Spiti Valley "beautiful but brutal"
3 Nov 2011
Many people are not aware about Kaza & the Spiti valley. Spiti means the middle land & it lies between Tibet & tourists favorite Himachal Pradesh, south-east of Ladakh. Any person who loves driving in the Himalayas should definitely take a trip to Lahaul & Spiti valley. The terrain is harsh, desolate & inhospitable but your final destination makes it all worth it. Few years back I fulfilled my dream of a driving holiday through Lahaul valley to Leh & since then was dreaming of a holiday in Spiti valley. My dream was fulfilled in the second week of October. It was difficult to find companions for this journey but fortunately my wife & daughter agreed to accompany me, although a bit reluctantly.
Rohtang pass is the gateway to this wonderful & isolated world. Landscape dramatically changes into barren mountains, stark moonscapes & the startling lack of vegetation. As we drive into the high altitude mountain desert, roads are bad & at most places barely motorable. Driving is a testing time for courage & patience. Journey is definitely not for the weak hearted & there is a constant assault on your back & bums. Kaza the headquarters of Spiti is about 200 kilometers from Rohtang. The mean elevation is around 4000 meters, the highest point being the Kunjum pass at an elevation of 4550 meters from sea level.
Unfortunately for us, our car broke down before we could cross the Kunjum pass & there was no communication available as most of the mobile networks do not work there. To add to our worries weather turned bad & it started snowing heavily. With great difficulties we reached Vatal about 20 kms ahead. It was great to see a "dhaba" managed by an elderly couple. It was an oasis in the desert. We were lucky to find a working landline BSNL phone here & could contact our travel organizers Vishesh & B Tsering. They were kind enough to send a rescue vehicle despite the heavy snowfall & difficult conditions. And after a treacherous journey and an adventurous road trip we managed to reach our hotel.
The dominant feature of Spiti valley is its Buddhist culture. The naked & rugged snow top mountains, sparsely populated villages at long distances, beautiful blue sky & equally beautiful blue Spiti River are the main features of this isolated land. Our exploration of Spiti monastery circuit started with the visit to Pin Valley & its Ugyen Salag Choling Monastery & the Mudh village. Scenery as expected was spectacular especially the river bed of Pin River which later joins the Spiti River. 13th century Kee monastery perched on a mountain top which is the largest in Spiti valley. From the road below view is beautiful. Next was the Comic monastery. Weather was pretty cold in spite of a very bright sun & we loved the bread & hot brew provided by the Lama. The Lamas generate electricity by a cycling machine. They even maintain a greenhouse chamber.
16th century monastery Dhankar gompa is precariously perched on the edge of a hill top. This was partially destroyed in an earthquake. Now there are efforts to rebuild the monastery. Simple but very important is the Tabo monastery build in the 9th century. It is about 40 kilometers from Kaza & the drive is beautiful & heavenly. For the first time we saw apple orchards near the monastery. Photography inside the monastery is not allowed. Inside walls were beautifully decorated by Kashmiri artisans. Walls were exquisitely painted, reminding us of Ajanta caves. Visiting Kibber & Lanza villages & meeting local population & specially children was quite interesting & enlightening. The large Buddha statue in Lanza makes it a very impressive site.
Icing on the cake was our visit to "Chandrataal' on return journey to Manali. What a beautiful sight it was!!! We reached this astonishing place after driving for about 13 kilometers on a treacherous detour after the Kunjum pass & then a walk of about 2 kilometers. This site is probably only comparable to Pangong Pso in Ladakh.
It is probably good that Spiti valley is so inaccessible to a common tourist. Only a serious & passionate traveler must visit this out of world place.