Looking at your comments on my previous posts, a lot more people seem to be willing to travel to Spiti, Himachal Pradesh. To make your journey more comfortable here are ten things to know before you travel to Spiti. It might provide some food for thought as well!
Prepare for High Altitude
Kaza the district headquarter is at an altitude of 3650 meters (11,980 feet). Chandratal is at 4,300 meters (14,100 feet). As there is less oxygen than we are used to, it can lead to what is called AMS or acute mountain sickness. While I am no expert on it, I believe in acclimatization. If you take it easy initially and gain height slowly, your body will get used to the less oxygen.
There is a common medicine called Diamox for altitude sickness as well. All my guides carry it. But I never had any need to use it. The ultimate authority on the topic is your doctor and you. But I do not like what some trekking agencies seem to be doing these days, rush the trip, cut down on acclimatization and prescribe Diamox for everyone!
Drinking and High Altitude don’t Mix Well
I am not big on drinking. One glass of very watery rum is all I might have on the cold nights in the hills. And even that creates trouble for me at high altitude. In the picture above I look lost in thought! I was actually holding my head as I had a hangover from that watery glass of rum mixed with the altitude at Chandratal last year. This year as we reached Chandratal in one go by road, I anyway had a headache. For the first night I didn’t drink any alcohol and I hardly ate anything. By the next day, I was fine.
There are No Roads
The roads to Spiti are bad. There are hardly any roads in fact. There is more mud and stone than tar on the roads. It makes for a very tiring journey. A lot of ‘nalas’ flow on the road. The ‘nalas’ get formed due to snow melt. The water increases as the sun gets higher. So it is easier to cross the ‘nalas’ early during the day time. That is why drivers insist on an early start.
Also if you wish to stop at ever bend, and believe me you will want to, to take pictures it makes sense to start early. Your driver will not like it at all if you delay the arrival till late as he is the one who will have to drive on bad roads in failing light.
Private Vehicle is Expensive, Public Transport Sparse
Hiring a private vehicle to Spiti would be the single most expensive addition to the cost of the trip. It gives you a lot of flexibility about when to travel, what to see, where to go etc. There is hardly any public transport in Spiti. People hitchhike, use the rare buses that ply in season, ask for lift in canters, with Lamas and somehow get wherever they wish to. Keep this is mind when you plan your trip. If you are driving your own vehicle, that is another matter. As I have never done it, I have nothing much to say about it.
Homestay is an Option
People do offer a room in their homes at in most of the villages in Spiti. All the places that I stayed in 2007 were clean and beautiful. Back then not too many people spoke Hindi, but they do now. Homestays seem to be on the rise now.
Guesthouse are the Norm
Other than homestays there are guesthouses where you can stay. There are no star hotels in Spiti. At the time of Buddhist festivals all the guesthouses will get full. If His Holiness, the Dalai Lama is in the region, that particular village will be jam packed.
You Cannot Camp by the Edge of the Chandratal Lake
However much you may like, no one can pitch a tent next to the Chandratal Lake. The forest department has a restriction of 2 kilometers distance from the lake.
Spiti is Beautiful
Do I really need to elaborate on this? This is the view of Dhankar Village in the Spiti valley from the balcony of my guesthouse.
Go with an Open Mind
The two common traits of the cities do not work well in the hills. First is aggressiveness. Spiti is a quiet region, people are peaceful. You will do better with the gentle people if you leave home your ‘can do’ ‘go getter’ attitude. The other thing that is jarring is that ‘everyone is out there to make a fast buck at your expanse’. Believe me, it will be an insult to almost everyone in this region. The norms are different, the society is different and the pace is different. I am not saying that you trust people blindly, but go with an open mind and less of the city aggression.
Only BSNL Phones Work in the Region
All the phones become dumb boxes in the region unless you have BSNL. BSNL is the only network that works in the region. At Dhankar there is not even BSNL. In Kaza you can make a STD call like the good old days.
I will give you two bonus tips, there is no airport in the region! From Manali side there will be an ATM only at Kaza and no one can predict if it will have money or not. And you can forget credit cards for the duration of the trip.
There is a route from Shimla but unfortunately I have not done that till now. I will try hard to rectify this the next year. And in the end I guess I wrote this post just to show you more pictures from Spiti!
PS. My guide for this trip was Rama Kant Sharma.
Everyone should visit Lahaul and Spiti once in their lifetimes. It was my third third trip to the region. I went in 2007 when we trekked through the region and then more recently to Chandratal in 2014. I say that one trip per year to Spiti is a must! I hope you will enjoy my postcards from Lahaul and Spiti
I have gone beyond Rohtang Pass only when I ventured into Ladakh or Spiti. It has never been a destination on its own for me. It used to be a pain with so many vehicles and traffic jams. The recent curb by NGT on the number of vehicles has certainly eased the situation.
The road to Lahaul and Spiti is very beautiful, but at times there is hardly any road! I asked the driver, Ranbir ji, to break for a second while we were crossing this water pond! This is part of the road to Spiti!
Last year my nephew and I went to Chandratal. My nephew, the original brat, Brat 1 took a similar shot. I had to wait for one year to do a repeat performance but I got my shot too. It looks more dangerous that it actually was. But I would still recommend extreme caution if you wish to try this!
It is always a pleasure to reach Chandra Dhaba at Batal because that means lunch and meeting the legendary Chacha and Chachi of the Chandra Dhaba. Their son Tenzing is no running a camp at Chandratal. In this picture we city slickers posed with the beauties of region!
There are many public vehicles plying on the Manali-Batal-Kaza route. Chandratal is a detour from Batal. If you do not have your own vehicle be prepared to reach in whichever way you can. This gentleman from Mumbai took a lift at the roof of our jeep. Ranbir was not too thrilled about it but he agreed as the Chacha and Chachi asked him to take the gentleman along!
This year the tents have been pushed back further from the lake but I am not complaining. I want the lake to be there for Chhavi and her children too! And the blue you see in the sky is the Spiti Blue, no filter has been used in any of these pictures! Almost all the pictures here are straight from the camera!
The vehicles go quite close to Chandratal but after a point they have to be parked. The walk to the lake is equally beautiful. The horses were enjoying their grass.
I was not too happy about the cloud cover in the sky. I wanted the blazing blue skies that I see in other pictures. But the rain gods were not listening to me yet!
I know I should be grateful for standing at such an awesome place! But I wanted the typical Spiti Blue! Clouds denied me that for a second year in a row!
Last year I ventured only up to Chandratal but this year I was headed further into Spiti. This was a last minute personal trip that I did with my trusted guide Ramakant Sharma. There is much more to the trip that these initial pictures! I am so happy that I could do this trip!
If you have visited Chandratal in Spiti, you could stop reading now. If you are yet to visit the region, what are you waiting for? Ladakh has now become very popular with tourists. Spiti is equally beautiful and less crowded. I find the terrain very similar at both the places.
But there is one crucial difference, Leh has an airport whereas Kaza has none. So reaching Spiti is more difficult. When I went in 2007 there were government buses. But when I revisited in 2014, I didn’t see any buses on the road! There were only shared jeeps, SUVs and hired jeeps.
The road sometimes resembles a waterfall! But the region is so stunningly beautiful that it is worth all the hassle. As it is difficult to reach, it is not as crowded as Ladakh.
Spiti is home to one of the most beautiful high altitude lakes, Chandratal. There is a fair weather road all most all the way to Chandratal. But last year it was impassable due to a landslide when I was in the region. We walked all of those 14 kilometers to reach Chandratal. For a long time our path went along the Chandra River. With a landscape this beautiful, and my penchant for walking, I had nothing to complain about.
If I could change only one thing about this scene, it would be the incessant rain and clouds that kept us company. While it was pleasant to walk on a overcast day, it wa no fun when it obscured all the views and kept us indoors. Later in the evening a bird came by to drink in the stream. It was out source of water and joy too!
I got only a partial view of the lakes as the clouds didn’t let me to view it! Even then it was so beautiful. I am itching to go back once again. Let us see when!
After walking for 14 kilometers or so, I was happy to crawl into my tent which others had kindly pitched. Dilip and I were sharing the tent. What I didn’t like though, was the rain. It had been falling incessantly since we started trekking. Only rain in Spiti means light tip tip drops. You will not get really wet but it can be mighty annoying. It is also annoying because the clouds cover all the view. I mean here I was so close to Chandratal Lake and yet I was not running down to it because of the weather! I told Vishal, “Chandratal is a myth!”
After walking for such a long time, I didn’t take much time to doze off. I was snug in my sleeping bag, I was out of the rain and wind and I was so tired. Thankfully my ankle and knee were not giving any major trouble after the fall. I woke up only when Ramakant ji gave us some tea in the tent! I was even more annoyed that the rain was still falling without a break. After the tea, I managed to doze off once again.
This time I woke up when it was trying to get dark. Vishal gave us soup and pop corns to eat. They were the best pop corns I ever had. Dilip and I were on a cribbing spree about the weather. I mean here I was after walking 14 kilometers, only to get cooped in my tent and listen to rain, rain and some more rain! I was telling Dilip that I spent more time looking at the roof of the tent that I did at the Chandratal Lake!
Before the pop corns arrived I was also telling Dilip that the only thing that remained now was to spill over the small quantity of tea left at the bottom of the glasses inside the tent. He offered to take the glasses out, stumbled near the outer flap of the tent but thankfully spilled the leftover tea on the grass. He is 6 foot plus and then it was his turn to cribb out the height of the tent. I agreed it felt like murgi ka darba (hen’s coop) with nowhere to run and the only place to hide from the rains.
Darkness fell and the weather was such that no one went to the lake. Sometime later we had dinner and turned in for the night. I was hoping for better weather in the morning.
The next morning was not too great weather wise. It was a short walk to the lake after I finished drinking a cup of tea. But even in that cloudy grey weather Chandratal looked majestic. I really truly want to go back the next year later in the season, I would be praying for clear skies! As I said, I spent more time inside the tent than by the lake but even then it was worth walking all those kilometers. I would do it again without thinking twice, if the road is closed.
I feel truly blessed to be able to walk up to the lake and a glimpse of it. I visited Spiti in 2007 but I could not go to the Chandratal Lake then. I went back to the region after 7 long years. It would be 10 years since I have not been to Ladakh. I have to set the other count right and soon! And I hope I would never wait for another 7 years to go back to Spiti. Being back in the plains gives me low altitude sickness.