If you ever would want to visit a remote and rugged mountain region with least amount of development then this is the place for you . As the road conditions are tough much tougher then Ladakh, its ideal for travelers/drivers/cyclists looking to challenge themselves.
There are small villages interspersed along the gorgeous spiti river and also on the many village roads that branches from the main highway. These villages are sparsely populated and still live in a traditional way untouched by the modern way of living.
Its this simplicity of the region that will charm you. One would get ample opportunity to be one with nature, to enjoy a lung full of fresh air. Visit the old monasteries and experience the harsh, arid climate of the region.
The summer of 2013, in June brought massive destruction to the region. The region was completely cut off from the Kinnaur Side as well as Maling Nalla wrecked havoc and blocked the road and cut off the Tabo/Kaza side. The route however remained open from the Manali side till Tabo.
Approach & Seasons of the Spiti Valley:
One can approach the Spiti Valley either from the Kinnaur Side or the Manali side. The altitude gain is gradual from the Kinnaur while it is sudden if you arrive via Manali.
One can spend a few nights at Kalpa or Sangla before driving into the Spiti Valley. The flip side however is that Kinnaur region receives good amount of rains and because of the destruction in the summer of 2013, the roads may get blocked due to landslides. There is massive restoration work is in progress and we hope that in couple of years the region is accessible to the leisure traveler as well. For now, it is best suited for adventure enthusiasts.
Till June End, Spiti is accessible only via Kinnaur side ( Depends on snow fall ). No fixed date is given by govt
From the Manali side, however it is much more predictable approach. Kunzum La is challenging pass because the conditions of the roads is really bad. The pass usually opens in July and remains open till snowfall happens in Oct/Nov. As is common in the region, there is possibility of snow anytime throughout the year. Do not be surprised that the high passes are closed even during the summer months, it is though a temporary phenomenon and usually clears in few days. In order to plan well, do keep a few buffer days for any contingency.
Kunzum La, generally opens in July and then you can do the complete trip of Spiti
This is purely dependent on the amount of snow fall in winters and sometimes the region receives heavy snow fall in late winters for example March. This delays the opening of Pass
In terms of challenge, when you drive through in early season, you will encounter maximum snow at Kunzum La coupled with bad roads. The streams also will be at their raging best if you cross after 2 PM, this will be an good test of your driving skills. So wear your seat belts and be ready for the challenge. By end July, the ice on the road would have melted mostly but the streams would still give you a challenge.
Sept/Oct will be easiest to negotiate and in Oct you will also witness the Autumn hues with leaves changing its color from Green to Yellow. Autumn is a delightful time to experience this region and is one of the safest time to visit as well. So for families/couples not looking for any unexpected situation Sept/Oct is ideal.
Sept & Oct are ideal for a serene experience of Spiti Valley .. Perhaps November also
Kinnaur ( Gateway to Spiti )
When you approach Spiti via Shimla, your first logical place is Kinnaur. Kinnaur allows you to begin the process of adjusting to altitude and prepares you for a comfortable trip to Spiti. Kinnaur by itself is also extremely beautiful
There are 2 stay options, Kalpa or Sangla. Between the two my choice is Sangla for its sheer beauty.
The Hike to Nagasti Village from Chitkul is a must on your trip to Sangla
Sangla to Spiti Journey – Night halt at Nako
At Khab Sangam, Sutlej enters from China into India
Loops around Khab Sangam
Drive carefully around Khab as the loops and roads are quite narrow
Nako Lake ( Alt: 3200 m)
When you approach Spiti from Kinnaur, this is the first sight of Spiti village. Technically speaking the Spiti Valley begins from ITBP check post at Sumdo but after Khab Sangam, the terrain will be dry and barren and Nako Lake will give you the feel of the climate in Spiti
If you have seen the Great Lakes of Ladakh, then this will be bit of a disappointment as it will be more of a pond then a lake.
But it is a small and peaceful village and spending a night in the village will give you a good introduction to the Spitian way of life
Nako Lake .. Small and Serene
Descending from Nako into the Spiti Valley
The Mystical Mummy of Gue, Spiti
Shorty after your cross Nako, you will cross Maling Nullah.
Malling Nullah is notorious for landslide when it is raging with water
After you cross the Nullah, continue to drive till Sumdo via Chango ( If you drive in Sept / Oct you can view the apple laden farms in Chango ). Shortly after Sumdo watch out for a detour to Gue Village from the main highway.
Gue has a very interesting story behind it.
The story goes that about 45-50 years ago when the Indian army was digging to build bunkers at Gue village, their digging instruments hit a body. This body started bleeding from the corner of its mouth and they couldn’t really decipher what was going on. The body was excavated placed in a small mud hut. No special precautions have been taken to preserve this body. It is said that the body is still in the same state as the day it was dug out and that its hair is still growing and monks from around come once a year to collect its hair to take it back for worship. It is said that this body is of a lama in deep meditation and that he still hasn’t died. Whatever the real story, it does make for an awesome experience and a great story to tell firsthand.
From Gue, Tabo is roughly 50 kms. In Tabo visit the 1000 year old Monastery which is made entirely from Mud … Relish the local architecture and the peace here
Quaint village of Tabo in autumn
All mud Tabo Monastery
Villages Of Spiti
Many Spiti is yet to experience the modern way of living. The people still live the way they used to lived centuries ago. It makes for an interesting experience to understand the local culture and the local way of living. In order to do this, plan a night with the local family and have a home stay experience in any of the villages .. Some options are ..
Langza ( Alt: 4500 m)
Certainly the most scenic of the Spit Villages. Your visit to the region is incomplete without visiting this village. This is the village where you can let the fossil hunter in you to come alive
The Ki Monastery on way to Kibber village
You can experience how locals make Chang and Arrak, an alcohol made from barley. You can also learn how local weave a carpet manually without any machines.
Hikes in Spiti
For those interested in Hikes, lakes of Dhankar and Mane offer good opportunity to experience the wilderness of Spiti region.
Both these hikes are about 5 hrs round trip from respective villages
Drive to Pin Valley National Park
At the confluence of Pin and Spiti river, lies the gateway to Pin valley National Park. When we hear the term national park, an image of thick forest comes to our mind. This is not the case in Spiti, it is desert area and hence no vegetation grows here on its own .. Only villages in Spiti have vegetation … A day trip to Pin Valley will be an interesting drive from Kaza ….
Chandratal – High Point of your Spiti Trip( Alt: 4500 m)
Chandratal ( Meaning the moon lake ) is a emerald green lake , well it changes its color with the day, lake at a lofty height of 14,000 ft above sea level. Few places on earth are as beautiful as this place, surrounded by majestic Himalayas and undulating meadows and above all peace & serenity. SUV can go very close but not all the way. Last 2 kms is done on foot to reach the lake.
No camping is allowed near the Chandratal Lake
All campsite are about 2 kms short of the lake
Proper acclimatization is required to sleep at Chandratal and when you approach the trip from Kinnaur it automatically happens
After a night in Chandratal. Next day, head to Manali via Rohtang Pass to complete the Spiti Trip.
Pangi Valley can be added to the Spiti Trip as well provided you have more time.