The Best of Spiti Valley and Kinnaur in 15 days

  • 15 days of bliss in Spiti Valley and Kinnaur including Sangla and Chandratal Lake. Neeraj shares a day by day account with lovely pictures. The majestic mountains, river meeting points, the everchanging terrain, daring drives on non- existent roads, sparkling blue lakes, hikes at high altitude and many centuries old monasteries created memories that can last a lifetime. But as they say, there is a greater joy in sharing - so here it is.

When we think of nature, peace and tranquillity, we head to the mountains! The region of Sangla and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh offers even more than that – the simplicity of people, immense faith, happy faces and abundance of natural beauty. The majestic mountains, multiple rivers and their meeting points, winding and often difficult terrain, sparkling blue lakes, hikes through the forests, delicately preserved centuries old monasteries and lack of continuous digital connectivity allows you to spend real quality time with just yourself!  


We planned a 15-day trip to this region in end August of 2022. While the pen cannot do justice to what we experienced, I have captured day-wise highlights with insights and pictures. 


Most people plan the trip ex Chandigarh, travel through Shimla/Chail route and exit from Manali to return to Chandigarh and we did exactly the same. We had planned the trip with the help of a travel consultant, Ms Surabhi Subramonian (Founder: Routed Travels). Her deep knowledge of the terrain and its people lifted our experience several notches higher.


Day 1: Chandigarh-Thanedar

View from Grandma Stokes balcony.

A 6 hour drive from Chandigarh, Thanedar is a good one night stop enroute to Sangla. In the middle of apple orchards, it has great views of the mountains and Sutlej River below–from Tirthan valley on one side, Rohtang Pass in the front and Spiti and Nepal on another. 


Grandma Stokes, a property run by the Stokes family (credited with introducing apple cultivation in the region) offers a 6-bedroom villa with splendid views, wooden cozy rooms, place for bonfire and a deck to sit and chat. If you visit during Apple season, that lasts till mid-October, enjoy the most delicious apples here.


Day 2: Thanedar-Rampur Bushahr-Sarahan-Sangla/Batseri

Rampur Bushahr palace

Bhimakali Temple, Sarahan

A quick stop at Rampur Bushahr, capital of the erstwhile Bushahr kingdom had a surprise for us - a nice palace with manicured lawns and a gazebo! At Sarahan, the beautiful 800-year-old Bhimakali temple dedicated to Goddess BhimaKali is a tower style temple and has a unique, ornate architecture making it a landmark place of worship in the region. An iconic symbol, the temple is located in the middle of the town.


Three hours from Sarahan is Sangla town (8900 feet) with Batseri village next to it. Situated in the beautiful green valley, Batseri/Sangla, part of Kinnaur district, are located by the river Baspa and provide a breath of fresh air!

Apple orchards Banjara camps. 

Banjara Camps has a sprawling property in the middle of apple orchards and by the Baspa River where we stayed while Batseri Hotel, another good property, overlooks the River.


Day 3: Sangla-Chitkul-Sangla

Sangla with Kamru Fort at top. 


At 22 kms away from Sangla is the Chitkul village at a height of 11,000 feet. It is the last Indian village before Tibet and is on the old Indo-Tibet road. In a picture-perfect setting having a small population and old houses, constructed with alternate layers of wood and stone, along the river and the mountains all around, Chitkul can easily compel you to stay longer. A village walk here is a must to get a feel of the local culture.


Post monsoon, the road can be patchy but the pink buckwheat fields in the middle of a green valley and the riot of colors make you forget everything else. Time permitting, stop by a stream in the Mastrang forest enroute to Chitkul.


Day 4: Sangla-Rakcham hike-Sangla

During Rakcham hike.

During the Rakcham hike.

This 8 kms moderate intensity hike can easily be a talking point of the entire trip.

Across Baspa River, the hike starts from Batseri village and ends at Rakcham village where you can join the road and return by car. By the river and through the forest and streams, the unmatched natural beauty on this hike is unforgettable. Considered as one of the best hikes in this region, it takes between 4-5 hours. Do carry adequate provisions like energy bars and liquids. Once committed, there is no going back as one can access the road only at start point or the end point. A guide for the hike is highly recommended. At Rakcham, we had lunch with Pradyuman Negi, who is part of the Siachen rescue mission and also runs Eskape Aventures here.         


Day 5: Sangla-Kalpa

View of Kinner Kailash. 


Those who cannot go to Mansarovar try and make a trip to Kinner Kailash, the majestic mountain range that can be seen from anywhere in Kalpa. A brief halt at Rekong Peo for lunch and spice shopping enroute, you can sit, relax and view the Kinner Kailash tucked away far in the mountains. Visible to the naked eye, the weather keeps changing and so do the colors around. Morning sunlight on the Kailash is majestic while the clouds continue to play hide and seek with the ranges. A walk in the Roghi village and a visit to the temple and the monastery will give you a feel of the local place.


To see a Vlog of Kinner Kailash Yatra by DesiWanderers 55 minutes  


Day 6: Kalpa-Nako-Gue-Tabo

Changing terrain.

This is the start of our move from green to golden mountains. The lush green valley soon gives way to the stark, bare and high mountains and narrow and winding roads, a signal that Spiti valley is not far.

Nako Lake.

On the way to Nako, app 40 kms from Kalpa and across the Sutlej River is Moorang Fort. It is believed that the fort was built by the Pandavas during their exile. Next is Nako Lake (11890 feet, still in Kinnaur) a holy lake that can be reached after a small and easy hike through the village. It is a prominent town with a monastery dating back to 1025 AD.


Overlooking the Reo Purgyal mountains (22,000 feet), the monastery at Nako and the art work on the walls represent Vajrayana Buddhism. Kangri Dhaba at Nako is a good stop to enjoy some local food.

Gue Mummy.

Next stop with a small detour is Gue, a small village tucked away in a corner between Sumdo and Tabo. Here one can find a 550-year-old well preserved mummy of Sangha Tenzing, a Tibetan monk. The mummy is in a sitting position with hair and teeth intact and is believed to be maintained without any chemicals. Locals have faith that Sangha Tenzing is still alive and fulfils your wishes. Next to the mummy is a monastery still under completion. The detour to Gue takes additional two hours but is definitely worth it.  

Spiti and Sutlej rivers confluence.

Next is an important stop (enroute to Tabo-11,000 feet) at Khab, where one can see the confluence of Spiti and Sutlej rivers. Across the bridge where the sangam of two rivers can be seen lies Spiti valley.


Tabo is a religious and peaceful town i.e. less than an hour away from here. The Monastery next door, sky full of stars and a ten minute walk was a great close to a busy day!


Day 7: Tabo-Dhankar

New Monastery, Tabo. 

Morning prayers at Tabo monastery was nothing short of surreal! There is a new monastery where monks do the prayers while the old monastery dating back to 996 AD and founded by Rinchen Zangpo, a Buddhist scholar and translator on behalf of the king Yeshe, is delicately preserved and visited under the guidance of a monk. The walls of the monastery are covered with frescos, paintings, thangkas and old scriptures. There are nine temples in total with Tsuglakhang being the most fascinating one. Tabo, located in a flat valley unlike many others which are typically on a hill, is considered as the oldest operating monastery in India and Tibet. One can also see the caves on a mountain next to the monastery where monks meditate.


The experience of visiting Tabo for a day left me with a thought that one can come here for a longer stay. Maitreyi Regency is a very decent option to stay.  


At a distance of 35 kms and just under two hours of travel, Dhankar was our next stop. Staying the night was a great decision. One can start feeling the impact of height here and a small climb can look difficult for those still not acclimatized. Essentially, there are three things to do-visiting old monastery, hiking up to fort in the village and then hiking to the holy Dhankar Lake in the morning.

Dhankar Monastery 

The Dhankar monastery is a 16th century monument though the locals believe that the Gompa is over 1000 years old. Situated at an elevation of over 12,700 feet, it is built on a cliff as a fort monastery and overlooks the confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers amidst the vast expanse of Spiti valley. Belonging to Gelugpa order of Buddhism, around 150 monks live at the old and the new monasteries.


The climb to the fort is a small one but definitely worth it, just for the splendid views of the mountains and the rivers below. It also is a fantastic place for a photo opportunity!


Day 8: Dhankar-Pin Valley

Me at Dhankar Lake

An early morning, six km round trip, hike to Dhankar Lake (13,600 feet) is one of the highlights in Spiti. A narrow path with a moderate ascend takes you to the lake in a little over an hour. The splendid views of the snow-capped mountains in the background and the valley below will remain etched forever in the mind. As not many people visit this due to low oxygen levels this is a place where one can sit for hours and enjoy the nature with several shades of colors reflecting in the lake. The hike down takes just half an hour and is an easy one.


The stay options are limited in Dhankar. But one can find a home stay or a small hotel to spend the night.

Pin Valley. 

The drive to Pin Valley national park (12,000 feet) is one of the most scenic in the entire Spiti valley. The changing colors on the mountains – from golden to brown to pink with Pin River flowing at the bottom make the area come alive with abundance of natural beauty. 

The main Buddha statue at Kungri monastery.

The Kungri monastery of the Nyingama sect, enroute to Pin Valley, adds to the charm. Built in the 14th century, this is one of the oldest monasteries in this area. Driving on an unfriendly non-tar track beyond Mudh, the last village in Pin Valley adds to the fun.


While we stayed the night in Pin Valley, it can be skipped and one can move to Kaza, if short of time. This is a base for Pin Parvati and Pin Bhaba treks.


Day 9: Pin Valley-Kaza

Pin Valley views. 

If one stays at Pin Valley, a walk down to the Pin River in the morning is a must. Dipping your feet in ice cold glacial waters amidst the sound of the river and the silence around is fun.

Inside Deyzor Hotel. 

A two hour drive from Pin Valley, Kaza (12,000 feet) is the sub-district headquarter of Lahaul-Spiti and has all the required facilities. It can be the base for day trips around. We stayed here for three nights and did half day excursions leaving sufficient time to just relax here in the evening.


Deyzor, the 10-room boutique property remains our best stay of this trip. A pet-friendly hotel with a personalized service from its owner Karanbir Singh and a lobby full of writings, paintings and memories of people with interesting artefacts around, it is a cozy place that one can be looking for. The best part is the exceptional international and local cuisines that the chef dishes out here that can match anything anywhere in a specialty restaurant. A rider-everything happens at its own pace though!


Day 10: Kaza-Chicham-Kibber-Kye-Kaza

In a half day excursion, Chicham gave us the thrill of walking on the 2nd highest suspension bridge in Asia. The gorge below is 1,000 feet down from the bridge.


Close by Kibber (14,000 feet) is a little village. With several homestays and basic facilities, this is the place (apart from Pin) where snow leopards and Ibex can be found during the winters. Tourists stay for days here in the hope of a sighting of that elusive snow leopard. This place can be a treat for photographers, wild life lovers and those looking for a feel of a local village.

Kye Monastery. 

On the way back to Kaza, we crossed the most important and the largest monastery in the region-the Kye monastery (13,500 feet) where over 300 monks reside. Perched on a hill and spread over multiple floors, Kye belonging to the Gelugpa sect (like Tabo and Dhankar) looks quite like the Thiksey in Ladakh. The monastery provides a beautiful setting and a great view. Spend some time here, visit all the floors esp. the main prayer hall that has beautiful paintings and murals.


Back in Kaza, the evening can be well spent with a walk within the city, a visit to the Kaza monastery, shopping for mementos and snacking at the various options available in the market. Taste of Spiti, run by Ecosphere is a good option.


Day 11: Kaza-Langza-Hikkim-Komic-Hikkim-Kaza

This is another half day excursion that has to be done to enjoy the beauty of this region. Those short of time can combine the second half day excursions into one day and cover it along with Kibber.

 Fossils in Langza.

Buddha at Langza. Pranams.  

Langza (14,000 feet) is famous for 150-200 million years old fossils of marine animals and plants that can be found in this region. Part of the ocean several million years ago, you can find some locals selling these fossils at ridiculously low prices. Langza has a large Buddha statue that overlooks the stunning valley below and the barren landscape around. Besides the monastery, Langza also has a famous ancient lhang where occult practices come alive. We were fortunate to see the lhang, thanks to our guide.

Hikkim Post Office is the highest in the world.   

Next stop, Hikkim is famous for having the highest post office in the world. Suddenly for the first time in our trip, we found ourselves amongst several tourists trying to write and send post cards to the loved ones. The post office made in the red color post box shape is clearly an important land mark here. We also got to see Himalayan Blue sheep here, walking in the wild. Not so lucky with the Ibex which can be seen later in the winter months.


Peas farming at Komic village. Peas delicious.  

A few kms higher than Hikkim is Komic village which is reputed to be the highest motorable village in the world. At an altitude of 15,500 feet, this has Tangyud monastery, one of the highest altitude monasteries in India. The monastery is one of the few belonging to the Sakya sect and hence an important place for the people here. We were lucky to have a delicious meal with a local family here in their home. The village is less than a kilometer below the monastery and has a few home stay options. We trekked down two kms from Komic to Hikkim, enjoying the high altitude and the sharp slopes around. However, it may be advisable to stay in the car for those having breathing issues.


Day 12: Kaza-Chandrataal

From Kaza, one crosses over to the other side of the Spiti river that allows you to get a great view of the Kye monastery. En route, we had a chance to stop at a beautiful nunnery where young girls stay and study at a monastery. Most of them go to the lower altitude places, even in south India, in the winter months.

Kumzum Pass (14,900 feet). 

Further up, we did a stopover for lunch at Losar (very scenic) before crossing Kumzum pass. All drivers and guides pray at the Kumzum temple before proceeding further. We were to soon realize why they did so as the terrain changes once again with tarred roads giving way to off-road conditions.

Drive to Chandratal

At 100 kms away from Kaza, Chandrataal is the crescent shaped blue water lake that can be reached by an unpaved and winding road along the Chandra River. It is a large water body lake considered very holy by locals. The vehicle goes close to the lake with the last 1.25 km to be covered on foot. The stay options are basic tents, allowed at a point which is 3 kms before the lake.

Walking around Chandratal Lake. 

At 14,000 feet, Chandrataal is probably the most awaited spot in any itinerary in this region. Serene, splendid, turquoise blue, vast, beautiful, pious, calm- there are many words that come to mind when you see the lake. Its unparalleled beauty needs to be seen to believe. The water is crystal clear and one can walk around the lake to get a feel of its expanse. There are several glaciers around the lake that continuously feed it. The temperature in this area goes below zero at night, so one needs to be fully layered.


Day 13: Chandrataal-Manali

Drive to Manali. 

This was the most difficult terrain we encountered throughout our trip. The road was non-existent for 80 kms and there were multiple water bodies that had to be crossed. So, leaving early morning and crossing the streams before they swell up with melting glaciers is always advisable. While the roads may not be great, the snow-capped mountains with Chandra River below and shepherds with their flock of sheep seeking their right to cross, more than make up for all the challenges in navigating the terrain. A stop at Batal to catch the best aloo parathas at Chacha Chachi da Dhaba is a must.

In Spiti language Namaste is called Julley. This is at end of Atal Tunnel. 

The Lahaul side of the district is once again green and a sign that Manali is not too far. The road joins the Manali-Leh route before crossing the 10 km long Atal Tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, at a few kms away is the famous Solang Valley.


Day 14: Manali-Naggar-local Manali

Manali is a commercial hill station but a day can be well spent here. Between Manali and Kullu lies Naggar where an old castle is now converted into HPTDC hotel that has some gorgeous views of the valley. Not very far from there is centuries old Krishna temple and Nicholas Roerich Art Gallery, a place frequented by art lovers from around the world. A quick visit to Hadimba temple before spending some time at the mall will conclude a good day’s outing.

We had the time of our lives, the smiles say it all. Thanks Routed Travels. 

Day 15: Manali-Chandigarh

All along the Beas River (starts from a Kund at Rohtang) up to Mandi, the ten hour drive to Chandigarh can either be done direct or via Rewalsar, a significant place for Hindus/Buddhists/Sikhs or via Anandpur Sahib, a sacred place for Sikhs. Navigating Mandi can take time due to road widening and tunnel construction work going on for a while now. We came direct in time to catch our flights/train and conclude an extremely memorable trip.


All pictures by author Neeraj Jain. Copyright of pictures lie with Neeraj.


To see albums

1. Kalpa Sangla Valley

2. Spiti Valley

3. Tabo

4. Solang Valley Manali

5. Hadimba Temple Manali

6. Chandratal Lake

7. Pin Valley

8. Drive from Pune to Spiti Valley

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