Can you imagine a stark alpine land, scattered with small villages and monasteries, and enclosed by soaring peaks crowned with snow? This is Spiti. Located 12,500 feet above sea level in remote Himachal Pradesh, spellbinding Spiti is like a world within a world. It beckons visitors to get out and about, and explore its essence. Here are eight ways you can immerse yourself in the wonders of Spiti.
1. Delve into Spirituality
There are five main Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Spiti, filled with mystical dimly lit rooms and ancient treasures. Inside, you’ll be able to unearth well preserved artwork, scriptures, and statutes. The largest and most accessible monastery is Ki Gompa, perched on an isolated hilltop not far from the main town of Kaza, Narrow stairways, multitudes of box like rooms, courtyards, and a magnificent view over the valley captivate all who enter. If you can, time your visit to coincide with the thrice daily prayer ceremonies. Sitting quietly in the prayer hall, while the monks perform their rituals, is an uplifting interlude. The wafting incense, clanging cymbals, and powerful chanting add to the magic. Yet, the monasteries of Spiti aren’t the subdued places you may expect. The courtyards are filled with lively chatter, while children run about. These children are the second eldest sons of local families, who have been donated to the monasteries as tradition requires. A small peek into such remarkable customs and you’ll be curious to know more! Don’t miss the annual three day Chaam festival at Ki Gompa, featuring masked dancing monks. It usually takes place late July.
2. Experience Village Life
One of the most fascinating things that you can do in Spiti is spend time in a village. Highlights include the highest village in Asia (Komik), and the world’s highest village with vehicle access and electricity (Kibber). CheersBye Homestays offers some charming, rustic accommodations where you can live with a local family and discover exactly what it’s like to inhabit such a remote, high altitude environment. The way of life is simple and uncomplicated, but challenging. Winters are harsh. Heavy snowfall and below freezing temperatures force residents to be homebound for months at a time. “We stockpile food and pass the time by making handicrafts”, they tell. While visiting Spiti’s villages, you’ll be able to dine on delicious home made local cuisine, often consisting of momos (vegetable dumplings), thukpa and thenthuk (hearty noodle soups).
3. Discover High Altitude Farming
Farming is the primary source of income for villagers in Spiti. Every morning, they rise at the crack of dawn and head out into the fields to tend to plantations of barley, wheat, and peas. If you’re interested in agriculture or sustainable living, you’ll find it absorbing to learn of the cultivation and irrigation process. The extreme weather only allows for one crop per year, which is largely dependent on the melting snow. Join the villagers as they toil in the fields for a hands-on education!
4. Enjoy a Cultural Performance
Music and dance are integral parts of village life in Spiti. Visit Lhalung or Demul villages, and you’ll be treated to a live cultural show that will leave you spellbound. It’s possible to stay at homes in both villages. Higher altitude Demul, with its captivating vista, is the most alluring though. The night falling on the secluded mountain background in Demul, while traditionally dressed dancers gracefully perform to live music, makes it all the more memorable.
5. Track Endangered Wildlife
Pin Valley National Park and Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary are home to an array of India’s more uncommon wildlife. Some of them, such as the Snow Leopard and Himalayan Wolf, are as endangered as they are exotic. Ecosphere Spiti operates dedicated wildlife tracking tours from April to October. This remarkable organisation – with a focus on conservation, responsible tourism, and sustainable development – has been working diligently to protect Spiti’s endangered species. The tours offered by Ecosphere run from nine to 19 days, with accommodations provided in village homestays and tents. Envisage the buzz of peeping into the den of a Himalayan Wolf, the world’s oldest surviving species of wolf and one of the world’s highest predators. Thrilling wildlife in India isn’t just limited to tigers!
6. Trek Remote Trails
The trekking opportunities in Spiti are a popular attraction for adventure enthusiasts, and you’ll find a myriad of options to choose from. Some well-known treks are Pin-Parvati, Parang-La, and Pin-Bhaba. It’s possible to visit less frequented areas as well. Walk on glaciers, follow traditional trade routes, go on a floral foray, scale the Khanamo peak, or simply trek from village to village. Ecosphere Spiti organises regular five to seven day treks, and longer fixed departure treks, from May to October. This activity isn’t for everyone though. Trekking in high altitude requires fitness, stamina and endurance!
7. Take a Yak Safari
Tell your friends and family that you’re taking a yak safari, and they’ll probably exclaim with amazement! Most people never get to see a yak in their lifetime, let alone ride one. A yak safari is perfect for those who want to explore Spiti’s surroundings, but aren’t up for trekking. Each village family usually owns one yak, which they let roam freely during the summer. Your safari will take place on one of these yaks, fetched by the village boys. You’re likely to discover that yaks are temperamental beasts. Still, by the end of the safari, it’s hard not to fall at least a little in love with these furry, stocky, quirky creatures. The yak safari from Komic to Demul villages, organized by Ecosphere Spiti, takes around four hours, including a stop for lunch. It passes though bare open slopes, rocky outcrops, and small religious shrines. All the while, the yak’s powerful legs never falter.
8. Release Your Adrenaline
If the above activities aren’t exhilarating enough for you, get your adrenaline flowing by going white water rafting along the Pin and Spiti rivers, or traversing little known valleys and plateaus on a mountain bike. Ecosphere Spiti runs 13 day Biking Through Trans-Himalayan Back-Country trips from mid May to October, and 12 day Classic Spiti Adventure trips from June to October. The Classic Spiti Adventure combines trekking, biking, yak safari, and whitewater rafting – ideal for those who want to experience everything.
This article was written by travel author Sharell Cook. Sharell is About.com’s expert on India travel and a regular blogger.