Spiti or the land of nomads is situated at 12,500 ft above the sea level in Himachal Pradesh (India) and is often referred to Ladakh’s little brother. But, with its barren land, snow-capped mountains, postcard valleys and glistening skies, it is worthy of more attention. Spiti is a visual delight for every peace seeker out there with prayer flags fluttering everywhere you see.
We won’t give you a list of things you should see when you explore the middle land, but a list of thing you must not miss. Read on to know what’s on our carefully curated list:
1. STAY AT THE KEY MONASTERY
Three-hour drive from Kaza and you reach the crown of these cold, barren mountain deserts. The key monastery, built at 13,668 feet above the sea level is situated in a unique location and high enough to be visible from Kaza.
No vehicles are allowed in a one-kilometer periphery of this holy place and hence one has to walk the distance to unravel the magic that is the key monastery. As soon as I started walking my way to the huge gates, rows of prayer flags outlined the way for me, soothing my soul with every other step I took.
As soon as I entered the monastery, I knew I had to spend at least a night here and on inquiries figured that like almost all the monasteries in Spiti, Key offers a stay for travelers too. At Rs. 200 a night, Key was a meditation for the soul with an endless flow of butter chai and simple Lama style cooked food served as a cherry on the top.
The warmth inside the monastery completely contrasts the cold and dry atmosphere outside as the monks leave no stone unturned to make you feel at home. Someone or the other is always more than happy to strike a conversation ( but over butter chai, mind you.) that goes on for quite some time.
During one of these conversations, I stumbled upon some facts and got to know that the monastery was built and rebuild quite a few times in lieu of earthquake disasters, invasions, and fire. All the different parts of the monastery got revamped around different times and hence put haphazardly around and on top of each other thus giving it a fortress kind of a look. As I said, Crown of the valley indeed!
2. CAMPING AT CHANDRATAL
After an energy draining journey from Kaza on dusty roads and a sequential hike, my fellow wanderers (Nishant and Suresh) and I, finally reached Chandratal. It is also often called as the moon lake (Chandra-moon; Taal- lake) because of the crescent shape it has.
Trotting through the barren land of Spiti, one’s eyes get attuned to the earthy color palette of browns and yellows; hence, as soon as you lay eyes on this waterbody, the burst of alluring blue actually hurts your eyes for the first 5 seconds and then suddenly shoots a streak of tranquility inside you.
Night Sky at Chandratal
As we sat down, the strong winds that made the prayer flags flutter and the water ripple, also made us shiver. The lake changed colors every five minutes as the clouds errand from peak to peak exposing and covering the sun each in its time.
Before reaching Chandratal, we were advised to camp beside the lake for a night to have yet another enthralling experience and we were not disappointed. The beauty just triple-folds at night as the stars start dropping at your feet and you can see the Milky Way galaxy right over your head. If you are lucky, the lake might be perfectly still for it to reflect the sky, making your jaw touch the floor and your heart reaches on cloud nine. So, do camp a night at Chandratal to experience the best of Spiti and yourself.
3. SENDING A LETTER FROM THE HIGHEST POST-OFFICE IN THE WORLD
I had been collecting unique stamps ever since I was a child, sticking them on postcards and letters and sending them off to my loved ones. Over the years that I have travelled, I tried to absorb myself in the endangered activity of letter writing whenever I had the chance. So when I learned that Hikkim ( 15,500 ft above sea level), Spiti is the land of the highest post-office in the world, my excitement skyrocketed and I cancelled all the plans for the day and hitched a ride to the pious spot. As I was climbing my way to that beautiful old building, I rightly remember feeling overwhelmed to my core thinking about how only a handful of people get this opportunity.
The World’s Highest Post Office at Hikkim
On discussions with the so warm hearted postmaster, Rinchen Chhering, I discovered that the office which now doubles up as his home was set up on November 5, 1983 and he is the only one who has been stamping every letter that passes through that place ever since. As there is no phone connectivity and internet is a far sighted dream, this post-office is the only way of communication for some 160 residents of Hikkim.
I already scribbled two letters one for my parents and one for my siblings on the way. The other two, one addressed to me and the other addressed to my better half were left to be written at the post office, adding a special significance to them. After all, you don’t get to send letters from the highest post-office in the world every day. So I wrote and got them stamped, had a cup of tea and left on my downward journey to Kaza, feeling excited to get back home and read the letter I sent to myself.
4. HITCHHIKING ACROSS THE EXTREMELY FRIENDLY LAND
Spiti is just climbing the ladder of tourism higher every year due to which the locals have got quite accustomed to tourists and travellers. It not just attracts Indian originated explorers but also people from outside of India and hence the people are well versed with the idea of hitchhiking. So, it won’t be wrong if we say that hitch-hiking in Spiti is really safe; not just for guy travellers but also for women travellers. During my time in Spiti, I made it a point to hitch-hike extensively for the same reasons. Though Spiti is approachable throughout the year, I would suggest you hitchhike in summer as the tourism is higher during that time and the possibility of getting a host just shoots up.
When you do get a host, you might want to indulge in a friendly conversation and ask them if you could stay at their home to better understand the culture and traditions there. Which brings us to the next and the final point on the list, i.e. staying with the local people of Spiti.
5. STAYING WITH THE LOCAL PEOPLE
If you get a chance to stay with the local people of wherever you are traveling to, consider yourself extremely lucky because you cannot get any closer to the culture, tradition, food and the people of that particular region in any sort of way. When it comes to India, the potpourri of the cultures changes at every 100km and you just can’t get enough of it especially the food.
While my time in Spiti, this opportunity stumbled upon me when I was travelling on a bus from Kaza to Mudh. I happened to be sitting beside a very kind-hearted guy named Sonam. Now, I don’t exactly remember how the conversation started but what I do remember is me telling him that I was out of money and the ATM’s there just won’t work. When he heard that I was left with just a negligible amount of money, he fell into deep thought and after 5 minutes said, ‘mere ghar reh jao.’ (stay at my place). Being an avid traveller I knew this was my ticket to Spiti’s culture and I agreed in a heartbeat. After that, the trip just went uphill.
I did not just get to see their lifestyle but also taste the local cuisine which you won’t find in any restaurants. A lot of inside stories like how they managed to stay there in the cold harsh winters, what kind of food they enjoyed the most, their festivals, earning source, economy and the main issues they face were discussed as I prepared my mothers chicken curry recipe in their kitchen.
The people of Spiti are coated with generosity. All you have to say is ‘Julley’ and you get the warmest ‘Julley’ in return with an ear to ear smile. Talk to the local people there. Start a conversation, break the ice. Make eye contact with them and most of all stay positive, smile and laugh. Once you establish a connection, ask them if you can stay with them for a night, offer to pay (in a very polite manner) and you are likely to get a bed. Don’t hesitate to ask, what is the maximum that can go wrong? A ‘no?’ but buddy, what if you get a ‘yes?’
So the trick is to muster up courage and ask them heads on. Don’t fear rejection. It only makes you have better points for further collisions. You can’t imagine how many times I got rejected before I could finally master this art.
〉〉〉 Now, pack your bags and explore Spiti the Insane Traveller way. 〈〈〈
Picture Credits: Sushil Chauhan