiti.
Demul is also famous for a local brew called Arak and for its cultural performance. A taste of both, leave us truly enchanted. We participate in a cultural evening performance of song and traditional dance accompanied by musicians and their unique ways. The day offers a fascinating insight into the life of the Spiti Valley.
Demul from the Pin Valley and Dhankhar
We leave the plateau of the Spiti region point to the Pin Valley, which is different from the rest of the region as it is greener. The Pin Valley is also the home of the famous Chumurti horses and Bhuchens, a unique and rare sect of Tibetan Buddhists, who are theater artists who preach religious, moral, social and ecological values among the locals through a number of different performances. We get the rare opportunity to witness their form of dance and share a meal with them.
After this wonderful experience, we head to Dhankhar, the ancient capital of Spiti. Dhankar has the oldest and most important monastery that dominate on the high mountain sides. They are imperious when viewed up close, and tiny when compared to the epic scale of the valley, that make the strong religious component in the lives of Spiti visually perceptible and give it a mystical aura.
Beyond the confluence, with the Pin river, we leave the main road to climb down a small road on the northern side of the valley to the spur. Here, among the mountains, a panoramic monastery is perched at Dhankar. It originates from the eleventh century and contains several valuable objects. Standing in a truly spectacular location, it is situated in the oasis and dominates the confluence of the rivers Pin and Spiti. On top of the mountain are the remains of the old palace once used by Gyalpo of Dankar.
After visiting the monastery and fortress, we reach the Lake Dhankhar. Set in the rugged folds of bronze, the Dhankar Lake has its own story to tell and offers spectacular views of the Spiti Valley and the village. People are open but discreet and have the same physiognomy of the Tibetans, as well as the language, food and religion are rooted in western Tibet, and have managed to remain intact for hundreds of years, thanks to the geographical isolation of the valley. Welcome to the last cradle of Tibetan culture.
Dhankar Tabo, Down and Nako
After breakfast, a jeep guides us to Tabo. We were at a magical oasis set among the wild Himalayan mountains along a dirt road that goes halfway up above the broad valley of Spiti and enter the north side valley leading to Lhalung. It is famous for its monastery, which originates from the eleventh century. Here emerge the roots of an ancient history linked to the events of the ancient Tibetan kingdom of Guge. This beautiful perfectly preserved village guards a Gompa founded also in the period of the famous Tabo.
The incomparable monastery of Tabo, which art lovers call the Ajanta of the Himalayas for the matchless beauty of statues and frescoes is a gem for the powerful spiritual energy that permeates it. The ancient Tabo Gompa remained from the times of Rinchen Zangpo.
The interior of this temple is virtually a very rare example of the metamorphosis of art that came from Gandhara and Nalanda that has had the encounter with the Himalayan world. We pass by Chango, where on a spur above the village there is an old temple. The Kagyu monastery is located within the large valley full of apple trees. Slowly we get on the plateau, stopping for the picturesque village of Nako. There are lesser known places, but equally valuable, from Tashigang and Lhalung.
We continued the tour by visiting other monasteries. In one I was allowed to take a few pictures, in the Tholing monastery. Here was one of the biggest and heavy prayer wheels I've ever seen. In the Khora Gompa ceiling hung three thangkas typical of Kathmandu shops of Shakyamuni, Padmasambhava, and a third with the founder of Kagyu-pa sect, a mere supposition based on the fact that there had been stuck a sticker with the picture of the Karmapa.
I was watching a Chakrasamvara of infinite beauty, grace and delicacy, with soft colors a bit absorbed by time and then the Wheel of life, a sweet Milarepa, a rare dramatically distressing Gautama, an incredibly powerful Yamantaka and still many other saints and protectors of which in my ignorance I could only appreciate the visual value. Some were damaged, others almost completely vanished in time, and I am sure that almost all exceed the century old.
I've reached the pinnacle of joy discovering a thangka that was a very detailed map of the Kailash-Manasarovar Rakshas-Tal. I imagined how many people have watched and memorized the perfect guide, before walking along the banks of the Sutlej to perform the most sacred pilgrimages.
We take a small detour to visit the village of Down, the farthest and most isolated of Spiti, located near the border with Tibet. We see a rare relic of the human spirit of a monk that was self-mummified! Here we visit all the villages and the most interesting monasteries having the chance to admire, in addition to the natural wonder of deep valleys contrasted by colors and some of the most precious artistic relics of the Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Arriving in Nako (3600 meters) we find one of the most spectacular points of the path. The road winds higher and higher above the valley with exceptional views. Walking through the narrow streets of the village takes us back in time. There is a small lake, considered sacred, with several small temples and a historically important monastery of the Drukpa school, which dates from the eleventh century, where we taste an interesting recent example of ancient art and Gughe painting.
Passing through some of the oldest monasteries and Buddhist temples around the world, this trip was a thorough overview in Spitian life, its culture, and its Buddhist heritage. Set on the heights of this magnificent valley, every village along this path was decorated with unique and ancient Buddhist monasteries and temples dating back to over 1000 years ago, wrapped in legend and folklore. The host families that we found along the way enriched the experience and give us a true understanding of the culture and life in a Spitian home.
Nako in Sarahan
After breakfast, we follow the Spiti river until it meets the Sutlej river which follows us for the rest of the day. We notice a gradual change in the landscape, from barren deserts to many green valleys, coming to the confluence with the mighty Sutlej, near the border with Tibet. The steep mountains are now beginning to have a tree cover as we enter the Kinnaur region. This ancient kingdom marks the transition point between the Hindu and Buddhist culture.
Kalpa - Sarahan
We follow the mighty river passing by Morag, which marks the northernmost point of the historical region of Kinnaur, where we admire a fortified tower built by layering stones and wood, the typical style of this new region. The architecture is characteristic, with a mixed use of stone and wood, also finely carved.
The valleys are steep and the land becomes less arid, with forests that gradually begin to cloak the mountains, where we glimpsed several turreted and snowy peaks. Once in Reckong Peo (2290 mt), the current capital of Kinnaur, we climb to the scenic village of Kalpa (2960 mt), in the western part of the valley.
This pretty village preserves the typical character of Kinnaur, with mixed wooden and stone buildings, and there is an interesting temple complex. It was chosen as the place of stay by English colonists for the climate and the spectacular view on the offering. From here we admire the glacial peaks of the Kinnaur Kailash, a sacred mythical mountain at a height of more than 6000 meters. Some say this is the winter home of Shiva, hence the name Kailash, rather than an actual likeness to Mount Kailash.
The Kinnaur Kailash (6349m) and Jonkarden (6473m) dominates the land that borders the Kinnaur district in the south. The Charang Valley at an altitude of 5300m is the only passage on this hiking route. This pass is considered sacred by Hindus and Buddhists. The entire hiking trail has verdant valleys, orchards, snowy vineyards, and mountains. Kinnaur is gifted rich in flora and fauna. May to September is the suitable time to make a trip to the enchanting Kinnaur Kailash.
Manimahesh Lake also known as Dal Lake is located near the Mani Mahesh Kailash Peak in the Pir Panjal Himalayan Beach at an altitude of 4080 meters. It is located in the subdivision of Bharmour Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. This place has a religious significance because the lake is next to that of Lake Manasarovar in Tibet. The lake is a chosen pilgrimage trek during the month of August and September corresponding to the month of Bhadon according to the Hindu calendar.
A popular legend claims that the Shiva stayed near Mani Mahesh after he married Parvati and also performed penance on the shores of Mani Mahesh Lake. The most popular route is the Bhanrlour-Hadsar-Manimahesh road which involves a 13-kilometer run from the Hadsar village of Manimahesh Lake. The pilgrims who begin trekking from Lahaul and Spiti crosses the Kugti pass. Those who come from Kangra and Mandi take the Karwarsi pass or Jalsu pass through Tyari village, near Holi in Bharmur. However, the route of Chamba via Bharmour is the easiest.
Following the indications of the local elderly, I walked under the sky. I limited myself to enjoy the rugged landscape, visiting a porch that housed a small Chorten, the Tibetan version of the stupa and a small Tsatsa, small molds of tsampa or earthenware which generally reproduce stupa or sacred images. The trail, as far as I could see, found the way to the monastery.
To reach the entrance of the gompa I had to make a very long lap, losing more than once through the alleys and stalls where goats and cows dazed me and led me to visit the little Dukla-Kang. Shakyamuni, Padmasambhava, Tara, and an enviable amount of unknown deities were neatly lined up on an altar inside a small room. Some were clearly new, but many were obviously very old, and all were well executed.
After lunch, we return to the valley, and continue for a while along the Sutlej and then we take a steep valley that overlooks the orographic right side, where a raging Himalayan torrent thunders. We explore the remote Sangla valley, with many traditional houses and some temples, typical buildings of Kinnaur, where flourished the ancient kingdom of Bashahr.
There is the palace of the last Maharaja and the Hindu Temple of Bhimakali whose oldest wooden building dates back about 800 years. It is an important Hindu temple that presents the pinnacle of the distinctive architectural style of Kinnaur. Near the village is Kamru, where we reach with a short walk.
We continue along the valley coming up to the wonderful village of Chitkul, a typical very well preserved Himalayan village with the settlement located at the highest point. We return to the swirling Sutlej river and continue south past the deep gorges carved by the mighty waters, at the foot of steep and spectacular mountains. We arrive in the Rampur area (924 meters), that rises to Sarahan (2290 m).
Back at the river, we follow it for a while. Then the road reaches and follows the crests of the mountains to Manali. From here we reach Delhi by car with an overnight stop at Nalagarh.
How to get to Lahaul and Spiti
You can get up to Manali in 15-hour overnight bus. A quicker solution lets you fly from Delhi to Kullu. Manali from here is two hours by bus. From Manali, you can take a local bus to Kaza. The faster and more comfortable alternative is certainly to book a place on one of the many jeeps from Manali by going up to Kaza, the capital of the Spiti Valley.
Within the valley, one can move in a private jeep, with local bus or through hitchhiking, for the more adventurous. To return to Delhi you can venture to the end of the valley, past another high deep water crossing, wandering from the neighboring Kinnaur Valley to Recong Peo. Here you can find daily connections to Delhi and takes 15 hours by bus.
When to go to Lahaul and Spiti and what to bring
The Spiti valley is accessible only between July and September when the roads that climb the high mountain passes are passable. From October to June the valley is closed at each external point. The snow then blocks the passage and the polar temperatures go up to -30 degrees. The Rohtang Pass, even in summer may be temporarily blocked by rain or snow. So it is always better to have some fleece and a duvet jackets or better yet a mountain jacket in reserve.
Although the valley is in the high mountains, at summer the low latitude guarantees pleasant days with mild temperatures, but tend to fall rapidly at night. The wind blows often and the sun at these heights does not forgive the skin or eyes. Therefore bring warm sweaters, woolen caps, wind jackets and scarves for the night, but also T-shirts, shorts, sunglasses, sunscreen with a high protection and lip balm for the day. Bring a backpack.
Who has the time and inclination, can even challenge themselves with interesting 4/5 days trekking in the plateau on top of one side of the valley, through canyons, snowy peaks, and forests of fossils. In this case, it is recommended to also bring already tested hiking shoes and pills to purify water. For those who love photography, you may want to bring the polarizing filter.
Lahaul and Spiti Travel Tips
Many travelers are disappointed by their experience in Tibet as the cultural suppression has left an indelible stain in the Plateau and among the people. But at least there is the one that has remained as the Tibetan influence extends throughout the Himalayan arc, over 2000 km of inaccessible mountainous regions of northwest India to Bhutan, passing through the north of Nepal.
Himachal Pradesh is a paradise for lovers of mountain landscapes and is often considered synonymous with North India. The diversity of scenarios in this state is endless from the foothills to the high-altitude valleys of Spiti and Lahaul, to the eternal snow-capped peaks that exceed 7000 meters, the mountain villages and lush valleys of Kangra.
Between the exhaustion of the journey and the beauty of the place, you can also rest in Vashisht. On the other side of the river, Vashisht is a small village with sacred temples and thermal sources. It is also easy to spend a couple of days in Manali. From here you can book a jeep to Kaza, for what will be one of the most spectacular journeys of your life.
August is the month in which the Spiti valley is colored by the Darcha Festival. The inhabitants of the surrounding valleys flock the valley of Kaza to exchange products and goods and also to admire the horse races, archery competitions, and the traditional dances, In this great event, you can see all the nuances of the culture and religion of the Western Himalayas.
Many have been successfully using the diuretic Diamox. It can be administered in small but preventive doses before the climb at high altitude. It should be accompanied by ingestion of at least 2 to 3 liters of fluid a day. The drug has also proved useful also for a non-preemptive use, following the onset of symptoms of altitude sickness. For the use of Diamox, however, contact your doctor. Consider, also, that thousands of people face these challenges without major disturbances.
The journey from Ladakh is also very rich in content. It is perfect for any traveler who is interested in learning about the world. Here you can meet strong cultures, who are but very hospitable. A surprising serenity is found in people who possess very little from a material point of view.
After the start at Nubra follow the military road that connects the Indus valley with southern regions of India. It leads initially among the steep polychrome mountains south of the Indus River. You will encounter the village of Gia, with a monastery on a cliff in the ruins of a large fort that surrounded the bold ridges.
It continues to rise with increasingly spectacular views coming abreast of Taglang, which opens on the plateau of Rupshu. As you enter the land of nomads, at different points, you will see the fields and herds of yak, and sometimes even wild animals such as king, marmots, wolves and often eagles. A short detour leads to the salt lake of Tso Kar (4530 mt). It is an unmissable turquoise gem, whose salt was extracted and used for centuries as a bargaining chip in Ladakh.
Continue the journey to the tented camp at Pang and cross the Lachulung La (5060 mt) by going to the southern part of Karnak, one of the trekking reigns of these remote regions. Continue along the plateau to the pass of Baralacha (4883 meters) which opens on the territories of Lahaul. It is quite a deserted area but more arboreal than Ladakh. Besides Darcha, an access point for a trek brings to Zanskar. Following the river, you can get to Keylong, the capital of Lahaul, located at 3100 meters above sea level.
Keylong, Jispa, and Gemur offer more comfortable accommodation at altitudes far less.
Ski Destinations: Several excursions are possible to the Phatru Ridge (2890 m), with skiing in the forest and open slopes, often in powder snow. The Patalsu Peak (4220 m) has fairly steep slopes. There is Shagara Peak (5090 m) in the Solang Valley.
There is the Penguri Peak (5257 m) in the Jabri basin (virgin peaks) in Hampta valley. You can explore the Deo Tibba (6060 m), the Kalo and Jagatsukh valley, and the Malana Nala valley. After the opening of the Rohtang Pass (June), you can reach Miyar Valley, to explore the glaciers and the remarkable granite walls. Peaks and hills are at elevations between 5000 and 6000 m.
The Hampta pass trek takes one through the mighty fields of oak, rhododendron, pine and the Hampta river, which stand on either side of Hampta mountain. This stands as a bridge for the villagers of Hampta to the valley of Lahaul and Spiti. The key months for trekking to Hampta Pass is between June and October. It starts at the village of Prini and goes up.
A change of scenery could be seen on the way between the two valleys namely Lahaul and Kullu. This one is covered with fresh greenery. The natural beauty here takes on a new form every day. So you can end up at a new place every day you start.
The Bhaba Pass Trek is a striking trek of attention, and one of the famous trekking tours between Himachal trekking expeditions. The pass is lined with snow all year round. After crossing the Bhaba Pass, the landscape changes radically, thick pine forest, cedar, and Himalayan cedar replace the arid landscape of Spiti.
The trail supports along the left bank of the Wangar River after crossing a footbridge. Then maintains climb through the fields of Mastrang crops and crosses a mixed forest of conifers and broad temperate leaves. Travelers hike there generally between the months of July to September as it is the most enjoyable time. This journey is not only centered on the adventure but also the spiritual side.