Solo Travel, Himachal Tribal Circuit – Spiti Valley

During my last three days’ travel by bus through Rampur and in Kinnaur Valley, I had learnt to live with the fact that with the time constraint, I had to miss some of the spots. Kothi temple in Recong Peo was one such example. But the mere fact, that I could visit so many places despite my handicap of recent knee replacement surgeries, goaded me further into Himachal Pradesh towards Spiti Valley.

DAY FOUR {26TH AUG. 13}
Next morning I reached the Old Bus Stand early, for boarding 6.00 am Recong Peo-Kaza bus for Tabo. I was lucky that I could get a good seat, despite not boarding from the starting point of New Bus Stand. We traversed back 7 kms. steep downhill up to Powari on Rampur Kaza NH-22 and from there we took left turn moving up along river Sutlej. There was stark change in the geography within a span of about 50 kms. Lush greenery had given way to barren brown mountains of the cold desert.

Green face of Himachal Pradesh

Green face of Himachal Pradesh


Barren mountain in the cold desert

Barren mountain in the cold desert

By 9.00 a. m., I had reconciled to the fact that road blocks due to landslides is a routine matter here. But, BRO personnel and equipments always reached the spot within minutes to clear the mess. As a result of this trip, I have become a great fan of the employees of Himachal Pradesh Roadways Corporation. The drivers and conductors of the buses do their best in plying the buses and trying to reach the destination in time against all odds. For the first time, I realized that a flat bus tyre could also be a blessing in disguise. Our bus got a flat rear tyre, so we stopped for more than one hour at Puh for mending the tyre. That gave me an opportunity to view to the beautiful Puh valley for that long. Puh is a small town, famous for fruit orchards and vineyards.

Flat tyre at Puh

Flat tyre at Puh

After Khab, we left Sutlej river and turned left into Spiti valley. At Malling after Nako village on top of a mountain, I learnt that the road ahead was badly damaged. So the buses drop the passengers at this end of the bad stretch and the passengers have to cross to the other side after trekking for about 1.5 kms. at an altitude of 12500 ft. carrying their luggage with them. The stretch is also notorious for shooting stones, which makes the trek all the more adventurous. But the icing on the cake of this walk was the last 200 mts. portion, where one had to cross a deep gorge with one’s luggage doing a balancing act over a steel girder.

Broken stretch of road after Nako village

Broken stretch of road after Nako village

On the other side of this stretch, another bus is waiting to carry the passengers onwards to Kaza. The initial part of the journey was a steep downhill drive to join the valley again. Due to the landslide and the flat tyre, we reached Tabo after 6.00 in the evening, as against the scheduled arrival time of 4.00 p.m. Sh. Utreti, Branch Manager of SBI branch of Kaza was also travelling in the same bus. He guided me for the next two days’ travel. For a change, as per Sh. Utreti’s advice, I got down at the new bus stand in Tabo, which is inside the village. Here the old bus stand is on the main road, outside the village.

Sun set at Tabo

Sun set at Tabo

Helepad in Tabo

Helepad in Tabo

In Tabo, I could get a room in a small hotel behind SBI branch for Rs. 400.00. Those looking for star category hotels in Rampur, Kinnaur, Spiti and Lahaul would be hugely disappointed. In the entire belt, only small modest hotels are available. Lately, home stays have become a fad here, with very good options. But these would be slightly costlier compared to hotel stay. Another piece of advice for travelers in these parts is to recharge your mobile phones and camera batteries at the first available opportunity. Due to the harsh conditions here, power failure is a routine feature. Another thing that I learnt here very quickly was to heat the water in the geyser in the night only for next day’s bath. More often than not, there was no electricity in the mornings.

Tabo is a small Buddhist hamlet 40 kms. before Kaza. It has got hardly 250 houses, many of them hotels, lodges, eateries and petty shops. But it is the most beautiful place in the entire tribal circuit of Himachal Pradesh. It is a small green oasis nestled in the high brown barren mountains. The air is at its purest form and the sky is azure blue, not to be seen anywhere in the plains of India. Due to scarcity of vegetation, oxygen content is very low in the air. One has to be on guard and watchful of symptoms of high mountain sickness.

DAY FIVE {27TH AUG. 2013}
Tabo and its adjoining areas are real treasure house of ancient Buddhist history. Tabo monastery in the heart of the town is more than 1000 years old. It is an old structure made of mud and wood, with priceless Buddhist paintings and artifacts. His Holy Highness the Dalai Lama had attended the 10th centenary function of the monastery. A local Buddhist staff member of SBI branch arranged a trip to the innermost chamber of the monastery, where non-Buddhists are normally not allowed.

More than 1000 yrs. old Tabo monastery

More than 1000 yrs. old Tabo monastery

There are very old caves uphill on the other side of the highway. These caves are said to have been the meditation centres for the lamas. A visit to the caves is a must, which I could not do due to my knee surgeries.

Old caves at Tabo

Old caves at Tabo

In view of the lack of convenient public transport, for the first time on this trip, I hired a private vehicle for visiting Giu village and Key monastery. For Giu village, we had to travel back up to Sumdo on the highway towards Nako village and then head left uphill for 7 kms. on brown barren mountains. Those coming from Recong Peo side in their own vehicles can take a right turn uphill for Giu. after Sumdo. Giu is a small village having around 70-80 houses. It attained fame with the excavation of more than 500 year old mummy of a Lama, sitting in meditation posture. The mummy was discovered accidentally, when during routine digging work by Indo Tibetan Border Police personnel, the spade struck the skull of the mummy and blood started oozing out from the skull. The skin and eyeballs of the mummy are still intact.

More than 500 yrs. old mummy at Giu village

More than 500 yrs. old mummy at Giu village

The mummy is unique due to the astonishing fact that no chemicals have been used to preserve the body. After this find, teams of various scientists camped in the village for weeks to carry out extensive tests on the mummy. The most baffling outcome of the tests was that the internal organs of the body were intact even after 500 years.

In the house of Head of Giu village

In the house of Head of Giu village

After visiting Giu we headed back and crossed Tabo again, headed towards Kaza for Dhankar monastery. Dhankar village has two monasteries. One on the edge of the cliff is more than 1000 years old structure made out of mud, stones and wood and the other monastery is new, right at the entrance of the village. I visited the old monastery which is a heritage structure and skipped the new monastery.

Imposing Dhankar monastery

Imposing Dhankar monastery

The entrance of Pin valley is visible from the Dhankar monastery. In June 2013, due to heavy cloud burst in this region, the road bridge to Pin Valley National Park {famous for Ibex} had been washed away. So there was no way that I could go to Pin Valley National Park. But I did not miss the main attraction of the park, which I was to discover later.

View from Dhankar monastery

View from Dhankar monastery

On our way back to the highway, I came across an Israeli student tourist, who was going to Kaza like me. I gave him lift up to a small hamlet of Sichling, 22 kms. from Tabo towards Kaza. After waiting for almost two hours for the Recong Peo-Kaza bus, I could get lift in the private car, thanks to the owner of my vehicle. The people there are so friendly and helpful, that, despite 3 passengers in the rickety small Maruti 800 car, the car owner readily gave lift to two of us- me and the Israeli student. The owner of the car dropped us at the junction of Kaza bye pass. Bus stand is hardly 200 mts. from there, where there were number of reasonably priced hotels. Although, Sh. Utreti Branch Manager of SBI Kaza branch, who was travelling with me in the bus the previous day from Recong Peo to Tabo, had kindly invited me to stay with him, but I did not feel like bothering him. So I checked into a hotel near the bus stand and after having tea, went to see Sh. Utreti. There is only one narrow road going up from the bus stand, which is the main market of Kaza.

Main market of Kaza near Bus Stand

Main market of Kaza near Bus Stand

The other end of the road touches the highway near the grand new Buddhist monastery. The monastery was closed, so I decided to come again next day. But, I did visit the Indian Oil’s retail petrol outlet, which is the highest petrol pump in the world. Kaza was the highest point on this tour thus far, but , surprisingly it turned out to be quite warm.

DAY SIX {28TH AUG. 2013}
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.

Key monastery

Key monastery

From Kye monastery, we came back to the diversion and went uphill for Kibber village situated at an altitude of 4205 mts. Kibber is 19 kms. from Kaza. There were two surprises in the village. First, despite being situated at such a high altitude, the village was much warmer than what I had anticipated. But in these barren mountains, the weather can take a u-turn within minutes. Second, this high altitude remote village had all the basic amenities such as road, water supply, school and primary health centre etc. which are not available in most of the villages in the plains.

Kibber- World's highest village approachable by motorable raod

Kibber- World’s highest village approachable by motorable raod

The place had couple of hotels and some home stay arrangements. Horticulture and agriculture is quite advanced in the entire tribal circuit of Himachal Pradesh. On the other side of the village, I met some foreign trekkers, who were coming all the way from Leh in Ladakh.

Primary Health Centre in Kibber village

Primary Health Centre in Kibber village

After spending some time in the village, we headed back for Kaza and I got down from the car at the Kaza monastery. But, I was second time unlucky, because the Lama holding the key of the monastery had gone somewhere with the key. After strolling around in the monastery for half an hour, I lost hope and headed down through the main market to my hotel room. Now I had to book bus ticket for tomorrow to Gramphoo in the Kaza-Manali bus departing at 5.00, next morning. An interesting thing that I learnt at this juncture, was that the ticket can the booked only after 5.00 in the evening. What was the rationale of starting booking after 5.00 p.m.? Simple. The departure of the next morning bus is subject to safe arrival of the bus coming from Manali to Kaza, because the same bus would be returning to Manali the next morning. At number of places in these remote areas, I saw bus drivers washing their buses for the next day, after doing full day’s grueling duty, with the bus conductors also pitching in. Truly amazing. Can we think of government bus drivers doing this in the plains.

Having secured the ticket for Gramphoo for next morning, I was free for rest of the evening. So, I sat on the parapet wall near the entrance gate of the bus stand. For the next one hour, I was mesmerized by the sunset of surrounding mountains of Kaza, watching one peak after the other being engulfed by darkness. I sat there watching, till the highest last peak was won over by shade. That evening, Sh. Utreti, Branch Manager of SBI, invited me to his place for dinner. He narrated to me, how the branch starts its functioning during winters with sub minus 20 degree temperatures. As there is no electricity, first frozen diesel oil has to be heated by lighting a fire. Then the frozen generator is started with lot of difficulty. This in turn charges the UPS batteries. Only then, computer systems of the branch can start functioning. This entire process takes around two hours.
Imagine, I had spent six days away from the maddening din of the crowded cities and I was raring to go for more.

20 Comments

  • dhanesh sharma says:

    Sharma ji, kamal kar diya likhne me, what a nice description.now I have become fan of your posts.aap likhte rahiye, hum padhte rahange. Because I don’t know how to write a post on this site.very very thanks.

    • Anil Sharma says:

      Thanks. I believe the third and last part of this blog will appear on 16th June. This would be covering Lahaul valley.
      Thanks again.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    And the journey continues. Thank you Mr. Sharma for your elaborate and heart-warming account of Spiti valley. You are so right when you say that the tyre-puncture was a blessing in disguise. In 1998, I along with a couple of my friends were going to Vaisno Devi. We hired a shared taxi from Katra and midway the tyre got flat. We got out, took some pics and kind of whiled away and those memories are still so intact.

    Reading about Tabo and Giu was useful since we missed these places. I was with my small daughter and we wanted to reach Kaza as soon as we could so gave a miss. By the way, we also gave lift to a couple of foreigners and the conversation was rewarding.

    Thanks again Mr. Sharma,

  • Vivek Kumar Srivastava says:

    Nice post….pics are great.

  • Jatinder Sethi says:

    Dear Shri Anil Shermaji
    I have opened this ghumakkar site after a long time, and was really rewarded by your incredible journey.
    I never had the courage to do such adventurous trip, as we always used to pre-book hotels and travel tickets.
    Keep it up as it serves inspiration for others. GREAT

    • Anil Sharma says:

      Dear Sethi ji,
      Thanks for the appreciation. Ghumakkar.com is a great informative site for such travels. I am myself scouting for information here for my next trip.

      God willing, I may be able to share more of such experiences with travel enthusiasts.

  • SilentSoul says:

    really very interesting log. First time we are reading such detailed log, because most of the logs are by carwallas or bikers… not more by public transports, which although a little cumbersome, but offer more in the travel.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story

    • Anil Sharma says:

      Thanks. Trips without elaborate arrangements and without prior bookings have a charm of their of own, because they give more freedom.

  • Great post, beautiful pics. Enjoying it, really.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Dear Sharmaji,

    I enjoyed reading each and every word of your solo travelog to Kinnaur Valley and Spiti Valley. It is a great adventure you have undertaken. While reading the posts I was following the journey on Google maps too. You have described it very nicely and in great detail.

    Recently I saw the movie ‘Highway’ in which they showed the mountains of the Kinnaur Kailash range near Kalpa and Reckong Peo, so I can imagine the beauty of the mountains you have experienced.

    Your post has inspired me to plan for my next trip to the snow peaks of Himachal Pradesh.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Anil Sharma says:

      Dear Vijay ji,

      I am glad you liked the travel log. Primary reason for sharing my experiences on ghumakkar.com is to motivate and inspire people to explore such beautiful areas. Wish you success in your plan.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dear Anilji,
    Another great log with rich narratives, this time with more catchy photos. Very enchanting & inspiring. Most of the readers I guess, must be in a state of topsyturvy, whether to start in Cars or Bikes, is it not better to board the HRTC Bus!

    Confused! No matter how you travel as per your convenience and ease, important is to enjoy the every bit. Pretty enjoyable, liked them also because I could relate them with my own travels, which is also why, traveling is so very important. Keep going young man!!!!!

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

  • Anil Sharma says:

    Dear Ajay ji,

    Thanks a lot for liking the log. Mode of travel may not be the prime concern. Having a proper frame of mind to enjoy the travel experiences is ultimately what matters.

    Thanks again.

  • om prakash laddha says:

    ????? ??
    ??????? ????? ?? ?? ??? ??? ???? ?? ???? ???? ???? ?? ??????? ????? ???? ?? ?? ??? ???? ????? ????? ??? ??? ?? ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ???? ???? ??????? ???? ?? ?? ?? ???? ????? ?? ???? ???? ???

  • Anil Sharma says:

    Dear Laddha Saheb,

    Thanks for the appreciation. Regards

  • Himadri says:

    Dear Anil ji,
    Enjoyed reading your photo blog. Need some information from you . What was the cost of car booking at kaza or can you give me any contact no , I am also planning a similar trip like yours. Any help will be appreciated.

  • Sudhir Dogra says:

    Hello Mr. Anil,

    It was indeed an adventurous trip. We are also planning a trip in June with my Wife and a son of 6 Years. Would you recommend traveling with a kid. The itinerary you mentioned is very useful

    • Nandan Jha says:

      Dear Sudhir,

      If I may suggest, traveling with a 6 year old kid should work fine. I did this circuit when my daughter was 5, and we didn’t experience any challenges.

      All the best.

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