The name “Spiti” means “the middle land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. But Spiti is more than just what meets the name. One of the most unexplored destinations in Himachal Pradesh, Spiti is located at a very high altitude and is also considered as a desert mountain valley. The ice-topped mountains, the river that follows you like a shadow throughout the valley, the waterfalls and the Grey-blue skies, you can go on and on about the place but you still won’t do justice. Spiti attracts a vast number of adventurers every year. Streams of riders, Trekkers, peace seekers swarm into its laps on and off season to open the cap of their bottled adrenaline.
Now, we travelers/ backpackers/ trekkers, to sum it up, adrenalin seekers, are always on a budget. So we put together the cheapest way to reach Spiti unless you decide not to spend anything and hitchhike. (PS. It’s our most preferred method, to be honest).
Kaza is approachable via 2 routes. One from Shimla and the other from Manali. During my travel to Spiti, I took the first one, i.e. via Shimla as I wished to complete the entire circuit (Shimla, Kaza, Manali, Leh and lastly Srinagar) which takes almost a month. However, due to some issues, I could not go to Srinagar and made my way back to Manali after Leh, sadly.
This post is written keeping Kaza (or Kaja) as the destination (which is a sub-divisional headquarters of the remote cold desert, Spiti in the state of Himachal Pradesh) and using the cheapest form of public transportation i.e. bus from Delhi which has not only become the centre point for all hilly destinations in north India but is also quite convenient. You can also reach to Shimla via train or Kullu via flight but as the bus is the cheapest mode, it would be more than fair for this post to just talk about it. Now, if you choose a local bus, you would spend approximately Rs. 1000 and if you choose to travel in a Volvo bus, you would spend Rs. 1500- Rs. 2000, according to the following itinerary ( exclusive of food and a night stay at Rekong Peo)
One thing that I have learned while travelling in the mountains is that the distance should not be measured in kilometers but instead time, as in the hilly terrain it takes longer to cover the span. So, the route is about 755 km long and according to google maps it takes approximately 13 hours to cover the stretch by your own car but in reality, as it is a hilly terrain, it takes 30 hours if you take your own car and 36 hours if you travel by bus.
Route one (Delhi – Shimla – Rekong Peo – Kaza):
Note: This route is an all-weather route open throughout the year, but subject to weather and road conditions Reckong Peo onwards.
Start your Journey from Delhi and take an overnight bus to Shimla. This will save you from staying a night at Shimla and hence, the charges. You can get a bus (Volvo/ordinary) from Delhi ISBT*. It will take you around 9 to 10 hours to reach. If you somehow miss your bus for Shimla and don’t get any seat in any other bus then you can also take a bus to Chandigarh and catch a bus for Shimla from there.
There are lots of ordinary buses running between Delhi ISBT and Shimla on hourly basis, specially in the evening and the morning hours.(Himachal Roadways, Haryana Roadways or Punjab Roadways)
There are lots of ordinary as well as AC buses running between Delhi ISBT and Chandigarh every 10-15 minutes round the clock.
(*Delhi ISBT refers to Delhi Maharana Pratap ISBT which is close to Delhi Metro Kashmiri Gate Station.)
You will reach Shimla in the morning and can take a bus to Reckong Peo directly without any stoppage. This will save one day as mentioned above. It takes around 8 hours to complete this leg of the journey which includes the break for breakfast and lunch.
Spend a night at Reckong Peo. There are cheap homestays near the bus stop. You can avoid going to the market and look for hotels as they are comparatively expensive. The homestays should cost approximately 400 for a room in Rekong Peo, try to bargain as much as you can from your end.
Note: From Reckong Peo you have options to go to Kalpa/Sangla/Chitkul.
There are many government as well as private buses running between Shimla and Reckong Peo every hour from 5 am till 8 pm from the new bus stand.
There is only one ordinary bus running between Reckong Peo and Kaza, popularly known as the Kaza Bus. It will depart at 7:00 a.m. sharp in the morning for Kaza. It takes around 11 hours subjective to the weather and the road conditions and reaches around 5:30 in the evening.
Popular tourist attractions of this route are:
Nako Village (Bus reaches at 12:00 noon),
Tabo Village (reaches at 04:00 p.m.)
Schichling Village ( reaches at 04:45 p.m.).
Note: It is for you to decide whether to leave this bus at any of these villages or to reach Kaza first. But if you leave this bus in any of these villages, next bus will be available only on the next day.
Return Bus from Kaza to Reckong Peo: Only one ordinary bus departs from Kaza at 7.30 a.m. and reaches Peo at 4.30 p.m. However, you can get a direct ticket to Shimla and catch the 7:00 p.m. bus from Peo to Shimla.
Route two (Delhi-Manali-Kaza):
This is the most popular route to reach Spiti Valley, but it is not always open. The section of the route between Manali and Kaza is available only for 5-6 months during the summer and monsoon season every year. It generally opens in the month of June and closes in the month of October.
According to the Google Maps, this route length is 735 km and it requires approximately 12 hours to travel by car, but again due to the hilly terrain, it requires about 24 hours time to cover the entire route.
This route consists of two parts: Delhi to Manali and Manali to Kaza.
Delhi to Manali: The route to Manali from Delhi is accessible throughout the year. There are many ordinary as well as AC Volvo buses available between Delhi ISBT and Manali at frequent intervals.
Alternatively, You can reach Chandigarh ISBT and from there, board a bus to Manali.
Manali-Kaza: When this 210 km.route is open, there are two daily ordinary buses leaving from Manali Bus Stand to Kaza at 5.00 a.m. and 5.30 a.m. These buses are run by Himachal Roadways. The route takes you via Rohtang Pass, Batal, Kunzum Pass, Losar and takes about 11 hours to reach Kaza.
If you have plenty of time you can detour at Batal or Kunzum Pass for one day each or trek to Chandratal (The Moon Lake), which is a very scenic lake at an altitude of 14,100 ft.
Please Note: These information are gathered during our trip in the first and second week of June. Public buses frequencies may increase in the month of July-September, during the peak travel season to Spiti Valley. You may also find some shared jeep/taxis plying on the route in that season.
Important Note: Carry hard cash. There are only 2 ATM’s in Spiti. One in Tabo and other is in Kaza. Most of the time they don’t work because of network issues or no electricity).