Kinnaur-Spiti Loop (Himalayas): Full itineraty
In our earlier post we showed why adventurers across the globe travel through the dangerous roads of Spiti Valley, one of India's most remote areas next to the Tibetan border.
If you got excited about the gorges, blind bends, snowcapped peaks and centenary monasteries, check out the loop's full itinerary and start planning this adventure, which is considered one of the most beautiful and dangerous road trips in Asia!
COMPLETE GUIDE TO KINNAUR - SPITI LOOP
The complete loop through the Spiti Valley takes at least 6 days, but we recommend at least 8 days to be able to travel the roads without haste and with time to spare to explore villages and temples.
It took us 9 days in a four wheeler leaving from Shimla and arriving in Manali. The complete loop was as follows:
DAY 1: from Shimla to Sarahan
The first day on the road is one of the easiest, with asphalt in good conditions, few dust in the air and plenty of stamina. At some point around midday we stopped for a hike to Hatu Peak for acclimatisation, where we reached 11000 fts. The overnight stay was at the small village of Saraham, gateway to Kinnaur, where we arrived on time to visit the beautiful Bhimakali temple and had the first of many momos for dinner.
DAY 2: from Sarahan to Chitkul
Sarahan was the starting point to another hike, this time until Bashal Peak. It's a harsh trekking with very steep uphills, but the trail is beautiful and passes through a dense pines forest where we came across shepherds and nomadic mountain families. Back on the road, chilling gorges and scary curves followed us all the way to Chitkul, the last village before the Tibetan border. The village is one of the prettiest along the loop and gets even more scenic at dusk.
DAY 3: from Chitkul to Kalpa
The day starts with a stop at Sangla to visit the old Kamru Fort and the picturesque Bering Nag Temple. From there we hiked to Kanda Peak, 11.800 fts high. The track, even though an easy one, is very long and the dry wind carried with dust makes the uphill very tiring. The overnight stay was at Kalpa, another village that gets a fairytale feeling under sunset light.
DAY 4: from Kalpa to Nako
We spent the morning visiting Kalpa village and enjoying a lazy breakfast, after all, there's no rush in the mountains. We had to make a strategic stop at Reckong Peo to issue the INNER LINE PERMIT required to cross the Spiti Valley. We arrived at Nako on time to admire another sunset. From the helipoint it's possible to see the faraway houses in the valley surrounded by plantations (p.s: next to it there's a Wine Store, which in India means "we sell booze"). We spent the night in Lake View Hotel, the most comfortable one of the whole trip.
DAY 5: from Nako to Tabo
At Nako we did the most beautiful of all trekkings, following dry the slopes adorned by an infinity of colorful buddhist flags. The greatness of the Himalayas imposes itself in all its splendour during this part of the trip. Along the way we also stopped to see the Giu Monastery's mummy, but the highlight of the day was the simultaneously serene and powerful Tabo, India's oldest Monastery. To those who practise meditation this place is worth investing some time.
DAY 6: from Tabo to Kaza
In the morning we visited the meditation caves carved in the slopes that surround Tabo village. On the way to our final destiny, a stop to visit the amazing Dhankar Monastery, built on top of impressive gorges. We also hiked to Dhankar Lake, not far from the Monastery. At dusk we finally arrived at Kaza the province's capital but nevertheless a small and charming village. It's where we found the best restaurant options and the first (but very precarious) wifi in the whole trip.
DAY 7: Kaza
Since the plan was spending another night in Kaza, we took the day to explore the surroundings, such as the Key (or Kee) Monastery and Kibber village. We were looking forward eating in the Ecosphere restaurants (there are two in Kaza), an institution that aims to encourage and preserve the sustainable tourism in the region. Not only the cause is noble, the food is fantastic!
DAY 8: from Kaza to Chandratal
The eighth day passes slowly on the road, which in this section is in very precarious conditions. Prepare yourself for even more dust, but also for the most amazing sights of the whole trip. The goal is the camping site which is 1,8 miles away from the sacred Chandratal Lake, at an altitude of 14.000 fts. After hiking through a beautiful trail in the valley you reach the exquisite lake at the foot of Himalaya's gigantic mountains. The overnight stay at the camping is comfortable, with well preserved tents, surprisingly good food and a starry sky which measures up a farewell night.
DAY 9: from Chandratal Lake to Manali
The last day on the road is tough, even though the short distance. The road is in terrible conditions and you travel in very slow pace. The upside? In addition to the beautiful sight, the cheapo in the middle of nowhere serves the best thali of the trip. We arrived at Manali around 6pm completely exhausted and took the following days to rest in this backpacker oasis which you can't miss.
- Cash: even though in an isolated area, we found atms in villages such as Sangla, Reckong Peo and Tabo.
- Food: Since you'll spend long hours inside the car in very isolated places, don't count on a convenience stores on the way. Fill your backpack on the villages where you spend the night, most of them have at least a small grocery store with potatoes, chocolate and some cookies. In meal times, don't be scared of tasting the local cuisine, it will be the most fresh and tasty on the menu.
- Water: Spiti has eliminated plastic bags, but still has to deal with the pet bottles. To diminish the sale in the area, a lot of guesthouses and restaurants offer a mineral water refill to the tourists. But since water is a delicate matter in India and you may be suspicious of its origin, clorin tablets will leave you at ease. Another option is the life straw we saw on sale in many cities in India.
- Hygiene: dust will be your all-time companion on this trip, therefore baby wipes are of utmost importance to clean yourself during the day. Hand sanitizer is a necessity, not only in this stretch but during the whole trip. Toilet paper is indispensable, since none of the hotels where we stopped had one. Moisturizers and sunblocks are also essential, since the dry climate and the strong mountain sun may harm your skin. For the altitude sickness a good headache medicine makes the difference.
- Clothes: during the day it's very hot, so bermudas / legging and t-shirt do the job. For the tracks, keep in mind to always have a wind-cut anorak at hand and trekking boots on your feet. For the car trip, sandals are practical and comfortable. The night asks for coats and thermal clothes, because the temperature falls below zero and the inns don't have heathers. And keep in mind: keep your "sleeping" clothes well guarded in your backpack, because after the trip starts, the car gets covered with dust.
- Communication: we got wifi only in Kaza, and a very bad one. If you want to stay online during the trip you can buy a local ship, since most of the route has 3G coverage. Nevertheless, the experience of staying ten days without any contact with the "outside" world was quite interesting