Waiting for the mountain pass leading to Ladakh to open? Instead of wasting time in Manali and thinking of short treks in Parvati valley, try a 5-day hike in Spiti. This remote and unique place will let you escape civilization to experience pure solitude in the mountains, feel your own breath during high-altitude trek and catch a glimpse of Buddhist culture at the place being de facto an extension of the Tibetan plateau. And you even might end up enjoying it more than the legendary Ladakh.
Getting to Spiti is an adventure itself. One of the two ways that looks closer on the map, starts from Manali and leads through Kunzum La Pass at the altitude of 4551 meters, but is passable only in the summer and often opens even later than the road from Manali to Leh. The other road, leading from Shimla (if coming from the south) or Manali (though Rampur), though accessible through most of the year, lasts for at least two – three days and requires inner line permit for its certain part. This pick demands enough time and patience for narrow curvy roads carved in the mountains, but the road itself becomes extremely picturesque after a while and calls for a couple of stops along the way and therefore makes a topic of another post.
The Spiti Valley stretches along the braided turquoise river holding the same name, meandering peacefully from Kunzum La pass, towards the Sutlej river in Kinnaur. Surrounded by dry, barren, warm coloured rocks, it hides typical Tibetan villages high over its left bank. The potential of these remote hamlets mostly accessible by walking paths was noticed and picked up by Ecosphere social enterprise from Kaza, which promoted a hiking trail between five of them. The idea of the project was to prepare the villagers to host the hikers in their family house and offer them meals, in order for the whole income from tourists to stay in the villages. We liked the concept, since we had just recently started and enjoyed hiking independently in the mountains, together with our two friends met during the previous trek we set off equipped in our tent and food supplies.
By taxi from Kaza (3800 m) to Langza (4400 m)
We reached Kaza in the morning, too late to reach the trek trailhead and complete the first day stretch. It’s possible to start hiking directly from Kaza, but a big part of the 4-hour trail to Langza leads on the main road, which we decided to avoid. We used the first part of the day to do proper food shopping. We were not very sure what exactly we needed for the next five days, especially that unlike our companion, we had no gas stove, neither idea about how much we’d have to rely on food in the villages. Slightly confused, we ended up buying a big pot that we decided to return afterwards, a good number of fresh aloo paratha, biscuits (irreplaceable Hide&Seek!), some cheese, vegetables, bread and tahini.
We took a 4WD taxi that dropped us 13.5 km further and 600 meters higher, in lower Langza. In the upper part of the village we asked for a place to sleep in a random house and not much later we found ourselves in a warm simple kitchen with nice hosts, who were eager to tell us a bit about everyday life in the village in basic English. The long and clear afternoon was the time to see the statue of Buddha, stroll around mud households and play games with a bunch of rosy-cheeked kids. Warm veg dinner cooked over a dung fire awaited us back in the house. We found out that using dry horse manure fuel was the most efficient way to go in this completely tree-less area.
From Langza (4400 m) through Hikkim (4440 m) to Komic (4513 m) | 3-4 h
We woke up early and went to discover fossils of marine animals and plants originating from the times when Spiti was a part of the ancient Tethys Sea. To find them, we walked about 20 minutes eastwards until a small stream. It was a refreshing morning walk, but unfortunately most impressive fossils were already taken by tourist and the locals desperately try to sell those that were left. We stumbled upon a few.
A quick breakfast in the homestay brought an end to our stay in Langza and it was time to set off southeast through farmlands to the village of Hikkim. Instead of a dirt car road, we opted for a hiking trail and a steep climb to the pass, marked with a pile of stones. Once back down, we were back on the dirt road and followed it to the left, until the village appeared.
Hikkim, located just a bit below the main road, is a good place for a lunch, but even better for a visit to the highest post office in the world situated in a Tibetan-style building, just opposite a small yak farm. Remember to take postcards with you, as the post only sells stamps. The service seems to work without complaints, as our postcards made it to our European recipients in a fair (2-3 weeks) amount of time.
From Hikkim our friends returned back up on the dirt road and continued to Komic, climbing one of the peaks on the way, while we chose a walking trail that starts in the centre of the village. A path towards Komic is easy to follow and passes by a small monastery and farmlands. In around an hour the Komic Gompa appeared in front of us and we rejoined our mates in the village. We were in a mood for camping but most of the houses offering accommodation asked for money for a piece of ground. Finally we happened to find a relaxed farmer who had no problem letting us sleep at his land for free and treated us with a big flask of warm chai. That day we walked in total for 3-4 hours, but as it was a first day of high-altitude hike and we needed more breaks, it was just enough to fill the whole day. In case, there’s at least one peak that can be climbed on the way.
From Komic (4513 m) to Demul (4357 m) | 7 h
We woke up ready for the most beautiful views during the whole trek. Unfortunately, the sky was covered with clouds and not a single sunbeam showed up for the whole day. Also, it turned out to be the longest and the toughest day of the hike, thus all our focus was put into walking and managing the breath at a high altitude.
We embarked on a trail leading on the left side of a gompa perched above the village and continued southeast. Despite losing the path from time to time, we the dirt road to our left served as a clear point of orientation. We reached the first pass of Chamai Lapchai (4700 m) in about 2 hours. From there we could only imagine an open perspective over neighbouring peaks and Pasham range, as they were thoroughly covered by the fog. We traversed down the soft slopes of the valley. For a while the path continued uphill and later became almost flat. Then it started climbing again over one and then one more ridge, leading us to one of the highest mountain pass in Spiti – Young Lapchai (4717 m). The pass is said to be a great view point over Cho Cho Khang Nilda peak (6380 m), but we could only imagine it in the distance on that cold and unpleasant day. Since the last stretch to the pass was already quite tiring, we welcomed the last 40-minute descent.
A herd of blue sheep that we passed on the way down was the first group of living beings we met since early morning. They were hard spot as their colour perfectly blended into the terrain. Shortly after, the valley opened and we saw terrace fields just above the village. While getting closer, we realized that only women worked in the fields, some of them carrying babies on their back. We greeted them and continued to Demul, a medium-sized village (compared to the previous ones) with houses squeezed quite close to each other on the slope. It turned out to be emptier than we expected it to be and definitely not a place where you could knock on anyone’s door and find accommodation or food. Not completely empty though, as all the way down, to the left, we found a homestay with a piece of flat ground in front of it. We pitched just before it started snowing.
The family running the homestay had no problems with us sleeping just next to their place and even rented us an additional blanket for a small fee. They generously offered to the four of us, camping in the cold in front of their door (or rather their ladder, that lead to the main entrance on the terrace) a flask of chai and a bunch of chapati. We complemented it with rice and lentils as well as some French canned fish, bought for next to nothing in a local shop. The shop located in someone’s house opened on a request, once we managed to find the lady seller with help of some kids. The place that felt extinct and dull at the first sigh turned out to be a lot of fun thanks to friendly hosts, kids and little cows.
From Demul (4357 m) to Balari Top (about 4900 m) and back | 3 h
Demul to Lhalung (3758 m) | 3.5 h
If you get up early enough, there’s a beautiful walk to Balari Top to be done. This hilltop plateau point gives an incredible bird’s perspective over the beautiful Spiti Valley. The top is visible from the village as well as throughout the climb, so there is no problem with orientation.
After a pleasant walk with spectacular views we picked up the backpacks in Demul and took a steep and unpleasant descent towards the village of Lhalung in the Lingti valley. A small footpath follows a creek and leads into a gorge at 3700 m in about an hour. There the creek joins a bigger stream accompanied by a well-trodden path, until the confluence with the Lingti river. The path leads above the river and finally descends to a big bridge. There we turned left and covered the last one-hour stretch on an unpaved road, until we saw the picturesque village of Lhalung and its green farmlands.
With scarce food supplies, we almost ended up staying in a homestay, but since the owner was away and his tenant, a visiting teacher from Kaza, fed us with rice and beans and explained about everyday life in the village. With full stomachs, we were ready to join our friends camping by the village school.
From Lhalung (3758 m) to Dhankar (3890 m) | 4 h
Dhankar – Dhankar lake – Dhankar | 2 h
It was the teacher who advised us to sleep by the school, but she also asked us to leave before the pupils come in the morning. We tried to visit an old Gelugpa monastery placed above the village but it happened to be closed. The last day walk was not very demanding and we finally had some sun on our side.
We took the upper dirt road towards the Spiti Valley soon after we left Lhalung. It leads quite high above and parallel to the Lingti river. After an hour, we left the road for a hiking trail climbing up to the left. This shortcut gives a great perspective over a massive of Balari Top and allows to pick a nice lunch point with a view, before completing the very last 1.5 hour stretch to Dhankar.
Shortly before Dhankar, the path rejoins the dirt road. We arrived to the last point of the trek early enough to sort out some food and tips on where to pitch the tents, and left for an hour walk to an impressive lake above Dhankar. We were lucky to meet a huge flock of sheep and goats with shepherds, whose fluent English was quite astonishing.
Dhankar lies on a slope formed by sandy rocks, where locals builded in their homes and monastery. The only flat area in the village is the roof and yard of the old fortress in the highest point of the village, where together with our companions we squeezed in two tents.
There is a possibility to go down to the main road in the Spiti Valley the same day. It takes about an hour, but then you need to rely on a successful hitch. We rolled down to the main road the next morning to catch the bus at 10.30, but before it arrived we hitchiked a pickup truck with truck with very poor shock absorbers…
Getting to the trailhead – we took a jeep taxi from Kaza to Langza for 850 rupees, it’s best to share it between four people. Alternative would be a hike to Langza – 4 hours, about 10km.
Accommodation and food – a bed in a homestay, dinner, breakfast and filtered water (it’s worth bringing with you a plastic container and asking for lunch, which is included in the price) are available in all the villages we stayed ay. Full board in Langza and Dhankar was 400 rupees per person, in Komic and Lhalung – 500 rupees, in Demul – 600 rupees.
We stayed in a homestay only in Langza, while in other places we chose to sleep in the tent. We used our own food supplies, did some basic food shopping in Demul (we heard Dhankar also has a small shop) and were offered chai and chapatti for a several times. As we set of for a trek with just one sleeping bag for the two of us, we often asked for a warm extra blanket that cost us 50 rupees.
Acclimatization – before starting the trek, it’s important to acclimatize to the altitude of minimum 3500 m and keep hydrating (minimum 3 liters of liquids per day). Our prior stay in Nako, Kaza, Ki and Kibber served as a reasonable and sufficient acclimatization.