Lahaul and Spiti are two remote Himalayan valleys of Himachal Pradesh lying on the Indo-Tibet border. Strange, exciting, primitive, these valleys are incomparable in mountain scape, in the rugged beauty of their rocky escapements and the splendor of their snow covered peaks.
Lahaul is marked by a central mass of uniformly high mountains, massive glaciers, passes, lakes and gushing rivers. The two rivers, Chandra and Bhaga, which rise on either side of the Baralacha La, flow through the narrow Chandra and Bhaga valleys. Lahaul is a land of fascinating Buddhist art and culture. Often called as the 'middle country', Spiti is a cold desert regarded as a "World within a world" and "Palace where the gods live". The monasteries of Lahaul-Spiti are rich repositories of ancient murals, thankas, woodcarving and golden images of Padmasambhava.
Spiti, locally pronounced 'Piti' or the 'middle country', has its sub divisional headquarters at Kaza. The river Spiti originates at the base of the Kunzam range and flows eastward to join the Sutlej at Khab in Kinnaur.
In practical isolation for centuries, Spiti has an intensely introvertive culture centred around its several monasteries, there are thirty monastries spread over Spiti's rugged terrain. Most are affiliated to the Geluk-pa sect.
Spiti was loosely ruled for many centuries by a hereditary wazir, styled Nono. The majority of the people are Buddhists, followers of the Geluk-pa sect. The repetition of the mantra "Om mani padme hum", literally, 'Behold, the jewel is in the lotus', is constant; it is believed to bring good fortune and wash away all sins.
For all the seeming bleakness, Spiti possesses a haunting beauty. The wildlife in the region includes the elusive snow leopard and ibex, found in the Pin valley. The seven gompas in the Pin valley belong to the Nying-pa order, while those at Kaza and Hikim are of the Sakya-pa sect. In Spiti's introvertive culture, for centuries, life has revolved around these monasteries.
Lahaul, on the other side of the Rohtang pass is at once stark and forbidding and yet, its arid, almost lunar-like land has a strange haunting beauty. Everything about the place is high - the passes, the mountains, the sapphire-like lakes, the fast flowing rivers.
Scattered over this ethereal landscape are Buddhist monasteries whose antiquity seems lost in the shadows of long centuries. Along with the fascination that the terrain holds, these monasteries are its main attraction - and Lahaul has eighteen of them.
Lahaul with its curious mix of Buddhism and Hinduism has fine gompas (monasteries) and temples. The gompas, repositaries of Lahaul's rich store of Buddhist art and culture, are the focus of the entire social activity and festivity in the region.
While the route from Manali to Leh through Lahaul has been declared an 'International Tourist Circuit' and along one of the highest highways in the world is fairly traversed, other parts remain - to put it mildly - off beat.
Little villages with their patchwork of green fields, located near gushing streams, provide colour and relief to this rather forbidding landscape.
Tandi: Between Gondhla and Keylong is Tandi, where Chandrabagha or Chenab river meets the road. A legend says that there were two lovers, Chandra being the daughter of the Moon and Bhaga the son of the Sun god. To perform there eternal marriage, they decided to climb to the Baralacha La & from there they ran in opposite directions. Chandra being active and smart easily found her way & reached Tandi after covering the distance of 115-km. Soon Bhaga was found coming with great struggle through the narrow gorges to Tandi where consequently both met and the celestial marriage was performed. Bhaga covered about 60-km distance, which was very difficult.
Trilokinath: Trilokinathmeans the Shiva. A Temple is situated in the village, which is about 4 kms short of Udaipur on the left bank of Chenab river. Devotees from far off places come to pay their respects at this unique temple. This Shiva temple was given a look of Buddhist shrine by Guru Padmasambhava by installing the 6 armed image of Avalokiteshvar. In August, a big festival named Pauri is held for three days when people including the sadhus and followers of various religious sects gather to receive the blessings of Lord Trilokinath.
Udaipur (2743m): In olden times this village was known as Markul, derived from the name of the local goddess Markula Devi. The temple here is unique and famous for its wooden carving on its roof and ceiling. Later on, Raja Udai Singh of Chamba changed the name to Udaipur. This place is situated near the confluence of Chenab and Mayar Nallah, therefore, became a starting point for Mayar valley and further on to Zanskar and other peaks. This is a green area rather the whole Chenab valley is greener than the Lahaul valley.
Keylong (3340m): Keylong is the district Headquarters of Lahaul Spiti on the main road to Leh over Rohtang. It is an oasis of green fields and willow trees, water streams surrounded with brown hills and snow capped peaks. There are hotels, tourist bungalows and rest houses to stay.
Kardang Monastery (3500m): It is about 5-km from Keylong across Bhaga river, believed to be built in 12th century. The Monastery has a large library of Kangyur and Tangyur volumes of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti. Kardang village was once the capital of Lahaul. more...
Shashur Monastery: Situated on a hill about 3-km far from Keylong, towards north on the same slope. During June/July months, this monastery attracts lot of visitors when Lamas perform devil dance. It was founded in the 17th century A.D. and belongs to Red-Hat sect, located among the blue pines. The paintings over here represent the history of 84 Buddha's. more...
Kye Monastery: It is situated 12-km north of Kaza and serves the western population of Spiti. Known as the oldest and biggest monastery of the valley, Kye Monastery is located at 4116m. above Kye village. It houses beautiful scriptures and paintings of Buddha and other goddesses. Many Lamas get religious training here such as dancing, singing and playing on pipes and horns. It has murals and books of high aesthetic value.
Thang Yug Gompa: It is located 13-km above Kaza, serving the western part of central Spiti. Situated in a secluded place in the narrow gauge of Kaza Nallah, it generally has a Lama from Tibet. Above this there is a long plateau which leads to Shilla peak.
Kungri Gompa: It is situated in the Pin valley about 10-km from Attargo where Spiti river has to be crossed to enter Pin valley. It is serves the population of Pin valley.
Dhankar Monastery: It is situated about 25-km east of Kaza and serves eastern part of central Spiti. Dhankar is a big village and erstwhile capital of Spiti Kingdom. On top of a hill there is a fort, which use to be the prison in olden times. The Monastery has about 100 Lamas and is in position of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti language. Principal figure is a Statue of "Vairochana" or Dhayan Buddha, consisting of 4 complete figures seated back to back. It has relics in the shape of paintings and sculptures. more...
Tabo Monastery: This is another big gompa for serving the population of eastern side. It belongs to the 10th century and is located 50-kms from Kaza. It is a famous gompa next to Tholing Gompa in Tibet, comprising of about 60 Lamas and a large collection of Scriptures and wall paintings. Murals of this gompa have a great similarity to that of the Ajanta paintings. more...
Gemur: It is 18-km from Keylong in Bhaga valley where devil dance is held during July in the Local Gompa. The place is situated on Manali-Leh highway.
Sarchu: It is the last border point between Himachal and Ladakh, where HPTDC put up a tented colony for the convenience of the tourists during summer season. It is situated at a distance of 116-km from Keylong.
Kee Gompa: A picturesque collection of Tibetan style buildings set on a small hill, is the largest in Spiti. Along the road, it is 14-km from Kaza, but the best way to get here is on foot, a 10-km hike along the path. more...
Kibar: 15-km northwest of Kaza is Kibar or Kyipur, which at 4,205m. is reputed to be the highest village in the world. It is 200 km from Manali, and there's a bus to Kaza via Keylong and the bus trip takes 8 hours.
Kunzum Pass (4590m): As Rohtang pass is a gateway to Lahaul so Kunzum pass is the gateway to Spiti from Kulu & Lahaul. After crossing Rohtang pass and driving 20-km, one has to turn right from Gramphoo. While going to this pass, the panoramic view of Bara-Sigri glacier, known as the second longest glacier in the world, is enthralling and inspiring. There is a temple at the top of this pass dedicated to goddess Durga. more...
Losar (4080m): Situated near the confluence of Losar and Peeno streams, this village is worth a visit being the first big village of the Spiti valley and because of its Location. Yak and horse riding are other charms to add to its beauty and unique experience.
Kaza (3800m): 224-km from Manali, 197-km from Keylong and 425-km from Shimla, Kaza is a Sub Divisional Headquarter of Spiti Valley. It is situated at the foot of the step ridges on the left bank of Spiti river. Once it was the headquarter of Nono, the chief of Spiti. It has all modern facilities and is connected by road with Manali & Shimla except in the winter months.
Kibber (4205m): It is locally known as Khyipur, one of the highest villages in the world at an altitude of 4205 m above sea level in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains from all sides. Gette village, at a short distance away from kaza, is the highest in the world with a height of 4270m. more...
In Lahaul, the trek route goes from Darcha in the Bhaga Valley over the Shingo La pass to Zanskar. The trailhead, on the main highway, can be reached by bus from Manali, 145-km south. The trail itself winds up the east bank of the Barai or Khade Nala over the pass to Kurgiakh, the highest village in Zanskar. From Kurgiakh, it takes seven more days to hike down the Tsarap Lingti Valley to Padum. Among the more amazing sights en-route is the famous Phuktal gompa, a four-hour side trip from the main path.
Lahaul's other trekking route, which follows the river Chandra north to its source at the Baralacha Pass, makes a good extension to the Hampta Pass hike. Alternatively, one can catch the daily Kaza bus from Manali to the trailhead at Batal, below Kunzam La. About 3-km beyond the bridge, a track bifurcates left off the main road to climb towards Chandratal Lake, a relentless seven-hour slog from Batal. The next campground is at Tokping Yongma torrent. Tokpo Yongma, the second of the two torrents, is quite precarious.
From Baralacha la , crossed by the Manali-Leh highway, the trail to Zanskar via the 5435m high Phirtse La is a challenging alternative to the Darcha-Shingo La-Kurgiakh route above. This ten-day trek involves lots of difficult stream crossings and strenuous camping. more...
Road: Lahaul is connected with road from all parts of the country. Manali is the point where buses from various stations come. From here, one can take bus/taxi to any destination in Lahaul-Spiti, Pangi & Leh during the months between June to November depending upon opening and closing of Rohtang pass, the gateway to this valley. National highway 21 passes through this valley enroute to Leh. Other two directions are from Shimla via the Spiti Valley, along the road, which runs up to the Tibetan border through Kinnaur and from Zanskar and Ladakh over the Shingo La and Baralacha La passes. The Shingo Lo gives access to Lahul from Zanskar while the Baralacha La is on the Leh-Manali road and provides access to Lahul from Ladakh.
The town of Kaza is a maze of shops, hotels and houses. Some of the hotels in Kaza include Milarepa's Guest House and private accommodations. At Keylong a Tourist Bungalow is run by HTPDC.
Lahaul's climate is very much similar to that of Ladakh and Zanskar, which border it to the north. Beyond the reach of the monsoon, the valley sees little rain in summer, when the sun is strong and the nights are cool. Between late October and late March, heavy snow closes the passes, and seals of the region. Less rainfall in both valleys enables climbers & trekkers to enjoy a long and unbroken season in perpetual sunshine and explore the wilderness and grandeur of the inner Himalaya. This unique feature makes Lahul-Spiti as an ideal destination for tourists and trekkers in the month of July, August and September.
Manali : 115-km