What Ladakh is to Jammu and Kashmir, Spiti is to Himachal Pradesh. A few years ago, Spiti was only an infamous twin to Ladakh, featuring similar landscapes, breathtaking monasteries, snow leopards and a constant chill in the wind. Currently, Spiti is the ultimate destination for an Indian or a foreign traveller. It attracts backpackers, trekkers, families and riders alike. Lying in the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal, Spiti is a high altitude cold desert and mountain valley situated around 412 km from Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh.
The night sky at Kaza
In recent events, we have seen how tourist spots in Himachal and other mountain states of India have been highly commercialized leading to a decline in the well being of the environment, lack of drinking water, garbage problems and real threats to wildlife. This is precisely the reason I support the cause of Responsible Travelling where we take care of the Social, Cultural and Environmental aspects of a host community while connecting through adventures and local experiences.
The Buddha statue at Langza
Spiti is one of my favorite places on Earth, and it needs to be protected. Commercialization and urbanization are important for the local economy as well, but not at the stake of the environment and the people living there. With that in mind, I am compiling a detailed budget itinerary to Spiti Valley, with recommendations and transport details which will help you to travel like a local and experience Spiti in it’s raw form. The itinerary is quite flexible and you can extend or tweak it as per your convenience.
Best Season to visit: Year round, unless the routes are closed due to heavy snowfall or construction.
Recommendation: May in Summer, and February in winters
There are two routes to Spiti Valley, one via Rohtang pass in Manali and the other one from Shimla via Kinnaur.
In this itinerary, I have used the Shimla-Kinnaur-Kaza(headquarters of Spiti) route in order to cover up the villages of Nako and Tabo on the way. The only upside of the Manali route is that you don’t need to make a night halt to continue your journey. Manali becomes crowded when Rohtang opens and a lot of riders and taxis access it in order to reach Spiti. In my opinion, the Shimla-Kaza route is better and less crowded.
At Reckong Peo
Day 1: Shimla to Reckong Peo
Shimla, being the capital of Himachal Pradesh is easily accessible from nearby states. There are multiple buses from Delhi, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Dehradun which can get you to Shimla. Take an overnight journey and reach Shimla early in the morning around 4 or 5. Buses to Reckong Peo start leaving around this time and will take you through a long journey via Rampur. You will be staying overnight in Reckong Peo. Both Private and State buses are available on this route.
Distance: 243 km
Time taken in bus: 12 hours
Cost: ₹300, keeps varying
Reckong Peo is a major town in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, so finding a place to spend the night isn’t difficult. Find a hotel or guest house as per your budget and relax your backs. A lot of options are available on airbnb too. Tomorrow is another long day, so be ready. 🙂
The road to Spiti Valley
Day 2: Nako
Nako is a high altitude village situated in the Hangrang valley of Kinnaur District. The bus which goes to Kaza(Spiti Valley) will take you there. There is only 1 bus in the entire day which runs from Reckong Peo to Kaza. The state transport bus starts at 7:30 am, but you will have to get up earlier and face a queue to get the tickets.
Distance to Nako: 103 km
Time taken: 6-7 hours
Pit stop at Hurling
So, you get half day when you reach Nako and another half of the next day, before you take the same bus and move ahead. Nako is famous for it’s apples and sun-dried apricots, but more importantly for it’s rich Buddhist culture. It is a picturesque village containing a backdrop of Reo Purgyal, the highest mountain in Himachal Pradesh.
Must visit places: Nako lake which is a 1 km walk from the village and Nako monastery dated to 1025 AD. A few km away from the monastery, is Chango Gompa which contains a prayer wheel more than 500 years old, made out of yak skin.
There are small guest houses and home stays available in Nako, choose as per your budget and stay for as long as you want.
Recommendation: Lake view home stay
A glimpse of Spiti architecture at Nako
Day 3: Reaching Tabo
Spend the first half of the day in Nako, and wait for the bus to take you forward. Remember, this is the same and the only bus which starts at 7:30 am from Reckong Peo. The bus will arrive at Nako between 1-2 pm.
Now, we are heading to Tabo, another high altitude village and a gateway to the much awaited Spiti valley.
Distance from Nako: 63 km
Time taken: 3-4 hours
Check into Tabo and have a good night’s sleep. We will be exploring tomorrow.
Recommendation: Namsay Home-stay or Dekit Norphel Tiger’s Den
Cost: ₹300-400, can accommodate 2-3 people
Day 4: Tabo
Image Source: Wikipedia.org, Tabo Monastery
This is where your Spiti journey begins. From caves to one of the holiest monasteries on the planet, Tabo has everything in store for you to have a life changing experience.
Must visit places: Tabo Monastery and Tabo caves. The monastery here was built in 996 AD and is considered to be of high importance, next only to Tholing Gompa in Tibet.
Spend at least a day in Tabo, or if you wish you can take the evening bus to Kaza. The state transport bus arrives at Tabo between 4-5 pm.
Day 5: Arriving at Kaza
You are here! The biggest town and headquarters of Spiti valley will welcome you with an array of shops and restaurants. You can find ATMs, a petrol pump, private schools and a functional liquor shop in Kaza. Now, assuming you left Tabo on day 4, you will reach Kaza between 6-7 pm. You will reach just in time for the sunset.
Check into any hotel or home-stay as per your budget.
Welcome to Spiti Valley!! Julley!
Recommendation: Gangri Home-stay, a really sweet nuclear family runs it
Cost: ₹300, can accommodate 2-3 people
The famous prayer wheels bridge of Kaza
Day 6: Heading to Kibber
Julley! It is a common term to express your greetings or a casual ‘hello’, might come handy when you try to strike a bargain with the locals. 😉
Today, we will be reaching Kibber, one of the biggest villages in Spiti valley. Like all other places in Spiti, there will be only one state transport bus in the entire day, connecting Kibber to Kaza. It leaves Kaza at 5:00 pm and reaches Kibber in an hour or so. The bus will be passing via Kye-monastery which we will cover on our way back.
The village of Kibber
Other options to reach Kibber include hiring a taxi or hitching a ride from a local. Taxis in Spiti follow Union rates so you won’t get scammed anywhere.
Check into a home-stay as per your budget. Get some rest, as tomorrow you will be blown by the beauty we know as Kibber.
Recommendation: Norling home-stay, features a stunning view
Cost: ₹300, can accommodate 2-3 people
Day 7: Kibber
Being one of the biggest villages in Spiti, it takes pride in having a senior secondary school at a monstrous altitude of 14009 feet. Kibber also hosts a generous population of a wild cat widely known as ‘Snow Leopard’. In winters, a hike to the Kibber Sanctuary gets you closer to a possibility of spotting a snow leopard and trust me, it is rare, as the cat is really shy and keeps away from humans.
Sumo riding in Spiti
Spend the day or more if you want, hike around, stare into the universe at night and make the best out of your day at Kibber. Tomorrow, we leave.
Treks from Kibber: To the villages of Chicham and Tashigang
Day 8: Kye Monastery and Kaza
The bus which dropped you to Kibber leaves at 7:00 am on the next day. Get onto it, and drop yourself off at Kye monastery.
Kye(pronounced ki) is considered the crown jewel of Spiti valley. Another ancient monastery which hosts preserved manuscripts and paintings from the 11th century. The head monk there is a really amazing person, he offered us Tibetan tea(which a monk gets from Tibet only once a year) and indulged with us in a conversation about politics and religion. The kind of profound silence you will receive in the room of Kye, I am not sure if you can find that even at the top of a mountain.
If you are lucky, the monks will be able to arrange for you, a home stay within the monastery premises. Now it’s up to you, whether to stay here or hitch a ride to Kaza the same evening.
Day 9: Hikkim, Langza and Komic
Spiti is vast, if you want you can jump from place to place or stay everywhere while getting the most of it, the choice is yours. Now, there aren’t any buses between Kaza to these places. You can hire a taxi which can take you around or you can hike up from Kye monastery. Considering the altitude you are at, if you are not acclimatized well, hiking can also be troublesome. Make sure you have a guide with you if you are planning to trek or hike. All the three villages mentioned here are quite close to each other.
You can also hire a taxi which can take you around all these villages in a single day unless you are planning to stay in each one of them.
The village of Hikkim
Hikkim: Famous for having the World’s highest post office situated at 14,567 feet, features similar architecture and views as other villages. If you are visiting, send your loved ones a postcard or a letter from here.
The world’s highest post office at Hikkim
Langza: Another high altitude village in Spiti, it is full of fossils which the locals collected from streams above the village. Langza also contains a Buddha statue overlooking some of the highest snow capped peaks of Spiti valley.
The Buddha statue at Langza
The village of Langza
Komic: Surpassing Kibber, Komic is now the highest inhabited village in the world accessible by road. Situated at a crazy altitude of 15,027 feet, Komic offers you an insane view of Spiti mountains with the pleasure of having maggi at such a height.
The famous sign board of Komic
Komic monastery premises
Primary school at Komic
Day 10: Dhankar
Get up early morning! Catch the bus which is leaving Kaza for Reckong Peo at 7:00 am, and ask the conductor to drop you at the trail for Dhankar village. Now, a road also goes up to Dhankar, so taxi is another option. I would recommend that you walk as you will be able to glance at some isolated caves before you reach Dhankar.
The confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers
Dhankar is situated at the confluence of Pin and Spiti rivers, where the road also divides onto Pin valley.
Must visit places: Dhankar fort and monastery, hike to Dhankar lake
Now you can stay at Dhankar in any home stay you like or you can walk back to the main road and wait for the evening bus coming from Reckong Peo via Tabo to take you back to Kaza. Hitching a ride is an option too.
Day 11: Heading back to Reckong Peo
So, it’s up to you, either head back or explore Spiti till your satisfaction, which let me guarantee you, won’t happen. 🙂
Take the 7:00 am bus to Reckong Peo, and get a bus to Shimla(no need for a night halt). You will reach Shimla early morning next day.
At Langza monastery
The route from Rohtang pass opens in June first week, and after that you can visit the other side of Spiti valley which contains the gorgeous Chandrataal. I visited it last year, and will surely be putting another itinerary for that.
Advanced treks: Spiti Home-stay trek, Kanamo Peak trek and Pin Bhabha trek
Till then, go be merry, and travel responsibly. 🙂
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