Backpacking through Spiti Valley and Kinnaur
Cold, remote and arid, a high altitude mountain desert valley, Spiti Valley and Kinnaur lies in one of the highest mountains of India. A turquoise river flows through the mud brown, white rocked valley, with sapphire blue skies, stunning scarlet and gold Buddhist monasteries that glimmer like jewels in the arid landscape. Spiti is definitely unlike anything you have seen so far, because no landscape, quite like Spiti Valley exists.
For me, Spiti has been one of the best trips of my life. It is beautiful, peaceful, and I came back with a sense of fulfillment and inner joy.
Weather and the best time to visit
The weather is cold and the people, warm. Spiti packs a strange blend of extreme weather conditions. It is among the highest places in the world. Life at 3,000 and 4,000 meters altitude itself is quite challenging, and the land mass being a desert makes it more so. Yet, the inhabitants of the tiny villages of Spiti manage. Well and happily, with huge smiles to impart. The best time to visit Spiti is from April to October. Roads are closed during winters. Check for the latest situation before you visit.
I visited Spiti in September on a three week backpacking trip, with a first time backpacker in tow.
Spiti Valley and all of its settlements lie above the altitude of 3,000 m, which means that altitude sickness can be an issue. Fortunately for us, we acclimatized in Kaza, and scraped through with four days of minor tummy aches. I have heard of people suffering much worse.
If you are above the age of 60, a heart patient or suffer BP problems, it is crucial that you check with your doctor before planning your trip to Spiti. Even if you are younger, and completely healthy, everyone is known to react to high altitudes differently. Check with your doctor before you plan your trip. Precaution never hurt anyone.
We started at Manali, from where we took a state transport bus to Battal in Spiti Valley. The journey was… well, intense. I sat on the side on the bus overlooking the valley. Most of the journey, I could not see the road, just the cliff falling steeply hundreds of meters below my window. The bus seemed to balance precariously on a road that was too narrow for it. The ride was so bumpy that we held on to the seat in front of us to save our heads from hitting the side of the bus or each other.
A landscape of impossible beauty, and deep spiritual roots, Chandratal (or Chandra Taal) was the highlight of my Spiti trip.
At Battal, through the deafening gale and clattering teeth, we ate a hot, delicious meal of daal (pulses), rice and chutney at the humble dhaba, before embarking on the 10 km hike to Chandratal Lake (Moon Lake).
Chandratal lake is a silent, cold and mystical place. We walked quietly with our rucksacks struggling against the strong, freezing wind, at one with our inner thoughts, and the two hours seemed to fly past, leaving me strangely refreshed. At the last turn, as the lake of fairies, as it is called, finally swung into view, it was pure magic that overtook me. Read more about Chandratal here.
If you are looking to be more adventurous, trek (takes about 20 hours from Chandratal) to the Surya Taal Lake (Sun Lake). You will need to carry a tent and preferably hire a guide. Talk to the dhaba owners at Battal. They will fix you a guide.
Travel, or a journey is as mental as it is physical, and acclimatization is as much of the mind and the soul, as it is of the body. After an overnight stay in tents (available for hire close to the lake), we walked back to Battal, and took the bus to Key (4 hours). While this journey was a lot less ‘smooth’ than the ride to Battal, we were a lot more at ease this time.
Kaza is the largest settlement of Spiti Valley. Littered with sacred monasteries which rise up like sentinels of faith against a sapphire blue sky in a desert landscape. We stayed at Kaza for 4 days before taking the leaving for Ki (4116 m).
Ki and Kibber
The Ki village is named for its monastery, which is the main structure of this tiny village. The monastery is like a fortress and a lies atop a hill. The climb to Ki monastery offers stunning views, even for Spiti. Kibber (4,205 m) is 8 km ahead of Ki. Framed with limestone mountains, Kibber is a treat to behold.