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.
I did a trip to Lahaul and Spiti in August 2015. When I posted some pictures of Chandratal Lake, people asked me how to go there, was there a resort nearby, etc. In this post I try to answer some questions related to How to reach Chandratal Lake? This is when I assume you are not driving your own vehicle.
The nearest large town near Chandratal is Manali. The easiest but the most costly way to reach is to hire a Tata Sumo from Manali and reach Chandratal. The distance between the two is 140 km. You will pay more than 10K rupees for a private jeep hire. It helps if a few friends are sharing the cost of hiring a jeep.
After you cross the Rohtang Pass there are just two spots where you can get things to eat Chhatru and Batal. There are small dhabas at both the places.
The road to Spiti has more mud and rocks than anything else! There is hardly any tar to be seen anywhere! You can find waterfalls, pagal nalas all on the road!
There are no phone services or electricity both at Batal and Chandratal. In the Spiti Valley only BSNL phones work.
If you do not wish to hire a jeep, there is a bus to Kaza. Get down at Batal and stay there at Chandra Dhaba run by Chacha and Chachi. By staying you will acclimatize better to the high altitude. Chandratal Lake is a 14km trek from Batal. So option one is to trek! Chandratal Lake is at a height of 4300 meters.
This time we reached there in one shot, in a Tata Sumo, from Manali. I had headache and mild nausea due to the altitude. I could not eat much at the night. I was better in the morning. Last year we stayed at Batal, trekked to Chandratal and I had no discomfort because I acclimatized better.
If you do not wish to trek, then you are in a mild soup. You need to hitch hike. A gentleman from Mumbai took a lift from us. We had no space in the vehicle so he went on the roof. He came back to Batal the same way! There are bikers, cars and workers going that way. Be nice to people and someone will give you a lift. Make sure that you can come back with the same set of people, or you need to ask someone for the lift again.
I would say stay at the Chandratal camping grounds for a few days. Please note that camping is not allowed by the edge of the lake! And it is a good thing. You want the lake to be there for your kids too, right? I went to Chandratal, both in 2014 and 2015. In 2015 the camping grounds have been pushed back further away from the lake and I like it. We could not camp where we did in 2014.
We had our own tent and kitchen tent! However, there are tents and food available at the camping grounds. Tenzing, Chacha and Chachi’s son runs a camp at Chandratal. Jamaica is another tent which we saw both in 2014 and 2015! So once you reach, you can stay at the tents, they will give you food too. The tents usually cost 1200 rupees upwards. But as there are no phone services, pre-booking a tent is a pain! Tenzing told me, “Ask them to come, we have extra tents, we will pitch it if need be. We will not let them freeze at night.” And it really freezes at night. The windscreen of the car had to be thawed there was so much frost on it.
From the camping grounds the lake is still about 3km way. You can take the trek route and walk to the lake. Or you can take a lift to what is known as the ‘parking lot’ of the Chandratal. From the parking lot, the lake is a ten minutes leisurely walk.
There are smaller water bodies above Chandratal. They are worth a visit. I could visit only one and spot another one in the distance. They have been marked for future exploration.
Now that you reached Chandratal you need to get back to civilization! Your first task will be to get back to Batal. Once again either trek or ask for a lift.
Once at Batal you can continue further to Kaza or try getting back to Manali. I highly recommend that you go to Kaza and beyond. There is a bus in season from Kaza to Manali. There are shared jeeps too.
Losar is another village is Spiti which offers lodges, you can stay there and then head to Kaza. The distance between Batal and Losar is about 50 km.
I met a young Indian couple who were doing the trip to Spiti using public transport. I met many foreigners who were doing this trip using public transport.
I met another young Indian couple who were doing this trip hitch hiking with truck driver!
And if all this feels like too much work just get in touch with my guide Rama Kant Sharma and he will arrange the trip for you. He can be reached at 9816183284
And now you know that the nearest resort near Chandratal is at Manali. At Chandratal there are only tents.
Bonus: Check out DOW’s post on the same topic for crazier ideas.
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!