With the summer heat giving way to the maddening monsoons of the hills, with landslides and road blockages in most parts of the Himalayas, this road trip to the cold desert is your perfect getaway to escape the scorching heat and humidity of the cities and the endless rains of the mountains. What if you do all this, and more at one of the highest places in India? Where no vegetation grows, and the valleys are flanked by tall, naked and barren mountains with snow-capped peaks. Where very few vehicles make it because there are no roads, just rubble and boulders, where there is raw beauty wherever you look?
Spiti, the ‘middle land’, is one of our favourite destinations. It not only gives us respite from the heat but also teaches us how to truly live and let go! But Spiti is not for those who seek a luxurious getaway, or for the fainthearted. If you’re someone looking to explore the local Spitian culture by staying in rustic homestays and eating local food, come on board as we journey through this magical land exploring hidden gems and making countless memories under the stars.
If you wish to find yourself in a high-altitude cold desert, then Spiti valley is the ultimate destination for you. This Valley is at a height of 12,500 ft from sea level. Spiti valley is covered with barren, gigantic sky-high mountains piercing the clear blue sky. The enchanting sound of the streams of Spiti River tears through the silence of Spiti Mountains. Additionally, in the night, the beauty of the ink-blue sky dotted with shining stars will live you speechless.
This epic Road Trip will start from ISBT Shimla in a comfortable Tempo Traveller. We rise and shine early in the morning and get a head start on our road trip to cover 250 kilometers towards Chitkul in 9 hours. This small village in the Kinnaur district is the home to some of the finest potatoes of the world. Popularly known as the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibetan Border, the Indian roads end here at Chitkul. The village is famous for its traditional pahadi houses with roofs made of either slate or wooden planks. Adorned with high snowclad mountain peaks, Chitkul is also often known as the Swiss Alps of India! After feasting on some lunch and dinner en route, we spend the night tucked in a comfortable hotel, ready for the day ahead.
We start our morning going around Chitkul and experiencing a blissful summer morning in the Kinnauri region of Himachal. From here, we depart for Nako while crossing the treacherous Malling stream. At Nako, the most picturesque hamlet of Kinnaur, we visit the Nako Lake and the Buddhist temple which is known for its foot like impressions ascribed to the Saint Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. We also make a stop at the ancient Nako monastery which dates back to the 11th century. The monasteries at Nako contain a large number of scriptures and pieces of art, wall paintings and stucco. Our stay at Nako will be in a traditional homestay where we will feel closer to the culture we have come to experience.
From Nako, we now enter the vast Spiti Valley, while crossing the check post at Sumdo. Our first stop in Spiti is at the village Giu, located 17 kilometres from Sumdo. Giu village is known for its 500 years old mysterious mummy which still has its teeth and hair intact. After visiting the temple where this mummy is still preserved, we then move on to explore Tabo. Tabo is a small village in the Spiti district, home to the famous Tabo Caves. The Dalai Lama has expressed his wishes to Tabo Monastery since it is considered one of the holiest. From Tabo, we then head on to Dhankar. Dhankar used to be the administrative capital of Spiti before Kaza. We explore the village and visit the Dhankar Gompa situated asymmetrically atop a steep cliff. This hill-top fort that overlooks the Spiti Valley also once used to serve as a jail in the olden days. We then proceed to make a stiff climb of less than an hour to be introduced to the splendid Dhankar Lake which seems tiny despite a 2-kilometre circumference amidst the vast undulating pastures surrounding it. After spending some amazing moments beside this gem of a lake, we finally proceed towards Kaza, the administrative capital and largest town of Spiti and hit to our comfortable beds after these meanderings.
This day we explore some of the highest inhabited regions of the world. We first visit Key, known for its magnificent Key Monastery situated at the foot of steep ridges, it is also the Biggest Gelupa Sect Monastery in Spiti. This monastery is also known to have a training centre for the Lamas. Overlooking the Spiti River, looking down at the valley from any spot of this upland country is a great sight. Spending some time in the peace and quiet of this monastery can really be a soulful experience, something to remember for a lifetime. We then proceed to Kibber, which is a perfect site for sky gazers and astronomy lovers. Kibber is also home to the majestic snow leopard and gives a breath-taking view of Kanamo Peak at 19, 600 feet. From Kibber, we visit the famous Chicham Bridge, the highest bridge in Asia and hear stories about the ancient method of using pulley trolleys. From Chicham, we head on to Langza, situated at an altitude of 4,400 metres. Once at Langza we can stroll around and visit the ancient Lang which is a 1000 years old temple and spot the marine fossils found here in the sedimentary rocks. Our next stop will be at Komic, which literally translates to ‘eye of a snow cock’. Komic is the highest motorable village in the world at a height of 4,587 meters! After spending some time taking in the beauty of this enchanting village, we head to Hikkim, home of the highest post office in the world and retire for the night in our cosy little homestay after a day packed with adventures.
At Hikkim, we wake up bright to the sun shining above us and head for our adventures after breakfast. This day we head towards Mudh which is a high-altitude village located in Pin Valley of Spiti District. Pin Valley is known for its Pin Valley National Park, home to the snow leopard and Siberian ibex. With such high reaches and glaciers where humankind seldom goes, Pin Valley might as well be the highlight of your trip! Mudh is the last motorable village in India on this side and is also the base camp for a number of long treks including the famous Pin Bhabha Pass Trek. Known for its sprouting pink blossoms known as Sia Mentok, Mudh is an enchanting land that is sure to leave you awestruck! From Mudh, we head back to our comfortable beds at Kaza and get ready for the adventures that lay ahead of us.
From Kaza, we drive through the least populated village of Spiti- Losar, to reach India’s highest motorable mountain pass which connects Kullu and Lahaul to Spiti valley- Kunzum La at 15,000 feet. From Kunzum La, we head towards one of the most photogenic places in Spiti Valley- the breath-taking Chandratal Lake, also known as the lake of the moon. This magnificent lake has surprisingly no visible source of water, concluding that the water for this lake comes from underground. We spend the night in camps by the lake and spend our evening gazing at millions of stars on a clear night.
To celebrate our last day in Spiti Valley, we depart from Chandratal Lake and make our way to Batal, home to the famous Chachi ka Chandra Dhaba. From there we continue our journey on Kaza – Manali Highway while taking a lunch halt at Chhatru. Driving beside the Chandra river we pass Gramphoo village just before our ascend towards the Rohtang pass and then descend towards Manali, thus entering the Kullu District. Rohtang Pass is a high mountain pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, it connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh. After a spectacular journey of around 51 kilometres, crossing Rohtang Pass, we reach Manali, only to head back home with a heart full of happy memories.
It is important to have an extra day as any bad weather condition or landslides may delay your journey. In case another day is utilized, you need to pay ₹ 2000 for buffer day expenses.