A one week road trip to Spiti Valley via Manali – Kalpa Kinnaur – Nako – Tabo – Kaza- Key – Kibber – Langza – Hikkim – Dhankar – Lhalung – Chandratal – Manali
The beauty of Lahaul-Spiti valley is overshadowed by the interest in Leh, its flashy famous neighbour. Hence Spiti remains untouched by the millions of tourists who throng to Leh every year. Spiti means the Middle Land – the land between India & Tibet. A melting pot of Indo -Tibetan culture, splendid views of untouched natural beauty, stark barren landscapes dotted by green oasis of villages, picturesque old Buddhist monasteries perched on top of the hills, gorgeous blue lakes and clear skies for stargazing, a trekkers paradise; Spiti has all this to offer and much more to travellers.
Day 1: Manali – Acclimatising for the Roadtrip and visit to Naggar
After arriving & relaxing in Manali after an uncomfortable overnight bus journey from Delhi, we decided to explore nearby Naggar. Just the day before on our way to the bus station in Delhi, our very well travelled Uber driver told us about Naggar and a very old beautiful temple. The drive was very scenic with lush green valleys, dotted with apple trees. The oh boy, was the temple really old or what! The Tripura Sundari temple is a three-storey structure and is known to be the one of the best examples of pagoda style of architecture in Himachal. Made with wood & laced with intricate carvings, the temple is quite ancient and impressive. Nearby there is a magnificent Naggar Castle which is a 15th century stone & wood palace now converted to a heritage hotel. Visitors can walk through the hotel and marvel at the intricate wood carvings, fireplaces , art works etc that will transport you back in time. The restaurant at Naggar Castle overlooks the Beas river & the lush green valley and serves fresh Trout Fish delicacies grown in nearby fish farms.
Overnight at Club Mahindra White Meadows
Day 2: Bonus travel to Kinnaur Valley
Upon arrival in Manali, we found out that landslides had washed away portions of Road from Manali to Kaza. So at the last moment, we were forced to change our plans and advance to Kaza via Kinnaur Valley. The original journey of 200 kms changed to a 500kms long detour for which we had to backtrack half of the route we had taken from Delhi to reach Manali! We went all the way back to Narkanda via Kullu and then advanced to Kalpa via Rampur and Sarahan. Though it was not part of the plans, this was indeed a bonus! The Kinnaur valley was so green, lush and dotted with apple & pine trees. It just looked heavenly! The next morning offered stunning views sun rising over the Kinnaur Kailash mountain and left me awestruck.
Overnight at Kalpa Retreat, Kalpa
Day 3: – The Oasis of Nako & Tabo and a 1000 yr old monastery
The landscape from Kalpa to Kaza changed starkly as the lush green mountains of Kinnaur started getting replaced with barren rocky terrain as we made our way to Kaza via Nako and Tabo. By lunchtime we had reached Nako and the sight of a patch of green on the barren landscape was a refreshing sight to see, almost like a oasis in the middle of the desert. A short trek into the village led us to the Nako lake who was more like a pond! The Nako monastery is also worth a visit.
By the time we reached Tabo, much to our disappointment, the 1000 yr old Tabo monastery was closed though the compound was open to walk through. Founded in 996A.D, it is the oldest functional buddhist monastery and hence extremely revered. The monastery is called the Ajanta of the Himalayas because of its exquisite murals, frescoes and stucco paintings.
Overnight at Old Monk Hotel, Kaza
Day 4: Conversations and Picturesque monasteries of Kaza
The day started with a hearty conversation over breakfast with a our lovely, warm and welcoming hotel owners, the Ranas. Naren Rana is a teacher but also volunteers to keep Kaza clean, organising & galvanising all local efforts for the cleanliness drives. Shallu Rana is a nurse who runs the hotel like a mother runs a home, strict but with motherly love at all times. Running the hotel like a homestay, their warmth & hospitality was coupled the lovely conversations we had esp on how the locals prepare for and look forward to the harsh winters of Kaza. The simple homecooked food was to die for!
We drove onward to Kibber to see the Kibber village & monastery. Another patch of green on barren landscape was thrilling sight for the eyes. A short hike up to the Kibber monastery (under renovation) at the top of the village, offered stunning views of the range behind.
Retracing our ride back to Kaza, we stopped at another revered monastery in Spiti – the Ki or Kye monastery. Precariously perched on top of the mountain, the Ki village makes for a picture perfect postcard! The Ki or Kye monastery has many beautiful paintings and murals dating several centuries.
Post lunch, we drove to another part of the Kaza valley, towards Komic & Langza. Nestled on top the mountain range, Langza is famous for fossils of marine plants & animals and are supposedly millions of years old, pushed upwards to the surface when Himalayas were formed by the Indian landmass colliding with the Eurasian landmass over the Tethys sea. On top of the village, is a1000 yr old gigantic Golden coloured Buddha statue that overlooks the Himalayas for a stunning poetic impact. Here we saw world’s highest cricket match in action!
Driving onwards, we arrived at Komik Village, the world’s highest village with a motorable road. A short stop to see the Komik monastery was overtaken by a sight of Villagers preparing the grass for fuel & fodder for winters in the month of July! We watched in wonder as to how the lives of the the villagers revolved around preparing for winters. A seemingly tough life, but all the locals we spoke to mentioned the amount of fun and relaxation they had in winter and how they look forward to spending their time with family holed up in their homes when it was a bone chilling -40 degrees outside.
A short drive away was Hikkim village which has world’s highest postoffice. I even sent myself two postcards from the postoffice to see if the system worked. What thrill!
The day ended with more conversations at the hotel.
Overnight at Old Monk Hotel, Kaza.
Day 5: A Lake trailer and village life for a night
A steep 1 hr trek to Dhankar lake from the Dhankar village and monastery filled up our morning and gave a sneak preview and trailer for welcoming the larger beauty, Chandratal lake, the next day. Dhankar lake offers view of the Manirang peak, the highest peak of Himachal Pradesh. The lake is considered Holy and is the source of water for the village.
Post lunch, we drove onward to Lhalung village to stay in a homestay and experience the local life. It is a beautiful green village nestled on top of the mountain range. Tourism is one of the mainstays of income for the villagers and many have equipped their traditional homes with modern comforts of geysers, toilets etc make it more convenient for the guests, although that takes away a lot from experiencing the real village life. The villagers also do animal farming for milk & wool from sheep and grow jowar, wheat, potato etc for subsistence. We got a chance to taste a very potent local rice wine over dinner with the hosts.
Overnight at Lhalung homestay
Day 6: The igniter of my wanderlust
Today was the big day, a grand finale to the trip, a visit to Chandratal Lake. I must have been 13 years old when I first saw pictures of Lahaul – Spiti and the picturesque Chandratal lake on a travel magazine. Me, the young untraveled soul at that time, couldn’t fathom that such a beautiful place could exist in our country and that had a lasting impact on my desire to travel! The very first sight of the lake blew the wind out of me, a veritable photocopy of ‘that’ picture etched in my mind. IThe calmness & the serenity of the lake, the pristine blue skies, the turquoise blue waters, the cool wind, the backdrop of snow capped mountains. It was just picture perfect!
Overnight in Chandratal Lake camp
Day 7: Swimming adventures & a rescue at the waterfall
The drive back to Manali from Kaza was dotted with adventures, no less. It had rained heavily a night before and the roads were awash with water. Three times we had to get down and walk through freezing calf-deep water flowing on the road as it was risky for cars to pass through. At one of the waterfalls, a couple on Harley were in distress as their bike had toppled over the side of the road and the man was holding on to it with his dear life. Few of us got down to haul the bike over before it could slip into the valley. It just reminded as about the power and fury of nature and no matter what humans do, they can never conquer nature.
Passing through the Rohtang pass I realised it was the most overrated passes of all times. Anything but spectacular, its location as the gateway to Leh and the proximity to Punjab gets it lot of weekend visitors for a chance to play in the snow.
Arriving in Manali, the overpopulated town looked like it was getting the metropolitan influence and losing its old world charm. We had lunch at a quaint IL Forno Italian restaurant which is converted 100 yr old house. Absolutely lip smacking pizzas and lasagnas that could have made it seem like pizzeria in New York. A must visit.
No trip to Manali is complete without a meal at Johnson’s cafe which is famous for its trout delicacies. There was a live band performance and this again looked like it could have been bar in Delhi or Mumbai.
Over a glass wine, we savoured the memories of the unforgettable Spiti valley, the middle land between India and Tibet.
Overnight at Hotel Mountain Trail, Manali and departure next morning