A drive from the capital of Himachal Pradesh with pit stops at Kinnaur and culminating at Spiti is one of the most exhilarating road trips one can take. The last Indian village, the over-arching mountains, the buckwheat fields makes Kinnaur a paradise for the nature lovers. With pristine lakes and some of the worlds’ highest inhabited villages, Spiti leaves you with picture-postcard memories of barren desert and precariously perched monasteries set against a backdrop of clear blue skies. Sparse population and awesome trekking opportunities offer a feeling of unexplored remoteness in an area yet untouched by tourism. At incredible altitudes with stunning landscape, often compared to Ladakh before tourists took over, Spiti makes a fantastic road-trip destination. Let's un[travel] Spiti and witness some of its remotest villages, valleys, national parks monasteries and a crescent shaped lake.
Chandigarh to Narkanda
Set off after an early breakfast for a 2-1/2 hour drive to charming Narkanda, a world away from the maddening crowds of Shimla. Higher reaches, plentiful summer sunshine or vibrant white winters in abundant apple orchards. Stunningly beautiful, Narkanda offers superb angling and winter sports as well. ‘The’ skiing destination of the district, Narkanda attracts a considerable number of tourists in winter as well.
The absence of Shimla’s tourism chaos and unhindered vistas of the Himalayas gives you some much-needed solitude. Un[travel] your way through stunningly beautiful landscapes for scenic views that last a lifetime here in Narkanda.
Head out for a peaceful evening stroll before you spend the night here in this pleasant mountain town.
Narkanda to Sangla (160 kms/7-8 hrs)
Begin the scenic drive to Sangla after breakfast. Stunningly beautiful throughout the year, the road to Sangla is certainly paved with good intentions. Loose rocky terrain makes most of the drive to Sangla seem like an adventure in itself with gorgeous apple orchards and seemingly ‘hanging’ villages on the other side of the gorge. The valley’s largest inhabited settlement, Sangla has interesting Tibetian eateries and an ATM, but a taste of Sangla’s renowned potatoes is a must (the area grows some of the best-quality potatoes in the world).
Spend some time at your hotel after lunch or hike up the fascinating trail to the last village of Chitkul at the Indo-Tibetan border. A short walk away is the fascinating Kamru Fort with the Kamakhya Devi Shrine. The perfect blend of history and tradition, old forts and ancient Tibetan wood carving make for much of the architecture here.
Warm welcomes are a part of the charming culture of these lovely Kinnauri-speaking locals.With tourism being an integral source of income here, feel at home as you walk through the valley before you head back to the hotel for a hot dinner. Spend the night at Sangla.
Sangla to Kalpa via Chitkul (100 kms/4hrs)
Start your day at with a drive to the last Indian village before the Tibet border. Chitkul is famous for its natural beauty and quaint architecture with spectacular views of the Baspa valley and quaint wooden houses. Renowned for its, rather expensive, potatoes, Chitkul is surrounded by lovely golden buckwheat that is covered with snow for a good 6 months (October to February). With a little over 600 inhabitants here, Chitkul has some very friendly locals who are always happy to interact with visitors. Get to know a little more about life in this high-altitude border village - the culture, traditions, hardships and the simple joys that make it all worthwhile. Anauthentic local lunch later, move on to Kalpa.
Kinnaur district’s finest, Kalpa is a stunning little valley town surrounded by snowy peaks of the Kailash range. Watch the sun go down beyond the Himalayas before you hit the sack early enough to catch the next day’s sunrise.
Kalpa to Tabo Via Nako (170 kms/9 hrs)
Wake up for the spectacular sunrise and early breakfast before setting off to Tabo.
Lush greenery fades off into patches of barren desert as you head to Nako.Visit the lake at Nako as it mirrors giant peaks around. After lunch and little walk about, carry on to Tabo.
Gently fluttering prayer flags against a backdrop of green farmland (in summer), surrounded by barren mountains and clear blue skies, mark the entrance to Tabo. Over a1000 years old, Tabo Monastery is now a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the finest marvels of Indo-Tibetian art. Temple complexes of sturdy mud walls mark the uniqueness of Tabo Monastery complete with impressive murals inside. A short hike to Tabo caves is a must for the aura of peace that surrounds these meditation grounds as well.
Spend your evening in peaceful serenity here at Tabo.
Tabo to Pin Valley via Dhankar (70 kms/4 hrs)
Post breakfast, drive to the headquarters of Spiti, Kaza. Stop at Dhankar, precariously perched on a rugged cliff, seemingly fragile from a distance. Getting closer, however, gives you a fair idea of why so much effort must have been spent building this monastery over a thousand years ago. Spectacular views of the Spiti-Pin river confluence and the valley below leave meditation spots like none other here in this mud-walled hermitage.
Take a quick look at the little museum in the Gompa here before you spend some time in conversation with the lamas for more history and lore of the Dhankar Monastery. Most of these monasteries prohibit photography inside, so you might want to capture some of those fascinating scenes before you get in. Head over to Pin valley after lunch.
Spiti’s largest green area, Pin Valley, is surrounded by barren landscape and towering unexplored mountains. Drive through narrow rocky tarmac as you enter nature’s impressive contrasts of lush green pastures set against snow-capped mountains and clear blue skies. Quaint little villages dot the scenery here with the meandering Pin river literally providing still life scenes for picture postcards. With fascinating Tibetan culture visible throughout the valley, this area is renowned as home to the last surviving Buchen Lamas from Buddhism’s oldest Nyingmapa Sect. Drop in at Kungri monastery in Sangam to visit the mystic lamas, and if you’re lucky enough to be visiting at the right time, you just might witness the ‘Buchen lama dance’ that drives evil out of village homes. Spend some time at the last village at the end of the valley, Mudh, where green fields, glaciers and waterfalls dominate the landscape. Lasting impressions of stunning landscape with the myriad hues of a fascinating locale – Pin Valley leaves you with memories for a lifetime.
Spend the night in Pin Valley.
Pin Valley to Kye and Kibber to Kaza (80 kms/4 hrs)
En route to Kibber village from Kaza after breakfast, fascinatingly perched on a rugged ridge overlooking the Spitiriver,Kye monastery is Spiti Valley’s biggest monastery. Easily the most photographed, it is home to over 300 lamas. Dating back to nearly 1000 AD (second only to Tabo Monastery in age), butter lamps lit every evening add to the aura of peace and tranquillity as you walk past ancient murals and paintings. You could get a glimpse of the bed the Dalai Lama used to use on his visits here (he now stays in the new prayer hall in the monastery). Photography is allowed only on the roof of the monastery, so get a couple of good pictures before you step in.
Move on until quaint white houses with bright red rooftops start appearing in the horizon, marking your welcome to Kibber village. At over 4200 metres above msl, Kibber is one of Spiti’s highest inhabited villages with inhabitants all the year around. Expect a fair share of homestays in Kibber where tourism does help the local community along with agriculture in some of Spiti’s most fertile lands. Delve deeper into the rich culture and history of people in this charming village as you sit down for some hot lunch with them.
Take a walk about in lush green environs a world away from everyday life before you head back to Kaza.
Spend the night in Kaza.
Set off after breakfast through barren mountains set against bright blue skies with patches of lovely green farmland in summer. Your first stop, at some of the highest inhabited villages in the world, is Langza. Renowned for its unbeatable location, Langza offers some of Spiti’s finest views with unclaimed fossils lying around its outskirts. Spectacular views of the ChauChau Kang Nilda peak at 4400 metres above mean sea level with isolated slopes make Langza the destination of choice. Think twice if you want to displace those ancient fossils if you do find one though.
Stop for a moment in Hikkim for a cuppa with the postmaster of the highest post office in the world. Don’t forget to post a couple of postcards before you head on to Komic.
Appearing, seemingly out of nowhere, Komic is the Himalaya’s highest inhabited village. With a little over a dozen households, expect to be greeted with cups of hot tea from the lovely families who live here. Sitting pretty at 4587 metres above mean sea level, Komic offers stunning vistas from its ancient monastery as well.
Spend some time with the locals here and learn more about their folklore and culture as well. Treat your taste buds to some authentic hot lunch here before you drive back to Kaza.
Kaza to Chandrataal via Losar
At 4551 metres, Kunzum Pass is the main access to Spiti Valley from Lahaul. Begin your day early as you start your day-trip to Chandrataal Lake. Stop at Losar, on the Indian border with China, with spectacular views of flowering valley in summer surrounded by barren mountains. A little over 3 hours, on some tricky rocky roads, would take you to Kunzum Pass. Drive down from the towering Pass to the surreal Chandrataal Lake. Spend some time by the ‘moon lake’, as its popularly known, and watch it turn different shades of turquoise blue as the morning progresses. Take a walk around the periphery for some fascinating photograph opportunities and memories for a lifetime. Apparently the site where Yudishtra (eldest Pandava from the Mahabharata) was taken to heaven, Chandrataal is surrounded by legends and folklore about its origins. Go around to and from the mesmerising lake, while interacting with the locals who will tell you some fascinating stories about the lake.
Take a stroll around in the evening watching the evening get older with shades of red and yellow and orange lighting up the sky.
Spend the night in a camp here at Chandrataal.
Chandrataal to Manali
Drive back to Manali, after lunch, for your last day up in the mountains. Drop in at Bob Dylan’s café in the heart of Manali for some lip-smacking cookies and healthy dose of Dylan’s music or visit Old Manali for some old-world charm as you escape the bustling crowd of Mall Road.
Manali to Chandigarh
Leave for Chandigarh after breakfast.
Head back home with heavier luggage perhaps, but memories for a lifetime.