The Spiti Valley is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalaya Mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. The valley and surrounding region is one of the least populated regions in India and is the gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation. Along the northern route from Manali, Himachal Pradesh or Keylong via the Rohtang Pass or Kunzum Pass respectively, the valley lies in the North East of the Indian hill state of Himachal Pradesh, and forms part of the Lahaul and Spiti district. The sub-divisional headquarters (capital) is Kaza, Himachal Pradesh which is situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of about 12,500 feet (3,800 m) above mean sea level.
Lahaul and Spiti is surrounded by high mountain ranges. The Rohtang Pass, at 13,054 feet (3,979 m), separates Lahul and Spiti from the Kullu Valley. Lahul and Spiti are cut off from each other by the higher Kunzum Pass, at 15,059 feet (4,590 m). A road connects the two divisions, but is cut off frequently in winter and spring due to heavy snow. The valley is likewise cut off from the north up to eight months of the year by heavy snowfalls and thick icing conditions. Ladakh’s lesser-known neighbor, the cold mountain desert of Spiti, is for travelers who dare to drift from the tourist trails. Spiti’s postcard villages remain remotely tucked away in the lap of the mighty, barren Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, and it is here that you can hike along Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf habitats, visit monasteries dating back over a 1000 years, sample a fascinating culture and cuisine different from the rest of India, and meet the kindest of people who live the harshest of lives.
Spiti Valley remains practically cut off from the rest of India for 6 months of the year. Thick Himalayan snow blocks the mountain passes, making it almost impossible for road transport to pass through, even on the Shimla-Kinnaur route. The summer months from late May to late September are therefore the best time to visit Spiti-Valley. As the weather warms up, the snow slowly melts and gets cleared away to open up road travel to the Spiti Valley.
With only 250 days of sunshine in a year, winter in Spiti is a harsh affair. Temperatures on average drop to -30 degrees Celsius, and the lack of any modern form of heating means most families cuddle together in a single room in the house and keep warm around wood fire. The winter months are privy to Spiti’s unique and introspective culture, though survivable only by extreme adventurers.
How to Reach
Lahaul and Spiti are separated from Kullu by the Rohtang pass and Kunzum pass and lies on the Manali-Leh highway. This route is fine to reach Spiti valley during the summers, but is inaccessible for most parts of the year due to heavy snowfall.
However, Spiti valley is accessible throughout the year though from Shimla via Kinnaur. The nearest broad gauge railway station from Spiti which have good connectivity is in Chandigarh. Direct buses are available from Chandigarh, Shimla, Kullu, Manali and some other parts of North India.
The nearest airport is in Kullu (Bhuntar airport), however the nearest international airport is in New Delhi.
Kunzum Pass: It’s a high mountain pass situated on the eastern Kunzum Range. The pass connects the Kullu and Lahaul Valley with the Spiti Valley. The valley top offers a picturesque landscape with stunning view of the Chandra Bhaga ranges that surrounds it on the north sides with snow clapped peaks. Chandratal Lake is 7 km from Kunzum pass. Kunzum Pass stands at the elevation of 4,590 m at a distance of around 122 km from Manali.
Key Monastery: It is one of the biggest and oldest Monasteries in Spiti and hence is the most important tourist destination in this region. It enshrines idols of Buddha in Dhyana position and also has a collection of ancient books and murals. Situated at a height of 4112 meters, this Monastery was built in the 14th century and its architecture is influenced by Chinese style.
Chandratal Lake: Chandratal, literally translating into Moon Lake, gets its name from its crescent shape. Located at a distance of 7-8 km from Kunzum Pass, the lake is a major attraction for photographers and adventure seekers. Chandratal means the lake of the moon which is placed at an altitude of about 4,300 meters and masses of small loose stones overlook the lake on one side of the mountain and a steep sided hollow presents a magnificent view on the other. The view of the crystal blue lake in the middle of grassland, encircled by mountains and valleys is mesmerizing. Chandratal is a popular destination for trekkers and campers.
Dhankar Monastery: This Monastery is situated on a cliff between Kaza and Tabo. An amazing view of the Spiti River can be seen from here. This Monastery has a statue of ‘Vairocharan’ displaying four statues of Buddha seated in the 4 directions, along with ancient paintings, murals and texts.
Suraj tal Lake: The Suraj Tal is a lake situated below Baralacha Pass. It is one of the most photogenic lakes. The sheer beauty of this place is enough to make the drive seem worth the effort. The lake is fed from the glaciers of Baralacha La and the area around makes for a great trek and biking tour. The lake is at a distance of around 65 km from Keylong.
Dhankar Lake: At a distance of 5 km from the Dhankar monastery that sits dangerously on a cliff, lays the Dhankar Lake on the other side of the mountain. It takes about an hour to reach the lake after following a well-marked trail from the monastery.
Pin Valley National Park Overview: Set amidst semi-frozen rivers in the Pin Valley, this national park is home to the rare species of famous Himalayan snow leopards and their prey, the Ibex. With the picture-perfect backdrop of snow covered mountain ranges, a trek to Pin Valley National park is a delight for all its visitors. Located in the Lahaul and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh, the Pin Valley National Park is within the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve. The park joins the separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The elevation of the park ranges from about 3,500 meters near Ka Dogri to more than 6,000 meters at its pinnacle. The Pin Valley Park starts from Dhankar Gompa on the Tibetan border.
Shashur Monastery: Shashur Monastery derives its name from the blue pines that surround it. It is a three-storey structure located at a distance of 35-40 km from Manali. The panoramic view of the river, mountains and Keylong town from the monastery is amazing. The prayer rooms are bedecked with large paintings and wall paintings, making this place even more worth the visit.
Kardang Monastery: Kardang Monastery is located in the scenic landscape among the greenery, mountains and across the Bhaga River. It is close to Keylong, a small town in Himachal. One can see the magnificent white building adorned with prayer flags from a distance.
Tayul Monastery: Tayul Monastery houses the biggest statue of Padma Sambhava, about 12 feet tall, in his two manifestations as Singhmukha and Vajravarahi. The Gompa also has a hundred million mani wheels, which are supposed to open the minds of visitors to the compassion of Lord. And the wheels are said to turn themselves on auspicious occasions.
Kibber: Locally known as Khyipur, Kibber at an altitude of 4205 m above sea level is one of the highest villages in the world. There isn’t much to do, but the sceneries and landscapes around as well as the altitude are fascinating. At a little distance from Kibber is Gette, the highest village in the world at a height of 4270 meter above sea level. Visit this village just to witness a settlement at this altitude and its overwhelming surroundings.
Baralacha Pass: Baralacha La or Baralacha pass means a pass where various roads meet. The pass serves as a connecting point between Lahaul and Ladakh and looks over three valleys which meet at a height of over 16,000 feet. Suraj Tal Lake, the source of river Bhaga, which is located at a distance of a few kilometres from the pass towards Manali could be a good addition to the list of places-to-go while you are at Baralach La.
Gandhola Monastery: The monastery is famous for its wooden idols, which stand out from the clay idols found in all other monasteries. The monastery is founded by Padma Sambhava and is over 800 years old. Guru Ghantal is a monastery located on a hilltop above Tupchiling village, where the rivers Chandra and Bhaga meet.
Trilokinath Temple: Trilokinath Temple holds religious significance amongst both Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus. The temple is situated on a cliff at the end of a street in the Tunde village. The three day Pauri festival during August makes it a good time to visit the temple.
Thangka painting: Thangka painting is a Buddhist painting made on cotton and silk .When they are not used for display, they are rolled and kept on a textile backing which look like Chinese scroll paintings, with a silk cover. They can last for a long time. But they are of delicate nature, that’s why they are kept in dry places so that they don’t get affected by moisture. The painting depicts a Buddhist deity or a scene. Thangka paintings, made on cotton, are paintings depicting the life of Buddhist deities. They serve as important teaching tools. Thangka painting are used for devotional and decorative purposes. There are workshops held by famous Thangka painters who teach the visitors the importance and procedure that goes in the making of the painting.
Yak Safaris Overview: Yak and Horse Safaris are the best and some of the most popular and loved ways to explore this region.
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