Two girls head to Spiti
SPITI!! Ahh! I am not sure where to begin. This has been a very eventful enriching and enlivening journey. Except for my trip to Manali with mom when I was 8 years old, I have not been to the mighty Himalayas. I have been yearning for a Himalayan trip since years. Thanks to my dearest friend, Subbu, this trip to Himalayas happened!
I read extensively about the Indian Himalayan region and understood that Leh-Ladakh has become quite touristy while Spiti is relatively less touristy but has much harsher climate. Both me and Subbu wanted to go to Spiti. Subbu is my very good friend and sometimes she almost feels like my sister from another mother; that’s how well we understand our weird logics. Both of us were in some adventurous state of mind when we decided to explore Spiti region on a slim budget and that too, using public transport only.
How to reach Spiti
Since our approach was to be very flexible during our trip, we did not even book accommodation. We just booked flights from Hyderabad to Chandigarh and back, and researched a bit about the best route and villages to visit. There are two routes to reach the Spiti region; shorter route from Manali and longer route from Shimla via Kinnaur district. The altitude is gained much more quickly in the Manali route and hence, the chances of altitude sickness is higher. While in the Shimla route, altitude is gained more gradually and thus, the AMS chances are lower. We both preferred the Shimla route.
The next question was how to reach Shimla? From Chandigarh or Delhi? During our research we quickly gathered that Chandigarh is much closer to Shimla; a mere 3-4 hour drive from Chandigarh. Delhi is not only much farther, but one must go via Chandigarh to reach Shimla. Also, the journey from Delhi for most part, is monotonous with flat scenery till Chandigarh. Apart from all these, Chandigarh felt safer when compared to Delhi. So, we decided to take flight till Chandigarh from Hyderabad. I have never been on a trip with so little planning as this trip but was very confident that we could do it though it definitely seemed challenging.
You must note that Spiti and Lahaul are two different regions in the same district of Lahaul & Spiti. We have been to only Spiti. Kunzum pass, that comes before Manali during our circuit, is the entry from Lahaul to Spiti.
We wanted to complete the circuit:
Chandigarh > Shimla > Kinnaur (Sarahan, Sangla, Chitkul, Kalpa, Nako) > Spiti (Giyu, Tabo, Mudh, Kaza and villages near Kaza) > Kunzum Pass > Chandra Taal lake > Manali > Chandigarh
The altitudes of these places are listed here:
- Hyderabad – 505m
- Chandigarh – 321m
- Shimla – 2276m
- Narkanda – 2760m
- Sarahan – 2100m
- Sangla – less than 2600m
- Chitkul – 3450m
- Kalpa – 2960m (Reckong Peo)
- Nako – 3660m
- Gue – 3200m
- Tabo – 3280m
- Mud village, Pin Valley – 3850m
- Dhankar – 3894m
- Kaza – 3800m
- Key – 4166m
- Kibber – 4270m
- Tashigang – 4650m
- Chicham – 4145m
- Langza – 4420m
- Losar – 4084m
- Gette – 4270m
- Koumik – 4587m
- Hikkim – 4440m
- Chandra Taal – 4250m (from Kaza take bus and then, cab)
- Solang valley – 2560m
- Manali – 2050m
We had planned stopovers at places marked in bold font in the above list.
The road to Spiti (Kaza) from Shimla is open all round the year. But the road from Kaza to Kunzum Pass and beyond till Manali, is closed in winter. The road is opened anywhere between late May and mid June. The road is again closed somewhere in October. I read that last year the road to Manali from Kaza was opened by May end. We hoped for the same this time as well.
What I packed
I did not want to do much shopping and so, I pulled out all old unused but good stuff from my wardrobe. Thankfully, I bought a jacket at Decathlon a day before the trip. The jacket proved extremely useful and absolutely indispensable later during the trip.
- Lot of loose fitting t-shirts and cotton shirts to wear in layers.
- Couple of jeans and night pants.
- Sweater and water-resistant jacket that can hold good till 0°C.
- Thermals and socks.
- Head cap and gloves. I bought my head cap and gloves at Kalpa.
- Medicines. I got Diamox, Crocin, Okacet, Dart and Eldoper. If you have motion sickness, carry Avomine. The sharp winding roads will immediately stir up your motion sickness. Diamox is a must to prevent AMS. Kaza, the head quarters of Lahaul & Spiti district, has good government hospital. If the AMS symptoms persist despite taking Diamox, visit the hospital. The doctors are very friendly and empathetic. Also, the checkup is free. I even carried Meftal spas for my period cramps, just in case altitude messes up my body and I get my periods sooner than usual. As a matter of fact, altitude does affect menstrual cycle and the effect cannot be estimated with reasonable accuracy.
- Trolley. We preferred trolley to rucksack. Rucksack with my camera bag was too heavy for me to even balance myself.
- Sunscreen, moisturiser and lip balm. My finger tips and feet all got chapped and even bled very lightly at couple of spots despite using moisturiser generously.
- Comfortable shoes and slippers.
- Wet wipes, tissues and sanitary pads.
- Paper cover to throw garbage.
- Water bottle.
- Finally, my camera, lenses and camera accessories.
Ensure that you keep all medicines handy in your day bag. Do not bury them deep in your luggage.
Best time to visit
Fortunately, our almost impromptu trip happened to be during the best time to visit Spiti. June to September is considered the best time to visit Spiti.
- During early June, Spiti and Sutlej rivers still retain their beautiful aqua blue and green colours at some places and roads start to open so you can complete the entire circuit depending on the exact road status.
- From July till August, I heard the water colour changes to muddy brown and the roads are all definitely open.
- September – October, water starts to get aqua blues and greens back. Winter sets in. The road to Manali from Kaza can get closed anytime in October.
- November till May, water is frozen and brutal harsh winter reigns the region. The road to Manali from Kaza is closed until summer.
We started from Hyderabad on May 31st and got back on June 10th.
Well, we made no preparation whatsoever. We both were busy winding up a lot of work at office. I was in fact hoping that nobody would try to contact me while I am awestruck in Himalayas. I wanted to look up and learn some mountain photography techniques and tips. I had earlier edited one friend’s Goecha La trek pictures. I somehow felt it might be challenging to capture the scale of the Himalayas and wanted to learn techniques before the trip. But sadly, I could not do that. However, I made my camera kit complete by adding a much-needed telephoto lens.
After buying a jacket at Decathlon, medicines at Apollo Pharmacy and stuffing my trolley, I felt I was ready to take off!