Spiti Valley holds a sort of mythical status amongst travellers in India. The incredibly remote, high altitude valley separates India and Tibet and is characterised by awe-inspiring landscapes that seem almost unbelievable. Similar to Ladakh, you’ll travel through a dry, desert environment flanked by rugged snow-capped mountains to make your way to Kaza in the middle of the valley.
It’s more recently emerged as a popular destination for motorbike enthusiasts who cruise along the bumpy roads on Royal Enfields. However, it’s also possible to reach Spiti Valley by public transport. The long and arduous journey is spectacular and offers yet another incredible adventure in North India.
If you’re wondering how to get from Manali to Spiti Valley by bus, plus the best things to do in Spiti Valley once you arrive, this guide has everything that you need to know.
About Spiti Valley
The name Spiti means the “middle land”, which describes the unique location of the valley between India and Tibet. The cold desert mountain region is located in the north eastern part of Himachal Pradesh close to the border with Tibet. It has been carved out for millennia by the Spiti River which flows right through the valley and is fed by the glaciers of the Greater Himalayas.
There’s evidence to suggest that the valley has been occupied since the 10th century. Today, the inhabitants are mostly Buddhist, with the incredible Tibetan culture thriving in the remote region. The villages are relatively self sufficient, living off the land with access to the outside confined to rough mountain roads only open seasonally.
Similar to what you’ll find in Ladakh and Zanskar Valley, Spiti Valley is home to some incredible monasteries, including the postcard favourite, Key Monastery. However, whether you’re looking to head off hiking or immerse yourself in an ancient culture, there’s plenty of things to do in Spiti Valley.
When to Go to Spiti Valley
Visiting Spiti Valley has a smaller weather window than Ladakh, mostly because it’s only accessible by road. From June until September is the best time to visit Spiti Valley, as the roads should remain open for the entirety of this time meaning you can complete the circuit from Manali to Kaza and back to Shimla via Rekong Peo or vice versa.
Outside of these months, Spiti Valley can often be cut off to the outside world for months. However, check road conditions before setting out from Manali, because things can change from year to year.
How to Get to Kaza in Spiti Valley
Kaza is the main town and the destination for most travellers on a Spiti Valley trip. Kaza can be reached by public transport from Manali or Rekong Peo.
Manali to Kaza Bus
From Manali, there’s a government bus to Kaza in Spiti Valley, that actually originates in Kullu and comes through Manali just before 6am (it’s meant to run everyday but doesn’t always, it depends on demand). I was at the station at 5.30am, just to be sure, however, you can’t purchase tickets in advance and have to wait until it arrives.
Because of this, getting a seat is not guaranteed, however, I was lucky enough to get a window seat at the front which was somehow still vacant. It costs 250 rupees (AUD$5) and the journey takes 10 tortuous hours.
Occasionally the government buses are not running, if road conditions are bad. In this case, you can take either a shared taxi or a Tempo Traveller (white minibus). A seat in the Tempo Traveller costs 1,500 INR (AU$30) and the journey is about 9 hours.
The Spiti Valley road trip is, as all roads seem to be in North India, incredibly beautiful. However, it was extraordinarily bumpy and a hell of a trip. The road is in terrible condition, even bikers struggle with it, but it’s the only option and still an awesome adventure if you can handle it!
From Shimla via Reckong Peo by Bus
An alternative option to reach Kaza is to take the road that skirts the Tibet border from Reckong Peo. It’s a stunning road and is more convenient if you’re coming from Shimla or exploring the Kinnaur Valley. It also passes the remote villages of Tabo and Nako in Spiti Valley, which both have homestays for people who want to stay somewhere a little more off the beaten track than Kaza.
Note: For foreigners, a permit is required to take this road option, as it traverses a sensitive area. More on this below.
There is a daily bus that leaves Reckong Peo for Kaza at around 7am. The journey takes around nine hours, with three checkpoints along the way for passports and permits of any foreigners. The bus ticket costs 400 INR (AUD$8).
To reach Reckong Peo from Shimla, there are a few buses each day travelling the long 10 hour journey. It costs 450 INR (AUD$9).
If you prefer, there is a direct bus from Shimla to Kaza as well. This epic bus journey leaves Shimla at 6.30pm and arrives in Reckong Peo at around 6am the next morning. From there, it continues onto Kaza which it reaches around 5pm. It costs 850 INR (AUD$17).
I preferred to break the journey up with a night in Reckong Peo and travel during the day. In Rekong Peo, I decided to take a shuttle bus up to Kalpa for 30 minutes which leave just outside the bus station. Kalpa is a much nicer, smaller village to stay in than Rekong Peo, and offers beautiful views of the snow capped mountains of Kinnaur Valley.
In Kalpa, I stayed at Blue Lotus Hotel, which is the best budget option in the village. The view from the balcony is exceptional and it has a tasty restaurant on site too. I paid 600 rupees (AUD$12) for a nice room with a bathroom. Prices are negotiable.
How to Get the Reckong Peo Permit
The stretch of road between Reckong Peo and Kaza requires a Protected Area Permit for foreigners. This permit covers villages like Tabo, Nako and Dhankar. There are checkpoints along the road where you will have to present the permit.
The permits are issued at the Deputy Commissioner Office in Shimla, Reckong Peo or Kaza. There is a basic form to fill out, plus you will need photo copies of your passport and Indian visa as well as a couple of passport photos. It cost 200 rupees (AUD$4).
Allow a couple of hours for the permit to be processed, as it can be a very typical bureaucratic affair. I got my permit in Kaza, as I was travelling down to Reckong Peo from Spiti Valley rather than vice versa. In Kaza, the office is in a building near the Kaza Hospital and Police Station.
The signs are only in Hindi but once you enter the building there is a room on the right which is for permits. There is a small photocopy shop across the road where you can get copies of your passport and visa, if needed.
Welcome to Kaza, Spiti Valley!
Kaza is a small town and the main hub of Spiti Valley. It sits exceptionally high at 3800m and the snow capped mountains of the valley stretch in both directions. The main activity in the town centres around the main bazaar. This is where you’ll find the bus station, small shops, cafes and restaurants.
There is now good phone reception in Kaza. Previously only BSNL worked, but now you can also get 4G signal with Airtel and Jio. Plus, some cafes also have Wi-Fi. I found the internet was strong enough to stream videos, post to social media and check emails.
Where to Stay in Kaza
There are a few Spiti Valley hotels in Kaza, although most are slightly more expensive than what you’d get for the same place elsewhere in India. I’d recommend picking a local homestay to really get to know the culture of the place.
Surkhang Home Stay | This is where I stayed for several nights on my most recent visit. A traditional old house that has huge rooms available, they charge 1000 INR (AU$20) per night per room with shared bathroom. Kunga is the host and he speaks great English and was a top guy to learn about Spiti life from.
Palden Home Stay | This is a relatively new little guesthouse, tucked behind Hotel Osel Rooms. It’s hard to find but I stayed here for 1 night when I first arrived because it was late. The owners are very nice and speak only a little English. Rooms are basic and they have shared bathrooms. Prices are around 800 INR (AU$16) per room.
The Alpinist Cafe and Retreat | A very popular place that is highly rated, The Alpinist is a great mid-range option in Kaza. They have large double rooms with plenty of parking space and a cafe onsite. Prices are around 4,500 INR (AU$90) per room. Check availability here.
Zostel Spiti | If you want a hostel vibe, then this is the best one to stay at in town. Just a short walk outside of the town centre, it has beautiful views of the valley and always plenty of travellers to chat with. Check availability here.
Where to Eat in Kaza
Kaza is home to some fantastic places to eat. Offering a great way to try local food and also support some NGOs and development projects, here are my favourite cafes in Kaza.
A cosy and colourful cafe in the main market, this was my go-to breakfast spot every morning. They have a great menu with smoothie bowls, porridge, omelettes and more. Plus they also have vegan options, including soy milk.
The cafe supports a local NGO which run sustainable tourism projects. They also offer free water bottle refills and movie nights every night, which I highly recommend to meet other travellers.
The best place to try local food, this is a nice cafe on the second level of the main market street. It’s very comfortable with lounges and an outdoor terrace. Try the local momos, thukpa soup and seabuckthorn juice. I ate here several times.
The Himalayan Cafe
This cafe in Kaza has become a traveller’s institution in Spiti Valley. Located in the main bazaar in Kaza, the cafe is the main traveller hangout spot for everyone passing through the valley.
The outdoor terrace is the perfect spot to sit back with a warm meal and chat with the overly friendly staff. The menu features a wide range of Indian and Western favourites, starting from 200 INR (AUD$4).
Best Things to Do in Spiti Valley
Depending on how much time you want to spend in Spiti Valley, there are a few surrounding villages and sights to see from Kaza. While there’s not as many attractions as Ladakh, Spiti Valley often feels much more remote with far less visitors with some special places to see.
Here are some of the must see places around Spiti Valley:
Komik is well-known as being the world’s highest motorable village, with a steep road leading up just north from Kaza. It’s location at 4580m, makes it one of the highest places you can reach by vehicle in the world.
There is a monastery in the village which is worth checking out. It also offers a monastery stay for a completely unique experience, or you’ll also find a couple of homestays in Komik, if you want complete solitude away from Kaza.
Komik is also home to Eco Kitchen or otherwise known as the Spiti Organic Kitchen, which is run by the locals. It’s a wonderful spot that is a must see on any trip to Spiti Valley. The cafe serves chai as well as a range of meals, and sells some souvenirs. It’s right next to the monastery.
Another high altitude record holder, Hikkim is home to the world’s highest post office at 4440m. It’s a small village that most people simply head to check out the post office. It’s open for visitors who can send off a post card with the friendly post manager.
This has become a quintessential thing to do in Spiti Valley, with post cards available for sale in Komik at the cafe or back in Kaza. Hikkim is located just 16km from Kaza, on a very windy road that takes around 40 minutes to reach by car.
Sitting at 4420m and just 8km away from Hikkim, Langza Village is home to a colourful Buddha statue. The statue is located right on the edge of a plateau offering an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.
There are a couple of homestays in the village, although most travellers simply pass through on a tour to other villages nearby. The locals are pretty friendly and we had a nice chat to some kids while we admired the view from the statue.
Kibber village is a popular place to visit in Spiti Valley. The picturesque village sits at 4270m and less than 20km from Kaza.
It’s become a well-visited place with a beautiful local monastery and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is spread across 1400 square kilometres, and is home to some rare species of flora and fauna. The highlight is obviously the elusive snow leopard, but it’s almost impossible to spot one unless you’re extremely patient and visit in winter.
The Himalayan Snow Leopard Research Center at Kibber has been instrumental in the conservation of the animal, with an estimation that there are around 30 inside the park area.
There are some great guesthouses and homestays in Kibber, including some wonderful restaurants that are worth stopping in for lunch if you’re just visiting for a day from Kaza.
No Spiti Valley itinerary is complete without a visit to the famous Key Monastery. The poster child of the Spiti Valley region, Key is the largest monastery in the valley and is built over a hilltop north west of Kaza. Situated at 4166m overlooking the Spiti River, it’s one of the most visually impressive monasteries in North India.
The Buddhist monastery is over 1000 years old and is one of the oldest training centres for Lamas. Founded in the 11th century, it once housed around 350 monks. While it’s been rebuilt over the years after invasions and earthquakes, but the monastery appears like a fortress with an incredible vantage spot.
It’s free to wander around the monastery grounds with various temples and prayer rooms. The monks are friendly to visitors and you’re welcome to witness one of the prayers and masked dances during celebration times. It’s possible to also stay at the monastery, if you ask the monks but they charge from around 600 INR per room.
Claimed to be the world’s highest motorable bridge, Chicham Bridge has become a popular spot on tours around Kaza. Connecting the villages of Chicham and Kibber, at just over 4000m high, you can snap a photo on the bridge and gaze down to the dramatic canyon below.
There are also some food trucks congregated around the bridge selling cheap and tasty food and drinks to tourists. We stopped for some fried rice and chai which was delicious.
The monastery in Kaza town is nothing spectacular but it’s a nice spot to check out if you have some spare time around town. You’ll also find that just behind and up from the monastery is a golden Buddha statue.
I decided to walk to this statue at sunset time and it was a great view over the valley as the sky was changing colour. There are some stairs behind the monastery which lead up to it.
An offshoot of Spiti Valley, Pin Valley National Park offers a chance to get further off the beaten track. The cold desert mountain valley is located to the south of Spiti Valley. There is a road heading south of Kaza through the Pin Valley, with the furtherest accessible village being Mudh.
It has a few homestay options if you want to stay the night, which is highly recommended. You could easily just sit back and enjoy the serenity and landscapes of one of the most remote valleys in India for a couple of days.
From Mud, there’s also plenty of day hikes to try or even multi-day treks. The Pin-Parvati Trek is one of the most well-known treks, but it’s certainly something you’ll want to arrange with the help of a guide and full team of donkeys. Spiti Holiday Adventure in Kaza can arrange any treks if you’re interested, being one of the oldest running agencies in town.
Tabo is considered to be the oldest continuously operated Buddhist settlement in the entire Himalayan region. The Tabo Monastery is the real highlight in the village and is said to date back over 1000 years, making it potentially the oldest monastery in India.
The village and monastery is a very peaceful place to spend some time, with friendly locals and monks to have a cup of chai with. There’s an extensive range of homestays available, so you could easily turn up and find somewhere to stay for the night.
Tabo is 48km east of Kaza, on the Kaza-Reckong Peo Road, making it a convenient place to reach by public bus.
Dhankar Monastery is high on my list for my next visit to Spiti Valley. Dhankar Fort and Monastery sits at 3800m and the monastery dates back to the 16th century located high up in the mountains south of Kaza.
Just outside of the village is also Dhankar Lake, which is an incredibly beautiful high altitude lake that you can hike to from Dhankar Village. There are homestay options in the village, if you want to stay the night which would be a great option if you want to enjoy the scenery a bit more.
For somewhere a little further afield, Chandratal Lake is a hidden high altitude lake tucked deep in the mountains off the Manali-Kaza Road. Located about 95km before Kaza, it’s become a popular side trip on any Spiti Valley road trip.
The lake is spectacular when seen on a clear day, with its fluorescent blue colour reflecting the snow-capped mountain peaks surrounding it. It’s a long drive to reach it, on a rough and sketchy road, which means a night camped at the lake in glamping accommodation is generally what most people do.
You can either visit Chandratal Lake as a an overnight trip from Kaza by hiring a driver, or if you have your own vehicle and are coming from Manali then you can take the side trip to the lake from Batal.
Read more: Essential Guide to Visiting Chandratal Lake
Night Sky and Astrophotography
Spiti Valley has become a haven for photographers. While there’s plenty of things to ignite your creativity in the stunning valley, it’s the Spiti Valley night sky which usually draws most photo takers. The incredible star gazing opportunities with the clear mountain air and high elevation, means you should definitely brave the cold and head outside at dark.
For astrophotography, you can pretty much head to any of the villages in Spiti Valley, with Kibber or Hikkim being known for the best stars. Even Kaza will have low light pollution and plenty of opportunities for beautiful night sky viewing.
How to Get Around Spiti Valley
Once you arrive in Kaza, there are a couple of options to get around Spiti Valley. There are plenty of places that you can walk, including to villages around Kaza, but it will be tiring and difficult to do this.
The ideal way to explore Spiti is by taking a local taxi for a full day. They operate as a union so prices are fixed if you head to the parking lot outside of town to book, just past Zostel. The standard day tour they offer is to Komik, Langza, Hikkim, and Key all in one day from Kaza. This is the ultimate Spiti Valley tour to ensure that you get to see the best of the region in a day. A taxi should cost 3,600 INR (AU$70) for this, which can be split amongst passengers.
There is also the option to take public buses to some of the villages. You can reach places like Mud, Nako and Tabo by public bus, with daily departures in high season. However, this will mean a bit of patience and likely having to spend a night or two in each village. Kaza bus station will have the latest times and prices, but generally you won’t need to pre-book a seat and can arrive just before the bus departure.
Leaving Spiti Valley
You can simply follow the same routes mentioned above to get out of Spiti Valley. There is a daily bus to Manali from Kaza as well as a bus to Reckong Peo and Shimla. They leave early, around 7am and it’s best to be at the bus station earlier than later to secure your ticket.
You’ll also find Tempo Traveller vans leaving back to Manali as well. Head to the taxi union office past Zostel to ask about departures and book your seat in advance.
If you find yourself in Nako or Tabo rather than Kaza, you can flag down the bus from Kaza to Reckong Peo as it passes through. Locals should be able to tell you an estimated time.
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