Key Monastery in Spiti Valley

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.

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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 and close to the border with Tibet. The valley has been carved out for millennia by the Spiti Valley which flows right through and 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.

Similar to what you’ll find in Ladakh and Zanskar, 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.

Exploring 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. Check road conditions before setting out from Manali.

Keylong-Manali Road
Keylong-Manali Road

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.

From Manali, there’s a daily bus to Kaza in Spiti Valley, that actually originates in Kullu and comes through Manali just before 6am. 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 cost 250 rupees (AUD$5) and the journey took 13 tortuous 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 have a strong stomach!

Manali bus station
Manali bus station

Alternative option from Shimla via Reckong Peo

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 more remote villages of Tabo and Nako, which both have homestays for people who want to explore Spiti even more.

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 every day at around 7am. The journey takes around nine hours, with three checkpoints along the way for checking passports and permits of any foreigners. The bus ticket cost 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 travelling during the day. In Rekong Peo, I took another 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 around.

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 Rekong 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. 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.

Spiti Valley

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. There isn’t a lot of action going on in the town but you can get most things in the small market known as the main bazaar. You’ll also find some good cafes and restaurants scattered around the bazaar area.

There is no phone reception in town other than BSNL network and although a couple of places advertise Wi-Fi, it rarely works and is hardly strong enough to do very much other than send a message.

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 stayed at Moustache Hostel Kaza and paid 500 rupees (AUD$10) for a dorm bed, the cheapest option in town that I could find. It’s relatively new and is about 1km from Kaza town, in the same building as the official Royal Enfield workshop. Check their availability here.

Hikkim village
Hikkim village

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.

Here are some of the must see places around Spiti Valley:

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 150 INR (AUD$3).

Komik Monastery
Komik Monastery

Komik

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 aa 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 some souvenirs.

World's highest post office
World’s highest post office at Hikkim

Hikkim

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.

Langza Buddha statue

Langza

Sitting at 4420m and just 8km away from Hikkim, Langza Village is well-known for being home to a 1,000-year-old 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
Kibber village

Kibber

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.

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.

Key Monastery
Key Monastery

Key

No Spiti Valley itinerary is complete with 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 even welcome to witness one of the prayers and masked dances during celebration times.

View of Spiti Valley
View of Spiti Valley

Pin Valley

An offshoot of Spiti Valley, Pin Valley National Park offers a chance to even 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 Mud.

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 Pass 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.

Tabo

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.

Monastery in Spiti Valley

Dhankar Monastery

Dhankar Monastery is high on my list for my next visit to Spiti Valley, but Dhankar Fort and Monastery is one of the most incredible places to visit in Spiti. Sitting at 3800m, the monastery dates back to the 16th century and is located high up in the mountains south of Kaza.

Just outside of the village is 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.

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. Even Kaza will have low light pollution and plenty of opportunities for beautiful night sky viewing.

Taxi up to Key Monastery
Taxi up to Key Monastery

How to get around Spiti Valley

Once you arrive in Kaza, there are a couple of options to get around Spiti Valley. One of the best ways to explore the region is on foot. There are plenty of places that you can walk, including to villages around Kaza.

However, if you’re short on time, many people grab one of the local taxi drivers and hire them for a full day of exploring. Many of the drivers can take you to Komik, Langza, Hikkim, and Key all in one day from Kaza. This is the best Spiti Valley tour to ensure that you get to see the best of the region in a day.

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.

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 day 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.

If you find yourself in Nako or Tabo, 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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