On the north eastern extremity of Himachal Pradesh, bordering the highlands of Tibet lies the district of Lahaul – Spiti. The largest district of the state, it consists of the two sub-divisions of Lahaul and Spiti Valley. The landscape of this region is in stark contrast to the other mountain regions of Himachal.
Crossing the Rohtang Pass in the north, the terrain suddenly transforms from lush green slopes and pine forests into a barren desert expanse. Rugged brown mountains and snowfields spread out for miles on end with some vegetation struggling to survive along the river beds. The people of Lahaul and Spiti have struggled against great odds to eke out a living in this high arid homeland. During winters there is heavy snowfall and much of this area is blocked off from the rest of the country. In this long spell of winter, locals have to survive on their summer stocks.
The people of Lahaul and Spiti follow a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism, with a culture that is deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. Once part of the Maharaja of Kashmir’s empire, Spiti was later exchanged for certain areas in Kangra. Buddhism spread along the Spiti River, extending its influence up to Tibet. In the 10th century AD Rinchen Zangpo, the Great Translator travelled from Tibet across these lands during the rule of the Guge kings of Tibet. Under his tutelage, several important monasteries came up in Lahaul – Spiti, which still continue to follow a pure form of Tibetan Buddhism.
Due to the inaccessible terrain, the entire region remained insulated from external influences, untouched by modern life. Only after roads were built by the Indian Army to patrol India’s border with China did the area start receiving visitors.
Things To Do
Lahaul and Spiti’s things to do list cover a lot of sightseeing. Visit old monasteries, villages and experience the spirituality in the meditational caves of local lamas that are scattered on the outskirts of the region. Checkout the world heritage sites preserving some of the finest Indo-Tibetan art in the world or pay a visit to national parks and sanctuaries. Sit back and soak in the beauty of Bara Shingri glacier. Work up your appetite by trekking up the Manali-Chandratal-Keylong route or shop in Keylong market and make sure to enjoy some sumptuous Punjabi and Gujarati cuisine in local restaurants. The pristine beauty of Lahaul and Spiti will make you treasure your trip experience for a lifetime.
Ages of rich tradition, warm and hospitable people, a landscape of breathtaking variety and beauty – all combine to pack each year in Lahaul & Spiti with a variety of fairs, festivals and celebrations.
Dechhang – A community celebration and a moment of getting together, this is celebrated at the height of winter in December-January.
Lossar – Celebrated in February, ritual dances anda rich imagery mark Lossar. This marks the start of a new year and is celebrated in all the monasteries. The rituals include the stylized chaam dance, with elaborate costumes and masks. Lossar also commemorates the assassination of the cruel Tibetan king, Lang Darma in the Earlier century.
Ladaracha fair – A traditional trade fair, this is held every July in Kaza and is a time when a variety of goods are bartered and sold.
Ki-Gompa (Key Gompa)
Also known as Key Gompa, the monastery was founded in the 11th century. It is the largest of the Buddhist Monasteries located in Lahaul and Spiti. The Monastery is located at a picturesque location atop a hill at 4,166 meters above sea level. The views from the top of the monastery provide some breathtaking views from a massive height. The walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals, an example of the 14th century monastic architecture, which developed as the result of Chinese influence. Kye monastery has a collection of ancient murals and books, including Buddha images.
The Dhankar Gompa is located at an elevation of 3,894 meters above sea level and is placed at an exquisite location atop a 300 meter high hillock. The monastery is one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world due to its harsh and often inaccessible roads. Nevertheless, the location provides the most amazing views of the surroundings. Beyond the harsh surroundings, lunar landscape, notable sights at Dhankar Gompa include a statue of Vairocana consisting of four figures seated back-to-back, in addition to various crumbling thangkas. There is a small museum in the gompa.
The monastery was founded in 996 AD and is one of the oldest operating Buddhist monasteries in India and Himachal Pradesh. The Tabo Monastery is also protected by the Archeological Survey of India and is a UNESCO world heritage site and is often called as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’ due to its various rock paintings and stone carvings. A large number of frescoes displayed on its walls depict tales from the Buddhist pantheon. There are many priceless collections of thankas (scroll paintings), manuscripts, well-preserved statues, frescos and extensive murals which cover almost every wall.
Located at an average elevation of 4,590 meters above sea level, Kunzum Pass is one of the famous high altitude passes in Himachal Pradesh. The pass connects the Lahaul valley and Spiti valley to the Kullu valley and is famous for its various trek spots which give way to the hidden Moon Lake. This pass remains open merely 3 to 4 months in a year from late June to late September or early October. At the top of the pass lies a temple dedicated to Goddess Durga and it is considered auspicious to do parikrama of the temple and get blessings before going further in the journey.
Trekking is the major outdoor activity in Lahaul-Spiti that you can enjoy here as Lahaul -Spiti is the ideal place to trek – there are two types of trekking trails here – low altitude treks and high altitude treks.
The entire Manali-Lahaul area offers plenty of scope for trekking, whether you start off at Manali itself or strike base camp at Keylong and then go hiking through the surrounding area. Among the most popular trekking trails in the region are mentioned below.
Manali-Chandratal-Keylong trek. Learn More
Manali-Bara Shigri Glacier-Keylong Trek. Learn More
Keylong-Suraj Tal-Baralacha La Trek. Learn More
Other possible trekking routes can be from Keylong to Udaipur and the Mrikula Devi Temple (westward trek along the Chandra River and into the Pattan Valley); or from Manali to Koksar, the coldest place in Lahaul. Koksar 21 km beyond the Rohtang Pass is at an altitude of about 11,000 ft and is subject to sub-zero temperatures through much of the year; in summer it’s a little bearable.
Situated at a distance of just 18 kms from the rugged beauty of Lahaul and Spiti is a small village Gondhla. Gondhla with its glaciers, snowfields and thick meadows is a popular destination amongst visitors and boasts of interesting sights including the eight-storied timber and stone castle called Gondhla Fort. It was built by Raja Ram Singh of Kullu in 1700 AD. The Gondhila Fort has antique artifacts like bows arrows, quivers, catapults guns and cannons beside age old costumes. Still preserved in the dilapidated tower is a prized heirloom of the thakur family: the ‘sword of wisdom’ which represents the battle against religious ignorance.
Another interesting place near Lahaul and Spiti that you may like to visit is a beautiful village of Jispa. Located at a distance of 22 kms from Lahaul and Spiti, Jispa is situated on the banks of River Bhaga and is an ideal place to spend some quiet time with your family. You may also like to visit the Jispa Rural Museum housing reminders of the history and way of life of the residents of the Tod Valley of the Lahaul district or buy handicrafts made by local women here. Travellers often stop for the night here; the village has a hotel, a mountaineer’s’ hut and a campground. The riverside and Himalayan mountain backdrop of Jispa is sure to leave anyone breathless.
Adventure enthusiasts may take a trip to Kaza, situated at a distance of 63 kms from Lahaul and Spiti. Kaza is located on the banks of River Spiti and is considered as an ideal destination for adventure enthusiasts. It is the base camp for trekking, mountaineering and other adventures. Pin-Parvati, Parang-La and Pin-Bhaba are some of the popular trails which start from Kaza. A gentle stroll to villages around Kaza can also be an interesting experience.Kaza can be divided into two sections, Kaza Soma is the new town while the older one is Kaza Khas. The government offices are located in Kaza Soma while Kaza Khas has the king’s palace, monasteries, gompas and other historical buildings.
How to get there by Air
Take a flight to Bhuntar airport and from there on the 40kms to Manali and then 115kms through the Rohtang pass to Keylong. The road journey will take 6 hours and can be done by jeep or bus.
How to get there by Rail
Jogindernagar is the nearest railhead. Chandigarh and Shimla are also two broad gauge railheads for Lahaul and Spiti.Taxi’s and bus services are available at these stations to take you directly to Lahaul and Spiti.
How to get there by Road
Lahaul – Spiti is connected by road to the rest of Himachal Pradesh and other adjoining states from May till November. Buses from Manali trundle across the Rohtang Pass from late June till end of October to enter Lahaul and connect to Keylong and Darcha. Lahaul is on the route to Leh along the National Highway from Manali. Buses, rented cars and jeeps connect Spiti to Manali across the Kunzum La pass. Alternatively, there is a road connection that goes north from Shimla through the district of Kinnaur up into the Spiti valley.
Get Directions From Your Location
If you want to trek then the best time to go would be during July and September as this is the time when the weather is great and the valley is beautiful.
During the months of June to August there are some major festivals held in the area so this would be a good time to visit to partake in the festive celebrations.