Spiti Valley – Not Just Another Travel Destination

Spiti is every traveler’s dream.

Why? Because Spiti is stunning.

Have you traveled to the Himalayas yet? Maybe you went on to a travel trip to Dharamshala, explored the many places to visit near Manali, or hiked to Chandrashila peak, or perhaps you visited Uttarakhand: Mussoorie, Landour, Dehradun, or trekked in the valley of flowers.

Vast green pastures, sheep and cow grazing on lush grass, high vegetation-rich mountains, dense jungles, orchards, farms and villages, English houses, churches — this is the typical scene in Himachal and Uttarakhand.

Though Spiti is one of the many Himachal Pradesh valleys, its nothing like this.

In this Spiti valley travel blog, we will see how Spiti is one of the most bizarre and gorgeous places to see.

But why the Spitian landscape is so distinct that everyone keeps talking about it? The altitude of Spiti is at least 4,000 meters even in the lowest parts of the valley. And don’t forget that Spiti is a Himalayan valley. The high altitude and the Himalayas make Spiti a unique place to live. 

Also See: Spiti Valley Photography – Images that Instagram won’t let you see.

Spiti+valley+himachal+pradesh+himalayas+india

chicham+spitian+women+Spiti+valley+india+himalayas

What does this Spiti Valley travel guide contain?

  1. Solo in Spiti- My journey from Manali to Spiti, finding homestays in different villages, commuting in the valley, making my way on foot and hitchhiking, and more.
  2. Where is Spiti Valley?
  3. How to reach Spiti Valley?
    1. How to go to Spiti Valley by air?
    2. How to go to Spiti Valley by land?
    3. How to reach Spiti Valley from Manali?
    4. How to reach Spiti Valley from Shimla?
    5. How to reach Spiti valley from Delhi?
    6. How to reach Spiti valley from Bangalore?
  4. Who needs a permit for Spiti Valley?
  5. What could be your Spiti Valley itinerary?
  6. Where to stay in Spiti Valley, India?
  7. What to eat in Spiti?
  8. How is the Spiti Valley Weather?
  9. What is the best time to visit Spiti Himachal Pradesh?
  10. What to pack for your trip to Spiti Valley?
  11. Is Spiti safe for a solo female traveler?

 

Solo in Spiti.

My journey from Manali to Spiti, finding homestays in different villages, experiencing local life, making my way on foot in the valley, hitchhiking, and more.

 

I went to Spiti in July, just when the road from Manali to Spiti had opened. As always, neither had I researched on how to travel to Spiti nor had I read any Spiti travel blog when I arrived in Manali from Parvati valley.

As I got down at the bus station in new Manali, I enquired about a bus to Spiti at the Himachal government bus stand (HRTC). Though fellow travelers told me in Parvati that the road to Spiti valley was now functional, the guy at the counter informed that buses weren’t running yet and that the route was closed.

I was disappointed, then, but now I am glad that there was no bus to Spiti. For when a bus tried to make its way to Spiti in July, she was forced to go back due to the bad road.

The road from Manali to Spiti valley is nasty, tour agents and bus drivers told me later.

Disappointed, I went to old Manali and decided to check with the local travel agents there. Walking in the wet narrow lanes of old Manali, I knocked the doors of many travel companies to hear that I couldn’t, yet, visit Spiti. One of the agents even suggested that as the road to Spiti wasn’t open, I should go to Leh by the Himachal Pradesh tourism bus which takes two days to arrive at Leh.

I almost bought the bus ticket except that the bus was full. Leh didn’t want me this time.

Tour agencies and transporters whose glass windows flaunted “travel to Spiti valley and Leh” posters fringed the lanes of old and new Manali. Finally, some travel agents told me that I could travel to Spiti in a shared jeep, which implied seven (or more) people stuck together in a claustrophobic jeep for at least 12-13 hours — if everything went well.

No way.

Another tour company agent said that I could get a seat in a big tempo traveler if I went to the new Manali bus station, waited there until a tempo from Spiti showed up, and requested the driver to drive me back. He informed me that the vehicles that go to Spiti are from Spiti — people from Manali don’t send their vehicles up as the trip is costly.

Instead of waiting at the bus station I continued my search and went into another shop. The middle-aged man at the counter made a call. After a quick conversation, he told me that a tempo traveler was going to Spiti and that he had bought me the best seat for 1400 rupees.

“They are charging too much this time,” the kind travel agent said.

After a quick Paytm transaction, I walked out with a ticket to Spiti for the next day. I had to be on the old Manali bridge by 5 am the next morning.

Tired. Hungry. Thirsty. Excited. Anxious. I was a ball of emotions. But I prepared for my journey, ate an early dinner, said goodbyes to my friend who had done the road with me from Parvati, and went to bed.

The alarm rang at 4. On most days, an early alarm makes me miserable irrespective of what lies beyond the process of waking up. And I didn’t just have to wake up but also had to buckle up my rucksack and backpack and walk to the bridge, alone, on a dark street.

My misery was answered well for the moon shined bright making the walk a pretty one, rather than a scared stumble.

Soon, I received a call from the driver Shibhu who said a van would come to pick me up. I waited, got into an unknown car when the driver confirmed he worked with Shibhu, and hoped for the best.

Shibhu, a young Spitian, was busy tying luggage and rucksacks on the top of the tempo traveler.

“You must keep this as it might fly off,” Shibhu said while handing my yoga mat which I had tightly strapped to my rucksack.

Though I didn’t get much time to wonder how could a tightly-tied yoga mat fly away, I jumped into my single-seat, Shibhu started the car, and thus began my Spiti valley trip.

But he soon asked me to change cars for a few minutes.

“All the cars leaving Manali for Spiti have to show a permit (which can be obtained online now) if they have passengers who are not local — everyone from outside Spiti,” Shibhu informed, “but I don’t have the permit.”

All Indians and foreigners changed cars to sit in Shibhu’s friend’s car (his friend had the permit). All the local Spitian passengers from the other car sat in our places.

After crossing the checkpoint everyone got back to where they belonged, and we drove on. The road leading up to Rohtang Pass takes you through green and vibrant views and is almost safe with a few potholes or places where Shibhu had to tilt the tempo and drive with one wheel on the road and another on a higher pavement.

Also Read: Practical tips to learn yoga in the villages of Dharamshala – And the real meaning of yoga

 

road+to+Spiti

 

I didn’t feel the topsy curvy turns much even though I had stuffed myself with a grilled cheese sandwich along with a chai when we had stopped for breakfast a few hours into the drive.

If you are driving by one of these tempo travelers to Spiti — please pee whenever you get a chance. For the Spitian drivers never stop for a bathroom break. Of course, if they halt because the road is washed away or a waterfall is thrashing down on the road and they can’t drive with passengers, men quickly find corners or just turn around and release themselves.

But what about women and girls? Well, pee problems were the least of my concern on my trip to Spiti valley. I think I would have to revisit this statement later. 

After driving through the gorgeous Rohtang, the lush-green and snowy peaks gave way to drier, rocky mountains. Vegetation disappeared. The road became rougher. The landscape turned more gravel. Now we were going through parts of the route where the snow had been cleared to make way for vehicles. The paved away snow stood on either side, sometimes as tall as the height of the car.

 

roads+in+spiti+valley+himachal+india

 

Water gushed on the road. Tiny streams of water ran down snowy hills. Giant waterfalls fell on the road, washing away most of the narrow pathway. Sometimes the road was just a collection of unevenly-sized boulders settled in an unstable way over cold water that rushed to meet the river.

Some waterfalls pushed the rocks that lined the road into the deep valley. At these times, Shibhu would ask us to get out of the car and drive slowly to avoid skidding on the narrow road and falling into nothingness.

Shepherds and their flock of sheep also walked on roads. So if we took a turn suddenly, the road disappeared and we stared at a few hundred sheep, at least, who didn’t want to get out of the way.

Icy peaks stared at us from a distance. A thin river gushed at the foot of the tall hills. Glaciers shined atop hills. Water poured over from all directions. We drove on. 

Related read: Hiking from Kalga village to Bhunbhuni – walking on hidden trails in Parvati Valley

 

Spiti+valley+road+himachal+india

We took a short lunch break at Lossar, one of the first villages of Spiti.

I stared at the village of Lossar. An Indian flag waved in the sky. The village was a backdrop to the green fields which I came to know later were pea farms as nothing else grows in Spiti. A small collection of flat-roofed white houses stood silent. Everything seemed white except the red and maroon paint borders that ran around the houses like ribbons. Of course, the rugged mountains stood behind. 

 

lossar+village+Spiti+valley

 

“Let’s go. Kaza is further away,” Shibhu said as he hurried to the car.

We arrived in Kaza at 6:30 pm after driving for about thirteen hours.

Everything seemed strange. First I thought I must be having the same anxiety that I have when I arrive for the first time in any place, alone. But this time my apprehensions weren’t baseless — Though gorgeous, Spiti is a strange land.

Suggested Read: Experiences from my first solo trip to Thailand

I walked around and took a homestay in Kaza. Streets of Kaza are full of homestays, now. Small grocery and medical stores always have people bustling around. I noticed a BSNL shop and went in for I hadn’t received any signal on my phone since I left Manali. Tiny roadside restaurants selling jalebis, chai, and samosa also seemed active. Then there were cafes and souvenir shops.

Kaza is divided into two parts — old and new. Houses are similar to the ones I had seen in Lossar — flat-roofed, white with red, maroon, and orange borders. Solar panels were installed on all rooftops. All the windows were square. Colorful peace and prayer flags hung on each house and danced with the wind.

Grand canyon-like brown mountains with strange shapes and structures surrounded Kaza. These mountains appeared steeper than the ones in Parvati and Dharamshala. They were barer, too.

Construction work is going on in the valley. Locals said a highway will come there.

 

kaza+Spiti+valley
Kaza, as seen from the top of the temple.

 

Tiny Tibetan, Nepalese, and Spitian restaurants along with some cosmopolitan organics cafes fringe the Kaza streets and corners. I made one such Nepalese restaurant that served delicious mushroom momos, and thukpa my favorite (details later in the eat section.)

But Kaza doesn’t have much to see. Especially as I got up early and saw the Kaza monastery and temple in the first half of the day.

I had heard about Key monastery before I even planned to do a Spiti valley solo trip. As Key monastery is one of the historical places to visit in Spiti valley, I decided to go there.  I walked out of new Kaza to go towards Lossar, crossed the BSNL center and the world’s highest petrol pump on my left. Now I was on the road to the villages of Kibber, Chicham, and Key Monastery.

Hitchhiking or hiring your car or bike is the best way to travel in Spiti for only one HRTC bus connects the villages every day, that too at odd timings. I could never hire an entire taxi for myself or drive a bike.

At first, the idea of hitchhiking alone in the extraordinary valley frightened me. I wondered how would I walk on the strange roads that curve on rocky mountains. Miles and miles go by before you see any human or animal soul. What if the passing by cars and bikes didn’t see me at a blind curve?

I was walking with these thoughts in mind when someone suggested that I should wait for a lift at the petrol pump.

I went back to wait at the petrol pump. But no one who was going to the Key monastery had space in their car, and I gave up after an hour.

While I waited, men working at the petrol pump, travelers passing by on car and bikes, truck and transport drivers stared at me. Maybe they wondered that why was I traveling solo in a valley as remote as Spiti or perhaps they were worried?

Though a Spitian man told me he would drop me at Key the next day, I decided that I would take a bus to the Kibber village the next evening. For buses from Kaza to other villages run at 4 or 5 pm, stay in the village for the night, and return to Kaza the next morning. 

A Great Tip: Go to the taxi driver’s union near the bus stand in Kaza to get a good idea of things to do in Spiti valley.

Upon returning to my homestay, my homestay owner — an old lady who mostly lived by herself and was referred to as Ammaji— offered me tea and parathas. When I asked Ammaji about her family, she said that her parents died when she was young. Her husband died when he was 35.

Ammaji told me that her husband was in the Army and was posted in Kerala. After a medical checkup of his protruded nose, the doctors told him he had cancer.

“He wrote to me in January, 91” — She remembered. “But I got the letter in April, 91.”

She walked a long distance to see him and then took him to a guru (a lama) in Dehradun. He got better only to return to Kerala to quit army when he got sick again and died a few months later in Kaza.

“Here in the mountains we never have cancer. It is a disease of the plains. But we don’t know what happened.” She said.

Ammaji, who worked in the hospital and knows about medicine, had two small children at that time. Now both her son and daughter are big and can look after themselves.

Gathiya, that is what it is called.” She smiled when I took her hand in mine and told that her hand was swollen.

Do you know that I send an exclusive weekly newsletter every Sunday? The newsletter is a collection of my latest articles and the best thoughts of the week. Enter your email to subscribe. I never spam.

Loading

12 Comments

  1. Heritage Taxi Services August 12, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Nice post and also amazing pictures. Wanted to go to see photos. Will plan after coronavirus.

  2. Guna July 15, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you for the detailed experience. I have already started planning a trip to Spiti, preferably in September.

  3. Akanksha June 17, 2020 at 12:19 am

    Priyanka i loved reading this blogpost. You have described your journey, the place, your rendezvous with locals so beautifully.
    Shine On Always

  4. Sonu Negi May 26, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    That’s an exhaustive writeup Priyanka. Please cover Pin valley and wildlife in Spiti valley in your next blog.

  5. Sandeepa April 18, 2020 at 8:43 pm

    I have terribly mixed feelings about Spiti, and have not yet come around writing about them. And you’re right, the real Spiti is in the villages. People there are far more genuine than the ones who stay in Kaza. The year we visited was a terrible drought, Spiti hadn’t received any snowfall that winter, and would end up getting rains like in the plains. I hope to visit again, and have more positive experiences than the last time. What about you? Do you think you’ll make your way there again, and maybe this time things will be different?

  6. Dhanvi Tour January 10, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    This really is a great post. I appreciate the depth of information you’ve included here. I’ve traveled but never outside of my own country on my own. You’ve actually made me question some of my own anxieties on why this is. : )

  7. Harsh Wardhan September 28, 2019 at 3:02 am

    Liked your blog Interesting
    You are a brave girl, continue with your adventures

    1. Priyanka Gupta September 30, 2019 at 4:15 pm

      Thank you, Harsh. Happy that you liked my blog 🙂

  8. Chittra M August 6, 2019 at 12:01 am

    Loved those pictures. Spiti is one place I want to go back again and stay at Pin for a considerable amount of time. I was surprised how the villagers are not even influenced on seeing the city ppl or their life. they seem to just carry on with their farm and life.

    1. Priyanka Gupta September 30, 2019 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks, Chittra. Go again and let me know how it goes for you. Their ignorance by choice amazed me as well.

  9. Marnie August 3, 2019 at 1:46 am

    hi my dear,

    i enjoyed your beautiful blog! Still travelling solo, so strong you are!
    I had 2 times bad luck after coming home. Six weeks ago i broke my shoulder, i can now start little exercises but it will take a long time to heel and to be back on the yoga- and sport trail again. So i had to learm to stay calm and patient…
    and then, due to a weak immune system of the broken shoulder which caused me so much pain i lost quite a lot of weight, i got a severe attack of herpes zoster in my face and skull. It starts with painfull spots and pains like migraine, and the nerves of the skin in face and head are damaged and give painsigns to the brain constantly. It’s for almost three weeks now and i went to the doctor almost daily and to hospital many times to the dermatologist, the neurologist and oculist, because my left eue is involved. It’s so f… painful, that i am taking heavy morfine pills and a strong medicine against neuralgic pains (and a anti depressant). Doctors can not predict how many more weeks of even months or sometimes even years this can take to disappaear.

    So i am very happy i am at home, in my own bed, with my loving and so good caring husband on my side.
    Again i feel the most important thing in life is being healthy.
    For now i sleep as much as i can (i get very sleepy of the morfine), do my shoulder exercises, eat as good as i can, and accept life as it comes (and goes)> We’ve learned that everything is impermanent, so also this episode once will be history and i will be able to live without constant horrifying pains. It’s like falling into a big bunch of nettles, or the feeling that thousands of ants are walking just beneath your skin. But still i try to count my blessings every day and to gether at least three positive moments a day (by beautiful flower pots, a short walk in nature, the new Lion King film etc etc).

    So your new story was a good half an hour to distract me a bit, and put a smile on my face.
    Next time i hope to te able to write you more positive news from the Netherlands. with love and a big hug Marnie

    1. Priyanka Gupta August 3, 2019 at 9:32 am

      Marnie, dear, I am sorry to hear about what you are facing. I send you all the warmth and energy from my little corner in India, where I am now. Pain is impermanent. We know that. Yet pain in itself means discomfort, sometimes a lot of it. I hope you feel better with every second. What is happening to you sounds extremely painful, and I know you and your husband have all the strength in the world to handle it. When a woman of your age can climb mountains and dares to go on the top of the world, I am sure it is only time that she will come over this pain, too. Rest well. Sleep well. I will keep sending you new stories and you can read as many as you like.
      Sending you love and more love from this side. Thank you for reading and for this message. Hugs and kisses.