Spiti Valley high up in the Indian Himalaya, is a barren and inhospitable place. Yet for century’s people have lived up here, grazed the land with their flocks, traded with Tibet, and meditated. In this part of Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, there are some of the highest villages in the world. Even though it is mostly barren here, it has its own beauty.
People come here for several reasons. Some come to visit the regions rich cultural heritage, some come to gaze at the stars, others come to trek and climb mountains, and others come to meditate. Just getting to the Spiti valley is a bit of an adventure. The only option you have is to come by road.
The villages here are simple and beautiful. Their white washed mud-homes and green pastures give a strong contrast to the surrounding barren landscape and snowy alpine terrain. Here you can find one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the Himalaya which has been continually occupied for over a 1000 years. This Tabo Monastery and is a protected UNESCO site.
Almost as old, but more impressive is the famous Kee Monastery. It’s built like a fort on a hill overlooking part of the Spiti valley. This is the kind of place you imagine from fantasy tales. Henrich Harrer came through here in his “7 Years in Tibet”, and he wrote:
“In this place where time stands still, it seems everything is moving. Including me.”
In the region of the Kibber village there is also a great diversity of wildlife. Its high meadows are famous for its horses, wild asses, many kinds of bird, and are also known to be snow leopard country.
Starting from Kibber you can go on one of the greatest Treks in India. You must travel over the Parang La Pass at 5578m and then descend down to the banks of the magnificent lake Tso Moriri.
When you reach the lake you can travel further north to Thugje and back again to Korzog. You end up making a large ellipse and crossing an additional 6 passes. The section up to Lake Tso Moriri and back to Kibbar takes about 2 weeks, covering 92km. If you add the Thugie trek, it will add another 2 weeks and 140km. There are also some shorter trekking options like a trek from Manali up Baralacha La.
If you love mountains there are many beauties here, there are over 16 peaks in the Chandra Bhaga range at heights ranging from 5500m to 6600m. This includes the legendary Mt.Shilla and the elusive Mt.Gya. Also there is an easy non-technical Trekking peak here, peak Kanamo. The route takes you up scree on the lower slopes and an easy ridge leading you to the summit.
This is a very high valley, and if you get altitude sickness you are far away from proper help and the ability to descend to a lower altitude takes a long time. So before you come here and once here, make sure you are properly acclimatized.
For your body to undergo a normal acclimatization, you best make an easy trek for example. Travel to the maximum altitude you want to reach in small steps. This will help you avoid altitude illness. A good rule of thumb is to only increase the sleeping altitude by 300m every night over 3050m. The golden rule is to ”climb high and sleep low”.
For your health, best start from the Shimla side. Then take a brake every 2 or 3 days by sleeping at the same altitude. It helps you adjust to the high altitude because of a gradual ascend, from Manali the ascent is much quicker.
when to go
The best time to come here is from July until September. There is little monsoon here, so you can enjoy almost unbroken sunshine during this period. The winters are long in the Spiti Valley and parts of the valley have difficult to impossible access for almost 8 month. This places has some of the harshest winters in the world, however its people are some of the warmest you will ever meet.
where to stay
In Shimla and Manali you can find some small hotel and homestay’s. In the rest of the region also you can stay at homestay’s or at a monastery. The Kee Ghompa monastery you can stay for a mere 250 Rupee per night including food. This is a great way to get closer to Buddhism and an insight into the monastic way of life.
For foreigner to visit this region special Inner Line permits are required, since the region is close to Kashmir and Tibet. This permit can be obtained from DM office in Shimla and Reckong Peo. If coming from Manali; you can get the permits from DC office at Keylong. Apart from these places, permits are also issued from ADM office in Rampur and Udaipur.
Strangely enough if you come from Manali, you can reach Kaza without a permit via Batal and Losar. If however you want to pass Kaza towards Dhankar or Tabo, you will then need a permit that you can obtain in Kaza itself.
When climbing in this region also you will need to get a permit from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
how to get here
Take a plane or bus up to Kullu from New Delhi. From here take a bus Manali. Alternatively take a plane or bus up to Jubbarhatti Airport from New Delhi. From there take a bus Shimla.
From either Shimla or Manali you have a + 400km difficult road journey. Manali is slightly closer, but access from to Kibber is only open a few months per year. In contrary from Shimla it is possible year round. Also it is possible to take the train in direction of the Spiti Valley.