Ever since I have realized my love for the mountains, I look for opportunities to escape from the madness of city life. And for this reason, I along with my friend, planned a trip to Spiti Valley– the oh-so-beautiful tourist destination in Himachal Pradesh which of course has been and is still on every traveller’s bucket list in India. Nestled between India and Tibet, the cold deserted, landlocked mountain valley has a unique vibe that made me almost speechless. To put it simply, Spiti is not just a place, it is a feeling. With this, I am here to share my travel experience of visiting Spiti Valley, which is a complete world in itself. I don’t know if I would be able to do justice to this hill station, as it is a bit difficult to compile all the experiences, feelings and share the journey in words. But, I will try my level best.
Before I start, here are the incredible places that we visited during our trip:
Well, there are two ways to reach Spiti Valley; you can either go via Shimla-Kinnaur route or take the shorter route i.e., via Manali. We chose to travel to Spiti taking the shorter route. With our hearts filled with excitement, we boarded an overnight HRTC bus on 9th August 2019 from ISBT Kashmir Gate around 10:30 PM. Next day, upon reaching Manali somewhere around 2:00 PM., we enquired about the bus timings for Kaza which departs every morning at 6:00 AM from the old bus stand of Manali. Once we were done with the enquiry, we began searching for a hotel for an overnight stay in Manali. There are a number of places to stay both in Old and New Manali. The accommodation options in Old Manali are much better in terms of ambience. So, we ended up booking our stay with Eagle Guest House in Old Manali at INR 500/- per day cost. The rooms of the hotel offer a clear view of apple orchards which is no less than a treat to the eyes. After relaxing for a while, we visited Beas River, went for a stroll in the market area and had dinner. After all this, we returned back to our hotel for a good night sleep as we had to wake up early the next morning for our Spiti Valley expedition.
As it is the only bus leaving for Kaza, it becomes a bit difficult to catch the bus. Locals along with the tourists wait for the bus to travel to Kaza, which means you would find a huge rush. Somehow we managed to get inside the bus and find a seat for ourselves for the journey ahead of around 8-9 hours. Adding to this, the bus fare from Manali to Kaza is INR 400/- per person, but we had to get down at Batal (to head to Chandratal Lake Campsite the very same day) so they charged us INR 200/- per person.
Well, the road condition from Manali to Kaza was quite bad and delays are often caused. However, taking this road is unavoidable for reaching Kaza. Even though it was a hectic journey, but looking outside the window of the bus surely gave a visual feast.
Every day around 1:30-2:30 PM., the bus arrives for lunch at the ‘Chandra Dhaba’ most commonly known as ‘Chacha Chachi Dhaba’ in Spiti’s Batal District, and then after half an hour, moves ahead towards Kaza. We could have stayed at Batal (accommodation options are available at a cheaper budget) and the next day either hitchhiked or trekked to Chandratal Lake, but as we already had the pre-booking at the Moonlake Camps done with Wandertrails, we decided to leave for the campsite the very same day. We booked the camp for a night which charged us INR 1500/- per person, including snacks, dinner and breakfast.
The distance from Batal to Chandratal Campsite is approx 10 km which means one can either hitchhike or trek to the campground. But we were lucky as we met a biker group from Faridabad at the Chacha Chachi Dhaba who were humble enough to offer us help. They asked us to take one of their bikes to reach Chandratal Lake Campsite. They told us, they would be staying at Batal and the next morning would meet us at Chandratal Lake. So, we kick-started the bike, drove for around 35-40 minutes and reached the campsite. The bike ride up to Chandratal Lake campsite has given me the experience of a lifetime. The landscape, Oh! The view it offers is truly commendable.
Upon reaching our camp, we relaxed for a while, felt the coziness by sitting near the bonfire and helped ourselves with tea and biscuits. As there is no electricity and network connectivity, so this was the perfect time to admire and embrace nature.
So the campsite is somewhere around 2-3 km from Chandratal Lake, one can easily indulge in a short hike up to the tourism attraction. But in our case, we were a bit unfortunate as the very next morning we suffered from Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) and had to hitchhike and reach Chandratal Lake. The roads to the lake are adventurous and nature is just surreal.
Also called ‘Moon Lake’ or ‘Lake of the Moon’, Chandratal Lake is a freshwater alpine lake enclosed by Chadrabhaga and Kunzum Ranges of the Himalayas. The awe-inspiring beauty of the lake and the surrounding areas has consumed my heart and mind. Enclosed by arid mountains and a little greenery, this crescent-shaped, high altitude glacial lake literally gave me goosebumps and had left me spellbound. Sitting at the edge of the lake, I felt magical energy that was soul-soothing. I truly don’t know if it was the air or the colourful Buddhist prayer flags, but I felt a need to stay calm and quiet, relish the beauty of my surroundings and be thankful for life.
Well, words can’t do justice to the impressive beauty of Chandratal Lake. One needs to visit the place to experience and witness the true wonders of Mother nature. Once you are there, the place will compel you to either stay back or visit again repeatedly.
Popular amongst both domestic as well as international tourists, Chandratal Lake is one of the best spots for adventurous activities like trekking and camping. As camping near the lake is not possible anymore, there are a number of camps for accommodation near Chandratal Lake which are located about 2-3 km from the lake (as already mentioned above.)
So, after spending my time at the Chandratal Lake, it was now time to bid adieu to the place and return back to Batal to board the bus for Kaza. We hitchhiked from Chandratal Lake to Batal and we were there by 1:00 PM. The Manali to Kaza bus was already at Batal for lunch break. We spoke to the conductor and somehow managed to get inside the bus for our onward journey to Kaza by 2:30 PM.
After 4-hour long journey in the bus, we finally reached Kaza by 6:30 PM. and it was drizzling which didn’t last for too long. For this night, we had our booking at the Old Circuit House, which is located in the Kaza Market. Later the caretaker transferred us to the New Circuit House which is at the outskirts of Kaza. The Circuit House charged us INR 560/- per day (which was quite in budget).
After keeping our bags and other essentials, we went for a stroll in Kaza Market. As we were walking by, we came across a number of fascinating cafes which grabbed my attention. The must-visits are ‘The Himalayan Cafe’ and ‘Cafe Zomsa’ in the main Kaza Market. The interior of both the cafes are ah-mazing, the former one is quirky and the latter has a cozy set up along with the live music. The market closes around 9:00 PM., so we quickly had our dinner and were back to the Old Circuit House for a peaceful sleep.
Note: Finding accommodation in Kaza is not at all a difficult task as there are a number of homestays that wouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket. Also, there is Zostel Spiti and other luxury places to stay that you may choose from.
Kaza acts as the centre point to the nearby sightseeing places and other points of interest. Renting a bike/bullet or an activa to explore these places is an ideal choice. So, we decided to do the same and rented an activa at INR 1200/- per day cost for visiting Key Monastery, Kibber and Chicham Bridge. We also rented a bullet at INR 1500/- per day cost for visiting Komic, Langza and Hikkim. Of course, I didn’t ride the bullet, my friend did, and I was the one sitting behind and clicking all the pictures and shooting videos.
Note: There are three points from where you can rent a bike in Kaza, one of them is Spiti Outdoors. The rent of bikes/bullets and activa might vary, but usually, it ranges from 1000/- to 1500/- per day cost. Also, you can book a taxi that would charge you 1300-/ day for exploring Key Monastery, Kibber and Chicham Bridge. And if you are willing to visit these places along with Hikkim, Langza and Komic in one day, then you can book the taxi at 3000/- per day cost.
As I have already mentioned above, for day 1 we rented an activa to visit the three places i.e., Key Monastery, Kibber Village and Chicham Bridge. Reason for renting an activa for visiting these points is, roads are smooth, well-built and are located at a shorter distance from Kaza. Well, this was our choice, if you feel like renting a bike or a bullet, you can!
Located at a distance of approx 14 km from Kaza, Key Monastery or Key Gompa is said to be the largest monastery in Spiti Valley. This day, I was finally at the much-celebrated attraction and the picture of what I have been looking at while doing research on Spiti Valley. Even though I have visited a number of monasteries, but this was the most spectacular thing I have seen. Stepping inside the monastery, I didn’t want to do anything, but just sit at a place and feel the silence and peace that was there in the air. Every temple that you visit inside the monastery will fill you with sanctity and trust me, you wouldn’t feel like leaving the place. The walls of the temples here are covered with beautiful murals and paintings that best depict the 14th-century monastic architecture holding a significant Chinese influence. After exploring the entire monastery, a special butter tea was served to us by one of the monks.
Note: Key monastery also provides an accommodation facility. So you can get a room along with three meals (lunch, dinner and breakfast) at INR 250/- per day cost. What could be a much better way to enjoy the spirituality of the Gompa and live with the monks to get a unique experience in the hills?
After exploring Key Monastery, we departed for Kibber Village which is the most silent village with pre-historic houses that I came across. Literally, I didn’t find anybody in the village except the ones who were running the cafes. Kibber Village actually lies in the Wildlife Sanctuary which means you will be welcomed by a gate that has Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary written on it. As you enter the village you wouldn’t find any dedicated land for the animals, as the entire village is a sanctuary.
If you happen to visit Spiti Valley in winters and head to this village, there are sure shot chances of getting your eyes on the Snow Leopard with other wild animals, including blue sheep, ibex and more.
Chicham Bridge is located at a very short distance from Kibber and was constructed to connect Chicham Village with Kibber Village. One can even walk to the Chicham Bridge from Kibber Village. We didn’t spend much time at the bridge as it was getting dark and we had to return back to Kaza.
On our return to Kaza, we went for dinner in the market and back to New Circuit House (we were transferred here in the morning).
This day we rented a bullet and decided to straightaway ride up to the world’s highest motorable village Komic (4,587 Meters and approx 18 km from Kaza) and visit other places while returning back to Kaza. The weather was amazing and we enjoyed the scenic view of all around and the prehistoric structures. However, the roads are pitted and bumpy, but a little adventure is what we were seeking, so we enjoyed it.
After 1-hour of the ride, we reached Komic and witnessed the World’s Highest Restaurant, sat and relaxed for a while admiring the beauty of this remote place in the Indian Himalayas.
Apart from the restaurant, the other attraction of Komic is Tangyud Monastery, one of the highest altitude Gompas in India which looks no less than a fortified castle.
Note: The accommodation options in Komic is limited and you would find only a handful of homestays.
While scrolling down my Instagram feed (before visiting Spiti Valley), I came across the beautiful pictures of the magnificent statue of Lord Budha a number of times. So, leaving Komic and heading to Langza, I was so excited as I was going to be standing right in front of this grand statue of Lord Buddha, sitting in the lap of the mighty Himalayas. I sat there for some time and gazed at the beauty which is a sight to behold. In addition to this, Langza is also known as the fossil village of Spiti and you would find people selling fossils of marine creatures and plants in a large number. After exploring Langza, we had a cup of black tea at a small cafe nearby and made our move to Hikkim.
Right after Langza, we visited Hikkim for yet another most Instagrammed picture i.e. World’s Highest Post Office (4,400 Meters) and obviously this is what Hikkim is popular for. Also, there is a cafe, where you can take some refreshment. We had Maggi and a cup of tea. So, if you are there do not forget to get your own postcards, stamp them and send them to your near and dear ones. You need to walk down a little from the cafe to reach the post office. Once done with clicking pictures of the World’s Highest Post Office, we drove down back to Kaza.
On returning, we were able to see a lovely aerial view of Kaza. Also, while entering Kaza gate, I came across the iconic heart of Spiti- ‘I LOVE SPITI’ which promotes- ‘No To Plastic’. The entire piece is made of discarded plastic bottles and wrappers gathered from across Kaza. The brilliant artwork was an initiative taken by Spiti Ecosphere. If you are in Spiti and want to be a part of this kind ‘No To Plastic’ campaign, then volunteer with Spiti Ecosphere to help accomplish more such objectives.
We stopped at places to click pictures and soon reached Kaza. We handed over the bullet and had dinner at Cafe Zomsa. We had to wake up early the next day to catch the bus for Shimla that departs at 7:00 AM. The journey from Kaza to Shimla was tiring, but again, it was a part of the adventure. After reaching Shimla, the entire day we rested and at night boarded the bus for Delhi at 10:30 PM.
Note: The bus from Kaza to Shimla isn’t a direct one. After reaching Reckong Peo, you need to wait for an hour or so, to catch another bus for Shimla. You can even board a bus to Manali which departs from Kaza at 4:00 AM.
Leaving the place after 6 days was very difficult. I don’t want to sound overdramatic, but honestly, I felt like crying as I didn’t want to leave the place. It was one of the most beautiful and memorable journeys and I still miss those days and nights spent in Spiti Valley. The splendid serenity and stunning beauty of the mountains will remain etched on my heart forever until we meet again.
If you too have a zeal to explore such remote arid mountains, then you should visit Spiti Valley at least once in a lifetime. The Higher you go, the Happier you will be!
Spiti Valley appears to be beautiful all throughout the year. However, the best time to visit is between June and September. In addition to this, it depends on what you would like to see when on a trip to Spiti. If it is the yellow and purple flowers along with a bit of greenery then plan a trip between June and September. For seeing Spiti Valley covered with a thick sheet of snow, then consider visiting between December and March.