Sunday, June 29, 2014

Road Trip – ‘Spiti Valley’ – The Desert Mountain

There are so many beautiful places to see and explore across the world and quite a few of them in India. A well planned trip with good research, clarity on the places to visit, confirmed bookings, etc. are the recipe of a  good trip ….. but nothing as exciting as a half baked road trip, with no prior bookings with just some research done of the places you want to explore. And the icing on top is till the last minute you are not sure who all will finally make it to the starting point of the trip J

We decided for an 8 days road trip to ‘Spiti Valley’ the desert mountain valley located high in the Himalaya Mountains in the north-eastern part of the Himachal Pradesh. The plan was to cover the below places:

Delhi - Chandigarh - Shimla – Kalpa - Tabo -  Kaza  - Kunzum Pass - Chandratal Lake – Rohtang Pass - Manali -  Chandigarh – Delhi

We hired a car from Delhi and as per our estimate we would be covering close to 2,000 kms. All the decisions would be made on the run as we had not made any reservations J

Day 1 - We left Delhi at night for Shimla via Chandigarh. We decided to drive through the night and cover 370 Kms so as save time.

We reached Shimla next day morning. However given the long and more exciting places tocover we decided to move on towards our first destination ‘Narkanda’ about 65 Kms from Shimla. 

Narkanda is at an altitude of 2708 meters on the Hindustan-Tibet Road (NH 22). It is a skiing resort in winter. We reached Narkanda in the afternoon, found a small motel, freshened up, had lunch and moved to see Hatu Peak and the Apple Orchards. By evening, we were tired and decided to just rest after the long journey.

Day 2 – We started our journey upwards towards Sangla which is 155 Kms from Narkanda and our next stop. The landscape became more and more beautiful with Sutlej River on one side and mountains on the other. This was the first day we got glimpse of snow clad mountains.
 Road cut out from the mountain looking like Jaw
 On the way to Sangla

We crossed the Karchham Wangtoo Hydro Power plant and moved towards Sangla stopping on the way to enjoy the scenery, cold streams and mountains.

Enroute to Sangla 

Sangla Valley is at an altitude of 2,696 meters starts at Sangla and ends at Chitkul. It is also known as Baspa Valley since Baspa River flows through this area. 
 Glimpse of Sangla Valley

We visited Chitkul the last village of India before the Tibet border. The small village is at an altitude of 3,450 meters and houses are made slate or wooden plank roofs. We had the first Maggi of our trip and with many more to comeJ
  Chitkul Village

Sangla has few luxury cottages and camps such as Banjara Camp, Kinner Camps etc; however we decided to stay in a small cottage at Rackcham on the banks of Baspa River. The sound of the river at night was very loud and scary. We ended the day with some delicious food and drinks.
View from the hotel

Day 3 – The day started very early as we went to explore the place near our cottage (morning walkJ). 
Beautiful views on the banks of River Baspa

After breakfast, we moved ahead towards Nako Lake in the Pooh sub-division of Kinnaur which is 118 Kms from Sangla. The road grew narrower and was cut from the mountains on one side and a steep fall in the river on the other side.
 En-route Pooh

We came across a small stretch were half the road was caved in and then an amazing sight of azure blue water lagoon amidst dusty water of Sutlej. It was breathtaking that we stopped the car and went down to the lagoon.
 Blue Lagoon

We continued our journey towards Nako Lake our destination for the day.
 On the way to Nako Village / Nako Lake

We reached Nako Lake in the evening. Nako Lake forms part of the boundary of Nako village and seems that the village is half buried in the lake's border. It is at an altitude of 3,662 metres. The lake is surrounded by willow and poplar trees. 
 Nako Lake

We decided to stay in a small homestay near the lake. The 2nd round of Maggi was ordered and the vegetables were freshly plucked from the small garden in front of the house to be used in the Maggi. We went to see the Nako monastery in the village and the beauty of the monastery was enhanced by the lovely sunset.
 Monastery in Nako Village

Day 4 –  We started our journey early in the morning up and towards Tabo Monastery which is 62 Kms from Nako Lake. On the way we came across barren mountains which looked like deserts.

Tabo Monastery is located in the Tago village of Spiti Valley at an altitude of 3,280 meters. Tabo is noted for being the oldest continuously operating Buddhist enclave in both India and the Himalayas. There are many priceless collections of thankas (scroll paintings), manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescos and extensive murals which cover almost every wall. The atmosphere in and around the monastery was very calm.
 Tabo Monastery

From Tabo we moved towards Kaza which was our next stop, however en-route we stopped at Dhankar which is 31 Kms from Tabo. Dhankar is a village and also a Gompa (a Buddhist temple). It is situated at an altitude of 3,894 metres. The complex is built on a 1000-feet (300-metre) high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers - one of the world's most spectacular settings for a gompa.

We trekked 2.5 Kms to reach Dhankar Lake which is at an altitude of 4,136 meters in the middle of hills. Though the small trek up the mountain was difficult but the scenery which appeared in front of us as we reached the top was just wow! 
Dhankar Lake

We left Dhankar Monastry in the evening and travelled 30 Kms to reach Kaza. We ended the spiritual cum trekking day at Kaza.

Day 5 - Kaza, situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of 3,650 metres above mean sea level. Kaza has the World’s highest retail petrol pump. 

We decided to visit some of the beautiful villages near Kaza one of  them being Langza at an altitude of 4,200 meters with  just 148  inhabitants. The residents also call their village Switzerland J… though I have never been to Switzerland but this place was just too beautiful
Langza Village

We went to Ki Monastry also know as Key Gompa 7Kms from Kaza. It is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres. It is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley and a religious training centre for Lamas. We also saw crows with yellow beak and feet here.
 Ki Monastery

We drove ahead towards Kibber village which at 4,205 meters is the highest village in the world which is connected by motorable road and is the highest habitated village in the world which has its own polling station during elections.
Kibber Village

We returned to Kaza and were planning to visit Chandra Taal Lake. We had heard of camping at Chandra Taal Lake, however were not able to find any help. While having dinner we bumped into Mr Jamaica (nick name) who arranged camping at Chandra Taal Lake and we sealed the deal.

One thing we realized was that as we move towards the top food became expensive and accommodation cheap J

Day 6 – We started early morning towards Kunzum Pass 71 Kms from Kaza which at an altitude of 4,590 meters is the gateway to Lahaul and Spiti Valley. It is one of India’s highest motorable mountain pass located in North India. The Trek to Chandra Taal Lake is 8 Kms from here.
 Beast of the Mountains

5 of us started the long trek (long not because of the distance but due to the terrain) enjoying the landscape, snow clad mountains; sparse vegetation with beautiful wild flowers, narrow passes …. Stopping to catch some breath and supporting each other
 Trek to Chandra Taal Lake

The sight of Chandra Taal Lake took our breath away along with the all the pain from the trek. At an altitude of 4300 meters it of a circumference of about 2.5 kms, the deep blue-water of Chandra Tal Lake is the source of the Chandra River. The lake can be visited only during the three summer months. For the rest of the season, the lake remains cut off and frozen. The lake is normally blue but changes colour with the colour of the sky.
 Chandra Taal Lake

 After spending couple of hours near the lake we moved towards the camping site which was around 2 Kms away from the Lake. My first ever experience of camping at such an altitude. The food tasted even more delicious in the cold weather.
 Camping with the team (Jamaica in green)

Day 7 – We started our journey back but not through the mountains but another route. The feeling of coming to the end of our trip was getting to us but we still were trying to soak in as much of the scenery as possible. 


 On our way back – Feeling Triumphant

From Chandra Taal Lake we move to Manali our final destination through Rohtang Pass which is at an altitude of 3,978 meters and at a distance of 51 kms from Manali. It is a high mountain pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas. The landscape has changed dramatically from Desert Mountains to mountains covered with vegetation. 

We reached Manali late in the evening and spent the night there

Day 8 – We left Manali in the morning and travelled close to 550 Kms to reach Delhi at night to end our fantastic trip

Though the trip had ended but it has remained etched in our memories till now. Spiti Valley is very beautiful and a paradise for road trippers but has so far remained less commercialized than other popular destinations which adds to charm of the place and makes it a must  visit for avid travellers.