A road trip to Spiti is one of the best drives in the high altitude mountains of the Himalayas. Located in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, Lahaul and Spiti Valley is tucked away between snow-capped peaks and is located far away from the outside world. Known as God’s own country, a Lahaul Spiti trip offers some of the most scenic landscapes that you can imagine. Villagers continue to follow age-old traditions established by their ancestors as they continue tending to their fields and looking after their livestock. A road trip to Spiti Valley will always greet you with a warm smile and no matter which village you go to, the calming chants of the Buddhist monks will find you from some monastery located far away at a distance. The best way to go on a Lahaul Spiti Trip is by self-driving in a car or riding a bike. The altitudes are high but not as high as Ladakh because of which chances of feeling altitude sickness are quite low. No matter which part of India you come from, a road trip to Spiti can be started from Delhi where you can easily rent a car or a bike. Alternatively, you can also start your Lahaul Spiti trip from Chandigarh where many self-drive companies will give you a car or a bike on rent. The number of days that you wish you spend on this journey is really upto you however, one week to 10 days is good enough to cover most highlights in the region. The best time for a Lahaul Spiti tour is from June to September when all the roads and passes are open and the region is buzzing with a lot of activities. It is also possible to go on a Lahaul Spiti trip in the winter season but you will need to brave extreme sub-zero temperatures, drive on roads covered with thick snow and stay in makeshift lodges without proper food or water arrangements.
Delhi to Narkanda – 400 km
Start your road trip to Spiti Valley by driving from Delhi or Chandigarh to Narkanda, a town located around 65 kilometres from Shimla on the Hindustan Tibet Road in Himachal Pradesh. Most people who go on a Lahaul Spiti tour opt for a night halt in Shimla but if wish to leave the crowds behind and have mother nature all to yourself, its best to skip Shimla and drive straight to Narkanda. A popular ski town in the winters, Narkanda is located at an altitude of more than 8000 feet above sea level. In addition to skiing, Narkanda is also famous for the Hatu Peak, where the famous Hatu Mata Temple is located at an altitude of 12000 feet. Situated on top of the mountain, this temple has a lot of significance for the local people and is dedicated to Mandodari, wife of King Ravana. The temple and Hatu Peak offer mind-boggling views of snow-capped mountains, lush green valleys and forests littered with tall deodar, cedar and pine trees but keep in mind that the drive to Hatu Peak is not easy. You will have to drive on narrow roads and negotiate hairpin bends as you ascend the steep terrains to reach this beautiful location.
Narkanda to Sangla – 160 km
But don’t get too carried away because remember, you are on a road trip to Spiti and there is still a lot of distance left to cover. From Narkanda, move on towards the town of Sangla located in the Kinnaur Valley, famous for its apple orchards. The drive from Narkanda to Sangla will reward you with lush green mountains and the Baspa river that flows gently along the highway. Sangla is located close to Tibet because of which many years ago, this road was closed to tourists. As you continue the Lahaul Spiti tour towards Sangla, you will pass quaint towns, villages and many hydropower projects located on the Baspa river. The most important highlight on a Lahaul Spiti tour for any traveller are the iconic rocks protruding out of the mountains and creating a tunnel of sorts on the highway. The natural rocks sometimes give a roof over the highway and at other times creating a natural cave for a traveller to drive through, can appear surreal, futuristic, spiritual and overwhelming, all at the same time. These rocks are symbolic to this region and are worth stopping to take some photographs. Once you reach Sangla, try to stay in a camp located on the banks of Baspa river. Idle away in this mesmerizing place where time seems to stop and you will find yourself lost in the lap of mother nature. Go for a walk in the woods, visit the local villages and talk to the simple folks of the valley or if you are still in for more adventure, drive to Chitkul, the last Indian village located only 20 minutes away from Sangla on the old Hindustan Tibet Road. According to a recent study by IIT Delhi, Chitkul has the cleanest air in India which is enough reason to give some well-deserved oxygen to your lungs before you move on towards Tabo.
Sangla to Tabo – 200 km
Continue your road trip to Spiti and after spending a couple of days in Sangla, hit the road once again and drive towards Tabo, a small town located in Lahaul and Spiti district on the road between Reckong Peo and Kaza, the sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti. The drive from Sangla to Tabo is going to be one of the most memorable drives of your life as you take the “World’s Most Treacherous” road where you will not find any sign of human life for hours. Soon after leaving Sangla, the green mountains will be replaced by barren brown mountains which will appear daunting and make you feel like you have reached the end of the world. Give yourself enough time to complete this stretch which is prone to regular landslides that can block your way for hours. You will also cross many shooting stone zones where signboards by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) will warn you to be extra careful and look out for stones of all sizes rolling down on the main road. Small wind can set the stones in motion so be careful and always look towards the mountains for the rolling stones. It is best to carry enough food and water for this stretch of road because you will not find many shops or villages and in case you get stuck because of any reason, food and water will come handy. As you drive along this road, you may also find local villagers involved in constructing the roads while braving the scorching heat and high altitudes of this unforgivable valley. If you can spare some food and water for them, it will not only make their day but yours too. Beware that on a Lahaul Spiti trip, somewhere along this route, you will also lose your phone signals and remain disconnected with the outside world till you reach Manali. But most people who go on a road trip to Spiti opt for a BSNL connection that will keep you connected over the next few days if you really wish to make and receive phone calls in this pristine Buddhist land. Once you reach Tabo, make sure to visit the Tabo Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in India founded in 996 AD. This ancient structure which one of the most favourite places of His Holiness Dalai Lama, is made with mud and wood. It stands on the barren, cold and rocky desert of Spiti Valley at a dazzling height of 10,000 feet above sea level.
Tabo to Kaza – 50 km
After visiting the Tabo monastery, continue your Lahaul Spiti tour towards Kaza, the biggest town and the regional sub-divisional headquarter of the remote Spiti Valley. En route, stop to visit the majestic Dhankar Monastery located on the edge of a cliff. After a simple lunch inside the monastery compound continue towards Kaza driving through dramatic scenery along the way. As you reach Kaza, chances are you will need to refuel at the only petrol pump in town which claims to be the Highest Gas Station in the World. Spend a few days exploring this beautiful town located in the middle of nowhere. A dream destination spread over the plains of the Spiti river, Kaza is located at an altitude above 12,000 feet in a picturesque barren landscape surrounded by mountains in all directions. Give yourself a few days to explore the incredible places near Kaza but a road trip to Spiti will always be incomplete till you visit the Key Monastery, the jewel in the crown on Spiti Valley. Located 13,000 feet on top of a cliff, it is the biggest monastery in the region that is visited by thousands of devotees every year. Hundreds of lamas receive their religious training in this monastery where the irregular praying rooms chambers are interconnected with narrow corridors, dark passages and steep staircases. Spend a couple of hours meditating with the monks in this monastery for that much-needed peace of mind and calmness after being on the road for so long. Over the next few days, go high up in the mountains to visit Komic, the highest inhabited village in the world located at an altitude of 14,400 feet which is also popular for being the highest booth station in the world. A few kilometres away, also visit the village of Hikkim which is famous for the highest post office in the world. You can walk into the post office through a narrow and short door and send postcards to your friends or family located in any corner of the world.
Kaza to Manali – 200 km
After spending a few days in Kaza, it is time to embark on the most challenging drive on this unforgettable Lahaul Spiti tour. Yes, the best is still to come. As you drive from Kaza to Manali, give yourself a minimum of 12 hours to complete this treacherous stretch as you cross rivers, negotiate sharp hairpin bends, drive through water cascades and manoeuvre your car on rocks and gravel. Stop for breakfast at the town of Lohsar and make sure to pack some emergency rations, just in case. As part of the Lahaul Spiti Tour, you will also cross Kunzum Pass, the highest pass of Spiti Valley at a height of 14,900 feet and as you come down from the Kunzum Pass, you will enter the Lahaul Valley till you reach the Gramphoo after which you will approach the mighty Rohtang Pass. Even though you would have crossed many high altitudes mountains and passes by now, but don’t underestimate the perils of Rohtang Pass located at an altitude of 13000 feet. The approach to Rohtang Pass is challenging and requires a lot of focus as you carefully drive through numerous hairpin bends both while ascending and descending through this stretch. As you approach the top of the mountains, a constant blanket of clouds might disorient you for a few minutes but continue to drive carefully and slowly. Your mobile phone will start buzzing at this point and you will find that the pristine and isolated Himalayas are once again filled with people and vehicles as you start getting closer and closer to Manali.
Manali to Delhi – 550 km
Finally, your road trip to Spiti is complete and give yourself some well-deserved rest in Manali before you start the long journey back to Delhi. The journey back home will not be anywhere close to what you experienced on the Lahaul Spiti tour but you will be taking back unforgettable memories of one of the most adventurous drives that will surely last a lifetime.