Spiti Travelogue in Air India in-Flight Magazine
This travelogue was published in the July issue of Air India’s inflight magazine.
Spiti: haven in the Himalayas
words: Priyanka and photos: Nitin Gera
At 14,000ft while strong winds threaten to sweep you off your feet, the beauty of the crescent shaped Chandratal Lake does just that. Chandrabhaga range in the backdrop and surrounding scree seem like an amphitheatre where the pristine lake displays its myriad shades of blue for a rare audience of shepherds or trekkers. Visual extravaganza and tranquillity reach a crescendo in the secluded land of Spiti.
Spiti is in the Trans-Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh with an average altitude of 10,000ft making it a cold desert. The valley can be accessed from Kullu in the west or Kinnaur district in the South. The route from Manali goes through Rohtang Pass, enters Lahaul and moves upstream along Chandra River to Kunzum Pass, the gateway to Spiti valley. Three Chortens and a Goddess Durga temple mark the crest of the pass. A well-wishing signboard suggests that travellers should circumambulate the shrine before proceeding further. Faith soars high in the lap of majestically rugged mountains.
From Kinnaur, the route via Rampur is like a staircase epitomized by hair pin bends of Kazig loops. This is almost an all-weather road yet gets closed during heavy snowfall. Harsh weather and mountainous territory has given Spiti an introverted character. Several small villages, where population rarely reaches three-figures, are strewn along Spiti River. The Spitians work hard through summers, cultivating barley, maize, wheat, potatoes, or peas, and preparing for a long period of hibernation. In winters the valley lays still under thick layers of snow. People spend most of their time indoors and taking care of livestock.
Facilities like education, medicine, banking, and electricity have reached remote regions but are scarce. The administrative headquarter, Kaza is the hub of activity, especially during summers when tourists arrive here to head out for tours around the valley. Many villages have private family-run guesthouses besides PWD and HPTDC accommodation options.
Physical and cultural vicinity to Tibet reflects in the architectural style of homes and monasteries perched atop hillocks. The region has a few of the highest motorable villages in the world. Kibber village strikes an irony to the barren landscape with its abundant fields at an altitude of 14,200ft. An even higher village, Langza, is known for its fossil reserves.
Life in Spiti is religiously anchored to its various Gompas. The largest of these is Kye monastery, about 12kms from Kaza. The structure is built along a tapering hill in no particular order, with numerous chambers connected through dark and narrow passages. Besides the usual treasure of Thangkas, murals, and scriptures, it also houses a collection of ancient weapons which could’ve been used to uphold protection or power.
Dhankar monastery is at the erstwhile capital of Spiti kingdom. It is built as a fort at the edge of a cliff offering a vantage point of the surrounding valley. Further downstream, Tabo is an ancient monastery dating back to the 10th century. Numerous shrines inside the complex hold a treasure of invaluable murals, vigilantly protected by the shrine administration. As faith runs deep, aspiration to be nearer to God and farther from danger reaches a summit with Komic monastery at 15,000ft.
The religious imagery reflects significant elements of the region, such as the mystical Snow Leopard. The evasive cat and Siberian Ibex can be found in the Pin Valley National park, which is connected to the rest of Spiti through a narrow gorge as Pin River forces its way out of the sanctuary.
Spiti valley provides a haven in the rain shadow of Greater Himalayas for those who inhabit it and those who are drawn into its surreal enchantment.