Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh have become one of the most inviting destinations for travelers in recent times. Spiti has become a traveler’s delight for its amazing landscapes, culturally rich – scarcely populated villages, magnificent monasteries, breathtaking perennial rivers, and awe-inspiring high altitude freshwater lakes.
Trivia: Though, Lahaul and Spiti had once been separate districts, since 1960 these two have become an unified district of Himachal Pradesh with its administrative centre in Keylong in Lahaul.
Untamed Pin Valley
The cold and mountainous district of Spiti still contains many unexplored destinations which remain off-route from the popular hotspots. One of the hidden gems of Spiti district is Pin Valley. Famous largely for its Pin Valley National Park, it is one of the most exciting areas to visit in this district. Filled with lush greenery and attractive views all around, Pin Valley is a must visit this year.
Road to the Valley
Traveling from Shimla (Shimla-Kinnaur-Spiti)
Pin Valley starts as you take a left turn from the bridge over Spiti River, a little ahead of the Dhankar Monastery.
- Distance: 445 km
- Tip: The route is open for travelling all through the year.
- Best time to travel: April to November
- Nearest railway station: Shimla
Travelling from Manali (Manali- Rohtang Pass- Lahaul- Kunzum Pass-Spiti)
The entrance into the valley would come ahead of the Dhankar Gompa if you are on this road.
- Distance: 410 KM
- Tip: This route is accessible from June to October.
- Nearest railway station: Joginder Nagar
Highlights of the Journey
The road to Pin Valley is filled with thrilling scenery that will not allow you to take the eyes off your vehicle’s window. Spiti is regarded as one of the greenest regions in Himachal Pradesh. As you approach the district, the landscape shifts from rocky desert terrain into patches of green vegetation. At times you can see both these aspects merge together, giving you some memorable photographic moments. As you near the Pin Valley, the first sight of the magnificent Pin River will make you fall in love with this region instantly. The Pin River will accompany you until the culmination of your journey.
Picturesque villages of Pin Valley
As you travel to the Pin Valley, along the banks of Pin River, the first notable village you reach is Sagnam. The chilling breeze, breathtaking landscapes and the warmth of the natives will really grip your mind upon arrival. Once you have seen enough of beautiful Sagnam, travel for another 16 KM till you reach another village known as Mud. Mud is not only picturesque; it is also the last inhabited village on the Indian side of the Indo-Tibet border. The international border is very close to this village. While you are at the village, enjoy the color changing landscapes and hill tops of the Pin Valley. This valley is also famous for its dry alpine and small sized Juniper scrubs.
Pin Valley National Park
Pin Valley National Park is basically situated in a cold desert, adjoining the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) on one side and the Rupi Bhabha sanctuary on the other. Declared as National Park in 1987, it spreads over an area of approx 9700 SQ KM. The park has many snow-capped, unexplored high reaches and slopes, and it forms a natural habitat for the rare animal and bird species including Tibetan Gazzle, Woolley Hare, and if you are lucky enough, you may even spot snow leopards. Ibex, Himalayan marmot, blue rock pigeon, snow pigeon and Himalayan brown bear are some of the other rare species of animals and birds that you can witness in the park.
- Timings: 6 AM – 6 PM (Open on all days of the week)
- Special restrictions: Special inner line permits (IPL) is required for any travel within 40 km of the Tibetan border. The permit is not needed to travel from Lahual to Spiti, however, you need one for traveling between Tabo and Rekong Peo. The permit can be obtained from the District Magistrate office at Rekong Peo as well as sub-divisional magistrate office at Kaza.
- Tip: Do not attempt trekking unless you are medically fit, as you may feel breathless at very high altitudes.
- Must see: The area becomes all colorful with flowers during July and August. Also, the endangered Snow Leopard has been preserved in this area.
Nearby tourist attractions
Situated at an altitude of 3870 M, between Kaza and Tabo, this is a 1000-year-old Tibetan monastery. The Dhankar Monastery is a typical example of fort monastery. The monastery bears architectural influences from Central Tibet. Windows of the Gompa offer mesmerizing views of the valley. Many herbs are grown around the monastery which is famed to cure heart and lung ailments.
- Timings: 8 AM – 6 PM
- Special restrictions: Photography is not allowed inside the monastery to avoid any damage to ancient thangkas and wall murals.
- Must see: The statue of ‘Vairochana’ called the “Dhyan Buddha.” It consists of four figures seated in a line. The visitors can also find relics in the shape of sculptures and paintings.
At an altitude of 3050 M above sea level, Tabo is home to one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Buddhist religion. Built in 996 by Ringchen Zangpo, the monastery has been largely preserved in all its glory. However, a new monastery complex has been built for regular use. Special attractions of the monastery include wall paintings and mud statues.
- Timings: 6 AM – 5 PM
- Special restrictions: Photography is not allowed inside any monastery.
- Must see: This monastery houses a priceless collection of manuscripts, paintings, frescos, clay statues and murals – all depicting the tales from Mahayana Buddhism in Tibetan style.
Located alongside the Spiti River at an altitude of 3,650 M, Kaza is the largest township and commercial center of Spiti region. Overlooked by the mighty mountain ridges on all sides Kaza town serves as the base camp for many trekking to higher altitudes. Some of the popular sightseeing spots around this beautiful city include Sakya Tangyud Monastery, Key Gompa, Kibber village, Gette Village, Langza village (famous for its marine fossils) and the Losar village.
Tip: Avoid visiting during winters especially in January because the temperature drops to as low as -300 C.