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