Practical tips for a trip to Spiti-Part 1
(This article details the best routes to take, what to ask your tour operator before you book a trip, AMS- what it is and how to tackle it.)
Spiti was on my list of MUST DO places ever since I first discovered it around 3 years ago. I watched a random documentary on social media about a magical place that I had never heard of. I immediately googled Spiti Valley and found that it was located at the Indo-Tibeten border. It is as remote as it sounds, but it is accessible by road now.
Most people take a tour to Spiti, and there are a few benefits of the same in this part of the world.
Reasons for me having taken a tour to Spiti, when I NEVER usually do
-I was travelling alone on a time crunch.
-Spiti is remote and public transport is not regular/common
-Chances for road blocks due to landslides or unexpected snowfall are high
I felt a tour would be the easiest option for me, considering the above reasons, and if anything were to go wrong, there would be someone to take care of it.
Things you should ask your tour operator before you book your trip to Spiti
Travelling to Spiti comes with its risks, as it is fairly remote, and roadwork is ongoing. If Chandratal lake is the highlight of your Spiti trip, then it is imperative you know your itinerary from the tour operator in & out.
Usually the roads to Chandratal are open from June-October, but erratic weather conditions may result in roads being closed even in June. June 2019 saw excessive, untimely snowfall in Rohtang Pass, which delayed roadworks, and resulted in the Manali- Rohtang -Kaza route being closed till the last few days of June.
But fixed departure tours to Spiti begin in June, and Chandratal is on the itinerary regardless of the weather conditions. Tour operators inform you of the road closures just a few days before the date of departure, which means you are left with no options other than the one that’s offered to you.
The alternate route to get to Kaza from Manali is through Rampur- Nako- Tabo- Kaza. This route takes 2 days of travel to reach Spiti, covering 490 km, with an overnight halt at Rampur. If your return is through this route as well, you are spending 4 days of your 7 day trip travelling! Also, Rampur is a small town where there is nothing to do, so spending time there however little, reminds you only of the time you are being robbed out of in Spiti.
I would suggest asking your tour operator of alternate plans in case of road closures, and understanding what that itinerary means to your trip.
Did you know?
Spitian, the language that the people of Spiti speak, does not have a script. They learn Hindi in school, and all the road & building signages are in Hindi.
Preparing for a road trip to Spiti
Your body will need time to acclimatise to the high altitude. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) can occur when there is less oxygen at high altitudes. Acclimatisation is the body getting accustomed to the low oxygen levels in the new environment. When ascending heights as fast as you will be during a road trip to Spiti, the body doesn’t get the required time to get acclimatised, and there is a possibility of you getting sick.
Symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)
-Nausea, headache, high body temperature, sleeplessness, chest pain, loss of appetite, breathing difficulty, and fatigue.
AMS can strike you in the first few hours of the ascent to even a few days into your journey.
How to tackle AMS
Before AMS hits
-Get medication for AMS from your doctor, and consume it before the start of the journey.
-Drink lots of water
-Eat enough carbs, and keep chocolate handy
-Eat raw garlic, ginger, cloves
-Avoid alcohol consumption & smoking
-Give your body ample time to acclimatise, that is take a route that is a slow gain in altitude.
After AMS hits
-Give your body time to acclimatise and wait for the symptoms to subside
-If you are still unwell, go back to a lower altitude
Who can get AMS
-Anyone can get AMS, it doesn’t matter if you are fit, or have done multiple long drives, or high altitude trips.
It is not advisable to take infants or young children on a trip to Spiti.
There are two main routes that people take to reach Spiti.
This route is taken usually when the Manali Rohtang route is closed unexpectedly, and you are already in Manali for the journey.
This is the fastest route to get to Kaza, being 202 km, which will take around 5hours if there are no unexpected delays. But the ascent is steep, and quick, increasing the possibilities for AMS. To be on the safe side, it is recommended to take AMS medication before the start of the journey.
This route is through the infamous Rohtang Pass, and beautiful as it may be, it is also one of the most dangerous roads in the world. (which only adds to the excitement of driving through it! ) But conditions on this route are largely unpredictable. It is open only a few months in the year( usually June to October, but unexpected snowfall can lead to its closure at any time).
Especially if your travels are planned in June or October, keep a backup plan in mind, as the chances of this route being closed are higher.
Also expect a lot of traffic on this route as enthusiastic tourists crowd the roads during the few months that it remains open.
This is the most recommended route if you want a gradual increase in altitude to fight off chances of AMS. This route is 408km long and can take at least 11.5 hours to complete. It will have to be split into 2 days for a comfortable journey- staying overnight at Kalpa (228km from Shimla, & approx 7 hours).
Kalpa is beautiful, and makes an ideal stop to relax and explore the next morning before starting the journey towards Kaza.
If you have more than one driver, or someone who is comfortable driving long distances without much of a break, you can do this trip in a day, but it would be best if you start early in the morning (think 4 am), as you should always aim to reach your destination before dark. But it is best to split this journey into two days.
The mountain roads are narrow, parts of it are always under maintenance, and some parts of it don’t have a barricade! It is a dangerous drive, so only experienced drivers should attempt it.
If you have more time on your hands, there are many stops you can make during the journey from Shimla to Kaza. (Narkanda, Sarahan, Chitkul, Kalpa, & Nako)
For information about the best mode of transport (which car to take), what to pack, and mobile connectivity- read Practical tips for Spiti Part 2.
Leave your comments below to ask me any questions, or if you found this article helpful!