How to plan a Short Spiti Valley Trip – Tips, Mistakes and Guide for Spiti Valley tour

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Spiti Valley Trip is a dream trip for many who crave for mountains and have looked up those splendid landscapes of Himalayas. My ambition has always been to do Ladakh and Spiti together, to visit the two great Himalayan place that everybody flocks to. And I did pack my bags this time with the intention of doing it that way. But I got back doing only Spiti valley trip. Cos mountains are an altogether different terrain to be at and trying to accomplish a lot of stuff in the mountains is not so wise. I did this trip from Manali to Kaza to Manali, it was a short trip. This blog post on planning your Spiti Valley trip will be useful to people who are,

  1. Visiting Himalayan range mountains or Spiti valley for the first time.
  2. You are not at your fittest or peak of health. Some people trek all through Spiti, you will find this post laughable.
  3. Planning a road trip through Spiti valley from Manali
  4. Wanting to take maximum of Spiti valley in a short time
  5. City dwellers or enthusiastic tourists who want to explore Spiti valley
Dhankar monastery

Confluence of Pin river with Spiti river and Dhankar Monastery at the extreme right

About Spiti Valley

Spiti valley is in the Trans Himalayan region and it is the cold mountain desert that you will get to see lot of towering barren mountains but still spectacular landscapes. Spiti is known as the middle land as it is like the gateway to Tibet, lies between Tibet and India. And hence non Indians need permit to visit certain parts of Spiti valley. Spiti is filled with remote villages, simple homestays, farms, treks to picturesque places, forts and monasteries. As it is close to Tibet, they mostly follow Tibetan Buddhism and we can see the monasteries too pertaining to them, governed under Dalai Lama. It was only in Pin Valley I could see a monastery that was under Nyingmapa sect, the origin from Guru Padmasambhava, the kind you see most in Bhutan. Hindi is a common language they understand and speak. But you try to listen to what they are speaking and you are gonna get confused. They speak a dialect pertaining to Spiti and Tibet. Spiti valley has many prominent villages like Kaza, Dhankar, Kibber, Komic, Hikkim, Mudh, Langza and all these are connected by fine roads. Spiti caught my attention not just because of the landscape, people go there looking for Snow Leopard.

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How to reach Spiti Valley

There are two ways to reach Spiti valley and this has been like explained umpteen times in other blogs and forums. You can reach Kaza through Shimla – Kinnaur – Kaza which involves halting at Reckong Peo or Narkanda or Kalpa. I was told that this is a better route and it is a gradual ascent to the valley. Kaza is at a height of 3800m, so you need to get properly acclimatised else it is gonna get difficult. The other route is Manali – Kaza. Simple, one day route that takes minimum 12 hours and more depending on the landslides and water level Enroute. Now Manali to Kaza is actually not a road. It is a mud track and basically you are doing off roading till you reach Losar. But it is very scenic as you pass through high altitude passes like Rohtang pass and Kunzum La. And because they are in higher altitude, these roads are accessible only from May to September and rest of the year the road is closed. Where as the route from Shimla is open all through the year. To reach Manali, there are plenty of buses from Delhi that take about 12 to 14 hours overnight to reach. You can also fly to Chandigarh and take bus or vehicle from there to cut down the travel time.

Manali to spiti

The road to Spiti from Manali

Mistake 1 Manali to Kaza is a tough route. If you are not used to driving on streams and rocks and in the mountains please don’t adventurously attempt this for the first time. Am saying this not for your welfare, it piles up vehicles behind you and causes inconvenience to everyone.

Tip 1 Manali to Kaza is the shortest route. You can reach in a day. However ensure you have rested one full day at Manali before proceeding to Kaza.

Start early and head straight to Kaza. Not to Chandratal lake as you will not be ready for the weather or the height and will land up getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

What Transport to Chose for Spiti Valley Trip

From Manali everyday a bus from HRTC (Himachal road transport corporation) leaves to Kaza at morning 5:30. You can go to Manali and book the bus ticket the previous day of boarding the bus. The buses are in good condition in spite of the bad to no roads. In Spiti valley too there are regular buses leaving to the remote villages. But the thing is you need more time in hand if you are going to rely on buses. For e.g., bus to Kibber from Kaza might leave in the noon, reach by evening and it will halt at Kibber and leave from Kibbar early in the morning. You will have to halt two nights if your intention is to stay and feel Kibber. Where as if you have your vehicle you can start early, go to Kibber, key monastery and pair up couple of more villages after that.

Chota Dhara Spiti

Vehicles stuck at Chota Dhara enroute Manali to Spiti Valley

You can always reach Kaza by public transport and hire bikes and scooters from there to explore the villages. I wish somebody had told me this. We hired a cab from Manali itself as everyone was so sure that we will not get vehicle to hire at Kaza and I was afraid we might get holed up in Kaza. The moment you go to Manali town centre, numerous cab drivers and middlemen come to you to take you to Leh, Ladakh, Rohtang pass, Spiti, Manali sight seeing. You can always find cab there and negotiate. People also hire Zoomcars from Chandigarh, Delhi but am really skeptical about it because these cars that I saw on the route had lot of damages as they would have been up and down these mountains many times. Don’t even think of taking small cars in this road. A Honda Amaze in front of us was struggling so much and our cab driver got down to help in every stream crossing. Believe me, even an Innova got stuck in the stream. We had a sumo and a very very efficient driver who managed it amazingly that I was literally clapping my hands sitting in the car.

Mistake 2 Please don’t take hatchbacks and sedans to Spiti valley. Not just your car, you are putting yourself in risk too and both your body and mind will get exhausted.

Tip 2 Hire Ashok Karpa from Manali for a hassle free travel. He has a fleet of vehicles and it was a blessing that he was our driver. Not just about the driving, friendly, calm and a good person by heart. Knows the mountains in and out. Everybody on the way and the villages we visited knew him. He is reachable at +91 9418021822. You can hire him for Manali, leh, spiti, anything around that area.

car break down spiti

You don’t want to be in that! Shot at Spiti Valley

What is the Best Time to visit Spiti Valley

Am not a lover of cold weather and that is one of the reasons why I have not set on a Snow Leopard expedition. So Spiti is open all round the year through Shimla side but it is going to be harsh winters. I was there in July and it was freezing cold in the night at times. Best time to visit is in late august to October, when the monsoons are done and autumn has set in and you can expect lesser landslides and have a safe trip. July to August is going to be raining! Not much in Spiti but the approach to Spiti gets treacherous. May to July you might still see snow on the way, Rohtang pass might have snow.. If you want to enjoy harsh winter rest of the months is your cup of tea.

dhankar landscape

Landscape like this becomes a common sight.

Mistake 3 I went in July. Almost every day I read about landslide or river in spate in Manali and I was seriously considering calling off the trip. We were lucky to have had a safe trip without any incidents. After we came back Manali was all about rain and landslide and even the Kinnaur side of reaching Spiti was cut.

Tip 3 It does rain in Spiti! People call it cold desert and had given me a picture like it will never rain up there and the source of water is only through melting snow and glacier. No, it does rain! So carry your rain gear if you are going during the monsoon period.

Sample Itinerary for Spiti Valley Trip

Am giving simple itineraries here that as a tourist you can try to cover. These are the common mainstream places that you can visit on road in the comfort of your vehicle. There are many more smaller villages than this which am not covering here. Note that am not including Kinnaur or Manali in the itineraries. So add sufficient days around the plan when you are looking for number of days to take off from work..

2 Day Spiti Valley Trip

Day 1 – Arrive at Kaza

Day 2 – Leave Kaza

😛 Just Kidding. Don’t attempt to do Spiti if you have just overall three or five days in mind. Time will go off in commute and acclimatisation. There is no point undergoing that arduous road trip to reach Kaza.

Kaza Spiti Valley

Kaza town as seen from a view point

4 Day Spiti Valley Trip

Day 1 –  reach Kaza. Halt

Day 2 – Explore Hikkim, Langza, Komik village. Halt Kaza

Day 3 – Explore Dhankar Monastery. Proceed to Pin Valley national park. Halt at Mudh Village

Day 4 – Leave early. Explore key monastery, Kibber, Chicham bridge and proceed to Manali

5 Day Spiti Valley Trip

Day 1 –  reach Kaza. Halt

Day 2 – Explore Hikkim, Langza, Komik village. Halt Kaza

Day 3 – Explore Dhankar Monastery. Proceed to Pin Valley national park. Halt at Mudh Village

Day 4 – Leave early. Explore key monastery, Kibber, Chicham bridge and proceed to Chandratal Lake. Halt at Chandratal Lake

Day 5 – Hike to Chandratal lake. Leave to Manali. Leave early to avoid full water streams

Langza Spiti

Langza Village that you can halt in your Spiti Valley Trip

6 Day Spiti Valley Trip

Day 1 – reach Kaza. Halt at Kaza

Day 2 – Explore Hikkim, Langza, Komik village. Halt at Langza or Komik

Day 3 – drive to Dhankar. Dhankar Monastery. Trek to Dhankar lake. Halt Dhankar. You can also squeeze in visit to Tabo Monastery if you don’t want to hike Dhankar lake.

Day 4 – drive to Pin valley national park. Halt at Mudh village

Day 5 – Come back to Kaza. explore Kaza market. Or Head to Key monastery. Explore Kibber village. Halt at Kibber or Key Monastery.

Day 6 – Proceed to Chandrataal Lake. Hike to lake. Halt at Chandratal. Next day early morning leave to Manali

That is the basic itinerary for Spiti valley trip. But I would insist that staying two nights in one of the villages is the best thing to do. So extend your trip for a longer duration and enjoy the serenity.

Hikkim village

Hikkim where the highest Post Office is located

Mistake 4  Very first day I went straight to Kibber because everybody was like there is nothing to do in Kaza, go straight to Kibber or Key monastery. So from Bangalore, I went to Delhi to Manali to Kibber. From 920m to 4270m in couple of days and I could feel my heart beating super fast! Kaza is at 3800m which is at lesser altitude.

Tip 4 Stay at a village homestay. Waking up to the sounds of village, birds chirping, Yaks and sheeps setting out for grazing, the songs of the villagers, star gazing at night, it is just beautiful.

Also read: Must have Food at Spiti Valley  From eating Spiti Thali to tasting butter tea and having Thingmo at a homestay. Check out the post to know all the stuff you can eat 🙂

What to Pack for Spiti Valley Trip

Pack your thermals whatever time of the year that you  are visiting at. A day at Spiti starts with you wearing your jacket or sweater and muffler and even socks. And as the day proceeds you will be like where is my sun glass, where is the hat, why is it so hot! 🙂 It is a confusing place. The nights were super cold at places like Kibber and Batal, that even thermals were not enough. This was not even winter.

batal camps

Coldest night! Camping at Batal

Mistake 5 I did not pack enough woollens. 🙁 I did not buy that windcheater

Tip 5 Pack such that you can wear in layers.

Acclimatisation and Acute Mountain Sickness

This one is a real deal. If you are not properly acclimatised you are gonna feel headache, nausea and can get even worse. Just because hundred others are going to Spiti valley and seem to post happy pictures does not mean you will be fine too. Coping with altitude differs from person to person, depends on your body and health. So if you already have breathing problem and all, check with your doctor if you are fit to go and carry proper medication. Ascent gradually into the valley and first day don’t walk around or do anything as such. Diamox is a popular tablet that people carry with them for AMS and it takes 24hours for it to kick in. I took it with me but it decided to play hide and seek and I was just gasping for breath for first couple of days!!

Kibber Spiti Valley trip

Kibber village – a place to halt during Spiti Valley trip

Mistake 6 Inspite of it being tough to transport and stock alcohol up in the mountains; beer, arrack and chang are cheaper in Spiti than Manali or the cities around. But don’t drink! Not good for you in that altitude.

Tip 6 Kaza is the only place with medical shop selling medicines and a reasonably better hospital. Rest of the villages, I did see medical centre boards but most of them did not even have Diamox. So always have your first stop as Kaza even if people say there is nothing in Kaza, you are wasting time, etc.

Do you need Permit to visit Spiti Valley

For non Indians, at Losar which is the entry point of Spiti, you need to get down at the check post, show your passport and make an entry. If you want to explore areas like Dhankar and Pin valley then again you need to obtain permit from Kaza. It was a government office and I forgot if it was ADC office or not. Do carry passport size photographs. If you want to explore Kinnaur region too you need a permit. If you are entering from the Kinnaur side, you should get this permit down from Reckong Peo. All this because we are super close to Tibet.

For Indians, am not sure if you need a permit to cross Rohtang pass. Since we hired a cab we did not have this hassle. However I had read that you need to get a permit to cross the pass and move further. Inside Spiti you don’t have anything to do.

kaza spiti valley trip

View from my homestay at Kaza

Some more Tips for Spiti Valley Trip

Am just gonna add the rest of the tips I have in mind here.

Tip 7 Only BSNL network works. You can get a SIM card from Manali or Kaza. And BSNL network works only in Kaza. Forget about internet data connectivity. In one of the events, a minister was talking about JIO network to arrive soon too.

Tip 8 If you are on your own, download offline maps. There are not really boards kept for direction. If you do not know the mountains, it gets difficult to figure out which road takes you where.

Tip 9 Keep yourself hydrated. Apparently mountains don’t make you feel thirsty and you tend to ignore taking water, which in turn worsens your AMS. So keep drinking water. I had ginger candies with me and kept chewing as I read Ginger Lemon honey tea helps.

Tip 10 Have sufficient cash with you before driving to Spiti. There is one SBI ATM in Spiti which is almost always crowded and runs out by evening.

Tip 11 Pack as less as possible. I couldn’t carry that and walk around as the weight exhausts you more.

pin valley

Pin Valley National Park

Tip 12 All the villages might look close by and you might feel that you are done exploring by late noon. But trust me trying to do anything more or stuffing your day with too many things to do will make you get extremely tired.

Tip 13 Do not trust the google map distances and time to reach. It is hills, you can anticipate road in certain areas and not in some. So don’t think 120km equates 2 to 3 hours etc. Takes much much longer, you can double the time that google shows.

Tip 14 Leave Manali or Spiti always early which means like 5 am types. This ensures lesser water streams on the way and you will not get stuck in them.

Tip 15 From Manali to Spiti, food options are available at Chhatru and then at Batal. No rest rooms or food options available en route. Stock with snacks and dry fruits in case you get hungry or there is land slide and you are stuck

Tip 16 Carry a can of Diesel or Petrol. The petrol bunk option available is at Kaza only. And my cab driver got a can filled up at Manali itself. This was because in case there is landslide and you are stuck for days or take different route, etc

Tip 17, 18,19 20 – Ha ha cos it is the most important tip. Travel with people you love. Mountains work on your mind big time. I did not want to go solo because I was afraid if at all AMS hits me I do not want to die at Spiti alone. So I kind of managed to find backpackers in Manali and we went as bunch of strangers. There were many times we were catching hold of each others throat. They are memories that we laugh at now but still travel with people who will put up with you even if you turn crazy to the core.

That is pretty much I have to say about planning a Spiti valley trip. Enjoy your trip to the mountains and do share your experience in the comment section below. Would love to know about them. Happy traveling 😀

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16 Comments

  1. ramya Victor August 30, 2018
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