Spiti Valley: Highway to heaven
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls -Mother Teresa
Route: Delhi-Shimla-Rampur- Reckong Peo-Pooh-Nako-Tabo
Mode of transportation: Public transport (Himachal tourism ordinary buses)
Timing: April 2-8, 2015
Best time to visit: June to August
No of people in the group: 1 (Solo)
Total expenses: 8000 INR ($130)
Delhi to Rampur: Good, Rampur to Chowling – Satisfactory with minor land-slides at 2-3 places, Chowling- Major Landslide and mudflow, Chowling to Peo- Poor, multiple landslides, there is a major landslide near Lal Dak or near tunnel area, Reckong -…… Major Landslide at multiple locations and then road is okay, there were no major landslides…. (It is better to get the current condition)
Bus Timing: Delhi- Reckong 8 PM ISBT (only bus), Reckong- Kaza: 7 AM (only bus), Kaza to Reckong: 7AM (only bus), Reckong to Sangla 11:30 AM (last bus), Sangla to Chitkul- last bus 4:30 PM, Chitkul to Chandīgarh- 3PM (only bus), Reckong to Delhi 11:30 AM (only bus) Reckong to Chandigarh: 5 PM (last bus)
Hotels: You will not face any problem in finding hotel. There is hardly any luxury hotel after Shimla. But you will find a good place to stay throughout the route. Most of them are budget hotels.
Ladakh and Spiti are two important destinations, which always keep running in travelers mind. Both the locations are not only famous for their landscape but they also provide the extreme mental peace. If you want to see ice capped mighty Himalayas, lush green forests; river valleys, monasteries, beautiful people, desert and the clear sky, there is no better place than Spiti valley.
Spiti valley was in my mind for a long period of time. But this time both timing and luck was in my favor. I asked some of my friends regarding the trip to Spiti valley and told them both opportunities and challenges. As westerlies have influences the weather condition and the entire north India was under clouds, heavy rains and snowfall were expected in Himalayas. Further, there were possibilities of multiple landslides, as the zone is quite prone to landslides. I am quite aware that the mindset of an adventure tourist is quite different from the common masses. They compare both risk and reward quite rationally and they are probably more prepared to take calculated risks. I remember the quote of my math teacher when I was preparing for JEE, “You have to die, if you want to see the heaven”. This is true for every walk of life. My intention is not to create some sort of fear but to make you aware of challenges. Once you are stuck in landslide, you may have to halt your journey for 2-3 days, without network connection and depending upon location, may be without good food and accommodation. Everyone who visits Spiti has the potential to face these challenges head-on.
There is no easy or difficult trip. It is the timing and weather condition that decide its fate. Last time when I was visiting Sangla valley everything was just favorable barring few landslides. This time I have intentionally chosen the difficult timing. Westerly disturbances, snowfall and landslides were enough to make this trip not only difficult but also memorable.
This time I was travelling alone and I was quite sure that I will find other tourists on the way. But when I entered into the Delhi-Reckong bus, one thing was sure that I may have to travel the entire 1600-1700 kms journey alone. From Delhi to Shimla the bus was almost full but not overcrowded. I reached Shimla at 6 am and there was heavy rainfall in Shimla. There are very few buses from Shimla to Reckong so despite of rainy and cloudy weather condition the bus was overcrowded. Westerly was on full swing and there was heavy snowfall in upper Himalayas. I was not sure whether I will reach Reckong peo today or not. I reached Rampur at around 11:30 Am. Reckong is hardly 100 kms from Rampur. I was aware of the road condition from Rampur to Reckong. The road is so beautiful that you will never forget this road in lifetime. But the road is prone to landslide and there are many waterfalls. Road is made by cutting the big rocks in C-shaped at multiple places.
(Shimla to Reckong: Pics)
You will definitely remember: “Ek taraf hai aashman ek taraf Zameen khabar nahi”
There were landslides at three to four places. Even at one place I have to come out of the bus. We cleared some part of the load so that our bus can cross it. The main problem was the melting of ice. Rocks which were held by snow were now loosely connected and this made the entre route prone to landslide. From May onward a much better rad can be expected.
From Chowling to Rackong the road condition was terrific. There was a severe mudflow, and it was very difficult for bikers to cross the damaged road. But again it was a challenge and a normal person can-not dare to do the same. After Chowling Nala, road condition was relatively better for next 5-6 kms but then there again a severe landslide and no vehicle can cross it. Landslide was still going on intermittently and a parson had already lost his legs the very same day. We have to run approx 500 meters so that we can cross the zone as soon as possible, keeping in mind that there is no rock falling when we are crossing the road. Fortunately there was another bus waiting for us on the other side of the landslide area. I reached Reckong at 4:30. There are many hotels in Reckong and Kalpa. Kalpa is just 9 kms from Reckong. As I have already visited Kalpa and was little tired I directly went to Hotel. The tariff of Hotel in Reckong is somewhere between 400-700 INR. The tariff is a strong function of your bargain capacity and tourist-season. Hotels are quite good if not luxury, but again who cares when you are so close to nature. From here you can see snow clad Kailas Range. Kalpa is a beautiful village. For details you can read my Sangla-Chitkul post.
Land Slide: Underprogress
I have already visited Reckong and Kalpa along with Sangla valley and Chitkul. Till now, everything was quite known to me and I was well prepared for that. The real journey begins now. Everything was unfavorable starting from weather condition to the condition of road. No one exactly knew when the road will open and when it will be closed again because of landslide. No one vehicle had crossed the road for last three days. When I asked the transport person about the road condition and the bus timing for Kaza, he simply answered that he won’t be able to answer because no one knows what will happen at night, so it would be better if I ask the same question in next morning. His answer was very much clear, be prepared, if the bus will go to Kaza board into it or relax and wait for road to become normal.
(Nathpa Jhakri Hydroelectric plant)
I reached Reckong bus stand in time. But there was no bus for Nako, Tabo or Kaza. The exact timing of bus is 7:30 am. The zones of landslides were working as an effective barrier for transportation system. A bus for Kaza left Reckong at 10 am and again we reached another landslide zone at 11. It was hardly 15 kms from Reckong. The landslide was again very severe. It has destroyed roads and various other infrastructures like building, electric poles, road rollers and other small equipment mostly related to road building. There was a big rock of height approximately 15 feet and we have to climb over it and cross it. Fear was unavoidable. I kept running for next 15-20 minutes, I have to cover more than 1.5 kms in minimum possible time and there was approximately 15 kg of luggage on my back. The bus conductor has already told the travelers that the bus will not go further and there is another bus waiting there. You have to cross the zone on your own. Both ITBP and local administration was there and they were quite helpful along with local people. They were quite attentive and they kept informed in advance. Like once you are running, rest people will be guiding you to move fast of stop and take shelter… it was a memorable moment for me. I know it is very difficult to describe it in words, but I think some pictures will describe it better.
From Spello onwards road was free from landslide although it was quite dangerous. The transition of climatic condition was quite visible and now it was appearing more like a cold desert than a green Mighty Himalayas. In route I crossed Puh, Nako and Malling. There is a small fort located on the other side of river, which is believed to be built by Pandavas. From Reckong we were 5 travellers in the bus along with some floating local people. Bus was more or less fully occupied till Pooh and Nako. Probably, the scarcity of bus and accumulation of people in last three days were the main cause of such crowd. Otherwise the bus remains mostly empty. But, from Nako onwards there were just 5 tourists in the bus and two among them were French citizen.
(Reckong Peo to Tabo: Road Pics)
Nako is a beautiful place and famous for its monastery. There is a lake at a height of approximately 11000 feet. It is quite spectacular. I would recommend you to stay here for a day or so. Although I wanted to stay there, but I was not sure when the next bus will come so I preferred to advance my journey. From Nako we crossed Malling; Here a small waterfall was fully frozen in month of April. There road from Malling to Nako top is just heavenly. Believe me, it is a road to heaven. From top you can see the clear blue sky, river Spiti and barren mountains whose peaks are covered by snow. Even picture cannot do the true justice with the scene. I reached Tabo at 4:30 PM. There was again a severe landslide enroute to Kaza and the bus driver was not ready to drive further.
Tabo is a small but beautiful village, which is famous for mud monastery. The monastery was built in 996 AD and it has never been renovated. Further, it has natural caves. Apart from monastery there is fresco painting in the walls of temples. The color is still intact. The temple is lighted by natural light only. You can explore at least 2 days in Tabo village. There are many hotels in Tabo but they operate only during peak tourist period. There is a PwD guesthouse and a Monastery guesthouse that remains open for entire year. In monastery guesthouse there is a restaurant too. They serve good food. The boy working there name Dhaniram is a cheerful guy. I stayed there for a day and could not visit Kaza because of paucity of time and inaccessibility. I will plan to cover Kaza through Manali and Rohtang route probably next year.
The return journey was quite easy. The weather condition became normal. There was no big landslide in last three days so road was open. I reached Reckong and then took a bus to Chandigarh. Although be prepared to change at least 2-3 buses but that is part of journey.
This was the first time I was travelling as a solo bag packer. But I was sure that there will be some traveler like me. When you travel alone, you have the freedom to mix with other traveler as well as with local people. When you are travelling alone, you will hardly feel it during day time. But yes, after dinner you cannot help. Staying in a room watching the clear sky and millions of stars reminds you the closeness and harmonious relation with nature what we used to forget when got trapped in the jungle of concretes.
The best time to visit Lahul-Spiti is July-August and do not worry about rain and monsoon. This area is desert and monsoon does not cross Himalayas. But again reaching there is a challenge irrespective of season.
Things to carry
- Mobile phone, power bank and BSNL postpaid.
- Sufficient chocolates
- Good travel bag, a sleeping bag and a sleeping mat
Medicine (fever, vomit, dysentery , headache and pain killer
- Rest normal trekking dress. I would suggest not to carry jeans
- Class III or Class IV sunglasses
- Winter cloths (irrespective of season)
- Dry fruits and glucose
Keep in Mind
- You will be travelling by ordinary buses so if you have time, break the journey. First stop at Rampur, Second day at Reckong, stay there for a day visit Kalpa, Next day go to Sangla valley or Chitkul, stay there for a day, Again come back to Reckong and then proceed to Nako, stay there for a day and next day Tabo.
- Drivers are the best driver of this world, trust them and keep calm.
- You may have to spend night anywhere because the route is prone of landslide, be self sufficient and always have enough water at least 2-3 liters.
- Local people are very helpful and you can trust them
Enjoy the journey, most of the time you will be away from civilizations.
- You are travelling on one of the most dangerous road of this world and probably the most dangerous road.