Spiti - A Difficult Valley
Panorama of SpitiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lahaul & Spiti is one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. The people of the area still follow the age-old traditions. Everything in the region is strange and exquisite and the entire valley is not less than a miracle. Every tourist coming to the place from the outside world becomes wonder-struck to see several ancient and centuries-old things in the valley in their preserved form. The history and the time seem to be held at a fixed point in the valley where they were centuries ago.
The Lahaul & Spiti region is also known as “A Little Tibet", as it has a similar terrain, vegetation, climate, topography, and culture like that of Tibet. The local people pronounce the word Spiti as Piti which means, the middle country, and the valley also lies between Tibet, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul, and Kullu in the Great Himalayan region.
Spiti is the remotest and the sparsely populated picturesque valley with little natural resources. The spectacular Pin Valley National Park is botanical. zoological, geological and archaeological museum.
The rich cultural heritage and spiritual appeal of the Himalayan Buddhism have always drawn wanderers and Western explorers towards it. The roots of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism could be traced to these high mountain ranges. The religion has shaped the political and economic facets of the valley.
The incredibly located ancient monasteries in the entire valley are the homes to the few surviving Buchen Lamas, belonging to the Buddhist Nyingmapa sect of Tibet. These enormous architectural marvels are the result of the age-old prevalence of religious and monastic traditions. They hold the treasures, secrets, and wisdom of ancient civilizations. Such marvelous and fascinating monasteries perched precariously on steep cliffs display the indigenous culture.
This virgin region is surrounded on all sides by the soaring snow-covered summits. The mountains devoid of any vegetation look like the valleys of the Moon because the peaks of the valley have become bare due to soil erosion caused by wind, sun, and snow. The formations of plunging gorges and towering ridges expose each layer of the ancient rocks thrust from the deep ocean, to form the roof of the world. The mountain slopes have been swept down to the riverbeds and the deep blue sky seems to be pierced by the pointed cliffs.
Things have hardly changed for over a century, since Rudyard Kipling in his novel "Kim", termed Spiti as “a place where God lives: and "a world within a world", or - a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains.
The flora of the region has been divided into three zones namely- dry temperate, alpine zone and zone of perpetual snow.
Spiti is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayan Mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in India. The Spiti valley lies between the latitude 31° 45’‐32° 20’ and longitude 78° 00’‐ 78° 30’. It has two parts, the eastern and western ones, the former is connected with Ladakh & Tibet, while the latter with Kinnaur and Kullu through high mountain passes.
In the close neighborhood of Tibet, it runs parallel to the border. Towards South of Spiti is situated the beautiful valley of Kullu across Rohtang Pass at 3,979 meters and the Bara Bangahal of Kangra district across the Asakh pass at 5051 meters. The Rohtang pass separates the Lahaul & Spiti from the Kullu valley.
Towards West, it touches the boundaries of Pangi and Churah areas of Chamba district.
The eastern and southeastern boundaries touch Kalpa and the western Tibet across Kanzum La, where La means mountain pass in the local language.
The word Lho-Yul, or Lahoul means the southern country, as it is in the south of Ladakh. Towards north are the valleys of Zanskar and Ladakh across the passes of Shingola at 5090 meters and the Baralacha la at 5450 meters respectively.
The Spiti valley has vibrant, unparalleled and breathtaking landscapes. Every day the ever-changing hues of the barren mountains and their play with the sun and floating clouds provide a captivating spectacle. The surreal panorama complete with a quietly flowing Spiti is marvelous.
The Spiti valley is often confused with the Lahaul valley, while the real beauty of the region begins beyond Kunzum Pass. The journey of the area towards Losar Kaza and Tabo in Spiti valley and then the trail ahead to the region towards Nako in Kinnaur district is an experience in itself. The Pin Valley, Kaza, Tabo, Keylong, Zanskar etc are known for their heavenly beauty.
The life and culture of Spiti are diverse and even up to even up to seven dialects are spoken by the people of the same valley. A new language is found almost in every region. This is due to the reason that for centuries these remote valleys remained isolated from each other, which developed and preserved their distinct culture.
Their language is a dialect of Tibet, because of more than thousand years ago. the people adopted Bhoti as their language and Buddhism as a religion,
A certain amount of acclimatization is required before entering the Spiti valley. Because the mountain sickness due to high altitude occurs in the valley, as the place lies in Trans Himalayan region at an altitude of more than 11000 feet.
The altitude gradually increases from the Shimla route and the body gets properly acclimatized, without being hit by acute mountain sickness. On the other hand, the high altitude from Manali route comes quickly and the chances of mountain sickness increase.
Tibet is the next door neighbor and ethnological cousin of the Spiti valley, which is strategically located in the trans-Himalayan region. The entire area is surrounded by enormous mountain ranges traversed by the main Himalayas. The drainage of the Northern waste of the river Tsarab runs into the Indus, while that of the main Spiti valley goes into Sutlej.
The mountain ranges of Spiti, have an average elevation of 18,000 feet and they are somewhat higher than Lahaul. They are some two thousand feet higher than the Chandra and Bhaga valleys of Lahaul. The minimum elevation of Tsarub is 14,000 feet, while the lowest parts of Spiti lie at 11,000 feet or more.
When and How to Visit Spiti
The best time to visit this picturesque valley is in summer, while the ancient monasteries should be explored in October. Because the road at Rohtang Pass remains cut off from the outside world from mid-November to mid- May.
Further, the road between Lahaul to Spiti also remains closed from November to June due to the closure of Kunzam Pass, though Spiti is almost an all-weather place.
Another route from Shimla through NH 22 or the Hindustan- Tibet Road, is quite near the India-Tibet border and is one of the most adventurous or the deadliest roads of the world. The Spiti valley begins from Sumdo, which is 74 km from Kaza. The road goes through Reckong Peo, Sumdo, Kaza and Kunzam pass. It leads to Sumdo via the Hangrang valley that remains open up to Kaza for about 9 months. Kaza is 412 Km. from Shimla.
On the other hand, the Leh- Tanglangla – Baralacha la – Keylong route is an all-weather road.
Inner Line Permit
The Spiti valley was opened to foreign tourists in 1992, but a travel permit is needed to visit the area, as it is close to the Indian- Tibet border. This inner line permit is required to enter the valley through Kinnaur. Only the foreign visitors need the permit, while a valid identity proof is required from Indian nationals.
Road and fuel
The condition of roads in Spiti valley from Shimla and Manali is not good. Most of the times, the road remains closed at one place or another. So it is better to confirm the road conditions and ascertain whether the high mountain passes are open or not.
During night traveling, always carry extra fuel and take an additional driver. There are only two petrol refilling stations on the road, the first is about 100 km from Manali at Tandi, and the second one is at Kaza.
Life in Spiti Valley
Scanty rains - plenty snowfall, has turned the valley into a land of fascinating contrasts. There come the shocks of green patches in an alternating barren expanse of russet in the valley.
The extreme cold in the shades, the heat in the sun and the freezing temperature at night has turned the sand into a fine dust, which whirls and floats in air at the slightest agitation, thereby creating the shades of countless hues.
Wandering amidst the lush green valley, the bright sunshine makes the weather pleasant and quite comfortable during summers from May to mid- October. Throughout this period the Mercury level does not go beyond 300 Celsius and never falls below 150 Celsius.
The heavy snowfall from November end to April due to western disturbances brings down the temperature below minus 30 0 Celsius. The average annual snowfall is about 7 feet in the valley.
The harsh climate of the valley has turned the entire land into a cold desert. The altitude of the lowest point in the valley is 11,000 feet and several villages lie at 14,000 feet or more.
The life is difficult due to prolonged winter, high altitude, lack of communications and poverty. A thick sheet of winter snow which has now become scarce due to global warming just provides a little flow of water for irrigation. The winter snow evaporates or melts down in summer.
It seldom rains in the valley, because the clouds fail to surmount the Pir Panjal ranges and rarely soften into rains. Sometimes there are heavy showers when the monsoons become forceful, but it is insufficient for crops and vegetation.
The overall climate is dry, invigorating and cold. The days are hot and night is extremely cold, so heavy or light woolens are recommended for the night and the daytime respectively.
Agronomy and Economy
The valley has little cultivatable land in isolated patches. The man and the yak were able to scratch out less than one thousand hectares of arable land, despite the hard work of centuries. There is sufficient water in the glacier-fed rivers, but the searing flats are dry. For six to seven months of the year, the fields remain covered with snow.
The farming is marginal with little cash income because the fertile soil is scarce. So the subsistence agriculture combined with pastoral activity is the main preoccupation. Carpet weaving and other crafts are also practiced in winter.
The people grow buckwheat, red kidney beans or rajmah, onions, vegetables etc. Besides hops, barley and peas are the bumper crops of the valley. The valley has a great potential for seed potatoes as they are of high quality and disease free. The potatoes are sold for the seed purpose only.
The dry fruits like walnuts, apricots, almonds, figs and pistachio nuts have been introduced in the valley, by importing the plants and technical Know-how from foreign countries. The area is producing more than 12000 tons of fruit every year.
Certain forest species suitable for the cold desert area are also being introduced in the valley.
The fisheries plan has been introduced in the high altitude cold desert of Spiti valley. Fingerlings of mirror carp and silver carp have been stocked in the lakes at Tabo, Dhankar, Rangrik, and Rong Tong reservoir. The stocked species have successfully survived in cold environment.
Rohtang PassClick thumbnail to view full-size
The distinct Buddhist culture of Spiti valley is similar to that of adjacent Tibet Autonomous Region and the Ladakh area of India. Because of more than thousand years ago, Rinchen Zangpo, the great translator of, Buddha's Perfection of Wisdom or Sutras, from Sanskrit to Tibetan, came to the valley. His visit marked the intellectual awakening and the beginning of present culture in the valley. The valley since then has become a research and cultural center for Buddhism.
Earlier the ancient silk route to Ladakh, Karakoram Pass, Yarkand and Khotan in the Tarim Basin went through Manali. This route transported the culture across the border.
The simple and honest people live in small villages scattered across the rugged mountains. They are Indian nationals and their culture is an extension of peaceful Buddhist culture, which is facing extinction in Tibet.
The dry dung of yak is the main source of fuel for cooking and heating the houses of mud in winter. The dung is collected from the grazing grounds when there is no snow.
On the cultural side, Ladarcha is the only important fair in the valley. This annual trade fair is held every year in August when the traders of surrounding areas come to barter their produce.
The Indian films Paap and Milarepa, the biographical adventure of Tibetan Buddhist saints, was shot in the local monastery.
Some Facts- Census 2011
Area of Lahaul & Spiti District
13,833 sq. Km
Area of Spiti valley
4800 sq. Km
Irrigated area of Spiti
Population of the District
Density of Population
2 Persons per sq. Km
Density of Population of HP
916 Females per 1000 Males
Number of Towns
No. of Panchayat
Panchayat in Lahul
Panchayats in Udaipur
Panchayats in Spiti
One each in Lahaul and Spiti
Families Below Poverty Line
Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The history of Lahaul & Spiti is related to that of Lahaul region only. The capital of Lahaul was Kardang and Dhankar was the capital of Spiti. The four district topographical marks in Spiti are Sham, Pin, Bhar, and Tud.
In ancient times Spiti was a part of Nariss Korssum or western Tibet. Then in the 11th century, the king Nimagon divided Nariss Korssum among his three sons. Thus Spiti and Zanskar regions became the parts of a separate kingdom. These regions paid their tributes according to their annexation from time to time, to the principalities of Ladakh, Chamba, and Kullu.
Then the two regions were incorporated into Ladakh and began to be governed by Nono- a hereditary wazir or minister. Five Gyatso or representatives assisted Nono, who in turn was elected by the people of their Kothi or area.
In 1681-83, the Spiti region became independent after the Ladakh-Tibet war, and Nono assumed full command. But soon thereafter, Man Singh, the King of Kullu, invaded Spiti and annexed the region. But in the 18th century, Ladakh regained the control over Spiti and the old Nono system was retained in the area.
In 1846, the East India Company took control of Spiti after defeating the Sikhs. As a result, the entire area became a part of the Kullu sub-division in Kangra district. Due to the difficult area and harsh climate, the British instead of making any substantial changes recognized Nono of Kyuling as wazir of Spiti. So the Nono again started to manage the things.
The people became very prosperous after the production of Saussurea costus orkuth in late 1930’s. Consequently, they challenged the power and influence of Nono. After such uprisings, the British government executed administrative reforms in 1941. With headquarter at Keylong, the Lahaul & Spiti area was made a sub-tehsil of Kullu district.
The area became more isolated in 1959 when the Chinese aggression on Tibet snapped its close economic and cultural relations with that country. After this incident, the entry of even the Indians from outside the area remained restricted till 1992. It was due to the close proximity of the valley with the adjoining hostile border. But this isolation together with the natural barriers of high mountains and difficult climate kept the area economically backward, and educationally deprived. In 1960, Lahaul & Spiti became a district, with it's headquartered at Kaza.
The people take three meals a day. They take Ken or tshema in the morning, Shod or chicken in the noon and yang skin or Gongal in dinner. Buckwheat or Kathu is their staple food. the people also eat barley, wheat, and rice.Other things are like salted tea mixed with butter, thupka, tentuk, momos, and tsampa are the favorite.
The locally extracted beer or lugri or tsagti or chhang is profusely taken. Occasionally, the locally distilled liquor is also taken. Tobacco smoking is very common among the aged people, but for the women, it is a taboo. The people sit around the fire for weaving work in winter, with endless cups of sweet and salty tea spiced with song, laughter, and tales.
The Keylong Museum
The archaeological finds, ancient Thanka paintings, objects of everyday use in ancient times are displayed in a museum of Tribal Art at Keylong. There is an auditorium for hosting cultural events. The manuscripts in Bhoti Scripts and Tankri documents are also preserved in the museum. It is open to the public on all working days including Sunday.
A small museum of artifacts has also been .established by the sect of the Nono at Kyuling in Spit. Nono was an erstwhile ruling wazir of Spiti.
On the way to Chamba
The Road to Spiti
The desert landscape on high altitude with virtually no civilization till Kaza is an awesome sight to behold. The journey to the unspoiled beauty of Spiti valley is a photographer’s paradise. The entry to the valley from Manali via Rohtang and Kunzum La is ideal
From Bhunter Airport at Kullu, one can easily reach Keylong through Rohtang Pass, which is 115 Km, while Kaza is 201 Km away from Manali.
About 20 Km from Rohtang pass a road at Gramphoo, leads to Spiti valley. Another road on the left side goes to Leh via Keylong, Darcha, Baralacha la, Sarchu and Tanglang la pass.
Having shops and a government guest house the village Chhatru comes between Rohtang pass and Kaza. Then the road bifurcated to Chandra Tal. From Batal comes a single hut shop Batal, from where the road bifurcates to Chandra Tal.
After about five hours drive from Rohtang pass, comes Kanzum la. This highest point of the road provides a breathtaking, enthralling and panoramic view of Shigri Glacier, which is the second longest glacier in the world.
The alternate entry from Shimla, through Kinnaur valley, is more comfortable and has an all-weather road to Kaza. But unlike the Manali route, this track is longer and captivating. Make a plan for the night stay at Reckong Peo, while taking Shimla route.
The Kunzum la or Kunzum pass, a typical mountain desert type area is at an altitude of 4,590 meters and is the gateway to enter Spiti from Lahaul valley. With an average annual rainfall of only 170 mm, it is 21 Km. from Chandra Tal lake.
The view from the temple of goddess Kunjum or Durga, at the top of the pass, is breathtaking. The Spiti valley could be seen on one side while on the other are the peaks of Chandra-Bhaga range.
About 24 km from Tabo village at the Pare Chu gorge, the Spiti valley ends and then the road joins NH 22 in Kinnaur.
Only 8 Km.short of Keylong at Tandi, a road leads to Pangi valley of Chamba along the Chenab river. This road goes via Udaipur, Trilokinath, and Tindi. But from Tindi, there is a trekking route to Killar. Further from Killar to Chamba is a vehicular road.
Spiti ValleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Spiti River
The Spiti River originates from Kunzum la. The Tegpo and the Kabzian rivulets are its tributaries. The water catchment of the Pin valley area also feeds the river.
The rough,rugged and barren mountains of very high elevations which are devoid of any vegetation, rise on either side of it and its numerous tributaries. The Hansi and Dhankar monasteries are the main settlements along it. At some places, it violently flows through deep gorges.
Due to the melting of glaciers, it attains peak discharge in late summer months. After traversing for about 150 km. in North-west direction, it meets Satluj River at Khab or Namgia in district Kinnaur. While Satluj River enters India from Tibet near Shipki la pass, which is about 10 Km. ahead of Pooh.Then Spiti River joins it at Khab and flows in South-west direction.
Lahaul valley and KazaClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Places of Interest
There are several places of tourist interest in the Lahaul & Spiti valley.
It is the district headquarters of Lahaul & Spiti and is situated on the left bank of river Spiti, at an altitude of 3800 meters. This erstwhile capital of the Chief of Spiti called Nono, is 47 km from Tabo, 425 Km from Shimla via Kinnaur and 210 Km from Kalpa. It has a Buddhist Monastery, a Hindu Temple, and the boarding and lodging facilities are available here. It is the largest village of the valley at an altitude of 4080 meters and is situated near the confluence of Losar and Peeno streams. The Yak and horse riding facilities add to the beauty, experience, and charm.
It is known as a magnificent waterfall at an altitude of 3170 meters.
Known as an ideal place for trekkers at an altitude of 3360 meters and about 24 Km from Keylong, this is a beautiful place. A trek from Darcha to Padum in Zanskar valley, through Shingo La, Baralacha la or Phirtse la passes is very popular. The camping facilities for the trekkers are available at Keylong.
Bara Lacha La
It is a crossroad on the summit. and is about 75 Km from Keylong. It serves as a watershed area for Yamuna and Chandra Bhaga rivers.
This village is at the junction of two null-as with the main river Bhaga and is 22 Km. from Keylong. It is known for a very large and dry river-bed. The river provides delight to the anglers due to plenty of trout fish found in the shallow waters.
Distances from Kaza in Kilometers
Thang Yug Gompa
Kye MonesteryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The religious and economic life of the tribal people in the valley is tied to the monastic order. The monasteries locally called Gompas are the seats of Buddhist learning and faith. The main monasteries are also called the art treasures of the valley. Some of the world's oldest and Dalai Lama's favorite monasteries like Key, Tabo, and Dhankar are situated in the valley.
The Key, Kee or Ki Monastery or Key or Kye Gompa, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery belonging to Gelug sect of Buddhism. It is the largest monastery in Spiti Valley and is located on the top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 meters above sea level. It is situated on the left bank of the river Spiti. Located between Kaza and Kibber it is about 12 Km from Kaza.
It was founded by Dromton, in the 11th century. Presently it is a religious training center for the Lamas, and it houses a large number of Buddhist monks and nuns. In 1855, there were about 100 monks in the monastery.
Termed as a fort-monastery, it has a Pasada style of architecture characterized by more than one story. It comprises of large irregular rooms and narrow corridors. The monastery is famous for its ancient musical instruments like trumpets, cymbals, drumsandBuddhist scrolls and paintings. It has a rare collection of 'Thangkas' or Tibetan paintings.
The manuscripts of the Tangyur texts and other valuable books are the prized possessions of its library.
It was renovated first in the 1840s, then in 1975 after the Kinnaur earthquake and at last in 1980s after a fire accident.
Tabo MonesteryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The ancient village of Tabo situated on the left bank of the river Spiti is about 163 km from Kalpa or 47 Kms from Kaza. Located at an altitude of 3050 meters above sea level, the village has one of the most important cave monasteries, next only to the Tholing Gompa in Tibet.
The largest monastic complex in the valley and one of the oldest functioning Buddhist monasteries, it has been declared a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India. The original wall paintings and artifacts are still in good condition in the monastery. The ancient murals are surprisingly fresh and pure in line and color. There is a large collection of books and paintings in the monastery.
Regarded as the Ajanta of the Himalayas, the monastery has several caves and ancient structures, which date back to 996 AD. It is flanked on either side by the lofty and barren hills.
Dhankar MonasteryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Dhankar is a big village and an erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Spiti. Once the castle of Nono- the ruler of Spiti, the Dhankar monastery is another repository of the ancient Buddhist culture in the valley. The fort on the top of a hill used to be the prison in olden times.
It is situated on the left bank of the river Spiti, at an altitude of 3890 meters. Beautifully perched among rocks, it is at a distance of 25 Km from Kaza and 24 km from Tabo.
This 1000 years old monastery has about 100 Lamas and possesses a large collection of manuscripts and scriptures written in local Bhoti language. It is a fascinating site to behold and serves the eastern part of central Spiti valley.
The principal figure in the monastery has 4 complete figures seated back to back. It is a statue of " Vairochana", or the meditating Budha. There are relics in the shape of paintings and sculptures.
The valley hardly received any rain. But due to global warming, the rainfall is becoming common and the old Dhankar monastery and its wall paintings are being damaged by the rains. The monastery can withstand heavy snowfalls, but not the rains. Because the mudslide from mountain peaks and the seepage of rainwater through the mud-walls are slowly eroding the monastery.
For the visitors, the basic accommodation with food at meal times is available in the new Dhankar monastery for around $ 3 or INR. 180.
Other Gompas in the ValleyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Other Gompas in the Valley
Kungri Gompa is about 10 Km. from Attargo, which is a place where Spiti river is crossed to enter the Pin valley. It is situated in Pin valley and serves the population of the same valley.
- Thang Yang Gompa is located about13 Km. above Kaza null-ah, above which a long plateau leads to Shilla peak. Generally, it has a Lama from Tibet and serves the western populace of central Spiti valley. It is situated in a secluded place in the narrow gauge.
Tayul Gompa is one of the oldest monasteries of the valley and is 6 Km. from Keylong. It has a 5-meter high statue of Padmasambhava. The library in the gompa houses 101 volumes of Kangyur. The word Ta-Yul In the Tibetan language means the chosen place. On certain occasions, the main prayer wheel rotates on its own accord On certain occasions.
Guru Ghantal gompa at an altitude of 3020 meters is situated on the right bank of river Chandra and is believed to be the oldest monastery of Lahaul valley. It is about 4 Km. fromTandi, The ancient idols of Padmasambhava and Brajeshwari Devi are placed in this carved wooden structure of pyramidal roofs. A Ghantal festival is celebrated by in the gompa by the Lamas and Hindus on the full moon night of June.
- Kardang Gompa across Bhaga river is at an altitude of 3500 meters and is about 5 Km. from Keylong. This 12th-century gompa has a big library of both the Kangyur and Tangyur scriptures of Drug-pa sect of Buddhism in Bhoti language. The Kardang village was an old capital of Lahaul region. .At Kardang, there are dozens of resident monks and nuns who stays for short periods. Several The monks and nuns go for meditations in the Gompa, and these the session may last for three days or three months or three years.
Dhankar LakeClick thumbnail to view full-size
About 2-hour uphill trek from Dhankar Monastery along the Spiti River leads to Dhankar Lake. Against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, the lake provides a beautiful view of the village below and the Dhankar monastery at a distance.
It is an emblem of serenity, peace and calm, except the disturbance caused in its clear water by the ripples generated by fishes. The presence of the herds of yak or cow bred yaks appears comforting.
Pin Valley national ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
Pin Valley National Park and Snow Leopards
Known for several beautiful monasteries, the Pin valley National Park is an oasis in the cold mountain desert. It lies below the Kungri Glacier at an altitude of 12,000 feet. It gives a breath of fresh air due to the presence of trees and cascades among the bareness of the Spiti valley. It is better to visit the place in November, as the animals migrate to lower hills after the snowfall. The park is a heaven for the wildlife fanatics and photographers. Besides, it tests the nerves of trekkers in the rugged and inhospitable terrain.
Spread over an area of 1,825 sq. Km, it is a home of several endangered species like the snow leopard, the endemic Asiatic or Himalayan Ibex, the Lynx, the Himalayan Blue Sheep or Bharal, the red fox, the Tibetan wolf, the stone marten, the Himalayan and the pale weasel, the mouse hare and several species of birds.
Categorized as an endangered species, there are just 20 snow leopards in Himachal Pradesh. Their population is going down in all the 12 countries where they inhabit. But half of their global population is found in India, China, and Nepal. They live in the harshest and inaccessible mountain ranges. They are quite elusive as they move in an area of thousands of square kilometers. The Ibex and blue sheep are its main prey. It is facing several threats including the poaching for skin, for traditional medicinal trade and the retaliatory killing of shepherds and villagers.
Home Stay Facility
To see the snow leopards and other wild animals in their natural habitat in early mornings at below zero temperatures, a home stay facility is available in the villages like Kibber, Nako, Gete, etc. Except for a sleeping bag and warm clothes, the meals and accommodation are available in the homes of the people. The cost of 7 nights home stays for 4 persons is about US $50 or above.
The Mummy of GiuClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Mummy of Giu
The Spiti valley is full of legends, and the 550 years old mummy of a 45 years lama at Giu is one of them. The Giu village situated near the Indian-Tibet border at an altitude of 10,000 feet and is 10 Km. from Giu nullah between Sumdo and Tabo.
This naturally preserved mummy has been kept in an open glass box. Its teeth and nails are still intact, and the hair grows on its skull. Once a spade hit the head of the mummy during a digging accident, and the blood oozed out. In a sitting posture, it was discovered from one of the eight Stupas in the valley.
It is said that several monks were mummified in Tibet during a drought. But the Chinese destroyed these mummies in 1959, during their occupation of Tibet. But after an earthquake of 1975, a mummy was found in the Spiti River by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police during its rescue operations.
Fukchung- A Village of Nuns
Some of the oldest monasteries and schools of Tibetan Buddhism in India are situated in the Spiti valley. A collection of stone caves is situated in the Fukchung village, where nuns from the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism in Tibet, go for long-term retreats, meditations, and asceticism.
Without any interaction with any human being, these nuns meditate from dawn to midnight. Generally, their sojourn in the stone caves lasts for about 3 years or so. Surrounded among the vast loneliness, it is an exquisite experience to walk along the caves, imagining that the nuns are meditating inside them in a self-imposed exile.
It is a sacred and awesome place, where the Tibetan Buddhist nuns carry out their practices in seclusion, peace, and meditation.
It is the only domestic animal found in the valley. it has bison like appearance, short legs and is a slow mover. It is led by the nose for ploughing operations and is suitable only for the cold desert areas.
During yak safari in the Spiti valley, the meals are also provided. Personal tent, sleeping bag, mat, daypack, water bottle, wet weather gear, snow gear, sunhat, sunscreen, and good shoes are required. The yaks carry all the gear except the things need for the day. The riders set up their tents while the dinner is prepared.
The cost of safari from Pin Valley to Kafnu for 10 days for 10 people is the US $30 per person per day.
The yak is being used for farming, building, and transport for thousands of years. The yak safari at Spiti valley is similar to that in Sikkim or Leh. It gives an opportunity to go through the Pin Valley to Kafnu, on the old Spiti- Kinnaur foot road as was done by the people thousands of years ago. The riders get a chance to camp in the wild and watch many of the endangered animals and rare birds in natural habitat.
A route of safari from Demul to Komic monastery is very popular. A ride on the furs of yak through the picturesque valleys in high mountains along the river, sojourn on the way near tiny remote villages, and finally reaching Kafnu, after crossing the Bawa la pass at 4,900 meters is an unforgettable experience.
The yaks, cooks, and helpers are available in Pin valley. The yaks even carry the rider across the rivers. A night is spent near the village of nuns too.
These safaris take several hours to reach the destination and to avoid any kind of altitude sickness, proper acclimatization is needed.
The Highest VillagesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Do you plan to visit the place
The Highest Villages of the World
The place is a cold desert dotted by tiny and sparse helmets perched over the peaks of Great Himalayas. The place has a number of highest villages in the world.
The village named Gette is at a short distance from Kaza. It is one of the highest villages in the world at an altitude of 4270 meters. It is at a short distance from Kaza. The pasture lands of Kibber & Gette are breathtaking.
Hikkim- The Highest Post Office and Polling Station of the World
Another highest inhabited village in the world is Hikkim at 4400 meters. The highest Post office of the world is situated in Hikkim village of Lahaul & Spiti is at the height of 4400 meters above sea level. The tourists take pride in mailing a letter from the highest post office in the world. The PIN Code of the post office is 172114. The mail is carried on the foot to and fro from Kaza. The post office remains closed in winter.
The village also has the highest polling station of the world.
Komic- The highest village in the world having the Relics of Dragon, Big Foot, Snow Leopard
The highest village in the world is Komic situated at a height of 4,513 meters above sea level. It has just 13 households and is a 6-hour hike from the nearest civilization. It is the highest inhabited village in the Himalayas or may be in the world.
It is in the Tangyud Gompa or the monastery of the village that a skeleton of Himmanav or Yeti or bigfoot has been kept. Besides, the “Eggs of Dragon” and the Tail of Big Foot are also kept inside the Gompa. There is a 150 years mummy of snow leopard in the monastery.
Kibber- A Village of Clay
Situated at an altitude of 4270 meters above sea level the Kibber village is 18 Km from Kaza and is situated below the Key monastery. It is one of the highest inhabited villages in the world. It is connected by a motorable road. It has the highest polling station in India. Locally it is called known as Khyipur. It is located in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains from all sides. The rest house facility is available for the visitors at Kibber.
All the houses in Kibber village are entirely made of clay. There was a time when this village had the status of the highest village in the world. People from different parts of the world come to see the village situated at a height of 4850 meters above sea level.
Even today the houses of the village are built with clay. The temperature of the place goes down to -250 in winters and the ancestral houses made of clay protect the villagers from the blood freezing cold. These houses remain hot in winter and cold in summer.
A local resident Chhering Tandup said that these houses are so strong that he has never seen any house crumble. But now the hotels and guest houses in the village are being made of concrete to suit the needs of the tourists, while the villagers still prefer to build the clay houses.
The 100 years old Tabo Monastery has also been built with clay and this entire structure is still facing the vagaries of nature.
There are more than 100 houses in the village. All the houses are of white color. A night stay in the village is a memorable experience. The stars at night appear so close that one feels that they could be touched by extending an arm towards them.
The similar looking houses of same design amid the floating clouds look beautiful in the huge backdrop of mountain cliffs. It seems to be a dreamland riding the stars. The tourists find themselves transported to a different world consisting of picturesque natural beauty, exquisite culture, strange customs, ancient manners, antique monasteries.
A crowd of tourists could be always seen in the village except in winters when the entire place gets covered with a thick mantle of snow of several feet.
There are several monasteries in the village. The place is about 430 Km. from Shimla. The Kibber is the highest monastery. All season snow welcomes the victors along the way to the Kibber village.
The Chandertal Lake
The word Chandra Tal means Moon lake, which is appropriate due to its crescent-like shape and its enchanting spectacle during a full moon. This is one of the most beautiful lakes in the entire Himalayan region. With a circumference of 2.5 Km, at an altitude of 4300 meters, it is situated on a plateau named Samudra Tapu or Sea island. The river Chandra, originating from a glacier near Bara-lacha-la flows below it.
It lies between a low ridge of the main Kunzum range. The altitude of snow-covered mountain ranges of Moulkila and Chandrabhaga visible from Kunzum is between 3000 to 6500 meters. Like the Lahaul valley, it is also surrounded by snow-capped peaks and acres of snow or loose shifting stones.
A clear stream of water flows out of it, while the lake has no visible source. It's crystal clear blue-water changes colors, and looks Prussian blue at noon and greenish in the evening. It is one of the two most beautiful high altitude wetlands of India, designated as Ramsar sites.
The vast meadows by its side serve as pastures for semi-nomadic shepherds or Gaddis, who come in summer from the villages as far as 250 Km and leave before winter. Besides, it is a favorite camping site for the trekkers. Several varieties of wildflowers bloom around it in spring.
The Hindus believe that from this place, Yudhishitra- the eldest of the Pandavas, went to heaven in his mortal form, on the chariot of Lord Indra.
Chandratal LakeClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Visit to Chandertal
The Chandratal lake is accessible on foot from May to August from Batal and in late May to mid-October from Shimla. The best time to visit the place is in July and August. Before any overnight camping at the lake, get acclimatized first. Due to a gradual ascent, the Shimla route is better.
From Batal, about 16 Km. road travel plus 2 Km. the walk leads to the lake. Whereas from Kunzom, the 8 Km. walk of about 4 hours is more scenic. It provides a panoramic view of Chandrabhaga peaks, Chandra River and Samudra Tapu glacier.
The climate at Chandratal is very cold during In winter the temperature at the lake may drop below minus 20 0 Celsius. There may be snowfall happen any time of the year here. Always take heavy woolens as the snowfall may occur anytime. The basic camping facilities are available at Batal.
The Suraj Taal LakeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Suraj Taal Lake
The Suraj Taal means the lake of the Sun. It is 65 km from Keylong and is situated below the Baralacha la pass in the Greater Himalayan Zone, with an altitude of 4,890 meters above sea level.
This third highest lake in India is the source of the Bhaga rivulet, which is the tributary of river Chenab. The water of the lake comes from from the glaciers and torrential null-as or streams.
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma