Mary Ann Issac
Spiti-Everything you need to know to plan a trip!
Spiti is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. Its surreal landscapes will take your breath away no matter which time of the year you choose to visit. It is said that to truly see Spiti, you have to come here twice- one during the spring/summer, and the other to experience its magical winters.
I’m not a fan of the cold, and though I wish I could see the Spiti winters first hand, I just don’t have it in me to try & experience it. Hopefully, I will have a change of heart sometime in the coming years, and I will make that winter Spiti trip.
I was on a whirlwind trip around Spiti, which I wouldn’t recommend. I would have liked to have the time to experience Spiti at a more relaxed pace. Unfortunately due to bad weather on Rohtang Pass, we had to take the long route through Rampur to Spiti.
If you want to know more about how unpredictable weather can affect your trip to Spiti, click here.
The following is a highlights reel to all the places of interest in Spiti that you must visit.
Click here to know about travelling alone/transport in Spiti.
Click here to know all that you need to know before planning a guided tour / making travel plans to go to Spiti.
Where to visit in Spiti
Our first stop in Spiti was in Tabo, and we headed to the famous Tabo Monastery, which is the oldest continuous running Buddhist enclave in India & the Himalayan region.
Photography is prohibited inside the monastery. It is quite dark inside, and a little difficult to see the beautiful murals and sculptures on the walls. A monk gave us a quick tour of the main hall explaining the murals & sculptures.
The monastery offers stunning views of the landscape of Spiti, and being my first stop in Spiti, I was truly mesmerised! There is a cafe on the premises of the monastery.
There are bus services from Tabo to Kaza, and back.
Kaza has a bustling market with lots of shops and restaurants. All the tour agencies from Spiti have their offices here. It is best to base yourself out of Kaza if you are visiting Spiti on your own.
Kaza market has a great vibe with a mix of tourists and locals-it is a fun place to be in!
Buy: local handicrafts, souvenirs, knitted woollens.
During the summers there are regular buses to other villages, or you can get a shared taxi with the locals or a group of friends. It is likely that the buses /share taxis will not return to Kaza from the destination until the next day, so prepare for an overnight stay at the village you are going to.
There are plenty of homestays and hotels available in Kaza. During winter it will be a lot more difficult to find accommodation, so plan ahead , and try to make bookings before you arrive.
Can you see the milky way in Spiti?
I saw my first milky way in Kaza, and it was the most amazing sight! I was blessed with clear skies, though during the day it rained a little bit. We had a bonfire set up, which got us out of our rooms in the cold of the night. Due to the high altitude, and no pollution, the milkyway is a common sight in ALL the villages of Spiti! How lucky are they right! I was mesmerised, and consider myself so lucky to have seen it! All you have to hope for is a moonless night in Spiti!
Activities in Spiti
You can book a range of activities from Kaza including, camping, mountain biking, and treks- check with a local travel agent to know more.
3. Key Monastery
Located at 13668 ft, this is an icon of Spiti, and everyone looking through pictures of Spiti would have seen an image of this monastery. The views of the monastery from the distance is stunning, and so is the view from the monastery. A monk from the monastery spends time with visitors, answering any questions that they may have on the Buddhist faith, meditation, and their way of life. Guests are greeted with a cup of herbal tea, and taught the basics of meditation.
Key monastery is 14 km from Kaza.
The only ATM in Spiti is in Kaza, but I hear that it is quite moody when it comes to dispensing cash, so people recommend that you bring the cash required for your trip from wherever you are coming, and not to count on withdrawing it in Spiti.
The only Petrol/Diesel bunk in Spiti is in Kaza, but when we went to get our vehicle refuelled, I heard them say that they have run out, so I’m not sure what the people after us did. I guess you should keep your vehicle on full tank before you reach Spiti, and hope for the best!
Located 16km from Kaza, at 14400 ft, this idyllic village with friendly locals, and a boisterous group of kids, is sure to win your heart.
Most people come here to visit the post office- it is known as ‘the world’s highest post office’! The idea of sending out a postcard from the world’s highest post office is exciting to everyone, and that might actually be the only reason the post office here has any business. The postmaster and his family live in the post office, as it serves as a quarters for the postmaster as well.
The cafe opposite the post office sells postcards.
*Disclaimer: The actual highest post office in the world is at Everest Base camp in Tibet, at 17389ft.
Children here are so used to seeing tourists, that they run behind you asking for chocolates. I gave them what I had, but I did hear some opposition to it from people around, as this might just make the kids more demanding- but, I don’t see that as much of a problem, when a child asks you for chocolate, if you have some on you, why can’t you give it to them?
There is a small monastery in Hikkim, which is nothing in comparison to the more famous Key, and Tabo monasteries, but if you have time to kill, you may as well go have a look.
Be prepared for a workout
The most difficult part of visiting Hikkim, was the horribly steep incline! It was obviously easy going down it to get to the Post Office, but climbing back up, my goodness, it was well worth considering as two good workout sessions back home!
The views from HIkkim are stunning like the rest of Spiti, and so was the drive, but Hikkim was lush and green, and just a sight to behold!
Though the neighbouring village of Langza is known for its fossils, there are some in Hikkim as well. But to find them you will need someone who knows what they are looking for and where to look for them, to guide you. If you are staying here, you can pay one of the locals, or ask at the homestay for someone to guide you.
There are no hotels in Hikkim, but there are a couple of homestays like the rest of Spiti, so once you reach you can ask the locals for a place to stay, and they will guide you.
Public transport from Kaza to Hikkim
There is a bus every day at 5pm, but this could just be during the summer months, so please check before you make your travel plans.
The same bus return to Kaza through this route the next morning.
Shared taxis are available from Kaza.
5. Pin Valley
Pin Valley is known for its wildlife reserve, Pin Valley National Park, home to the Snow leopard, and Siberian Ibex among others.
I think I spotted the Siberian Ibex, but I can’t be sure, since everyone in the vehicle with me was fast asleep! I couldn’t sleep a moment through my entire journey through Spiti Valley, as I was mesmerised by the surreal landscapes that were in front of me!
Siberian Ibex or not, something similar to it, I definitely did spot as I was travelling through Pin Valley National Park!
Driving through Pin Valley, is just like the drive in the rest of Spiti, truly mesmerising! Though there is a noticeable change in the mountain formations, the colours of the flowers, and even the valley.
There are many villages inside Pin Valley, though Mud is the one that is most popular, and has most homestays, and restaurants.The last point in Pin Valley is Mud village, and as you get closer to the village you can see the large snowcapped mountains get closer to you with every turn, and that is something that kept me excited throughout the drive.
There are plenty of scenic spots towards Mud where you can stop for pictures. We stopped at a beautiful bridge, and crossed over to the opposite bank. I did touch the water, and freezing cold was quite the understatement!
Activities at Pin Valley National Park
Explore the National Park
Most people come to explore the national park, and to be awed by the stunning landscape. It is a long trek into the park, about 10km from the last motorable village Mikkim. It is imperative to hire a guide, either from Mud or from Kaza to take you into the national park, as going alone can be dangerous.
Trek to spot wildlife
Those who want to spot the Snow Leopard need to keep aside 5-7 days for this, as the trek to the interiors of the park takes a long time, and then it’s a game of patience. The local guides are trained to track the snow leopard, but even for them it may take a few days to actually spot it.
Now the two treks I’m hoping I can make it for sometime in the near future.
Pin Parvati Pass Trek
A difficult trek that lasts 11 days in total, recommended only for people who have done at least 2 high altitude treks in the past. It can be done either through Kullu or Kinnaur, trek 100km through lush scenery that very few in the world would have seen. The trek starts from Barshaini near Manali, and ends at Mud village.
So, if you have ample time on your hands, you can do this trek, and then continue exploring Spiti!
Bhabha Pass Trek
This is the trek I’m thinking I’ll try first, as it is only 50km long, and for 7 days. It starts at Kafnu in Kinnaur and ends in Mud through stunning vistas.
Again, if you have time on your hands, you can continue to explore Spiti after the trek from Mud.
*It is possible to do both the treks from Mud as well- so you can see all of Spiti, end the trip at Mud, and the leave Spiti by foot, and end up in Kinnaur or near Manali!
There are homestays available here.
Transport to Pin Valley
There is a bus from Kaza at 4pm to Mud the last village inside Pin Valley which is accessible by a vehicle. There is one more village after Mud, but the roads to it are extremely bad, so public transport doesn’t go towards it. The same bus returns to Kaza from Mud at 6AM the next morning.You can also take a shared taxi from Kaza.
The erstwhile capital of Spiti, this is a village that you must visit, for the views of the village from the monastery, are amazing!
The famous Dhankar lake is a short, yet difficult trek away from the village. It is a must do when you are here. I trekked to Dhankar lake, and it was one of my favourite experiences from the trip.
To know more about it, read my detailed post on the trek here!
Dhankar monastery is the main point of interest in the village, and it is located a little ways off from the monastery, which is why the views from the monastery are so beautiful, is what I feel. Dhankar is located on a cliff, so the village is spread out on different levels of the cliff, while the monastery is on the opposite side. It is 39km from Kaza.
There is a bus from Kaza to Dhankar, though its frequency is not to be relied upon. The best way to travel to and from Dhankar will be by shared cab, as there is no direct bus from Dhankar to Kaza.
Langza village, located 14km from Kaza, is known for its large Buddha statue overlooking the village. The Buddha amidst the mighty mountains around, is a truly beautiful sight! We reached Langza quite late, it was drizzling and extremely cold with really strong winds. So I did not spend much time exploring the village, as I could not bear the cold! I sat in the van after taking a few pictures of the large Buddha statue which was the main attraction I had come there to see.
Langza is where you must come if you are interested in finding fossils. There is a fossil centre here, which was closed by the time I reached, but I hear it is well worth a visit.
Like the other villages of Spiti, Langza too is beautiful, and has the Buddhist style mud houses dotting its landscape.
There are buses from Kaza
Located 18km from Kaza, at an altitude of 15027 ft, this village is known as Asia’s highest village connected by a motorable road.
Tangyud monastery overlooking the town of Kaza is its main attraction, other than the excitement of having visited the ‘highest village connected by a motor able road’ , which apparently has been contested. (though I haven’t bothered to look up more on this)
Bus from Kaza to Komic is at 4 PM, the same bus returns to Kaza the next morning.
This beautiful village is known for the wildlife sanctuary to which it is the gateway for- Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.
Snow Leopard Tours
Trek into the sanctuary with a guide to spot the elusive snow leopard. The snow leopard expeditions are usually done in the winters. There are tour operators at Kaza who organise such trips.
There are buses from Kaza
I don’t think I have used the term stunning or beautiful as many times as I have used in this post, which just goes to say how beautiful this place really is. I hope to be back here some day, to explore its beautiful landscapes, and the lovely villages slowly, and at my own pace.
If you have been to Spiti, or planning a trip there, I would love to know your thoughts!, leave a comment below!