A travel guide to Spiti

Over the past few weeks, I got loads of questions on the logistics of my trip to Spiti: Where did I stay? Was it safe to travel solo?  How did I manage my hotel bookings? And so on. I will try to answer few of these questions  in this post but let me warn you that this post is not a definitive guide. I had no particular itinerary in mind before going to Spiti. I just had the rough dates in mind and the to and fro flight tickets to Delhi booked. But I was sure I didn’t want to rush between places. I also wanted it to be a cheap backpacking trip that pushes me out of my comfort zone.

So here are answers to few of those questions:

Which places do I visit? Is there any order in which I can visit the places?

Spiti Valley has so many breathtakingly beautiful villages. Depending on your time frame, you can pick the villages you want to visit. I marked the villages I visited on the map below (except Nako which I couldn’t visit due to a landslide). There are other villages, like Mane, Gete and Tashigang, that I missed. You might want to follow the map west to east or vice-versa to save on back and forth travel time.

Part1
Batal to Kaza Map

Trip2
Kaza to Nako Map

Wow, that was a lot of villages! How many days should I spend in Spiti and how long should I spend in each village?

You don’t really have to visit all the places in one go. Heck, you can just choose two or three villages and spend a whole week there. Be flexible with your itinerary – it’s okay to miss out on one place because you  spent an extra day at some other place that you really liked. I ended up staying a day or two extra in few places because I loved how peaceful they were or because I had met interesting people there.

Can you recommend some good homestays? And what all Spitian dishes and drinks can I try?

I had a great experience in almost all the homestays and hostels I stayed in. If you happen to stay at those places, say Juley to the hosts from me. Here is a list of the places:

1)Zostel, Kaza – If you read any of my previous posts, you know how much I enjoyed my stay at Zostel. This was where I spent the majority of my time. Firstly, Raj and Vishal are brilliant hosts and Panditji’s dal makhani and paranthas are simply delicious. It’s set amidst a backdrop of mountains, towards the very end of Kaza, and the Spiti river is just a stone’s throw away. You get to meet lots of passionate travellers and carry back a lifetime of experiences. Just go there, you’ll love it! But it is slightly on the expensive side compared to other hostels in Kaza.

2) Chacha Chachi Dhabha, Batal – The stone dhabha covered with Tarpauline sheets teleports you back in time. It’s not high on luxury or facilities but walking through a dwarf door and sleeping on the mud floor (had to use layers of razais to ward off the cold) of the dhaba is an experience in itself. But on the plus side it is pretty darn cheap – just 150 bucks a night. You also get to experience the hospitality of the famous Chachi Chachi and savour their world-famous Rajma Chawal.

3)Phan Dhey Homestay, Langza – My only goal at Langza was to find a place close to the Buddha statue so I could easily carry my camera gear for night sky photography. So I ended up in a terrace room at the Phan Dhey homestay. The rooms are warm and cozy. It was such a delight to lie down on the terrace watching the milky way and meteor shower! Takpa, the host, helped me carry and setup my camera gear for the Buddha statue shots at midnight. It was chilly cold but he stayed back with me and made sure I got all the help I needed to get the shots. After getting back, he even got me a cup of warm tea.

4)Tara Homestay, Mudh – I extended my stay in Mudh just so I could eat more of their food. No kidding! Their cheese paranthas, milky bar paranthas and Tibetan pizzas are out of the world! The rooms are spacious and comfortable. And from the windows, you can see the whole stretch of colorful mountains in Pin Valley. And you can go to sleep while staring at shooting stars and milky way.

DSC_0125
The lavendars!

5)Monastery guest house, Tabo – The room cost me like 150 bucks a day. The facilities were not exactly clean and I had to share a dorm with a drunk cabbie, which was quite alarming. But luckily for me, there was another traveller to give me company. On the positive side, both the new and old Tabo Monasteries are stones throw away. Do try the food at Kunzum Top Cafe (Bhagalis, Tsampa and Semthuk). I spent a full afternoon with a European couple trying out these sumptuos dishes on their menu.

Did you pre-book the hotels?

For my 2 weeks stay, I booked stay in Zostel Kaza for 6 random days out of the 14. That way I figured, I wouldn’t have to sleep on the roads for atleast 6 days if I didn’t find any stay.  Sometimes, I had to go around few homestays before I got a room and other times, the first place had an empty room. But I had no trouble finding homestays/hostels either way. Worst  case, you can walk in to a monastery and tell them you have no place to stay and they will gladly let you in.

How to reach Spiti? How to travel around in Spiti?

You can reach Spiti via the Shimla or the Manali route. I took the Manali road, which is open from July to mid-October subject to weather conditions. There is plenty of information online about the when the routes open, so I won’t get into any of those details.

I took the bus from Manali to Kaza and three bus breakdrowns and nearly 13 hours later, I reached Kaza. The tickets are available right on the travel date or you can pre-book them the previous evening for an assured seat. There are shared taxis from Manali which are apparently much quicker but I wanted to minimize my travel costs as much as possible (they cost 700 bucks more). While in Spiti, I mostly hitch-hiked and only when travelling to Mudh, I used the government bus. I hitch-hiked from Chandratal to Batal and Batal to Kaza. The only issue with hitch-hiking is that you might have to wait a bit (or a lot) to get a ride but hey, I had all the time in the world 🙂

IMG_0241.JPG
We did travel on those teeny tiny roads. Candy if you can spot the lorry!

Is travelling solo a safe option in Spiti?

For the most part, I found travelling in Spiti very very safe. Local people are extremely helpful and you’ll be surprised how nice the locals can be. That being said, it always helps to be cautious and discuss with your local host about your travel plans. It gets dark really soon around August and it can get quite scary if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with no people around.

I remember on my second day, I stayed back in Dhankar to watch the brilliant sunset. I  had to go back to Kaza so I hitch-hiked in an Innova with a group of people from Pune. They were to drop me off near the de-tour to Lalung and I had to hitch-hike till Kaza again. Mid-way it started getting dark so they wanted to drop me somewhere only if I found a cab. After driving a little bit ahead of the de-tour, I insisted that they drop me there and leave as I didn’t want to derail their travel plans. After a few minutes it got very scary as there was absolutely no light around – just huge mountains in pitch dark and the sound of the river. I didn’t realize how scary the sound of water can be till that point. I kept my calm and decided to walk till I found a house.

I had no idea where the next house would be and my phone without signal was practically useless. But luckily a couple of Monks were going the opposite way on a bike. They probably wouldn’t have noticed me in the dark had I not shouted ‘Lift, lift!’. They decided to stay back till I got a lift or come along till the locals’ houses two kilometers away. They said it was extremely difficult to find vehicles at that time and that it might not be completely safe. In an almost filmy twist, we saw a jeep coming in the distance (just the headlight beams far away). It arrived after five minutes and luckily for me,  the vehicle belonged to some government officer who was late collecting some data in nearby villages. The monks stopped the vehicle and made sure I got in safe.

Also, the Innova guys and I crossed paths while I was going to Key next day. They waved from their car and their faces split into grins knowing I wasn’t dead. I was more careful from the next time: I either planned to stay back in the village if it got dark or take a ride to whichever village I had to go to before dusk.

Few general travel tips

  • I did not plan my trip to the minutest detail.  I took a middle ground and that really helped me keep my itinerary flexible. Ofcourse I did not do pre-bookings for all stay but I did a lot of research about the routes and villages.
  • Local people can give you great tips: not all places can be found on Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor.
  • Be a responsible traveller. Don’t litter and let those surreal landscapes be as they are.

Have a great trip and say Juley to the folks in Spiti from me!!

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