Will I be able to make it to Spiti Valley in winters? Will I be left stranded at Spiti Valley for days? Is it even possible to explore Spiti valley in winters with the amount of snowfall it receives? All these questions were hovering in my mind from quite a while. To fulfil my long term dream to visit the White Spiti and get these questions answered, I decided to do a trip to Spiti Valley in the winter month of February 2019.
Frozen Waterfall at Spiti valley
Before I go into the details of my journey to Spiti Valley in winters, let’s first talk about the place itself. Located high in the Himalayas in the Northern Indian State of Himachal Pradesh, a part of Lahaul and Spiti District, Spiti valley is a cold desert mountain Valley. It is accessible only by road from either Manali or Shimla.
The beautiful Spiti River
Spiti valley in winters is the entirely transformed version of Spiti that you experience in summers. The entire valley gets submerged in tons of cottony snow; “it’s a sea of white as far as your eyes can behold”. The horizon is a myth, for you can never tell where the land ends and the skies begin. Spiti in winter is all about survival instincts in those extreme weather conditions. Forget exploring, even making it to the Spiti valley in winters is a huge challenge.
The White Spiti Valley
So Abhi, what’s the point in visiting the valley in the winter season when it would be so hard to explore? Yes, I agree it would be hard to wander around, but the efforts will be worth every penny. The views you will get to see are just majestic and out worldly, it would be an experience that you will cherish for a long time; probably all your life. It has been almost 4 months since I am back from Spiti valley trip, but I dream about those views every single night.
Amazing scenes on way to Spiti valley
Narrow roads that leads to Spiti Valley
Note: Before I go ahead with further details, let me make it very clear that this post is all about visiting the Spiti Valley in winters from Shimla Side; the details of Spiti trip in any other season may completely vary from this post.
How to reach Spiti Valley in winters?
There are two routes to reach Spiti valley, the shorter one from Manali and the longer one from Shimla. The road route from Manali get closed during the winters due to heavy snowfall(only opens after May) and the only way to make it to Spiti valley in winters is from Shimla route. Also, the Shimla route is preferred as you gain the altitude slowly and hence reduce the risk of altitude sickness.
The nearest major railway station to Spiti valley is Chandigarh Railway Station (570 kms). There are no direct buses available to Kaza (Spiti valley) from Delhi/Chandigarh/ Shimla. If you want to travel from Delhi to Spiti Valley by bus, then you would have to travel by changing buses. You would first take a Bus from Delhi to Shimla, then Shimla to Reckong Peo and finally Reckong Peo to Kaza.
Driving on snowy roads at Spiti valley in winters( PC : Rakshith Gowda)
Most of the buses start early morning, so you would need to take night halts at the places en-route. Narkanda for the first night and Kalpa for the second night would be great options as these towns’ offers a lot to explore. I have written a post on How to explore Spiti Valley in winters on a 10 day’s trip from Delhi which includes the complete itinerary and information of other places to see en-route.
Bus services are mostly up and running till Reckong Peo. The service only gets disrupted if in case there is heavy snowfall or landslides en-route. Also, the services resume very quickly, thanks to the BRO (Border Road Organization) which clears up the roads as early as possible.
Frozen waterfall by roadside en-route to Spiti valley
Bus service from Reckong Peo to Kaza in winters is totally dependent on weather. Even if you get bus till Kaza from Reckong Peo, you cannot be sure of making up to Kaza. The driver may park the bus at any of the nearby villages in case it is not safe to travel ahead. The bus for Kaza from Reckong Peo generally leaves around 8:00 am from Reckong Peo bus stand and charges are around INR 575.
Note: Always keep buffer days in hands if you are planning a trip to Spiti valley in winters. Visiting Spiti on a fixed time bound plan in winters is almost impossible. The snowfall can sometimes close the roads for a couple of days to weeks to months. Month closure is rare, as BRO clear up roads till Kaza but back in 2013, the road route got closed for a month and people were airlifted. I am not trying to make you afraid, but it is better that you are aware of the truth.
En-route to Kaza Spiti valley
En-route to Nako village
Permits required to visit Spiti Valley
No permit is required to visit Spiti Valley for an Indian National. But you will be required to fill in few details at Akpa and Sumdo check post. So it is highly recommended to carry at least a valid photo ID proof of your nationality. Foreign Nationals do require an Inner Line Permit to go further ahead of Reckong Peo. The same can be issued from DM (District Magistrate) offices located in Shimla or Reckong Peo.
Cute kid at Spiti Valley
Getting around the Spiti Valley in winters
The entire Spiti valley is covered with thick sheets of snow including the roads as well. Most of the small villages in the Spiti region are completely cut off from the rest of the valley and the only way to reach them is on foot and that too is very difficult and dangerous. Efforts are made to clear snow from the roads leading to Key monastery, Kibber, Kaza and Tabo quite frequently. But still there is a lot of fresh snow on these roads. Only dare to drive if you have experience of driving on snowy roads.
En-route to Kaza from Tabo town
If you don’t have your own transport at Spiti in winters, hitchhiking is the only option left with you to explore Key monastery, Kibber and Tabo from Kaza. Visiting other places of interest in the Spiti region like Dhankar Monastery, Chicham Bridge, Langza Village, Komic Village, Hikkim Village, Pin Valley, and Mudh Village in winters is very difficult. One would have to walk all the way to visit these places and let me tell you these places aren’t too near to each other.
Cury roads on way to Spiti Valley
My Journey to Spiti Valley in winters
In recent years, Spiti Valley has gained immense popularity among the tourists and backpackers. While going through a travel blog on Spiti Valley, I was stunned to see the picture of Key monastery completely covered with snow. That particular moment my heart did a pact with white Spiti.
Curvy roads Spiti valley route
But the real challenge was that how would I make it to the Spiti Valley in winters using public transport? While going through the info on Spiti Valley over the internet, what I could make out was that chances of getting the public transport for Spiti valley in winters are bleak. Also, just before starting my 20 days trip to Himachal, I was regularly looking at GMaps to know the status of road connectivity between Reckong Peo and Kaza. It was always showing “Road Closure at NH 505 (Shimla- Kaza highway).
It had been a record breaking snowfall this year in Himachal after the year 2013. With such a heavy snowfall, making it to Spiti was even tougher. So, with little hopes of making it to Spiti on this particular trip, I started the journey from Pune. After exploring the beautiful towns of Chail, Shimla, Narkanda, Sangla, Chitkul and Kalpa, next on my list was Spiti Valley.
Early morning on way to Key Monastery Spiti Valley( PC : Rakshith Gowda)
Early morning, I inquired at Reckong Peo bus stand for the bus to Kaza and luckily the bus services had resumed just a day before. I was alone to raise a hand when the conductor asked that who wanted to go till Kaza. “Bhai Marwayega Kya” is what he said with a smile!! Except me, the whole bus was filled with Army people who had to get down at Sumdo check post and I was the lone traveler.
HRTC bus completely filled with Army People
The conductor gave me a ticket only till Sumdo and said that he will issue a ticket for Kaza only if the weather permits after Sumdo. As the journey began, I was delighted to listen to the songs of Border movie being played on the bus. I am not describing much on the views en-route, let the pictures do the justice.
The weather conditions deteriorated as the bus approached Sumdo. Looking at the weather conditions and I being the alone passenger, the conductor told that he wasn’t going any further. The army guys at Sumdo Check post helped me to get a lift in a car going towards Tabo.
As I reached Tabo, it started snowing heavily and the locals helped me to find a homestay. Next 2 days, I spent exploring the town as the roads to Kaza was closed. For more details on my stay at Tabo, I will soon write a separate post.
Tabo Monastery Spiti valley
Tabo Town Spiti valley
As there was no public transport available for Kaza, the only option was to look for hitchhiking. I stood by the side of the road going towards Kaza. I waited almost for 8 hours (10:00 am- 6:00 pm) in the hope of getting a lift but not a single vehicle passed by. It was extremely cold and I was shivering since morning. Also, it started getting dark and I decided to go back to the home stay. I was extremely sad.
Exploring the nearby regions of Tabo Town Spiti valley
As I was on my way back to the homestay, I saw a tempo traveler approaching Tabo. Hurray!! Finally, I got a lift for Kaza. To my delight, one of the passenger in the traveler was my Instagram Follower(thelittlesage__). Isn’t it crazy?? She was accompanied by her friends and they had a vacant seat. The road from Tabo to Kaza was completely covered with snow and it seemed we were travelling on a white wonderland. No colors except white, it seemed somebody ran out of colors while painting.
Snowy roads in Spiti District
We reached Kaza at around 7:30 PM and I decided to stay in the same homestay where the others in TT had done bookings. The night temperature at Kaza was around -20 degree Celsius. The sky was full of stars and the Milky Way was clearly visible. I stood at the terrace of the homestay just gazing at the sky for about an hour and I absolutely loved every moment.
Kaza Town in winters
I shared my traveling experiences with the group and soon we became good friends. As they were heading for the Key monastery the next day, I decided to travel with them. The tempo traveler was unable to make it all the way to the monastery and we decided to hike all the way up. Finally, my long term dream to see the Key Monastery covered with snow got fulfilled. There were tears in my eyes, tears of happiness.
Hiking to the Key Monastery Spiti Valley
The new friends I made during my trip to Spiti Valley
The weather prediction for the next few days was showing heavy snowfall. Also, driving on the snowy roads leading to other parts of Spiti was not possible. In fear of getting stuck, the group decided to begin with the return journey and I decided to tag along with them.
Cute Kids at Key monastery
Though I couldn’t explore much of Spiti due to extreme weather conditions this year, but whatever I saw, it was just splendid. The snowy mountains, the blue skies, the beautiful Spiti River, snow covered villages, the peacefulness in the surroundings, Ohh!! I still can’t get out of all this.
Breathtaking views at Spiti Valley
We travelled the whole day starting from morning 7 am and made it back to Reckong Peo at around 5 pm. It was time to say goodbye to the new friends and continue my journey exploring the other parts of Himachal.
Is spiti Valley safe to travel solo?
Yes, Spiti valley is very safe to travel solo, even for the solo women travellers. The locals here are extremely humble and very helpful. The crime rate at Spiti valley is next to none. So as long as you don’t wander at late nights and into the wild on your own, Spiti valley is a very safe place to visit.
Things to carry while visiting Spiti valley in winters
While planning a winter trip to Spiti, please ensure you don’t miss packing the following in your Rucksack:
- 2 Thermal jackets
- Inner Thermals- Upper and lower body(2-3 pairs)
- Woollen socks (3-4 pairs)
- Neck Warmer
- Waterproof trekking shoes
- Hair Dryer(for keeping shoes dry, blanket warm and so many other uses)
- 2 trek pants
- UV sunglasses and Sunscreen
- Thermal gloves
- Thermal monkey Cap
Important things to keep in mind while visiting Spiti Valley in winters
- Be careful while walking on roads and always keep a watch on the adjoining mountain. Landslides and avalanches are quite frequent.
- The water in the pipes freeze and hence, there will be no toilets with running water. Hence, keep your expectations straight.
- Most of the hotels or guest houses will be shut down along with places to eat.
- Taking bath every day is almost out of the equation.
- Carry enough spare batteries as there is no guarantee of electricity. Also, keep batteries and mobile in warm places whenever possible. Batteries exhaust rapidly in cold conditions.
Just admiring the views at Spiti valley
ATM, Petrol Pump, medical & mobile network information
There are banks and ATM’s in Kaza and Tabo, but mostly they are closed during winters, so carry enough cash. There is a petrol pump at Kaza. Do not expect much of the medical facilities when travelling to Spiti Valley in winters. Only JIO and BSNL signals are available in the region so make sure you carry a JIO or BSNL SIM card with you. You will get 4G internet connectivity.
Petrol Pump at Kaza Spiti valley
Food and stay options at Spiti valley in winters
Most of the hotels and homestays will be closed along with the restaurants to eat. You may find only 1-2 homestays that would be open in the entire town. Also for groceries, you may find 1-2 shops open. At Tabo, I stayed at Namkha Homestay (Bittu Bhaiya – 9459136721) and the charges for 2 days was INR 1800 including food. I absolutely loved my stay over there and would highly recommend it.
Snow covered road near Tabo Spiti valley in winters
At Kaza, I stayed at Kunphen Homestay (9418327810) and the charges were INR 1000 per day including food. Samdhan uncle who operates the same is a very humble person and I would highly recommend staying over there.
For food, you would have to be entirely dependent on the homestay where you are staying. Don’t be much demanding as whatever you get to eat in such extreme conditions is worth every bit.
Kunphen Homestay room Kaza Spiti valley
Seeing the struggle of the locals in such adverse conditions made me realize how lucky we are. We have everything but still our demands are never-ending. They face so many difficulties but never complain. Though I was at Spiti valley for just a few days, I learnt how tough things can get. I definitely returned as a changed person. So have you been to Spiti Valley in winters? If yes, do share your experiences in the comment section below. I would be glad to hear from you!!
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