Travel

Himachal and Spiti

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June is the monsoon season all over the south and Nikhil was searching for a destination which will give a break from hectic work schedule and the rains. So he came up with the idea of visiting Spiti Valley. When I heard the name I was excited as finally I will be using my passport for its actual purpose of travel and not as an identity proof. And as this will be our first foreign tour!!! So I asked Nikhil which country is it in?? I can still remember the look on Nikhil’s face!! He just told me to Google it and left for office.

When I searched the name in the internet I found this place in my very  own country. Though disappointed by missing a foreign tour, I went through the pictures and write ups on this place in Himachal and instantly fell in love with it.  And so off we were on our adventure.  Our tour follows:

Shimla is 7 to 8 hours journey from New Delhi and we took a Volvo bus run by Himachal Tourism from Delhi. Though we were little hesitant about this bus journey we found it comfortable and were ready to enjoy Shimla the next morning.

Day One – Shimla:

Shimla the Capital of Himachal Pradesh is often termed as “Queen of Hills.”  It is located in North West Himalayas at an altitude of about 2200 meters. The weather here was a mixture of sunshine and clouds. We started our day with the visit to Christ Church which was very near to the hotel we stayed. This is said to be the second oldest Church in Northern India. We spent some time looking at the Majestic architecture and left for our next place of the day called Naldehra Golf course. Naldehra is about 22 kms from Shimla city. Here before we could know what is happening we were made to sit on the Horse back to have a look at the Golf course. It was the first ever time I ever rode on a horse back. Initially it felt little scary but, soon we felt like Maharaja and Maharani on the horses. It was an hour and a half ride through the lush green golf course. We stopped at a Nag Mandir built in the greenery. On our way we enjoyed the view of Pine trees and valleys and a far off view of river Sutlej.

After spending quiet a lot of time on horse back we were hungry and had a nice food at a road side hotel and started for our next stop at Kufri.

Kufri is situated 16 kms from Shimla city. Being located at the highest point it receives the first snow fall of Shimla District. There is a Fun park situated here and we came to know that the only way we can reach there is by Horse riding. So again we were on horseback on our way to The Fun Park, The so called road which leads to the park is completely covered with mud and stones. We came to know that about 1100 horses work here operated by Himachal Tourism. These are trained horses and were taking us through the serpentine roads facing deep fall at one side following their counterparts without disturbing the line. After an hour of ride we finally reached our destination.  The Fun parks houses a small garden, a skiing zone (for winters) and few valley view points. At the time we reached there it started to drizzle and everything around was covered by fog. So we could not see much there. There were many Yaks, the King of snow here. Though these are used only for photo purpose, the animal looked very interesting and friendly too. I too jumped on one to have my photo. After spending some time around in Kufri, we decided to go back. Again on horseback. Finally after about 45 minutes we were back to our car and headed to the place called Lalit Cafe where the Shimla Agreement was discussed between Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto. It houses a Cafe and a garden. By this time the sky was completely covered by clouds and we decided to leave for Shimla.

On our way back we stopped to see the Green valley of Shimla. Our guide said that the valley is spread almost 25 kms and full of Pine trees. The valley was covered by fog and only we could see is the white foggy valley in place of Green!!

At the time we entered Shimla it was evening and it had started to rain and we decided to retire for the day.

Day Two – Manali:

The second day of our tour was to go to Manali. Manali is 360 kms from Shimla another beautiful Hill station. It was a day long journey so we packed as early as possible and left for our next destination.

Enroute Manali: The weather was perfect with no signs of rains though sometimes it was cloudy enough to hide the mountains from our view. The first stop was at Sundar Lake. A beautiful lake just outside the beautiful town Sundarnagar near Mandi. Lake is surrounded by huge mountains and a good place to stop on the long journey.

The next stop was Pandoh Hydel project on river Beas. We could hear the roaring of the river from a distance where the dam is constructed. We stopped here for some time to see the water flowing in its full force on the other side of the dam. For Manali, we have to cross the bridge built over the dam. Fully surrounded by mountains with huge trees, this place is a must stop.

The next stop was at Kullu where we did river rafting in the River Beas. It was a first time experience for both of us. Little nervous we climbed the boat in the jackets provided by the organiser. Initially it felt little scary as both of us are non swimmers but, it was safe and we enjoyed every bit of 7 km long rafting in the ice cold waters of Beas.

After visiting the famous shawl factory of Kullu (Caveat Emptor – Don’t fall for the Chingu scheme), we finally reached our hotel at Manali in late evening.

Day Three – Manali:

Vashishta Temple: Our first stop in Manali was the Vashistha Temple in village Vashishta situated 3 kms from Manali. The temple is believed to be  4,000-year-old temple dedicated to sage Vashisht.
The temple is also famous for its hot sulphur springs. According to legend, Lakshmana who visited this ashram of Vashisht found that his guru had to go far off for his bath.  He shot an arrow at this place and hot water sprang out. Shower-fitted Turkish style bathrooms have made the spring a popular spot used mostly by locals and was dirty.
Inside the temple there is a black stone image of the Rishi, clad in dhoti. On the left side of the spring, there is a Rama temple in which the idols of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana have been installed.

Hadimba/ Hidimba Devi Temple: After spending some time at the Vashishta temple and savouring the beauty of the surrounding mountains and valleys, we left for Hadimba Temple.  This  temple is located in middle of the forest Dhungiri Van Vihar amidst the huge Deodhar Trees. The temple was built in 1553 and dedicated to Hadimba Rakshashi of Mahabharat as she ruled these mountains.  The temple is four storeyed and has a  Pagoda styled architecture.  Spending sometime amidst the huge Deodhars, our next stop was The Clubhouse.

 

Club House: As far as I am concerned it is just a modern tourist attraction and nothing else. It had some water sports like river crossing, a boating and few game centres. We had a quick look around and  left for the Tibetian Monastery.

 

Tibetan Monastery: We visited the Tibetan Monastery near Tibetan Market. A beautiful statue of Bhagvan Buddha in the centre is truly divine. The calm and quiet surroundings of the monastery were a welcome change amidst the crowded areas we went earlier.

We just strolled down the Tibetian market and Mall Road of  Manali for  some time and retired for the day as, the next morning we had to leave for our Main attraction of this tour, Spiti Valley.

Spiti Valley – The Hidden Paradise

As per our drivers request, we decided to leave hotel as early as 3 am the next day to reach Kaza by 3 pm. The hurdle for the trip was Rohtang Pass as the day before, there was a Landslide and the traffic was still to be cleared. We reached Rohtang pass at about 5 am and before we could reach, we saw the long line of vehicles. So here we were about 7 kms from main Zero Point of Rohtang Pass stuck in a Traffic Jam!! The morning was a real beauty, Green valleys, huge mountains, snow capped peaks, rivers and the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. The nature was at its Best here. At this point we were really happy being stuck in a traffic jam as otherwise we could not have enjoyed this beauty!!

3 hours went on and there was no sign of our Sumo moving an inch. We were at a single point all three hours and slowly the cars started moving. Oh, that’s great we will reach Kaza in time!! But, what happened next was unbelievable. The traffic was so slow due to a major landslide that it took us full 8 hours to Pass The Great Rohtang Pass!! Crossing the Landslide zone was a nightmare. The road was muddy and our driver had to struggle controlling the vehicle. The police were allowing one vehicle at a time to cross the particular landslide zone. And above all rain had started and curtailing our speed too. Muddy slippery road with steep valley on one side and huge mountain wall on the other. It was most scary road I have ever travelled which made me remember all 3  crore Gods!! Due to snow fall in winters Rohtang is closed for 6 months in a year. And to clear the snow the big bulldozers are used because of which roads are always in bad condition. Even huge military vehicles have to cross this very road to transport ration and ammunition to the base in Ladakh.

Finally we reached Gramphu village at around 2.30 and stopped for lunch. From this village the road splits to Spiti to the east and Leh in the west. The view though fully covered with clouds was awesome!! After having a quick meal of Hot Maggie Noodles, we turned right to our destination Spiti Valley.

Spiti valley too don’t have proper tar roads but, after travelling the roads of Rohtang we found this uneven road as Express Highway!! No traffic and No rains too !! The mountains were so huge with bushes and many water falls falling from the top and deep valley where the River Chandra was flowing in full force. Suddenly the view changed as if by waving a magic wand, enter the most desolate place.  No traffic, no human beings at all in sight.  A view of harsh beauty of Mother Nature. Slowly as we proceeded into the valley I thought we were in completely alien land. We were crossing nalas (water fall from glaciers) the road was both sides covered with huge rocks, small bushes of colourfull flowers and River Chandra  down below. Soon cold wind started blowing and we wore our jackets.

We were enjoying the land so much that we did not even realise that we are at Baatal which is a base camp for the Chandrataal trekking. Though our first stay was supposed to be at Kaza (which is the headquarters of Spiti),we had to stay at Baatal due to traffic at Rohtang. And what a place it was. Amidst the great Himalayas, small Dhaba called Chandra Dhaba run by a Buddhist couple was a great choice of stay we ever did. We rented a tent from the couple who were very friendly and caring. After having a hot mint tea and some chit chat with them, we decided to take rest. The cold wind had started to blow, we really needed to cover ourselves for the night. As the night began, the wind took its toll on us. It was almost 1 degree or low at that time.  We had a dinner of the most delicious Roti and daal and retired for the day.  We both had severe headache due to altitude and as this was known to us, we had purchased “Diamox” tablet at Manali which proved to be a lifesaver.

Day One in Spiti:

We woke up to the bright sunshine falling through the small window of our tent and we just peeked out of the window. Alas, the scene outside was breath-taking. We literally ran out of the tent to see the Great Himalaya which was hidden behind thick clouds the earlier day. The sky was clean blue the wind had stopped and the morning was really pleasant. We just sat in the dhabha with our hot mint tea and savoured the beauty of the place. The view is still crystal clear in front of my eyes even today!!

After finishing our breakfast of Hot Parathas, we moved towards our next destination Kaza.  En route  Kaza we crossed the highest place of Spiti and one of the main passes of India called Kunzum La. There is Kunzum La Devi temple here. Every vehicle passing through Kunzumla stops here to take darshan of Kunzumla Devi and take her blessings. We too stopped here for a while. Surrounded by snow pack mountains and small flowery bushes, this place is amazingly beautiful.

After Kunzum La, the next brief stop was Lohsar where there is a check post to enter the Spiti valley. Lohsar houses few guest houses for tourists. A beautiful town set up amidst the greenery of the green peas farms which is the main commercial crop of this valley also.

Every turn in Spiti has a different view to showcase. We were simply crossing huge mountains with rocks of different colours and textures. Each one has its own unique feature and grandeur. At around 2 o’clock in the afternoon we reached the main and biggest city of the Spiti valley Kaza which is a beautiful town situated in a valley surrounded by monstrous mountains. We checked into our hotel Snow Lion, which is one of the famous hotels of Kaza. After having lunch and taking some rest we decided to visit the First Monastery of our itinerary, The Kee Monastery.

Kee monastery or Gompa as it is called in local Spitian language is situated around 10 kms from Kaza and is on top of a hill. Like bells in Hindu temples, the monastery has prayer bells too, which rings when rotated clock wise. The serene and calm environment of the gompa was a welcome after a long drive from Baatal. A monk or Lama escorted us through the monastery and explained us about the monastery. This monastery is visited by Dalai Lama. There are ancient Buddhist scriptures preserved here. After sipping the aromatic tea offered by the monks and spending some time around the gompa, we left for the next stop Kibber village.

Kibber is situated about 4,500 meters above sea level and said to be the highest electrified and motorable village in the world. The view from the village and of the village was just outstanding. A small village with similar looking houses also has a couple of guest houses for tourists visiting here. We took an evening stroll on the roads of the highest village amongst the kids playing on the roads before leaving to Kaza.

Kaza houses all the government departments for the Lahaul and Spiti district, It has a hospital, school, market place, ATM and the only Petrol Pump in the district. The population must be around 600.

Day Two in Spiti:

After having breakfast we left for Langza and Komic villages. This village is situated at the base of huge mountains and amidst greenery of the fields. There are two villages Upper Langza and Lower langza. Langza has an Huge statue of Bhagwan Buddha. The place is very picturesque. It was the most bluest Azure sky ever seen in my life with different shades of blue.  All around you are the mountains some green, some rugged hiding behind them are the snow capped mountains. It was windy and cold in the mid-morning too. After spending some time in the serene environment, we left for Komic.

We decided to take a small trek / walk from Langza to Komic with our guide  Tashi escorting us through the mountains.  Though the trek was of only around 2 kms it took us almost 2 hours to reach. The weather was a mixture of bright sunshine accompanied with cold wind. Though I am not fond of trekking I enjoyed it and actually it was not that tough too except few steep descends and ascends. On our way we came across the village Hikkam. Every village in Spiti is set up in a lovely background and this was not an exception. As we went up the hill we noticed a square built with stones and flag on it and our guide told us that it is called La which marks the boundary of villages i. e. beginning of one village and the end of another. So different isn’t it?  Finally we reached the road which leads to Komic Monastery. We were out of breath with no energy to walk a step further, and literally sitting on the side of the road to get ourselves to normal. Looking at our tired smiles towards them, the monks walking there took pity on us and offered us lunch at their place.

The food was simple but, delicious consisting of Daal, chawal, sabzi and pickle and a speciality food of Spiti called Timuk made with Atta or wheat flour. This was accompanied with the Namkeen chay (Buttered Tea) another speciality found in Spiti. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the lama called Nyima who served us this mouth-watering lunch at his humble abode in the monastery.

After getting the much needed energy we went to see the Gompa. This too is a very old monastery and was peaceful for the mind. Spending some time in the prayer hall we decided to move back to Kaza.

In the evening we visited the Kaza monastery. This monastery was built in the year 2009 and inaugurated by Dalai Lama. Being new the architecture is so beautiful with vibrant colours painted in and out of the place, not leaving even the ceilings. The huge prayer hall was decorated with Prayer flags consisting of Blue, Yellow, White, Red and Green colours each colour having its own importance and meaning.

In  every monastery we can see the Prayer flags, Thankas – the paintings on clothes,of Buddha, seating for Lamas at the time of prayers, oil lamps, offerings to the God by devotees, the Buddhist scriptures amongst the many, apart from the Huge statues of Bhagwan Buddha,

We spent some time here and decided to retire for the day.

Day Three in Spiti:

Our itinerary for today was Dhangkar Monastery and Tabo. We checked out of the hotel as our next stay was in Tabo another main city of Lahaul and Spiti District.  So we were on our way to Dhangkar which houses an Old and a new monastery. In entire Spiti, vehicles here cannot speed more than 10 to 15 km per hour due to the uphills and dirt roads and the U pin curves. But, this does not make the journey boring at all. Every next turn here has something new to offer. The river Spiti silently accompanies all through the journey in the deep valley below and the mountains make you feel so small in front Mother Nature.

It took us about 2 hours to reach Dhangkar (about 30 kms). First we visited the old monastery which is said to be a thousand year old and certified as heritage building by UNESCO. Built with mud and stones, inside of the Gompa is serene and calm. There is a cave inside the monastery where monks used to sit for meditation for days together. We could see the beautiful village Dhangkar from atop the Gompa.  We paid homage to Lord Buddha and meditated in the peace.  After the meditation, we were refreshed.  From atop the Monastery, one can see the beautiful confluence of the Spiti and Pin rivers.

We next went to see the New Dhangkar gompa. This too like Kaza is painted with vibrant colours and paintings. The monks here too offered us hot tea and biscuits in the lavish sitting room of the New Gompa. After capturing the surrounding views we decided to leave for our next stay Tabo.

Dhangkar has a Lake situated in the other side of the mountains, which we needed to climb  ourselves. Looking at the climb we decided unanimously to skip the lake for this tour and visit it in our next. Yes, we are going to Spiti again as it is a place we fell in Love with.

Passing through many small villages some having a population of 10 to 15 we reached Tabo, where we had a Home Stay. Home stay is actually living in the house of locals and sharing the home made food and getting to know the local culture from close quarters.  And every town in Spiti offers home stays.

The home we stayed was though has the local touch was newly built and modern. The host gave us a warm welcome. We decided to take rest for some time before going for Dinner.

Dinner was a local delight called Thentuk. Pieces of wheat boiled in vegetable curry. This is a staple food of the locals. The meal was sumptuous and we met a couple from Austria and got a chance to have some talk with them before retiring for the day.  The Austrian couple had been to Spiti for doing research on the fossils found in Spiti.  Millions of years ago, there was a huge ocean before the Himalayas were born.  When the Indian mainland separated from Africa and collided into Asia, the sea disappeared and the Himalayas were born.  Due to this, the sea dried up and the sea animals were fossilised.  When you go to Spiti, ask anyone to show you “Spitian Shells” and you will be shown these fossils as there are millions of them, which are older than the Himalayas themselves!!!  We saw an interesting specimen of such fossil preserved by Sonam, the home stay owner.  Amazing!!

Day Four in Spiti:

We started our day with a visit to the Tabo Monastery which is exactly 1014 years old. Yes, completed its 1000 years in the year 1996. Said to be built by Angels in one night (“Aliens” as Nikhil says) this is a very big and well maintained place looking at its age. Every prayer hall has old paintings and statues. Many Stupas made of Mud are around the Gompa in its premises. This has many small prayer halls to see each decorated with age old paintings. It took more than an hour to see all the small prayer halls here.

Then we proceeded to see the New Tabo monastery which is built recently. The Stupa outside the monastery was one of the most beautiful stupas ever seen. Very beautifully painted with nice bright colours which attract one instantly amidst the landscape, mindblowing!!!

The next place today was Mudh in Pin Valley the greenest place of Spiti and gets highest snow fall during winters. On our way we visited Kungri Monastery where we witnessed the Pooja performed by Lamas. It was an out of the world experience. The chanting of mantras or Buddist scriptures and sound of the bells, the smell of the incense sticks, the diyas everything was so divine. We  sat through the prayer and felt connected to The Almighty in such an amazing place.

The surrounding of the Kungri monastry too was exceptionally beautiful.

Next we proceeded towards Mudh. Passing many small, beautifully set up villages we reached Mudh. Today our stay was at a Guest house. The room was nice, clean and decent with a common Bathroom.

The evening view of the mountains was awesome. The sun was shining over the peeks of snow-capped mountains, there was greenery everywhere. We took a walk through the village up to a glacier nearby. The glaciers melt and feed the rivers.  Though from far, the glacier look small they are humongous.

After spending time there, we decided to come back to the guest house and retire for the day.

Day Five in Spiti:

The view in front of us was mesmerising. The colours of nature were shining in the sunshine, the blue sky, the Snow Mountains, the glaciers, the greenery and the sun. What else one would want? True, that you need not to be a good photographer if you come here. Every shot you take here is picture perfect. We had our morning tea and breakfast watching this spectacular view. We witnessed the all famous Bara Shigri Glacier which is the largest glacier in the district. This being our last day of tour both of us were not ready to leave early. But, we had to as we were to reach Kaza after visiting last monastery in our itinerary called Lallung.

Spending as much time possible and taking in all the pureness of nature within, we left for Lallung. It was a perfect day. Throughout we could see the crystal clear sky in the background of The Great Himalayas. There may not be a single spot where we didn’t stop our vehicle to savour the beauty. We stopped at the fields, river bridges, villages everywhere to feel the nature.

Finally we reached Lalung Monastery. We left the green mountains slowly as we neared Lalung. Here the landscape is again different with rugged, sandy, snow-capped mountains.

Local legends say that Lalung was built by Angels in one night. The Angels left suddenly as an old local lady saw them working in the dawn. Otherwise this monastery would have been the largest one. Entirely built by mud this houses the oldest paintings and sculptures painted with Gold. There are no lights allowed inside the gompa as bright lights can damage the colours of the art here.

On our way we saw a village called Demul situated between two giant mountains. What a place it was!! We came back to Kaza our next stay to witness the Birth Day celebrations of Dalai Lama on 6th of July. Our guide Tashi and driver  Angdui told us that there are going to be many cultural programmes where monks from all the monasteries perform. We decided to stay and watch the program as this will be an icing on the cake!!

Day Six in Spiti:

Next day morning we could see the festive environment in the Kaza Gompa from our hotel balcony. We hurriedly got ready so that we can catch a good seat to sit and watch the programmes. But, the procession of the monastery started at around 10 with  the Photo of the Dalai Lama kept in a Doli like thing carried by four people with the various musical instruments playing in front of the procession and chanting of Buddhist mantras started. The procession entered the market of Kaza town and we too like true Buddhist followers followed the procession. It was altogether a different experience and we came to see the entire Kaza town while moving with the procession. After the procession, an hour and a half programme initiated with the prayer of Gurus from all the monasteries and welcome speech and then the welcome song in the Kaza Monastery. After few other entertainment programmes from school children finally the main attraction of the day started with the monks from Tabo monastery performing a traditional dance. Wow, The monks  were wearing extravagant vibrant dresses with hats and sword in hand. The dance moves were so peculiar and elegant. It was a feast for eyes. We enjoyed it to the fullest. The music, the dress, the steps and the way they performed mesmerised everyone for about 15 -20 minutes. It was disappointing for us  that only one team of monks performed that day due to some reason.

Lunch was served to everyone present on the occasion (free of course).  For the first time in our stay, we saw so many Spitians at a time, adorned in their best dresses. It was festival for all of them. We got an opportunity (Special Honour) to have the delicious meal with the Lamas at their dining place. Great experience!!

We had an out of the world experience in Spiti. The people are peace loving and very friendly. Far away from commercial tourism, this place was a great pleasure to be in. The culture, the language, food everything here has its unique feel. Even strangers greet you saying Jule (Hello in Spiti) with a friendly smile.

We dearly miss visiting the Chandertaal Lake, the most beautiful lake in the world.  The road to the lake was still not cleared up and involved a 14 km hectic trek for which we didn’t have time.
If you really want to take a holiday, come to Spiti, because there is no mobile coverage except BSNL and hence no calls at all.

Hidden behind the layers of Himalayas, Spiti is Truly a Hidden Paradise and we surely are hungry for more!!!!

For more photos we took, click here  (highly recommended!!!).

P.S.:  Our guide and driver told us that ISRO scientists including Dr. Anil Kulkarni had come to study the retreating glaciers of the Himalayas and they had spotted a UFO at Samudra Tapur near Chandrataal lake.  Nikhil jumped on hearing this and after some research on the internet, he corroborated this information.  Now he wants to search for ETs at Chandrataal region (Samudra Tapu) himself too ;-).  So right now, I am sure that we are visiting Chandrataal in near future.  For more info on this, click here and here and also our blog post on such topics here and here.

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