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An Introduction to 'Spiti' - The Surreal Land
Spiti is a desert mountain valley in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, rightly called as the Tibet of India. The name “Spiti” itself means “The middle land” and here quite surprisingly so, it is the land between Tibet and India and maybe that’s the very reason for it shares a very similar and intense Buddhist culture as to that found in Tibet. Spiti’s capital, Kaza is situated along the Spiti river at an elevation of about 12,500 feet from the sea level.
The scattered villages in this serrated moonscape arrive like mirages, clusters of whitewashed mud-brick homes huddled amid green barley fields below monasteries perched on crags a thousand feet above. The turquoise-grey ribbon of the Spiti River is your near-constant companion, running along a fairly broad valley before turning south into the precipitous gorges of the Hangrang Valley.
Spiti is quite rugged and remote but buses do run over the Kunzum La from Manali from mid-June to mid-October, and the road from Kinnaur is open all year (except for temporary closures for winter snowfall and monsoon landslides and floods). The Spiti–Kinnaur loop is one of Asia's great road trips, and a steady stream of motorcyclists, mountain bikers and drivers of all kinds of four-wheelers pit themselves against some of the most challenging roads in India.
Diving deep into the culture you'll find that Spiti not only has to exhibit but also to teach and embrace a lot of things. The place is also considered to be one of the most important research and debate centre for Buddhists.
Foreign, Nationals require Inner Line Permits to visit certain inner area of Kinnaur Distt. and Spiti of the Lahaul Spiti Distt. Bordering Tibet. The Permits are issued by SDM, Manali and SDM, Reckong Peo, Deputy Commissioner, Lahaul Spiti at Keylong and Deputy Commissioner, Kinnaur at Reckong Peo.
Travel Tips for Spiti
BEST TIME TO VISIT: June to early-October when roads are open.
GETTING THERE: By road via Manali or from the other side via Shimla and Kinnaur. Roads are closed in winters. You can takes buses, cabs or your own car.
LOCAL TRANSPORT: Limited options of buses and taxis.
ACCOMMODATION: Budget guest houses and home stays are available. You can also book yourself into the Key or Tabo monasteries with room rates as low.
PERMITS: Foreigners require Inner Line Permits.
Must Visit Places in Spiti
Situated at a height of 4551 m above mean sea level, Kunzum La or Kunzum Pass is the gate way to Spiti Valley. It is one of India’s highest motorable mountain pass located in Himachal Pradesh in North India. Kunzum pass separates Spiti and Lahaul Valley. Kunzum Pass is popular with tourists visiting Spiti. It offers spectacular views of Bara-Sigri glacier, the second longest glacier in the world. Also visible from the top of the pass are the Chandra-Bhaga rivers and the Spiti Valley.
Signs of Buddhist influence in and around Kunzum Pass, is visible in the form of chortens and prayer flags. Kunzum Devi Temple is also popular for those passing through Kunzum Pass. As per a local tradition, all vehicles stop at the temple to pay obeisance to the deity. Kunzum is also popular with trekkers and adventure seekers. The 12 km trek to Chandratal is very popular.
Lossar is the first village while entering in Spiti Valley from Kunzum Pass. Situated at high altitude near Spiti River it comes under the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India. The landscape and culture is quite similar to Tibet. People also dress up in Tibetan style and Buddhism culture is more prominent in Lossar. Spiti river, large spread meadows and surrounding glacial mountain range collectively gives Lossar a beautiful scenic location. It is for this reason trekking and jeep safari quite popular in Lossar. It is starting point for trek route to Chandra Tal.
The small Gompa in the village is quite sacred for the villagers and Buddhist monks. Every celebration in the village includes dance and music and even the monks and lamas also participate. The festivals attract a large number of tourists. Yak dance is quite popular in the region. The local population depend more on their handcrafts skills, tourism for their livelihood and less on agriculture. The time when the region is cut off from the country for six to eight months as Rohtang Pass is closed due to snow is used to make shawls, caps, woollen jackets, wooden crafts, and other art works. Pure pashmina shawls are in huge demand across the country.
The area is being developed as ecotourism destination.
CHANDRATAL LAKE - THE 'MOON LAKE'
Chandratal or Chandra Tal or Chandra Taal or Chander Taal or simply Moon Lake is a barren but beautiful lake located at a height of 14100 feet in Himachal Pradesh in northern India. It comes under Spiti and Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh and is situated at a distance of six km from Kumzum Pass.
The lake got its name because of its crescent shape. The sweet water lake is around 2.5 km wide. It is the source of Chandra River which merges with Bhaga River to form Chandrabhaga River and later assumes the identity of Chenab. The lake can be visited only during the three summer months. For the rest of the season, the lake remains cut off and frozen. The lake is normally blue but changes colour with the colour of the sky. Chandra Bhaga mountain range (CB Group) forms the perfect backdrop for the lake.
Though the place is barren and bereft of any human settlement, it is a famous camping site during summer. Travelers often get awestruck by the blue colour of the lake, bordered by wide carpet of green grass coupled with the pristine white of Chandra Bhaga mountain range.The best time to visit Chandratal is from June end to September end.
The biggest centre of Buddhist learning in Spiti Valley, Key Monastery or Key Gompa is over 1000-years-old. It is the oldest training centre for Lamas. It is located at a height of 13,668 feet above mean sea level in Lahaul Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India. Founded by Dromton, a famous disciple of teacher Atisha in the 11th century, the monastery used to house about 350 lamas at one time. The number of inmates at the monastery has come down.
Key Gompa, belongs to the Gelugpa sect also called the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Key is among the three monasteries of the Gelugpa sect in Spiti valley, the other being Tabo and Drangtse Monastery. In 2000, the Kalachakra ceremony was held at the monastery in the presence of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. Over 1500 lamas attended the ceremony. The monastery is famous for its architecture called Pasada style. Pasada style is characterised by two or more stories and often plays the role of a fort-monastery. The monastery is spread over three floors – underground, ground and first floor. Underground is mainly utilized for storage; ground floor is used as assembly hall, called Du-Khang. The ground floor also has small rooms for monks.
The rooms with murals called Tangyur is a must see. The monastery is known for its ancient murals, rare thangkas and ancient weapons. The images of Gautam Buddha in dhyana (meditation) position are a must see. The monastery also has a sizable collection of musical instruments like trumpets, cymbals and drums. The scenic landscape which forms the backdrop for Key Monastery is also a factor in the large number of tourists making a beeline for the remote monastery. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and glaciers, the beauty of the valley is breathtaking. The route to Key Monastery is also beautiful.
Koumik village is the highest village in Asia situated in Lahaul Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India. The population of the small village is about 114 but setting of the village surrounded with snowbound mountains is picturesque.
The village is also famous for Lundup Tsemo Gompa Buddhist Monastery and it is said that monastery has ‘Matrey Buddha’ or the future Buddha. This monastery is also famous for being highest motorable Buddhist monastery in the world.
The 14th century monastery has a fortified castle made up of slanted mud walls. The murals, scriptures and arts belonging to that era make it a historic destination. It is said that before the construction of the monastery it was already foretold in Tibet that the monastery would be built in a mountainous region in Spiti which would look quite similar in the shape of the eye of snow cock. The place was thus called Koumik – ‘Ko’ stands for Snow Cock and ‘Mic’ means eye.
Koumic is located in the cold desert area and for the locals their village is their world. Tourists visiting the village will be surprised to find the modern amenities that even the villages in other parts of the country enjoy, missing. But the breathtaking views and charming festivity is seen to be believed. Festivals are integral part of the village life and Koumic too has festivals which even the tourists enjoy. The Lama’s also take perform the Chham dance or mask dance which is based on defeating the evil. For adventure lovers the treks in the region provide all the thrill they are looking for.
The region is cut off from the rest of the country due to heavy snowfall. The local residents store enough food to last the winter season and use the time in making handicraft like carpet, shawls, cap, jackets, paintings etc. The clear skies offer a stunning view of the sky and star gazing is quite popular in the region. Carrying a telescope can be quite thrilling.
The capital of Spiti, Kaza sits on the eroded flood plain of the Spiti River and is the biggest settlement you’ll encounter in this empty corner of the planet. The sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti Valley, Kaza is an important administrative as well as a commercial centre. All hotels, market, main bus depot, hospitals and government offices are located here.It feels a bit like a small frontier town with an easygoing pace. Jagged mountains rise on either side while the river coils across the valley floor like twisted locks of Medusa’s hair.
The colourful new Sakya Gompa stands just above the main road in New Kaza , while the ramshackle bazaar and whitewashed buildings of Old Kaza spread out on the north side of the stream. The bus and taxi stands are at the bottom of the bazaar in Old Kaza. Most people stay at least one night to arrange the inner line permit for travel beyond Tabo. Kaza is also the starting point for trips to KyeGompa and the villages of Kibber, Langza and Hikkim and Komic, high on the east side of the valley.
Largest township in Lahaul & Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, Kaza boasts of high mountains with snowy crowns, crystal clear river and streams and barren splendour interspersed with patches of green. Known for their scenic splendour, Lahaul & Spiti Valleys have earned the sobriquet of Barren Splendour of Himachal Pradesh. Kaza’s mountainous terrain and pristine locales attracts visitors who want to indulge in adventurous activities. It is the base camp for trekking, mountaineering and other adventures.
Often referred as Ajanta of the Himalayas, Tabo Monastery is situated at the height of 10,007 feet in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India. It is one of the oldest Buddhist pilgrimage centres in the Trans-Himalayas region. Held in high regard by Tibetan Buddhists, Tabo is second in importance to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet. Spread over an area of 6300 sq mtr, the monastery comprises of nine temples and gompas.
The monastery is known for its murals and stucco sculptures carved on the wall just like Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra. The monasteries were founded in 996 AD by the great Tibetan Buddhist translator Rinchen Zangpo. An inscription to this effect can be found on the monastery wall. The monastery has several thangkhas, murals and statues. Paintings basically depict the culture and history of Himalayan Region. From the murals, one learns that the place was meeting point of two cultures, Tibetan and Indian cultures.
In the year 2000, in the presence of Dalai Lama, Kalchakara was celebrated where huge number of Buddhist monks and devotees from across the world.
Strategically built at highest location in Spiti Valley, Dhankar Monastery was once the capital of Spiti in 17th century. It is one of the five main Buddhist centres and tourist destinations in Spiti region.Centrally located in Spiti region, Dhankar Monastery offers panoramic view of the Spiti valley. It is situated in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in north India.
Remote and cut off from other parts of the country, modernization has bypassed Dhankar. Dhankar is situated at the confluence of Spiti and Pin Rivers. The seventh century Buddhist monastery is the second highest in the world after Ki Monastery and an important centre of Buddhist learning since the seventh century. The new monastery has been constructed at Shichilling Village and houses about 150 Lamas.
The monasteries belong to Gelugpa Order of Tibetan Buddhism. The statue of Vairochana or Meditating Buddha’s idol forms the centre of the monastery. Monastery has ancient murals, thankas, Buddhist scriptures that are worth seeing. Besides the Dhankar Monastery, there are several other tourist places to see. Dhankar is also popular with tourists. Just 2.5 km from the monastery, is the Dhankar lake which is surrounded by glacier mountains. Surrounded by mountains and due to its remote location, only trekkers prefer to go to the site.
PIN VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Situated in the cold desert area of Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, Pin Valley National Park is home for more than 20 species of animals and birds, including the endangered Snow leopard.
Constituted as a wildlife park in 1987, Pin Valley is located at altitude ranging from 11,500 feet to 20,000 feet in Spiti division of the district. Pin River flows through the base of the valley.The park’s core zone is stretched over 675 sq km and the buffer zone extends over 1150 sq km. Foreign nationals are not allowed inside the park. Indians have to take permit to enter the park.
Snow leopard is the most important resident of the park. There are about 12 of the big cat in the park. Besides snow leopard, Siberian ibex, bharal, weasel, red fox, marten are other animals that are the highlight of the park. It is home to birds like pika, snow cock, bearded vulture, chukor, golden eagle, griffon, Himalayan chough and raven.
Winter is the best time to see the animals when they migrate to the lower regions because of the cold weather. Pin Valley is also known for its floral wealth. The park boasts of over 400 plant species including medicinal herbs. It is famous for two rare species of plants called Juniper and Birch. The park’s alpine pasture lands are another highlight.
The park is also popular with trekkers who come to see the natural beauty and the wildlife of the park. As many as 17 villages with a population of 1600 are located at the periphery of the park. Locals of Pin Valley, like the rest of Spiti, follow Tibetan Buddhism. The religious and cultural beliefs of the locals have helped in protecting the wildlife of Pin Valley.
Travel Tips For Pin Valley National Park
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Mid May to September is the best time to visit Pin Valley. If your aim is to see the fauna then the right time is April, May, November and early December. For fauna, July and August is the rig
WHERE TO STAY
There are no options to stay in the park. Camping is allowed at Mud Farka. Generally tourists opt to stay at Kaza and visit Pin Valley during the day.
WHERE TO EAT
There are no options to eat in Pin Valley. Carrying your own food stock would be a good idea.
Isn't there something about the serenity of the mountains that makes one feel alive ?