If you are the sort that doesn’t ‘do’ destinations but believes in leaving a piece of you behind in every place you visit – then let me take you on a journey of life-changing experiences in the high altitude wonderland of Spiti Valley.
1. Drink chhang (local barley beer) in a mug in the remote village of Mudh in Pin Valley, lose yourself and sing and dance with the locals. Craziness is justified in Mudh, there might be some snow left here – even in July. Incredibly beautiful shades of green and purple are visible in the fields while clouds descend on earth.
2. See Real Spiti : Kaza is district headquarters and a touristy place. Instead of a jeep safari, opt to spend days wandering around the high altitude Spitian villages of Langza, Hikkim, Demul, Komic and immerse yourself in the local way of life at a homestay. Adventure enthusiasts would like to have an experience of a lifetime while trying to reach the village of Chicham across a hanging ropeway from Kibber. Post letters on a high, at Hikkim’s highest post office in the world.
Although Kibber at 4200m is said to be the highest village, Gete & Tashigong are much higher at 4650m and can be reached by a dirt road among the clouds.
3. Feel on top of the world staying with the monks at Komic – At 4587m The Tantric Tangyud Gompa is claimed to be the highest monastery in all of Asia. The good news is there is accommodation in the monastery guest house, there will never be a better chance to live with the monks. It is also possible to stay at the Ki monastery and take part in the soulful morning prayers. If you are really lucky, then it is possible to see the annual ritual of masked dances at a monastery in Spiti.
4. Eat thin crust pizzas and watch the stars descend on the endangered 1200 year old Dhankar Monastery with framed views from Millennium Monastery Guest House. A short trek will take you up to Dhankar Tso, a small lake; don’t just walk up – turn back and savour the views of the Dhankar Fort, the ancient capital of Spiti. There are untold riches inside the Fort, in the form of rare Thangkas and the site is endangered (It is slowly sinking into the river below), so only three people are allowed on the creaking roof at one time. It is totally worthwhile to stand on top and look at Spiti like the Nono (Spitian for King) must have done.
5. Peace and enlightenment : There is serene calm at the caves of Tabo where monks used to practise meditation. The legend of the mummy at Gue is pretty well known by now and the village is straight out of a fairytale with wildflowers growing on both sides of the dirt road. The ladies can go a step further at the nunneries at Pangmo & Moorang and can live with the Djomo (Spitian for Nun) for a day or two and experience the life of a nun.
Read : A glimpse of Spiti in winter
6. Temple architecture like you ‘ve never seen with Kinners (Kinnauri people known to be half men and half god). Gaze at brilliant woodwork at the temple at Hatu Peak near Narkanda, and at the temples at Sarahan, Chitkul, and Kalpa and lesser known ones at Rarang & Charang. While you are in Kinnaur, there is plenty of scope to try fresh and very potent apricot wine and grape wine (angoori) in upper Kinnaur. Another interesting experience is to get inside one of the tower structures that are famous as hideouts of the Pandavas from their time in exile. One is in Morang, and there is one at Kanam & Labrang.
7. Know what organic food really means : You might have eaten momos and Thukpa elsewhere but you will long remember food at Nako & Tabo. Locals pick fresh ingredients from the fields and organic is the only way of cultivation here. If you are in the right season, then apples at Chango & peas at Nako are huge delights. A secret find is to ask villagers for the very healthy’seabuckthorn’ juice and jam, it is locally called ‘Tsetsalulu’.
Coming from Shimla side, tasty mushroom sandwiches are available in Narkanda, which is also known for orchards of cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and apples. Buy on the road, straight from the orchards!!!
8. Use some connections and stay at the pretty circuit houses at Narkanda, Sarahan, Kalpa : Live like a royal amid incredible wildflowers, keep the chowkidar happy, explore and slow travel around these places. You will never think a five star hotel is value for money, after staying in a circuit house.
9. See the fossils but don’t carry them home at the Fossil Park in Langza. The black mountains near the medicine Buddha at Langza are a goldmine for geologists, dig anywhere and you will find a fossil of any kind of small reptile. I have seen tourists carry these fossils to sell in the open market and kindly request you to leave the fossils as they are.
10. Dhabas acquire a folklore – Batal : An epic road trip to Spiti would not be complete without legendary dhaba experiences. There is the world famous couple of Chandra Auntie and Dorje uncle at Batal near Chandratal Lake. It is indeed a crazy experience to sleep in the rudimentary stone shelter at the dhaba in Batal and polish off plate after plate of Rajma-chawal listening to the funny conversations of uncle auntie.