Lahaul and Spiti

Lahaul and Spiti are two remote Himalayan Valleys of Himachal Pradesh, lying on the Indo-Tibet border. These valleys have their own exquisite beauty combining a rugged landscape with enchanting snow covered peaks and massive glaciers. It is a cold desert region where the monsoon never pays a visit making it a haven for climbers and trekkers. Against the backdrop of snow peaked mountains are villages, Buddhist Monasteries rich in ancient murals and wood carvings, temples and the beautiful Chandra Taal Lake.
Kaza is the capital and regional headquarters of Spiti valley while Keylong is the district headquarters of Lahaul. Situated at very high altitudes in the Himalayas on the left bank of the River Spiti, Kaza has all modern facilities and is connected by road to Manali and Shimla. During the winter months though, these roads too are inaccessible. The route from Manali via Losar crossing Kunzum La and Rohtang La along the Chandrataal River is very beautiful. One can stay in the PWD houses or Private hotels.
Best time to visit: May to October
Languages spoken: Lahauli, English, Hindi, Bhoti
Climate: Cool summers and freezing winters
Buddhist Monastries: Key Gompa, Saskyagongmig Gompa, Dhankar Gompa, Tabo Monastery, Gungri Monastery
Natural Wonders: Pin valley, Kunzum Pass, Chandra Taal Lake, Rohtang Pass, Shigri glacier
Villages: Khoksar, Sissu, Tabo, Kaza, Kibber

Himachal – Spiti Valley – Kaza, Kibber

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At Kibber we stayed at Tashi Zom guest house which was just before the village separate from the rest of the village. It was really sunny, windy and chilly outside so most of the time we stayed indoor. I went out a little to take a walk around the guest house and inside the village. This is a proper village with a school and a game of volleyball was going on. There are other guest houses and this village witness some tourists. Here I met Mr. Anurag Jately and his assistant. He is ex-NGC, ex-Fox Traveller head of programming for them and he was shooting night sky in timelapse, phew!! I was just awestruck listening to his anecdotes and watching some of his work on his laptop.

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Chandratal to Sarchu… a picturesque drive through Lahaul

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Just this morning I was overwhelmed to see the abundance that water has bestowed in the southern part of Lahaul. I thought that is glorious. And now I stand awestruck in this dry and desolate landscape where soaring mountains surround a vast high altitude rolling plain through which is a deep gorge and a river flowing through it… We are a little short of Sarchu and these are the Lingti plains where there is virtually no precipitation even in the winters…

And finally, Sarchu! There is virtually nothing in the place except a few tented camps during the summer months and a small army detachment year round. The wind howls making me burrow deeper into my jacket the minute I step out. We take a walk around the place and soak in its unique charm. But nature has been kind in all its adversity. Or maybe it is the stark unspoilt and unpolluted beauty that I am so taken with. Such places need no adornment, no embellishment. Just this raw, unadulterated nature is enough. This is a place one must travel to at least once in this lifetime!

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Road to Chandratal

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We reach Kunzum jot, slightly off the main road and where vehicles take a customary loop to offer prayers. It is an overcast morning…. has continued to be so since Losar. More clouds come rolling in and almost obscure the Stupas at Kunzum Jot. Behind the Stupas and to their right, the track is clearly visible going to Chandratal. As our three vehicles halt there, we see no sign of the advance party. After mulling our options, we decide that one vehicle will go down the Kunzumla towards Batal and check out the motorable road to Chandratal since that is the only other place the other Scorpio could be. Sure enough, in a while we get a message from a tourist vehicle coming from Batal that our two Scorpios are at the motorable road and for us to join them there.

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Chandrataal – the Moon Lake

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As we moved ahead, we crossed more and more nallahs. To our surprise they were even more dangerous now. The water flow was huge, it was so violent, we thought as if we were going to flow away with the water down to the Spiti river.

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Spiti…. journey through ‘The middle land’

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Bypassing such quaint villages as Yangthang, Chango and Leo, we press on for Nako. I have great hope that the cloud cover will disperse enough for Reo Purgyal, the highest peak in Himachal to be visible. Unfortunately, the peaks are all shrouded in thick clouds. We have a very long way ahead and no time to tarry. We do not even swing by Nako Lake consoling ourselves that we would see the Chandratal anyway today and hurry ahead. Far, far below us is the meandering Spiti and the beautiful Leo village is visible low down across the valley.
The route takes us through barren, crumbling mountainsides and the presence of a BRO detachment alerts us to the proximity of the Malling Nallah stretch which is infamous for being a perpetual landslide zone. It does not disappoint. We cross the Malling Nallah and come to a halt behind two other vehicles. A JCB is busy clearing an enormous few ton boulder in the landslide while a steady rain of shooting stones continues. It is scary, to say the least. I guess the BRO knows how dangerous it is and has concluded that this is minor enough for the work to continue. Hats off to these sentinels of the roads in these remote areas!

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Destination Pooh…(Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh)

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The route winds along the Sutlej going upstream along its left bank. Crossing the Sutlej over the Shongtong brige, we reach Powari. Here, the road bifurcates left to Recong Peo, the administrative headquarters of Kinnaur district, some way up the mountainside and the highway (NH 22) continues along the river. Further up from Recong Peo is Kalpa (earlier called the Chini village) and the highest village further up is Roghi from where one can get stunning views of the venerated Kinner Kailash peak. I’ve heard that the route to Roghi with narrow, cliff hugging roads is one of the most amazing sights and rewarding places to visit. In fact Chini village, now Kalpa, has some more significance in independent India. The people of this village were the first to cast their votes in independent India on 25 October 1951 (since they get snowed in in winter) while the rest of India voted in Dec-Jan. Further back in history, the old Hindustan Tibet highway used to pass through this place on its way through Shipkila into Tibet.

It is said that Kinner Kailash is the abode of Lord Shiva and is thus considered sacred by the Hindus. Legend goes that Bhasmasur, after getting a boon from Lord Shiva that anybody on whose head he places his palm would be turned to ashes, tries it on the Lord himself. The Lord hides from him and prays to Lord Vishnu at this place after which Lord Vishnu comes to his aid and slays the demon. The Shivling is visible atop this Kinner Kailash peak.

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Delhi – Sangla … journey through the verdant valleys of Himachal

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As we go further, this road climbs higher till it reaches sheer cliffs of stark, unadorned rock where the road is but a scooped out C-shaped tunnel embedded in the vertical cliff side. While we enjoy the drive along the banks of the Sutlej in all its moods, I am almost willing the road to start climbing to this, one of the most celebrated and recognised sections of this route. And when we do hit that stretch, we are all spellbound! Such is the precarious nature of the road that there are precipitous drops on the only open side and encased in solid rock on the other three sides.

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Ride to Kibber

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ad astra per aspera
which literally means, “a rough road leads to the stars” and this pretty much came true for us when we started our ride from recong peo to tabo. recong peo was a let down. i am being honest in my criticism…it was a disappointing place and the only thing that was worth remembering is the sight of the mighty kinnr kailash. I am feeling blessed to have seen it.
post recong peo, we were heading towards Tabo. en route we stoppd at nako and we were simpy bowled over by the place… the place was so quite and peacful…
we had a sumptuou tibetan meal followed by a hot cup of tea. here we also fulfilled one of our long pending wishes- tieing prayer flags on our bikes..so each one of us picked up a prayer flag and tied it to our bikes. the old lady at the shop told us to write our names in the flag. we also met this vry nice kid by the name of Ajay who ofered to take us on a guided tour of the nako lake and the monastery..

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Solo Travel, Himachal Tribal Circuit – Lahaul Valley

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During this stretch, a car had a flat tyre in the middle of a stream. The traffic had halted and the passengers of our bus, helped in changing the wheel. We started crawling forward, for being blocked once again by the same car, which was ahead of us. This time the car got stuck in a stream having big boulders. Again the passengers and staff of the bus came to the rescue of the car. Stones were planted strategically in front of the car tyres to provide some friction and the car was literally lifted out of the stream by the passengers.
We descended to the valley at Batal and from there we moved in the valley, literally on the river bed up to Chatru, which was our mid-day meal stop. Trekkers going to Chandratal from Manali or Keylong can stay here overnight. Chatru was the smallest village I have seen in terms of population, with a population of just 20 people. In fact there are no houses here, just 3-4 eateries catering to needs of the entire spectrum of passengers.

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Solo Travel, Himachal Tribal Circuit – Spiti Valley

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Next morning brought a very pleasant surprise. In the morning, I was having tea in the hotel balcony, clicking pictures of the serenity of Spiti valley. One youngster arrived in the compound of the hotel on a bike. It took me a while to recognize that he was one of the two boys from Mumbai whom I had met three days ago at the time of land slide traffic hold up near Karcham. Thus far, I was thinking that the bikers must have turned back from Nako village, where the road was totally destroyed. I was curious to know, how they had crossed that stretch. He [Alok} informed me that when they reached Nako village, being a Sunday, there was no BRO labor at Nako. So, they took a night halt in Nako village and next morning, with the help of BRO labor, they lifted their bikes across the steel girder. Hats off to these adventurous souls.

In Kaza also, I had to hire a car for visiting Key monastery and Kibber village [highest altitude village in the world- accessible by road}. In these valleys, government buses to remote villages go in the evening and return early next morning. Thus, 4-5 hour trip by car would take two days by public transport. We went about 7 kms. on the highway towards Manali and then took a right turn uphill for Kye monastery. It is an old monastery some 15 kms. from Kaza and the uphill road is good. But this monastery is not considered as important as Tabo and Dhankar monasteries by the Buddhists. The monastery is in much better shape, compared to the Dhankar monastery.

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