Unforgettable hikes and deluxe tent camping in a rarely visited part of the high Himalaya
Any voyage to the Himalaya is also a voyage within. The magical, high-desert, mountain valley of Spiti, known as “the Middle Land” between India and Tibet, possesses a strong Buddhist heritage and an isolated quietude that makes it the perfect cultural getaway. Since 996 A.D., Spiti has been an active research and cultural enclave for Buddhists, and it is home to countless monasteries andgompas (temples), including the famous Tabo Monastery—a favorite haven of the Dalai Lama. As also one of the least populated areas of India, its changing landscapes make it easy to imagine what has inspired such mysticism.
Few tourists have traveled to Spiti, and as the first adventure travel company to open the doors to many of the world’s most remote destinations, we have the legacy, know-how, and relationships to get you there. We’ve designed this 14-day journey by land, combining scenic drives in a comfortable vehicle. with moderate hikes, deluxe tent camping (with hot showers and toilets), and hotel accommodations that range from charming to luxurious! The warmth and hospitality of the people will bowl you over, from our professional, mountaineer guides to our camp hosts. This itinerary is an absolute must for those who want to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, and still remain on the path less traveled.
Mountain driving is one of the most enthralling ways to travel here. With a day in Delhi to assimilate after a long flight, we’ll head out on a three-hour drive to Shimla, the chief hill station during the British colonial era. The road follows the Satluj River valley, where we’ll see spectacular gorges filled with water flowing down from Tibet, and visit the Bhimakali temple, known for its tantric practices. We’ll enter Spiti Valley via the Kinnaur area of Himachal Pradesh, traveling through pine and birch trees until we rise above the tree line into gorgeous meadowland opening to the majestic Himalaya. We’ll meet the villagers of Nako Lake and learn about the seven temples. We’ll explore the Tabo Monastery, its ancient caves, and learn about the new Indo-Tibetan art which emerged when Indian and Tibetan scholars converged here to study their respective art forms independently. This national treasure will leave you speechless with frescoes and cave paintings that continue to inspire artists today.
We’ll visit Kaza, which is as endowed geologically as it is archeologically—a living museum with rugged slopes rising dramatically above the riverbeds. Here, we’ll learn about the Kye Monastery, the largest and most powerful in the valley, where hundreds of lamas come to receive religious training. Our route continues to the notorious citadel of Dhankar, then up and over the Kunzum La pass, where we’ll enter the Lahoul Valley. We’ll traverse the rocky landscape and watch it transform into a lush green valley as we descend into Manali. We’ll enjoy a walking tour of the cave temple of Hadimba Devi before we head back to Delhi for two days to explore its colorful bazaars, ride a bicycle rickshaw, and visit the Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.
The Spiti Valley itinerary is MTS at its best, where transformative cultural encounters, hiking amid unforgettable horizons, expert, local guides, and warm Himalayan hospitality deliver a journey of a lifetime.
Overland journey, cultural touring, hiking
- Discover the rarely-visited Spiti Valley and its ancient Tibetan monasteries, caves, villages, and temples with MTS—the company that opens doors to the world’s most remote areas
- Soak in mind-blowing vistas, from lush river valleys, rushing gorges, and barren moonscapes to the snowcapped peaks of the Himalaya
- Dive into the cultural and religious history of the Tibetan Buddhists
- An absolute must of you want to learn about Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism—we’ve combined all the elements to give you the richest possible experience!
Duration: 14 days Start Location: Shimla End Location: ShimlaDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Delhi
You will be met upon arrival in Delhi at the international airport and transferred to the hotel. (Rooms will be available from 12 noon).
Day 2 : Delhi to Chandigarh to Shimla (7,200')
This morning we will travel by Shatabdi Express train to Chandigarh. We will then drive onto Shimla (approximately 3 hours). Situated in the North-West Himalayas and called the 'Queen of Hill Stations' by the British, Shimla was the summer capital of the Raj and today is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by pine, oak, deodar and rhododendron forests, this bustling and often crowded town is centered around the Mall and promenade, flanked by jaded Victorian buildings: a delight for anyone with a passing interest in history.
The weather here varies from very cold in the winter to pleasantly warm in the summer, and Shimla retains an attractive old-world charm in spite of its busy streets. A popular attraction is the train ride linking Kalka and Shimla; the line was built in 1924 and passes through beautiful old railroad stations and over a hundred tunnels.
Day 3 : Shimla – Sarahan - Sangla Valley (9,400')
After breakfast we drive to Sangla along the Satluj River which comes down from Tibet. En-route we will take a side excursion to Sarahan where we stop to visit Bhimakali Temple. One of the most amazing temples dedicated to goddess Kali, this temple was used in the early era for tantric practices including human and animal sacrifices.
Continue onto the Sangla Valley driving upwards to the Baspa River. For six months every year, the Himalayan valleys of Kinnaur and Spiti emerge from a thick cloak of snow to reveal a different, secret world to man. Our discovery of the lesser-known Himalayas can begin at the Sangla Valley. At a height of 8000 feet, the valley is surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. Set on the banks of the Baspa River that surges through the valley, we will take walks to discover the amazing flora and fauna of the valley, view snow-covered Himalayan peaks and experience some of the local culture and traditions. In the evening we will enjoy a bonfire. Today we will drive for 8-9 hours.
Overnight in a deluxe tented camp amidst the mountains.
Day 4 : Sangla to Chitkul Village (11,300')
There is no more ideal picnic retreat than taking a short drive to Chitkul, walking to Nagasthi and opening the lunch hamper on green grass under the pine trees next to a rivulet looking at the beautiful expanse of the valley. The sun filters through the trees and warms you while you take a post-lunch siesta.
It takes 45 minutes to reach Chitkul. The drive is one of the most fascinating you will ever do. Pine trees slowly give way to ‘Bhojpatra’/Birch trees and then the treeline disappears and one reaches the meadowland. The valley opens up and we find ourselves facing the snow-capped Great Himalayas beyond which lies Tibet. Perched on one side of the valley, below one of the ridges is the quaint village of Chitkul. One look at it and the image of ‘Shangri- La’ crosses the mind. Chitkul is on what once used to be the ‘Silk Route.’
Nagasthi is the last border outpost and a short walk from Chitkul. Civilians are not allowed beyond this point. The walk is a level one and then descends slightly through a pastureland and fields overlooking the freely-flowing Baspa River. A 1.5 hour walk takes you to the outpost where the Jawans’ smiling faces greet you. We walk back and open our lunch hamper at an idyllic spot.
We return to camp in the late afternoon just in time for evening tea.
Day 5 : Sangla to Nako (12,000')
Today we drive to Nako and witness the first inhabited village in the Spiti valley. Nako is a little village stunningly situated on the shores of Nako Lake.
We will visit the villagers and monastery of this little town and explore the surroundings. Nako was once a very important center of Buddhism in the region. There are at least seven temples of different periods distributed all over the village, including a monastic complex on its western edge. Boasting four temples and a number of additional buildings, this complex preserves the earliest artistic heritage. The austere and unornamented exteriors of the buildings give little hint of the important artistic and religious legacy that lies within these walls.
Day 6 : Nako to Tabo Monastery and Caves to Kaza (12,500')
Tabo lies on the left bank of the Spiti River. The biggest attraction here is the Tabo Monastery, called Chogs-khor ('doctrinal circle' or 'doctrinal enclave'). It is a complex that holds nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks' chamber and an extension that houses the nun’s chamber. On the sheer cliff-face above the enclave are a series of caves, used as dwellings by the monks and which include an assembly hall.
Tabo Monastery also has the distinction of being the oldest (according to an inscription on one of the walls, the monastery was founded in AD 996) and longest, continuously-functioning Buddhist monastery in India and the Himalayas with its original decoration and iconographic program still intact. A thousand years ago Tabo served as a meeting place between two cultures, which is graphically represented in the art. Indian pundits and Tibetan scholars came to Tabo to learn Tibetan and Indian Buddhist works respectively. This interaction germinated the seeds of a new art statement best defined as Indo-Tibetan.Even today, Tabo holds the distinction of being the largest monastic complex in Spiti. According to His Holiness Dalai Lama, "The most important Monastery is in Tabo, noted for its exquisite quality of paintings and stucco images that adorn its walls. These works of art delightfully express the vigor of the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet and the dynamic mingling of cultures.
After this visit we head directly to the caves overlooking the village above the retreat. A 10-minute walk from the road will take us to the caves, which command a mesmerizing view of the whole Tabo village surrounded by fields.
We reach Kaza with the rest of the evening at leisure.
Day 7 : Kaza (12,500')
After breakfast, we visit Ki monastery and Kibber and Gete villages. Kaza is the capital of the Spiti Valley. Rudyard Kipling describes Spiti in "Kim" in these words: "At last they entered a world within a world - a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains... Surely the Gods live here.
Spiti, locally pronounced "Piti", is bounded on its south and west by the valleys of Kulu and Lahaul; the region of Ladakh lies to the north and the Kalpa Valley lies to the southeast. Geologically and archaeologically, Spiti is a living museum. The mountains are devoid of any vegetation and erosion by wind, sun and snow over thousands of years has scrubbed the rocks bare. The rugged and rocky mountain slopes sweep down to the riverbeds, giving the landscape a moon-like appearance.
Overlooking Kaza from a height of about 13,500 ft, the Kye Monastery is the largest in the valley and holds a powerful sway over the most populous part of the valley around Kaza. The gompa is an irregular heap of low rooms and narrow corridors on a monolithic conical hill. From a distance is resembles the Thiksey Monastery near Leh in Ladakh. The irregular prayer chambers are interconnected by dark passages, tortuous staircases and small doors. Hundreds of lamas receive their religious training in the monastery. It is also known for its beautiful murals, thankas, rare manuscripts, stucco images and peculiar wind instruments that form part of the orchestra whenever Chham is enacted in the gompa in summer. Another interesting aspect of the gompa is its collection of weapons, which may have been used to ward off marauders as also to maintain its control over people.
Day 8 : Kaza (12,500')
Today we visit Dhankar and Komic villages. On the left bank of the Spiti River, near Shichling at an altitude of 12,000 feet, nestles the citadel of Dhankar, the official capital of Spiti. The citadel is built on a spur which projects into the main valley and ends in a precipice. The location of this fort is strategic as Spiti always suffered innumerable aggressions by its neighbors. The location allowed the Spitian to keep vigil on the approaches and to submit messages to surrounding areas in case of danger. Whenever the Spitians were attacked, they built huge fires to signal meeting in the safe sanctuary of rocks. The fort of Dhankar now lies in ruins, but still is a place worth visiting. From the remnants of the fort, one can see vast expanses of the Spiti Valley.
Dhankar is also of historical importance in art. Founded between the 7th and 9th centuries, Dhankar's old temple complex occupies the southern part of the steep mountain slope of the village. It is known by the name of Lha-O-pa Gompa (monastery of the followers of Lha-O). The monastery consists of a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together, giving a fortress-like impression. There are five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang where a life-size silver statue of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is placed in a glass altar embellished with scarves and flowers.
Near Comic Village is the renowned Tangyud gompa. Built in the early decades of the 14th century, the gompa belongs to the Sa-kya-pa sect and is of historical importance. It is recorded that a team of Buddhist scholars of the gompa accomplished the task of revising Tang-rGyud, the Tantra treatises which in 87 volumes form one class of Tibetan scriptures. The lamas of this gompa are supposed to be proficient in tantra. This gompa was earlier near Hilkkim Village which was devastated by the 1975 earthquake. The villagers then shifted this gompa to its present site.
Day 9 : Kaza to Kunzum La (15,000') to Chota Dhara
A spectacular drive over the Kunzum Pass is the highlight of our day. We will enjoy fantastic views of the CB range of mountains, most notably CB 14, 16 and 17. Here we leave behind the Spiti Valley and enter the Lahaul Valley, as we descend on eighteen hairpin turns to Batal and then onwards to Chota Dhara. We will drive for 5-6 hours today.
Day 10 : Chota Dhara to Rohtang Pass (13,050') to Manali (6,700')
Today we will take a morning drive to Manali via Rohtang Pass. As we enter the Valley, the rugged mountains of Lathul give way to the lush green valley.
Day 11 : Manali (6,700')
Today we will embark on a morning walking tour of Hadimba Devi Temple at Dungri. An ancient cave temple, it is surrounded by cedar forest. We will also visit the local Tibetan monastery as well as Jagatsukh Temple.
Day 12 : Manali to Kullu to Delhi
We will have an early morning transfer to the Kullu Airport for our flight to Delhi. Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel.
Day 13 : Delhi
After breakfast we will enjoy a full day of sightseeing of old and New Delhi. Explore “Old Delhi” with its narrow dirt roads, its myriad people and inexpensive and colorful bazaars that keep alive the traditional workmanship for which Delhi has always been famous. Our first stop is Raj Ghat (the cremation grounds of Mahatma Gandhi). Driving past Red Fort (we will visit the more elaborate Red Fort in Agra) we trade our motor vehicles for bicycle rickshaws, which will take us into the heart of Chandini Chowk (the silver square - so named because of the silver merchants). Negotiating alleyways, which seemingly get narrower and narrower, we end up at Jama Masjid, the largest Muslim mosque in India.
After lunch on your own, we will explore New Delhi. The capital city of modern India, New Delhi is a well laid-out metropolitan area built by the British when they moved their capital here from Calcutta in 1911. It blends internationalism and tradition, with many interesting museums and art galleries. We will drive past the President’s Palace and India Gate in the Lutyens’ Imperial City and Qutub Minar and Humayun’s Tomb that pay homage to the mighty Afghan and Mughal Empires.
Day 14 : Depart for home
You will be transferred to the International Airport to for your departure flight.
DATES: Best time to go: July - August Departures: Jul 5 - 18, 2015 Aug 2 - 15, 2015
$4,195 (10-15 members)
$185 internal airfare - subject to change
$4,395 (10-15 members)
$185 internal airfare - subject to change
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
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