A Backpacker’s Guide to Spiti Valley – The Unknown Trails

In the far off corners of Himachal, lies Spiti, a middle land between India and Tibet. It’s snow peaked mountains, cobalt blue skies, isolated villages and pristine lakes are pure magic. A journey through Spiti valley is one of a kind. Everything about Spiti from the landscapes to the people to the culture is bound to leave the traveller in you reeling with joy.

Panoramas that await you in Spiti

It was July 2017 when I travelled to Spiti for the first time on a 15 day long solo backpacking trip. And Last year I ended up spending almost a month there, while volunteering with a social enterprise, Spiti Ecosphere. For that one month, I almost forgot that there exists a different world beyond these snow cladded barren mountains. Well that’s a story for some other day.

Recently Spiti has been added on the top of every backpacker’s list. Here’s everything you need to know before planning your backpacking trip to Spiti valley.

Table of contents:

  1. How to reach Spiti Valley?
  2. Places to visit in Spiti Valley
  3. Ideal time to visit Spiti Valley
  4. Where to Stay in Spiti Valley?
  5. Where to eat in Spiti Valley?
  6. What should be my average budget for Spiti Valley?
  7. Important things to know before you go

There are two ways to reach Spiti valley. One option is to start from Shimla (this route takes about 9-10 days), and the other option is to start from Manali, this route is relatively shorter and takes about 5-6 days.

Snowy peaks shinning under the full moon light in Kaza

In my opinion if you have sufficient time then starting from Shimla would be the best option, as you will get to experience the complete circuit. Also there are lesser chances of getting hit with AMS as on this route you will be gaining altitude slowly.

Route to follow and Bus Timings

If you are planning to go via Shimla and Kinnaur, you can follow the below route as I did.
Delhi- Shimla- Reckong Peo- Kaza- Manali- Delhi

The route I followed

On this route you can also spend a few days in the Kinnaur valley. You can read more about Kinnaur here.

Bus timings for Shimla-Manali route

  • Delhi to Reckong Peo bus- every evening at 8:10 p.m.
  • Reckong Peo to Kaza bus- every morning at 5:30 a.m. (Please note that this bus will stop at Nako and Tabo as well.)
  • Reckong Peo to Tabo bus- every morning at 9:00 a.m. 
  • Kaza to Manali bus- every morning at 5:00 a.m.

If you are short on time, you can consider the other option and start from Manali. From Manali a bus for Kaza leaves every morning at 5:00 a.m., this bus reaches Kaza at around 5:00 p.m.

HRTC bus with snow capped mountains in the backdrop

1. Nako Village: Lake and Monastery

This small pretty village is known for its lake and monastery. Nako lake is considered sacred, so no one is allowed to bath or swim or even put feet in the lake. If you are planning to stay in Nako, do not miss the sunset and sunrise at lake.         

Nako Village

Another major attraction in this village is Nako monastery, which is an 11th century ancient monastery founded by Rinchen Zangpo. To go inside the monastery, you need to check with locals regarding the timings, as it opens only twice a day.

Walking around Nako Village

To reach Nako, you can board the early morning bus from Reckong Peo that goes to Kaza. This bus reaches Nako at around 11:00 a.m.

2. Gue : a 500 year old mummy

Gue is a small hamlet, located at a distance of 48 kms from Nako. This village is home to a 500 year old mummy perfectly preserved in a glass chamber close to Gue monastery. 

There are no direct buses between Nako and Gue. You can take the bus that goes to Tabo and get down before Sumdo. From Sumdo, Gue is about 9 kms, so you can either hike or hitchhike till the village.

3. Tabo Village: Monastery and Meditation Caves

Tabo monastery is the central attraction of Tabo village. This monastery was built in 996 A.D. and is also known as “Ajanta of the Himalayas”. It is not only the oldest but also one of the most beautiful monastery in Spiti valley. The older structure of this monastery is made of mud and wood. Inside the monastery, you will find the walls decorated with Indo-Tibetan artwork and beautiful mandalas.

Tabo Monastery

A 15 minutes hike above the monastery will take you to meditation caves, which are used by monks to meditate. You can also find some traces of faded paintings inside the caves.

To reach Tabo, take the same morning bus you took for Nako. This bus will reach Tabo by 2:30 p.m. Or else, one more bus goes to Tabo from Reckong Peo, this bus reaches nako in the afternoon at around 1:30 p.m. In this case, you will reach Tabo by 4:30 p.m.

4. Dhankar Village: Monastery and Lake

Dhankar is one of my most favourite villages in Spiti. Back in 17th century, Dhankar used to be the traditional capital of Spiti. 

One of the most interesting things about Dhankar monastery is that it is located on a cliff at an altitude of 3,894 meters overlooking the confluence of spiti and pin river. This is one of the world’s most spectacular settings for a Gompa.

Dhankar Village

Dhankar Tso is another serene lake cradled between the snow peaked mountains. It is located at a distance of 2 kms from village and you will need to hike for around 2 hours to reach the lake. 

There is no direct bus for Dhankar. You can take the bus to Sichling village and then hike or hitchhike till Dhankar.

5. Kaza

Kaza is the most developed and biggest town of Spiti valley. It has a market, pretty amazing cafes, wifi and some good hotels. Don’t forget to pick some postcards while you are in Kaza to post from Hikkim (the world’s highest post office).

Night sky of Kaza

To reach Kaza from Dhankar, hike down till Sichling and from there catch the same morning bus that starts from Reckong Peo and goes till Kaza.

Important tip: Kaza also has a petrol pump, ATM, Bank and hospital, in case of any emergencies.

6. Pin Valley: Kungri monastery and Mudh Village

Though most of the people skip it on their trip to Spiti, I would rather say that a trip to Spiti valley is incomplete without going to Pin valley. Pin valley has the most picturesque landscapes, I have ever come across. As you start moving towards Mudh, you will witness a beautiful transition in the mountains, turning green from barren.

On the way to Pin valley

Mudh village is the last motorable village in pin valley and also the starting point for Pin-Parvati and Pin-Bhabha pass trek. A perfect place to spend a night to escape the crowd. 

Located at a distance of about 18 kms from Mudh village, Kungri Monastery is one of the most prominent monasteries in Pin Valley. This monastery is also one of the oldest monasteries as it was built in the first half of the 14th century.

A bus from Kaza leaves every evening at 4 p.m. for Pin valley. The same bus leaves from Mudh village for Kaza next morning at 6:30 a.m.

Mudh Village

7. Key Monastery

Key monastery is the most famous monastery of Spiti valley and no doubt the most beautiful one as well. I bet you must have seen many pictures of it already. It is also a Buddhist training center for the lamas. When I visited key for the first time, I spent a night here and it was an incredible experience though it gets really cold at night.

Key Monastery

You can also hike up a little further from Key for some spectacular views and amazing pictures.

There is a direct bus for Key monastery that leaves from Kaza evening evening at 5:00 p.m., this bus goes till Kibber village.

8. Kibber and Chicham Bridge

From Key you can go further to Kibber, another beautiful village known for its night skies and wildlife reserve. It actually lies in the wildlife sanctuary and this region is very famous for spotting snow leopard, himalayan ibex, blue sheep and other wildlife. 

Kibber Village

Chicham bridge is at a walking distance from Kibber which got constructed recently in 2017. This bridge is known to be the highest in Asia. It connects everyone from Kaza and Kibber to Chicham. 

If you want to go more remote, you can further proceed to Gette and Tashigang from here.

To reach Kibber, take the same bus you took for Key monastery. As of now, there are no buses for Gette and Tashigang, So you can either hike or hitchhike to go to these villages, or you can rent a bike/motorbike from Kaza.

9. Hikkim, Komic and Langza

These three villages are located on one circuit and you can make a day trip to these villages from Kaza unless you are planning to spend a night at either of these. You can also trek to these villages, it takes about 3-4 hours (depends on your pace) to trek from one village to another. There are no buses to these villages.

Somewhere near Langza
  • Hikkim has the world’s highest post office. Do send postcards to your loved ones from here. 🙂
  • Komic is the world’s highest motorable village. There is also a monastery, Tangyud monastery and a café here. 
  • Langza is the most beautiful and also my most favourite village in Spiti valley. It offers a spectacular view of Chau Chau Kang Nilda peak and also has a fossil trail. The grand buddha statue is the prime attraction of this village. I highly recommend you to spend a night here.

10. Kunzum Pass and Chandratal Lake

Kunzum pass is the gateway to Spiti valley. You will get an amazing panoramic view of mountains from here. It is a very high mountain pass, so it receives a lot of snow and remains closed for about 8 months. It generally opens by the beginning of June and closes by October.

Chandratal Lake

A dirt path from Kunzum pass leads to the Chandratal lake. The water of the lake is crystal blue in color and the reflections of the mountains in the lake will leave you stunned. Camping near the lake is not allowed, Camping site is about 2 kms from Lake. You can also trek to Chandratal from Kunzum pass, it is a 9 km long stretch and takes about 6 hours. The views you get to witness on the way totally make it worth.

The 5 a.m. bus that leaves for Manali from Kaza, goes through Kunzum pass. If you want to go to Chandratal, get down at Batal and hike/hitchhike till the lake. Next day catch the same bus from Batal for Manali.

May to October are the most ideal months to visit spiti valley. However, if you are travelling from Manali then consider planning it after May and before October end.

And if you want to see White Spiti, when it’s all covered under thick layers of snow, then consider planning in January, February or March.

Homestay

Homestays are the best option to get an insight into the Spitian way of life. Locals in Spiti are very welcoming and staying with them will bring you closer to their culture. Every village in Spiti has homestays, you can directly walk inside and get a room. Usually the cost is about 500-800 INR per night for a room.

Hotel

Another option would be to go for a hotel, though not every village in Spiti has a hotel. You will find hotels only in Kaza, Tabo and Nako.

Monastery

Tabo Monastery

Did you know you can stay inside the monasteries of Spiti? On my backpacking trip to Spiti, I stayed in Tabo monastery , Dhankar monastery (new one) and Key monastery, and I absolutely loved the experience. These monasteries have a very soothing and calming atmosphere. You can also learn more about buddhism from the monks while you stay here. 

Hostel

As of now Hostels are only in Kaza. Zostel, Moustache and wanderer’s nest are some good options, if you want to stay in a hostel.

Camping

Mostly people camp at Chandratal, it has a very beautiful camping site but if you are carrying your own tent then you can camp in almost every village of Spiti. 

Cafes in Kaza

Kaza has lot of amazing cafes, where you can get some great coffee, and indulge in the local and international cuisines. Some of the best cafés which I have personally tried are Sol café, Taste of Spiti, Himalayan café and Café Deyzor. 

Sol Cafe, Kaza

Homestay Food

If you are staying in the homestay then you must try the traditional Spitian dishes like thentuk, thukpa, momos, teemo and they also have their own version of Pasta made form Barley. Also don’t forget to have some seabuckthorn and butter tea, it also helps with the altitude.

If you are taking public transport and staying in homestays, then 1,000 INR per day would be sufficient. I will also mention a breakdown of the Stay, food and transportation cost for a better understanding. 

Homestay cost

Homestays will generally cost you 500-800 INR for a room. This will vary slightly depending on the season. In some homestays, they charge you 800-1,000 per person instead of per room but that includes meals as well. So this is great for solo travellers.

Hotel cost

Hotels will cost you somewhere between 1,000-2,000 INR per night.

Food Cost

In a dhaba, a meal won’t cost you more than 100 INR and in cafes, it’s mostly between 150-200 INR. If you are staying in the homestays then the meals are usually included in the room cost.

Transportation cost 

If you are taking the ordinary bus during your entire trip, then it won’t cost you more than 1,000 INR for the entire journey. Cost of renting a motorbike in Kaza is 1,000 INR per day and for an activa it is 700 INR per day.

Flower fields near Kaza

Connectivity

Nothing except BSNL works in Spiti, both prepaid and postpaid are fine. In Kaza, you might get wifi in few hotels and cafes but speed is usually slow. 

ATM

Kaza is the only place where you will find an ATM in the entire Spiti. And sometimes even this ATM goes out of cash. So make sure you have enough cash with you before leaving for Spiti.

Medical Facilities

Only Kaza has a hospital in the entire Spiti with some basic facilities. However, there are few health care centres in some of the villages.

Always ask before taking pictures of Locals and Monks

Do not objectify Locals or Monks. Always ask for permission before clicking their pictures. Not everyone feels comfortable to get clicked by random strangers.

People of Spiti

Do not leave any plastic/trash behind

It has been estimated that around 3,00,000 plastic bottles are dumped in spiti every year. And since there is no recycling centre in Spiti, all the trash ends up getting dumped in the river. So please carry your own bottle and whatever plastic waste you create on your trip, bring it back with you. 

Ready to pack your bags for Spiti? 😃

Hope you guys find this guide helpful in planning your trip to this magical land. If you have any further questions, please leave them in the comments below, I would love to answer. 

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