Spiti Valley: 9 Things to Know Before You Go.

By Shivya Nath.

Dhankar lake Spiti, spiti, Spiti valley

Ladakh's lesser-known neighbor, the cold mountain desert of Spiti, is for travellers who dare to drift from the tourist trails. Spiti's postcard villages remain remotely tucked away in the lap of the mighty, barren Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, and it is here that you can hike along Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf habitats, visit monasteries dating back over a 1000 years, sample a fascinating culture and cuisine different from the rest of India, and meet the kindest of people who live the harshest of lives. This is a world within a world, as Rudyard Kipling once described it. 




When you decide to make your journey to Spiti, these are things you should know before you go:

1. WEATHER IN SPITI AND WHEN TO GO  

Spiti remains practically cut off from the rest of India for 6 months of the year. Thick Himalayan snow blocks the mountain passes, making it almost impossible for road transport to pass through, even on the Shimla-Kinnaur route. The summer months from late May to late September are therefore the best time to visit Spiti. As the weather warms up, the snow slowly melts and gets cleared away to open up road travel to the valley.

With only 250 days of sunshine in a year, winter in Spiti is a harsh affair. Temperatures on average drop to -30 degrees Celsius, and the lack of any modern form of heating means most families cuddle together in a single room in the house and keep warm around wood fire. To survive the harsh conditions, the Spitian people celebrate festivals and most family affairs (birthdays, weddings) in the winter months, stocking up on food and local alcohol; the winter months are privy to Spiti's unique and introspective culture, though survivable only by extreme adventurers!


Spiti valley, Spiti, Spiti valley pictures
Demul village in Spiti. Photo by Umesh Nanawarre.

2. HOW TO REACH SPITI


There are 2 road routes leading up to the Trans-Himalayas of Spiti; one from Shimla via the Kinnaur valley, and the other from Manali. The former takes a minimum of 2 days, with a night's halt in Kalpa or Reckong Peo, and though longer, gives more time to gradually acclimatize to the altitude. The latter takes 12-14 hours, depending on road conditions. 


Spiti valley, Spiti, Spiti valley pictures, Spiti how to reach
Crazy things our travellers do on the precarious mountain roads from Kinnaur to Spiti. Photo by Vandhana Mohanraj.


3. WHAT TO PACK


As a cold mountain desert, the weather in Spiti is almost confusing! The sun's rays are harsh enough to burn your skin, while shaded areas remain cool enough to wear a jacket. It's best to pack clothes in layers, and carry full-sleeve T-shirts, sun hats, sun glasses and any other sun protection you can find. Good walking shoes are a must.

4.  GOING INDEPENDENTLY OR IN A GROUP


Whether you travel by yourself or join a group trip is a personal decision. The villages of Spiti, though remote, are home to some of the kindest, friendliest people in India, and very welcoming of solo travellers. You do need a heart for adventure though - from the precarious journeys on rickety state buses, to hitchhiking with strangers, to travelling without a plan (most guesthouses or homestays can't be pre-booked online). Alternatively, you can join one of India Untravelled's group trips to Spiti, designed in collaboration with a local organization with varying degrees of adventure, hiking, culture and sightseeing, planned such that your carbon footprint in this ecologically sensitive region remains low.


Dhankar lake Spiti, spiti, Spiti valley
Dhankar Lake. Would you have it all to yourself or share the view with fellow travellers? Photo by Kushagra Singhal.


5. GETTING PERMITS


Indian identity holders going to Spiti, from Shimla or Manali, do not require permits to enter Spiti. Foreign identity holders entering Spiti via the Kinnaur route from Shimla require inner-line permits, since this route takes you very close to the Tibetan border. Permits can be obtained at Reckong Peo near Kalpa, and take upto a few hours to be issued.

6. CONNECTIVITY


Only BSNL Sim cards obtained in Himachal Pradesh work in Spiti, and that too only in Kaza (Spiti's administrative capital) and some of the lower villages. There is a single cyber cafe in Kaza, that draws on the army satellite to offer an internet connection whose speed reminds you of the dial-up days! 


Spiti valley, Spiti, Spiti pictures
Remotely tucked away, the villages of Spiti. Photo by Piyush Patni.


7. ACCLIMATIZATION AND FITNESS


The high altitude of Spiti (3300-5000 meters) needs considerable acclimatization for every traveller, whether or not it's your first time to such an altitude. It's best to make your journey up slowly, either via Shimla, halting halfway in Kinnaur, or by spending the previous night in Manali on the route via Rohtang Pass. Those with lung or heart conditions, or known breathing problems, are advised to consult their doctor before journeying up to the valley.

8. HOMESTAYS IN SPITI


Some Spitian families, in the higher, more remote villages, have opened up their homes and hearts to travellers, with the help of Ecosphere, a social enterprise that works on the sustainable development of the region. Though basic, Spitian homes are roomy and spacious, with the mighty Himalayas in their balcony! The Spitian toilets are dry and de-composting in nature; you have to squat over a hole in the ground, and throw hay through it once you're done with your business. It decomposes naturally and is used as manure.  


Spiti homestay, Spiti people, Spiti culture, Spiti valley
Joining the local family at a homestay to make momos! Photo by Mansee Shah.


9) MONEY MATTERS


You'll find an ATM or two in Kaza, but their functioning is often erratic, so it's advisable to carry enough cash from Manali / Shimla. There are no money exchangers in Spiti.


Have you travelled to Spiti? What would you add to this list?


AUTHOR BIO: Awarded India's Best Travel Blogger at the Indian Blogger Awards 2013, Shivya is a digital nomad who quit her corporate job at age 23 to travel the world. She co-founded India Untravelled with an aim to help travellers make more responsible travel choices, and experience India away from the tourist trail. She blogs at The Shooting Star, tweets @shivya, and can be reached at shivya@indiauntravelled.com.

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Check out India Untravelled's upcoming summer trips to Spiti.


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8 comments:

  1. Intriguing and detailed trip venture.

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  2. I really like this place and hiking is my hobby. I always make sure I've packed everything before setting off - the food, clothes, etc. Thanks for mentioning that here. I agree - it's best to pack clothes in layers, and carry full-sleeve T-shirts, sun hats and sun glasses. Not too much stuff, but just enough not to carry too much.

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  3. Thanks Arvind. Planning to go soon then?

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  4. It's a fine art, Agness, to pack just enough but not too much. Sounds like you've mastered it! If you'd like to share your tips with us, email us at blog@indiauntravelled.com :)

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  5. loved the detailing. Awesome

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  6. India Untravelled, how do I get in touch with you. I am a solo traveller, travelling Spiti valley in first week of August. Please advise.

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  7. Hi Shivya,

    I am travelling solo to Spiti in September. Can you please help me out on a few things?

    1. I am taking a bus from Shimla to Reckong Peo to Kaza. Is this okai and safe? Or should I take a taxi?
    2. What kind of shoes should I take for Spiti? Any suggestions?

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  8. hi any one planning a trip to spiti in second week of october ??? how will be the weather

    ReplyDelete

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