One day as I was casually scrolling through the travel section on Instagram, I came across a photograph of an old monastery located on top of a mountain, surrounded by snow and road which lead to somewhere unknown. This photograph was so appealing to my eyes that my mind had already started preparing to undertake this journey. I have always traveled in group tours, this time it was going to be the same. But I wanted my travel to be beneficial to the community in some way and that is why I chose to go with Spiti Ecosphere.
Spiti Ecosphere organises volunteering tours in the Spiti Valley where volunteers can choose from a range of programs. Since it was my first, I chose to go for a ‘Life as a Local’ tour which lasted for a week and I volunteered to work with the Amchi (local doctor) in making medicines over a course of 3 days.
Spiti which literally translates to ‘where Gods live’, is true to its name. You can expect picturesque landscapes with lush green-peas farms, occasionally spotting tiny ladybugs feeding on them, and the air so clean! But don’t let that fool you, the weather can change in minutes from warm and pleasant to heavy rains and snowfall. The ideal time to visit this valley would be during the Indian summer months of April to July.
It takes about 12 hours to reach Kaza (it is also the subdivisional headquarter of Spiti) from Manali. Kaza is home to traveller hostels, hotels, bustling markets for all the winter wear, souvenir shops and lots of cafes that serve soul food.
Travel Tip: Go to Spiti only if you are up for some real adventure and travel. No fancy vehicles, no extra-fancy stays, no network (except for BSNL in some areas) and local food!
Read: Manali To Kaza Journey
Top Places To Visit In Spiti
- Hikkim: Located in the stunning trans-Himalayas, Hikkim is home to the highest post office in the world. You can either carry your own postcards or even choose to buy one from the store situated besides the post office.
- Komic: It’s not everyday that you get to dine-in at the world’s highest restaurant in the world’s highest motorable village. Home to the 800 year old Sakya Tangyud monastery, the village of Komic is surrounded by farmlands and mountains. My experience at the old monastery was extremely soothing as I sat with one of the head priests listening to age-old stories involving Buddhist culture and traditions.
- Langza: A small village with a huge Buddha statue and massive collection of fossils! It is believed that Spiti was once submerged under the Tethys sea and fossils dating back to the pre-historic era can be found here in large numbers. Also, spot the peak of Chau Chau Kang Nilda standing tall at around 6,300 meters behind the town of Langza.
- Key: Key is the reason why the whole Spiti trip happened in the first place. I had been dreaming of visiting the Key monastery and it was indeed an out-of-the-world experience. The prayer chants can make anyone go into a trance state of mind- peaceful and calming. Key also has a number of homestays, many of which offer a direct view of the monastery. A must, must visit place in Spiti!
- Demul: This is undoubtedly the most beautiful village in the Spiti region, maybe because I got to stay here for a longer duration in the company of good humans, or the little local girls who kept following me everywhere I went to, or the hospitality at my home stay, I will never know the reason. I have spent hours looking at the evening sky change its colours and settle into a calming night sky, I have sung my heart out at the musical sessions in the Tandoor room over chai and local arak, moreover I got to met Norbu- the Amchi who threw some light on the age-old practice of using plants and flowers to cure physical pains and diseases.
- Dhankar: The town of Dhankar was once considered to be the capital of Spiti where the King ruled over the entire region. One can still visit the ruins of the Fort of Dhankar- the then-residing place of the King, tour the old and the new monastery, grab lunch at one of the many restaurants and enjoy the stunning views of the Trans-Himalayas.
- Tabo: I cannot emphasize enough on how beautiful the drive from Dhankar to Tabo is! The road runs right next to the ice-cold Spiti river, with the Trans-Himalayas in sight throughout the journey. According to legends, the Tabo gompa or monastery is said to be atleast a thousand years old, with many monks still residing here. The most peculiar setting of this place is the domes constructed to keep religious scripts and texts, this helps the books from getting stolen or lost. Not far from the town, located on the mountains are the old Tabo caves which are used by people even today for meditation. These caves are also known as ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’ due to its location and the purpose that it serves.
I also got the opportunity to meet a few nuns (some as young as 8 years old) at Pangmo. Living in a cold, remote place, respecting traditions, carrying it forward and yet daring to dream big, is something that I learnt from the nuns and this experience will always remain close to my heart.
Though the tourism in this region is on the rise, Spiti still has a rawness to it- be it the roads, the stay or even the monasteries. The way the outsiders are received with so much love and warmth, will forever be the top highlight of my trip.