Lahaul and Spiti

This is a mountainous area that is located between Ladakh and Tibet in the north and the Kullu valley in the south. “Lahaul” Lahaul begins 51km north of Manali, right after crossing the 3978m (13,127 ft) Rohtang Pass. You go through this area when you travel north from Manali to Leh. Many of the peaks here are over 6000m, the highest being Mulkila at 6,500m. It is basically a dry barren mountainous area with some green areas. It has some interesting Buddhist gompas and secluded villages. There are some good treks in this area.

To reach here from Manali you have to travel over the Rohtang Pass, which is closed a good part of the year because of heavy snow. You can also get to this area coming from Shimla going through the Spiti Valley. It is approached from Zanskar by going over the Shinga La Pass and from Ladakh by going over the Baralacha La Pass (4,870m).
About half the people in Lahaul are Buddhist and the other half are Hindu. The main local language is Bhoti, which is similar to Tibetan. A good word to know is “jule,” which means hello, thank you and goodbye.

You only need a permit if you are going between Tabo and Rekong Peo, the capital of Kinnaur. You can get a seven-day permit at the Home Affairs Office in Delhi, the Senior District Magistrate Office in Rekong Peo, Kaza or Keylong or the Deputy Commissioner in Shimla or Kullu. Rekong Peo and Kaza are the best places to apply, so as not to waste any of the seven-day permit. In Kaza you are supposed to apply with a group of four, but this is often waived. You need three passport size photos, which you should have before going to Kaza or Rekong Peo, as you may not be able to get any photos taken in these places.

There are conditions listed on the permit in reference to where you can stay and how you have to travel, which for the most part are not enforced.

Kaza”Kaza is the main town in Spiti. It is a nice town that is divided into two basic areas, the “old town” and the “new town.” New town is basically some government buildings (the District Magistrate office is there).

The State Bank of India only changes US dollars (doesn’t like hundreds) and will not change travelers cheques. Kaza is a good place to hire a porter or a horse.

You should get to the bus stand early to make sure you get a ticket and a seat. There are buses to Manali (12 hr, 1 or 2 daily, 5 am), Rekong Peo (12 hr, 1 daily, 6 am), Keylong (8 hr) and Shimla.
You can arrange a taxi through your hotel. Taxis are expensive here. There is a taxi stand near the Zambala Hotel.

Kyi Gompa & Kibber Village
The “Kyi Gompa”Kyi Gompa, 14km from Kaza, is part of the Gelukpa order. It is the oldest and biggest gompa in Spiti. There are around 200 monks here. It has a great collection of thangkas and paintings.

Kibber, 11km from Kyi Gompa, claims to be the highest village in the world at 4250m (14025 ft).

There is a daily bus in the summer that departs from Kaza at 8 am that goes to Kyi Gompa and then to Kibber village. You can visit the Kyi Gompa while the bus continues on to Kibber and then get the same bus back to Kaza when it returns. A taxi is Rs 350 from Kaza to Kyi Gompa and back.

To walk from Kaza to both Kyi Gompa and Kibber village is around 21km. It is a long difficult walk up some steep paths. To walk from Kaza to the Kyi Gompa, you take the road north for around 4km and go over the bridge and there are signs.

At Dankar Gompa there are around 150 monks, some interesting sculptures, thangkas and paintings. There are some great views from here. From the road it takes around 2 hr to climb up to this gompa.

There is a beautiful lake at 4,000m that is about 3km from the village.

There are some direct buses from Kaza to Kankar. You can also get a bus to Scihiling and from there it is a hard eight km walk. There is sometimes a bus between Scihiling and Dankar.

Thang Yud Gompatc “Thang Yud Gompa”
The Thang Yud Gompa, 14km north of Kaza, was built in the 14th century by the Sakyapa order. It is a hard trek to get to this monastery.

Tabo Gompa
This important Tibetan Buddhist gompa is where the present Dalai Lama is planned to retire. It was built by Ringchen Zangpo, the “Great Translator” in 996 and is over a thousand years old.

It has some outstanding murals and sculptures. There is a painting school here opened by the Dalai Lama. Tabo is 45km east of Kaza.
There are some caves (known as duwang) on the other side of the road from the gompa that have ancient paintings in them.

There are a few rooms in the gompa to stay for the night and there are some government guesthouses that may have a room. The only place to eat is at the really basic Himgiri Restaurant.

To get to Tabo from Kaza takes two hours. You take the 6 am bus that goes to Rekong Peo and then get a bus back in the afternoon.
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Treks in Lahaul and Spiti
The treks in this area are long, strenuous and you have to go over some high passes. There are little facilities, so you need to have a guide, ponies, tents and your own food. Packhorses can be hired in Darcha and Keylong in Lahaul, Kaza in Spiti, and Manali. You need to give yourself time to acclimatize for the high altitude passes. The best time to trek is from July to early September, as it does not rain much here. By the end of September there is a possibility of snowfall and starting in November it gets really cold.

The trek that goes to the Baralacha Pass (5100m) is one of the most popular treks done in Lahaul. On Day 1 you get the Kaza bus from Manali to Batal, where the trek begins. You then walk from Batal to Chandratal Lake (7km). You pass on this ascent Bara Shigri (the world’s largest glacier) and White Sail (6400m). If you have a problem with elevation you should take a day off to acclimatize. You then walk to Tokping Yongma. On Day 4 you go to Baralacha La, from where you can get a bus on the Manali–Leh road. You could also take the trail to Zanskar via Phirtse La (5430m), which is an extremely tough trek only to be done by an experienced trekker.

An interesting trek is the Pin Valley Trek, which begins 25km southeast of Kaza. The trail goes south along the right bank of the Pin River to Ghurguru. The path then takes two routes, one south to Kinnaur over the Bhaba Pass (4860m) and the other north to Manikaran in the Parvati Valley over the Pin-Parvati Pass (4800m).