Travel to Spiti Valley in the Winter

The human mind sure works in an inexplicable manner! I have just stepped into my home in Jaipur; back after spending more than 2 weeks travelling to remote regions in wintry Ladakh and Spiti is on my lips.

Incidentally, I was lucky to travel to Spiti in the winter of 2016 (after having travelled numerous times in the summers). As more and more Indians take to travel, it is getting increasingly difficult to find the soul of a place in the ‘best season’ to visit. I was also keen to see how people lived in the extreme cold.

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Locals walk the entire distance from Kaza to Losar when it is fully snowed out in the winters.

There is an untold thrill of visiting Spiti, first in the summer and then in the harsh and cold winters. The common thought is that Spiti valley is inaccessible in the winters. It is not so; some parts may be out of bounds but the road from Shimla to Kaza is open throughout the year.

In fact, winter may be a perfect time to see local life in Spiti as it has existed for centuries. 

Winter in Spiti is extremely harsh and temperatures are known to sometimes fall to -40 degrees Celsius. Spiti in the winters is frigid and there is no running water in the taps.

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Cute looking dogs may turn ferocious in the nights in Spitian Winters! Beware of walking alone in the dark.

How to Travel to Spiti Valley in the Winters?

Transportation & Route

The only way to reach Spiti in the winter is by road from Shimla via the NH-22 highway through Kinnaur. Rohtang Pass and Kunzum La are both closed in the winters, making travel from Manali an unviable option. I first reached Shimla and then Narkanda before making it to Reckong Peo (District Headquarters of Kinnaur). It was a great idea to acclimatise to the cold and altitude of Peo before reaching the unbearable cold of Kaza at 3700m.

Read : 7 roadtrips for adventure junkies in India

A solitary daily bus runs daily from Reckong Peo to Kaza and tickets can’t be booked in advance. I rushed to the bus stand to make sure of getting a seat in the 7:30 am bus. This bus alone is the lifeline of the entire region and is entrusted with delivering couriers, posts and newspapers to villages of upper Kinnaur & Spiti that lie along the way.

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When the only bus of the day broke down : From Reckong Peo to Kaza.

Shared taxis also ply sometimes from Rampur to Kaza (They charge 1000/- per seat and complete the journey in 12 hours. There were no details of the same on the internet and I could only make the return journey from Kaza to Rampur via this mode.

Weather Conditions and Important Precautions

In retrospect, it was a great decision when I decided to halt at Reckong Peo before marching forward to Spiti. The air in Spiti is frigid and there is little oxygen in the air at high altitudes. It helped for the body to get used to the cold and lesser oxygen.

Lessons of a long winter trip to Ladakh helped too and I made sure every part of my body was covered before venturing in the chill of the winter air. I spent most of my time in the kitchens of the homestays I stayed at! Discuss with a doctor about starting a 3 day course of Diamox (to prevent AMS) before starting on your journey to Spiti in the winter.

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The lifeline of Spiti : State Bank of India, Kaza remains open even in the winters.

It is recommended to walk small distances and consume food at regular quantities in order to keep the body warm. Drinking butter tea and water at regular intervals was my mantra to stay hydrated. I also like dark chocolate and nuts and always use them in the winters.

Read : Top Ten Spiti Experiences

There is no water supply in toilets as the pipes are entirely frozen. Traditional Spitian dry compost toilets are the only choice in most places in winter in Spiti. After dinner, I made sure to go to the loo only once before sleeping and not in the middle of the night when the cold air can mess up things.

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Winters in Spiti make for an excellent time for silent meditation at the monasteries and experiencing local customs and culture.

Carrying sufficient cash with you is advised because the SBI ATM in Kaza may or may not work. Life in Spiti valley can come to a standstill due to temperatures falling in December and January.

Also read : Practical Tips for Winter Travel in Ladakh

Ways to Travel Within Spiti

There are almost zero buses that ply in the winters in Spiti. The only possible mode of transportation is to travel with locals in shared taxis (campers or sumo), that ply depending on the amount of snow and number of passengers.

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Deserted streets of Kaza in the winters

Shared taxi was my preferred way of travel too, and the locals made sure I felt safe in their company.

It is also possible to hire SUVs ( Innova or xylo ) for travel in winter in Spiti, even though the taxi fares turn out to be quite expensive. Travelling with locals ensures there is always the comfort of staying in a homestay in the bitter cold.

I was lucky to find a shared taxi for Losar that left from Kaza bus stand. As suggested by locals, I had verbally booked a seat in advance for the same. There were also shared taxis for Pin Valley and other small villages in Spiti near the bus stand. It is best to ask locals for help and recommendations.

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The locals spend most of their time playing ‘cholo’ in Spiti in the winters.

A big tip for winter travel in Spiti for budget travellers is to not have any fixed plans; it helps immensely to make impromptu plans with locals. In case of heavy snowfall, the locals cover distances to their villages on foot, and sometimes that may be the only possible way of travel in Spiti in winter.

Read : Hitchhiking in a truck : Stories from Nakee La

Worthwhile sights and villages to visit in Winter in Spiti

Roads to the high altitude villages of Demul, Langza, Kibber, Hikkim, Komic are sometimes open. It is also possible to visit Lhalung, Gue village, Dhankar & Losar if there are shared taxis plying. Going to Pin Valley can be a dicey affair because it is located on a different route and there may be chances of getting stuck. I was keen on going but the locals suggested I shouldn’t!

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Snow at Sakya Monastery in Kaza in the winter.

Remember to always check with locals in Kaza and nearby villages about the prevailing weather and road conditions for the places you are heading to.

For a guide about places to visit in Spiti – Check A comprehensive guide to Spiti

Accommodation in Spiti in the Winters 

Most guesthouses, homestays and hotels are closed for the winter in Spiti. There are a few places open, and it is best to ask locals regarding the best options to stay. Prices per person including food will range from 500-1500 Rupees for winter accommodation in Spiti.

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From a homestay on the road to Losar.

In Kaza : Sakya Abode – owned by Tsering. Enquire at homestays near the bus stand in Kaza, a few of them are open in the winters too.

Langza, Hikkim, Dhankar, Demul, Komic, Lhalung, Tashigang : Tanzi Homestay in Langza is open. Anmo homestay in Lhalung. Komic Gompa in Komic. Most families in these villages live year round and thereby the possibility of homestays to stay.

Kibber : Norling Homestay is open in the winters. Kibber is a big village and families live there throughout the year, that means other homestays are open too. It may also be possible to persuade the monks to let you stay at Ki Monastery, even in the winter cold!

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Pretty blossoms somewhere on NH-22 enroute Spiti.

Losar : Samson Guest House near the police check post in Losar village. It was dark when I reached Losar and had to literally plead with the family to let me stay.

Tabo : 2-3 homestays open near the monastery even in the winters.

In Pin Valley : Tara Homestay in Mudh. Possible to stay in a homestay in some of the villages – Kungri, Gulling, Sagnam and Mudh.

With regards to food : Meals are available at the homestays and will be a basic affair. Please make sure you don’t waste anything, food is scarce in the winters in Spiti.

Check : A Comprehensive Guide to Kinnaur

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Saving culture in Spiti – Villagers being taught the art of stone carving in Losar.

On the road, good food is available at small dhabas in Narkanda, Reckong Peo, Spello, Tapri, Hoorling and places where the bus stops.

I had carried emergency food in the form of almonds, dates, ORS juice, dark chocolate etc. for eating at regular intervals.

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A candid moment : Kids are home because schools are closed in the winters.

Packing list

Sunglasses : I had forgotten carrying mine and was nearly snow blind in Losar when the villagers had to hurriedly send me back to Kaza to avoid further damage.

Warm Clothing : Dressing in layers is advised for both the upper and lower parts of the body. I wore a thermal inner, tee shirt, a sweater, and 3 jacket(s). A warm thermal lower is required. Covering your fingers from the extreme cold winds is essential with good quality gloves.

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Clicked just before leaving from home and wearing all of them together was the only way to be safe from the cold.

Shoes & Socks : Needless to say, this is one of the most important things to keep in mind for travel to Spiti in the winters. Shoes should be ice and snow proof and should have good traction for walking on slippery frozen surfaces.

Also read : Solo travelling to the last frontier of Saach Pass

Have any questions about travelling to Spiti in winter? Go ahead and ask me. Happy Travels.

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18 Comments Add yours

  1. Rajiv says:

    Your’e a good man! Maybe I shall plan this next winter

    Like

    1. 😀 Thanks! Best of luck for this and more adventures.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your pictures make Spiti look like a dream in winters. A very informative piece of work. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    1. Very very glad you like it. Thanks for your appreciation. Shubham

      Like

  3. RESPECT RESPECT and RESPECT. To travel in such harsh conditions despite being a city dweller, commands this respect. It looks like paradise. Love it!

    Like

    1. Terribly sorry for replying so late D. My heart remains in the small towns that I have lived in for very long and it is the people of the mountains who make it warm. You are too kind. Happy happy with this appreciation

      Like

  4. The ice-covered valley…indeed looks like a paradise!

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    1. It really was Maniparna. Although I was quite surprised to see less snow and may someday return for the entire winter experience. Wishes! 🙂

      Like

  5. P.Perumal samy says:

    Nice to read an extraordinary place to be visited in winter! Useful tips for the future traveller!! I had been to Reckang Peo and Kalpa, a decade back in October and November months. I had seen Kaza bus innumerable times. I was so unlucky I didn’t visit Lahul and Spiti during that time! In fact Spiti Valley will be a dream place to visit in winter! Hats off to you for undertaking such an adventurous trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is wonderful to hear P Perumal Samy. I believe that must have been quite an experience, back then! Hope you can make it someday, for Spiti in winter. Thanks for the appreciation 🙂

      Like

  6. Amazing !
    We are also heading to spiti this weekend. Lots of snow fall recently.
    Will share my experience soon.

    Like

    1. Lovely. Have a great time and tell me how it goes!

      Like

  7. shiva says:

    Hey Guys,

    This is shiva from chennai, I wanted to Visit Spiti during last week of december (2017) my friends are too scared to join me. I’m looking for some company, please inbox me if interested spitzer.knight@gmail.com

    Like

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