Spiti Valley road trip is my first road trip in the dry regions of northern Himalayas. Like most of you, I also faced a moral dilemma of Spiti or Ladakh and honestly it wasn’t that hard decision. I always like to travel in lesser touristy parts so went ahead with Spiti.
Next, comes the harder part of squeezing the entire circuit in 9 days (5 working leave and 2 weekends). Almost all itineraries for the Shimla – Spiti – Manali circuit that I came across on the internet suggested a minimum of 10 days that too when one starts from Shimla, so technically I had 8 days. Here is how I did it –
- Sacrificed Sangla Valley (Sangla and Chitkul) – Difficult decision
- Skipped Mud Valley (Mud Village) – The region is landslide prone
This route gave us a major advantage of gradually acclimatising to higher altitudes of Spiti valley. Here is route map of our trip –
Convincing folks for the trip was easy. Of course some of them ditched and at the end, we were a group four. Next transportation, Innova is always my choice of transportation. Got few numbers of Innova owners/drivers from Devil on wheels blog.…called up Vinkhal, who in turn introduced me to Deepu as he was already booked. Deepu was seasoned driver of the region driving the region from past ten years. After my trip once thing I can say for certain is that he one of the most patient driver I have seen. Read more about him here
We reached Chandigarh airport at 1 PM. Deepu was patiently waiting there for us. Although the distance between Chandigarh and Narkanda is 180 KM, it took us around 8 hours to reach Shimla because of weekend rush and ongoing construction 4-lane highway and of course stupid people without traffic sense.
We reached Shimla by 8 PM meaning it would be very late by the time we reach Narkanda. So on behest of Deepu, we diverted our route towards Tattapani.The road to Tattapani had practically no traffic and we reached our destination by 10 PM. The best thing about this route was we could start right on NH22 from next morning
Our modified route –
Click Here for link: https://goo.gl/AlCq6
We stayed at very cheap and bad hotel as it was already very late. The place has million times more population of mosquitoes than humans. Thank God we carried Odomos.
In case some of you manage to keep a tab on time, here are the options for stay at Narkanda:
- Hotel Hatu: INR 3250 for a standard double bedroom (+91 1782 242 430): The manager is a very helpful guy. He will help you with numbers of other hotels in case of non-availability
- Hotel Snowflake: INR 2200 for three bedrooms (backside) and minimum INR 1500 for double bedroom (view side): 098161 92844 / http://hotelsnowflake.com/
Dos & Don’ts
- Withdraw cash for the complete leg of the trip (We took INR 15,000 each)
- Buy old monk from Chandigarh itself
- Keep a polybag inside the car for litters
- Don’t mix driving with drinking
Day 2 | Tattapani to Kalpa (on NH22)
We barely managed to sleep through the night at Tattapani and left very early in the morning. The disappointment of bad start soon disappeared as soon as we hit the legendary NH22 – a thin strip of road with steep ridges/canopies and mighty Satluj flowing alongside. The distance between Tattapani and Kalpa is around 230 KM and the route takes around 8 hours. Rampur which falls in-route is a good place for lunch but we skipped it carried on wards for Tapri, the location of JSW hydro power station again on the suggestion of Deepu. Turns out it was a right decision as the main road connecting Kalpa was blocked due to a landslide.
We had an amazing plain sumptuous lunch at a small dhaba (Pappu Dhaba) in front of Tapri shopping complex. Left immediately on an alternate route (25 km longer) and managed to reach Reckong Peo by 4:30 PM. It is the headquarters of Kinnaur district and a good place to stay however our destination was Kalpa. Kalpa is barely 17 KM from Peo.
We reached Kalpa by 5:30 PM and checked into Kalpa Retreat (had pre-booked it just by calling them)
- Rakpa Regency: Rate INR 1200 / 1500/1800 (best location) | 09805649505 (Mr Sandeep – Nice Bengali chap) | https://goo.gl/X3faF0 , https://goo.gl/74imoz | Overlooking the tri-peaks – Jorkendan, Raldang and Kinner Kailash
- Kalpa Retreat – Another hotel from same owners | Cleaner and bigger rooms | Food has typical delicious Bengali flavour | Highly recommended
- Chini Bungalows: INR 9805495656 | Best place for bag packers | INR 700 per room
- Apple Pie
Dos & Don’ts
- Don’t try momos and chowmins at the Kalpa Market near Lochawa La-khang (Kalpa monastery). They are horrible
- Take a long exposure shot overlooking Kalpa city from stairs beside Hotel Monal Regency which connects market and monastery with Hotels (Alas! I could not take it)
- Don’t over booze as the air is thinner up there. Alcohol reduces oxygen in blood
Day 3 | Kalpa – Nako – Tabo
Kalpa woke us with a beautiful sunshine, soothing chill, and hot cup of tea thanks to Sandeep da and his amazing set of cooks. For a moment the thought of staying there for an extra day crossed my mind but then the realisation of a long journey ahead struck – in Spiti valley journey is the destination.
Unwilling we packed our bags and headed downstairs for breakfast. Not to mentioned breakfast of aalu/gobhi paratha was amazing. After a mandatory group photo, we bid our goodbyes and headed on rough roads connecting Tabo.
The roads from Kalpa are fairly non-existent till Khap, the place of confluence of Satluj and Spiti river. After that its good but very narrow and can barely accommodate two passing trucks.
Luckily we didn’t face any road blocks and reached Nako by lunch time and settled for lunch at the only dhaba at the crossroads. Determined to have good thukpa, I again ordered one only to realise that Spiti is not a place for Thukpa and momo. In fact only good thing about that dhaba is that it served chilled beer 🙂
We didn’t want to lose time, so left immediately and skipped visiting high altitude village of Nako (know for Nako lake). It paid off and we reached Tabo by 4 PM maps leaving us with enough time to explore the village and Tabo Monastery
- Hotel Siddhartha: 1500 for 2
- Namsay Guest House: Owned and operated by Dr Suresh (Booking inquiry Call +91-94186-00825 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org) http://www.namsayhomestayspiti.com/. Read our experience here
- Camping Option: At helipad (free)
Dos & Don’t
- Have breakfast in the hotel itself and leave as early as possible
- Don’t click photographs in the army cantonment region and where it is specifically prohibited (remember you will be driving in the China border areas)
- Avoid eating momos and Thukpas
Day 4 | Tabo – Dhankar – Dhankar Lake – Kaza
The morning of Tabo was my best morning of the complete trip, thanks to the amazing hospitality of Dr Suresh. It reminded me of winters of my maternal village: sitting under warm morning sun for hours, sipping tea and munching last night’s leftover snacks. And since the distance between Tabo to Kaza is just 48 Kms, we took the liberty of extra lazy breakfast without moving an inch (NOTE: For breakfast, one can either opt for parathas or traditional thukpas which are very different from the one which we regularly have).
We left Tabo by 10:30 AM (later realised – should have left by 9:30 AM) and reached Dhankar Monastery by 12 noon. Dhankar lake is further 3 KM uphill and the trek to reach there took us close to 1 hour. Most of the tourists skip this place which makes it even more beautiful. Believe me its very serene up there.
After spending some quality time together, we were on the road to the most crowded and most famous town of Spiti Valley – Kaza. We skipped Mud village in Pin valley because of two reasons – one it is off the main circuit road and second, it is land slide prone (Vinkhal told us that he was once stuck there for one week). Anyways coming back to Kaza, it took us close to three hours to reach to there. Read our Kaza experience here
Dos & Don’ts
- Air is very thin up there on the way to Dhankar Lake. Avoid the trek if you are not used to high altitude trekking or abort if you don’t feel good in the midway.
- Do take sufficient water (2 litres per person to be precise) while trekking
- Don’t enter or swim in the Dhankar Lake, its a sacred lake. Respect it.
- There is a new road from Dhankar Monastery (not yet mapped on google maps) which connects highway 505 and significantly reduced the distance to Kaza. Ask any Local.
Day 5 | Kaza – Langza – Komic – Hikkim – Kaza
Another non-hectic day. We got up at 9 AM but took the liberty of sticking with blankets till 10 AM and having lazy breakfast till 11:30 AM at The Himalayan Cafe. Turned out it was not a bad decision.
Starting from Kaza at around 12 noon, we quickly ascended from 11000 ft to 14000 ft in less than an hour. Quite remarkable huh !!! An Even more remarkable fact is that more than 200 people live at this altitude, distributed in the three sister villages of Langza, Komic and Hikkim.
We started with Langza. It is quaint little farming village famously know for marine fossils and colourful Lord Buddha statue which is more than 1000 years old. The village has quite a few home stays and is frequented by a lot of tourists.
From Langza, we headed towards Komic, the highest motorable village in the world situated at the height of 15027 feet. It is by far the maximum altitude I have so far been to. The population of the village is less than 80. People say sunset is very mesmerising from up here, I wish I could have seen it.
Our next destination was Hikkim. The village has the distinction of having world’s highest post office and India’s highest polling booth. The post office opened up in 1983 and is still very much functional. I mailed 8 postcards from there and each reached its destination contrary to my apprehensions.
Cost of Postcard – INR 20 – 25
Cost of Stamp (within India) – INR 5
Cost of Stamo (Outside India)- INR 20
We returned to Kaza by 5 PM
Dos & Don’ts
- In Langza, try to find some fossils if not then buy one from a local shop. Believe me, you will never get such prized possessions. You can also buy it from Hikkim post office
- Do drop some postcards to your loved ones…. Any part of the world
Day 6 | Kaza – Key Monastery – Kibber
The second morning in Kaza gave us a stark realisation that it was our last day of Kaza for the trip. We could only wish for more.
This day’s cumulative travelling was going to be the least of our trip: Kaza – Key Monastery – Kibber. A total of just 21 KM. After binge eating at The Himalayan Cafe for the last time, we headed towards the crown jewel of Spiti Valley – Key Gompa or The Key Monastery. It stands tall at a height of 13500 ft from sea level overseeing the Spiti River plains. It is the largest monastery of Spiti Valley and houses more than 300 lamas.
There were hardly any tourist when we reached. A kind lama guided us to every prayer hall and briefed us about its history. The herbal tea which he offered us was the best tea I had ever tasted, I could not resist asking for its recipe to which just smiled and offered me more. The monastery also provides accommodation for tourists in existing Lama quarters at a nominal rate of INR 250 per night which includes all meals.
We also roamed around and the hiked adjacent hill to get the best shot of the iconic monastery. We left Key Monastery at around 2:30 PM for the home of snow leopards, Kibber.
Kibber is a must visit and a must stay place if you want to spend a quiet evening aimlessly strolling around. Kibber is sparsely populated, weather during the day is very cosy and extremely cold during the night. Kibber is known for its snow leopard sightings. Teams of Nat Geo, Discovery, Fox and BBC frequent this tiny village. You can also trek up to Ladakh in 3 days from here.
Contrary to our belief, there are quite a good number of guest houses. We booked Norling Home stay. Rooms of the homestay are very clean and the food is amazing. Reach out to them on 09418556107 / 01906200124.
Kibber has only one restaurant, Tashi Zom Guesthouse which serves amazing Maggi and amazing organic lunch thali in just INR 150. The guy who manages the restaurant is extremely soft spoken and a very good host. They also have accommodation which is bit expensive. Reach out to them at 09418612295 or 01906200485.
Dos & Don’ts
- Talk a walk on the road towards Chicham village for good photographs. Though don’t get too far
- Its not safe to roam around in the night due to wild animals
Day 7 | Kibber – Kunzum Pass – Chandrataal
This was the most hectic and at the same time most exciting day of the entire trip – the day of Chandrataal Lake. We started off very early at around 7 am as instructed by Deepu. He stressed on the fact that it is very important to cross Hansa Nallah before noon as past noon the flow due to melting ice increases which make crossing very dangerous.
We had a quick breakfast at Losar before hitting the rocky road towards Kunzum Pass. Kunzum La is a motorable pass which graced us with some of the most stunning sights we had ever seen before. Ever heard of saying ‘raaste hi manzilain hain’ – Kunzum Pass symbolises it. The pass also is beautiful confluence to Hindu and Buddhist culture – a Hindu temple of Kunzum Devi graced by Tibetan flags of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum‘. We spend a good one hour at this magical place sitting quietly before moving ahead towards our destination – Chandrataal.
From Kunzum La one can trek 9 km or drive 14 km on a barely existent road to reach Chandratal. The road is so narrow that drivers have to negotiate hairpin bends with barely an inch to spare. It took us close to 1 hour to cover that 14 km. Read Our Chandrataal experience here
Day 8 | Chandratal – Batal – Manali
Technically the last day of the trip in the lap of Himalayas. We had to leave as early as possible in order to skip the strong streams in the valley. Started off sharply at 7 am and reached the breakfast point of Chacha Chachi Chandra Dhaba after driving couple of hours. The Dhaba is an iconic place which remains open all round the year irrespective of the fact that the road is open only for 3 to 4 months in a year. Chacha and Chachi have been awarded numerous awards for saving lives of countless tourists. They also provide accommodation at a very nominal rate.
After having a good breakfast, we were back on the roads. These are the worst road is the complete circuit especially stretch from Batal to Gramphoo is a nightmare to drive on. There are numerous water streams on the way and almost all of it gets dangerous as the day progresses. No one drives alone. Deepu being the most experienced driver of the region was leading a pack of 5-6 cars. After crossing each stream, he would then walk to steer others.
Day 9 | Manali – Chandigarh – Mumbai
End of the trip. We started off very early at 5 AM in order to reach Chandigarh by afternoon. Bid our farewell to Deepu till we meet again.