6 Best places in the Spiti Valley
Hello and welcome back my fellow Intrepid travellers. I hope you found my budget backpackers guide to the Spiti Valley to be constructive and if you missed it check out the link. In the last post, I focused on the logistics of getting to the valley and the considerations you will have to make when planning a trip. In this post the 6 Best places in the Spiti Valley, we can talk about the good stuff. What is here and why come at all?
Blessed with some of Indias most beautiful countryside and well endowed with some impressive wildlife, this makes it an outdoor enthusiasts playground. If that is not enough, several incredibly impressive gompas dot the dramatic landscape, and there is a timeless culture that still flourishes in these hills. The reasons are numerous, and it is overwhelmingly unlikely you will leave disappointed. The biggest question is how long it will take to appreciate all of this?
I would budget no less than two weeks and even that I would consider a rushed trip. If you plan on making the full loop from Shimla to Manali, Remember it is a long way, so it essential to take frequent rest stops. With three weeks you could think about embarking on the homestay trek as well, and with four weeks one could also make stops in the Lahaul Valley. Let’s start by taking a look at some of the Wonderful towns you will have to pass to get into the valley as they are no less interesting than the destination itself.
Things to do in Shimla.
This beautiful town sits at foothills of the Himalaya and is the administrative capital of Himachal Pradesh. Himachal means snow-laden. So the name means snowy slopes state in Hindi.
The town was chosen by the British as a summer getaway in the 19th century, as the searing Indian summer heat sent them searching for a cooler climate. Before the British occupation, Shimla was a sleepy hamlet, but today it is the capital of the state. The colonial rule has left an indelible footprint on the architecture here.
The town is strung out across a 12km ridge. It is well worth a day or two to look around and get a feel for the epicentre of this unique state.
You will probably be spending a bit of time here anyway while you apply for your permit. There’s plenty to see such as Christ Church; this beautiful building looks like it belongs painted on the front of a biscuit tin. The old victorian theatre was once a haunt for Rudyard Kipling, and today its sheer grandeur is something to behold.
The Viceregal Lodge is also a must. It was residence to the British governors, and it has a striking similarity with Hogwarts. Tours are available inside, and there is a small fee for entering the grounds. Many of the monuments have been beautifully restored. So this a perfect place to stroll around on its mostly traffic-free roads.
Shimla is a trendy destination and particularly with domestic tourists. In July it can become tough to find a bed and the costs are disproportionate to what you are getting. I had to sleep in someone’s house with several other holidaymakers as there were no beds left in any of the hotels I went to in town!
Later I discovered the YMCA is a place that’s reasonable on costs and often has spare beds from a lack of interest from domestic tourists.
The building is very creaky and old so makes a pleasant place to retreat from the crowds should you visit in season. I think I paid 1500 rupees for a room with an ensuite. It might sound like a lot for many backpackers but, this is an expensive destination, so it is a good deal. They also have dorms for those on a tighter budget. I did not stay in one, but I think they’re about 700 rupees a bed. Again that is excellent value considering where you are.
Getting to and from Shimla is pretty straightforward. The HRTC government bus stand connects to all the major surrounding towns, including Manali, costing 550 rupees and taking approx nine hours. To Dehli is 1000 rupees, taking approx 9-10 hours. Dharamsala costs 450 rupees, taking approx 8 hours and to Rekong Peo, costs 400 rupees, taking approx 10 hours.
But the best way to reach Shimla is by toy train. Chugging through the pine forests and passing through what feels like countless tunnels is a lot of fun to be fair. The way I got there is to take the Kalka Shatabdi train number 12012. It leaves Dehli at 7.30 am and arrives in Kalka at 11.45. It is allowing plenty of time to connect for the 12.30 train to Shimla.
You can arrange these tickets from the government ticket office in new Dheli train station. It is on the second floor and please ignore anyone who tells you there is a problem doing this as many touts would rather you go through their office and pay commission.
The truth is the government office has access to the tourist quoter, and that is something you won’t get elsewhere. They can find you a seat when the computer says there is none. The Indian government reserve some places for tourists on popular routes. They cost a little more but it much better than getting stuck with nothing. For more information on how to get around this vast country, check out my post.
Things to do in Rekong Peo – Kalpa.
Rekong Peo is just a town, with little to draw the interests of the tourist but it is possible to apply for your inner line permit here and a connection to Kalpa. This village is a very pretty little town just 7km away and makes for an excellent place to break the journey up.
Its already ten hours from Shimla so you will be tired anyway, and this town is well worth a day or two of your time. Surrounded by pine-clad hills and apple orchards, there are many short walks to take.
There is also a small Buddhist monastery (Lochawa la-Khang) in the middle of town, making for a pleasant visit. The village is well set up for travellers, and just by walking around, you will be able to find a suitable place to stay.
There are buses every half an hour from Rekong Peo until about seven PM. You will probably need to stay at least one night here as there is only one bus that runs directly to Kaza. It leaves at seven am and takes 11 hours. Five hours to Nako, then 8 hours on to Tabo. There is also a single bus that goes in the afternoon and will take you as far as Nako.
6 Best places in the Spiti Valley.
I have spoken about the best places I experienced on the journey into the valley. So now let me talk about the beautiful places that will greet you when finally arrive. I will break them down for you so you can get an understanding of what to expect and what to do. You can then decide whether or not it appeals to you enough to include it into your itinerary. As with the rest of my website, these are no-nonsense and honest reviews of my experiences, so let us have a look.
Things to do in Nako
With a population of fewer than 1000 inhabitants and an elevation of 3660 metres above sea level, this charming Himalayan village is well worth the stopover. The houses are mostly mudbrick, and it feels like you have stepped into another time, albeit with the occasional satellite dish or upmarket hotel.
With its narrow streets and friendly villagers, this place has a bucket of charm and offers some splendid walks in the nearby hills. The walk to Nako pass or the tiny village of Tashigang is delightful. Just Ask where ever it is you are staying for directions as it is not far. Even simply walking around Nako Gompa is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. There you will find a collection of 4 atmospheric chapels that make for an exciting place to visit, take your time to admire the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls.
There is a good range of accommodation in and around the village Ranging from simple homestays at maybe 600 rupees a night, to more luxurious tented camps. There are places to suit every budget, and even in the peak season, you should always be able to find a bed somewhere. The bus to Kaza arrives around noon and is often full, meaning, you may not get a seat. However, there is another bus that leaves about noon in the opposite direction to Rekong Peo.
Things to do in Tabo.
The village itself is in an incredibly dramatic location. There are scree slopes on every side of town, and it is also surprisingly one of the lowest places in the Valley. So it is a great place to head if suffering from altitude sickness. Slap bang in the middle of town is a gompa that was founded in 996ad. There are many timeless murals and carvings to marvel at here.
Also, meditations sessions that Start at 6 am are held in the functioning part of the monastery. That is in the sparking adjacent building, and tourists can come and take part in the morning sessions.
The monastery does not charge for entry, but a donation is always welcome. There is a verity of places to stay in the town, and Tabo even boasts a cash point. That is a rarity in this part of the world. The busses from here will take you to Nako and Kaza, but as you might expect, they are frequently packed. As an alternative, you can hire a shared or private taxi.
Things to do in Dhanker.
The big drawcard of this tiny village is, without a doubt, is the 1200-year-old Dhankar gompa. This incredible place clings precariously to the rocks and will defiantly draw your attention right from the moment you lay your eyes on it. Visiting makes for a profoundly atmospheric experience as you explore the hidden rooms that can provide you with a sense of peace and the perfect place to reflect on your journey thus far. Standing proud at 3880m above sea level this place boasts stunning views of the valley below.
From the monastery, there is a small path that leads up to a lake called Dhanker Tso that is well worth the walk. If I am honest there were several times I had to stop, sometimes because I felt there was not enough oxygen and sometimes just take in the raw natural splendour of this place.
The journey to the lake is just as beautiful as the lake itself to be fair. The road that runs away from the monastery is the start or finish the homestay trek and for more information on that check out my post. I will say it is an enriching walk and if you have the time it would be a real shame to miss out,
The Dhankar Monastery Guesthouse will provide you with food and a comfortable place to stay for a couple of days. There are more guesthouses and homestays in the village below, but I really liked this place. They have comfortable rooms starting from 600 rupees, and they have dorms for just a couple of hundred. For those who want to save money, this place is golden. The food is as good as you could expect for the location and the staff are super friendly. I am not sure what else you could want from a guesthouse.
Buses stop at the small village of Shichling, leaving you with an 8km uphill to Dhankar Monastery. There are some shortcuts around – but it’s still quite the trek, as there isn’t much to see on route. Hiring a taxi has is a distinct advantage if not a lot more costly.
Things to do in Kaza.
The tiny town of Kaza is, in fact, the capital and is where everything practical is. Medical care, currency exchange and plenty of hotels around the bus station that provides connections out of the Valley.
There isn’t much to draw the tourist here except for the amenities. I decided to leave my big bag in one of the hotels while trekking and collected it on my return. I would advise you to do the same as you will not need much of your luggage while on the route.
Food tends to be a lot better here than elsewhere in the valley, and there are shops so stock up on any snacks you think you might need while exploring the rest of the valley.
I found the food in Sol cafe to be particularly good. They serve good coffee in the morning and even pancakes! They also sell many products containing Sea Buckthorn berries that is one of the few plants that can take this harsh climate. I didn’t try anything myself, but they are incredibly popular as they are known to have many health benefits, and they are entirely organic of cause.
From here I took the 6 am bus to Manali. I was informed this journey would take 10 hours, but with so many contributing factors that can affect the trip, this can change dramatically. On this occasion, it took me 26 hours! I experienced an unfortunate cascade of events, but not at all uncommon. Our bus engine flooded in a river that was created by glacier runoff. There was no choice but to cross as it just carved its way through the only road. It resulted in having to wait for another bus to come along from Kaza and it was a very long wait indeed.
Then the bus got stuck in the rain for several hours more on the Rohtang La Pass as the whole road turned to slush. It left vehicles stuck in the mud, and we all had to wait for the army to come and help get things on the move again This bus service only operates in the season, but there is another service that runs from Rekong Peo at 0730 throughout the year. Additionally, many share Jeeps leave from here to Manali for 1000 rupees per seat and again only in season.
Things to do Ki Gompa.
Just 12 km from Kaza, the ancient Ki gompa is the focal point of any trip to the Valley. Insanely photogenic at any time of the year, the whitewash buildings cling to the side of the hill, giving the illusion of a pyramid. The photo was taken from a narrow footpath back from the gompa itself, and the trail is easy to follow once you eventually find it.
There is accommodation to be found in the gompa, offering simple food and shelter for a few hundred rupees. It is an excellent place to meet some of the 350 odd monks who reside in this timeless place. I got to partake in watching WWE wrestling with at least 30 of the junior monks and something I will never forget.
Many of the interior rooms can be opened up if you ask one of the lamas. One of the places I went in contained scriptures that were over 1000 years old. Whats more was just sitting there on the dresser totally uncovered and unprotected. The harsh desert climate stops the normal decomposition of the paper as there is no moisture.
All in all, this place is sure to leave you memories that will last a lifetime. To get here, there is a daily bus that leaves Kaza in the morning that takes approximately 30 minutes to reach Ki, then another 20 minutes on to Kibber.
Things to do in Kibber.
This village is sitting at a very lofty 4200m, and I would say this is the most popular village for tourists to stay in. You can get continental food as well as Israeli, and that is rare, given your location. Despite its popularity, Kibber retains a definite air of tradition and makes for a charming place to stay.
Most tourists don’t want to stay in Kaza and come here by a single daily bus. It is also touted as one of the best places to see local wildlife. It is also a starting place for the long trip over the roof of the world to Tso Moriri Probably don’t attempt this route alone as there are no villages on route and will take the best part of two weeks to get there.
A couple more villages can be found further up from Kibber, such as Tashigang. This would make for a lovely day hike should you decide to base yourself here. There are plenty of guest houses in the town which are used to accommodating westerners. In the peak season, this place can get quite busy with foreign backpackers so it may be hard to find a bed around then.
Even if you decide not to stay here, I would advise you to make a trip here anyway as the village is quite special. The people of this village are quite used to tourists, so you are unlikely to draw attention to yourself. It is definitely one of my favourite villages in the whole valley.
In Summary of this post.
Well done for reaching the end of my post. It had to be so long as there is so much to say about visiting here. As you can see, this is an incredible place to come and explore. It takes a little effort, but it is worth every bit of your energy. It is a chance for you to get off the road and make an intrepid journey for yourself. If you have the juice, you can undertake the five-day-long Homestay trek and For a full breakdown of the route, check out my post.
I think I have covered the essential parts of coming to the valley and if I have missed anything, then please feel free to ask. I am always happy to help, so until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, happy trails.Follow me on social media 🙂