The word Spiti stands for "Middle Country" and the name has been derived from the fact that the region lies between Tibet and India. Spiti valley is full of fast-flowing rivers that meet in the middle of the valley. Also, known as the cold desert, Spiti is surrounded by high mountains, narrow valleys and wide plains. Rudyard Kipling described "Spiti" as the place where Gods live in one of his Novels centuries ago. This place is full of small villages, Buddhist Monasteries and an abundance of natural beauty.
Having its headquarters at Kaza, Spiti is a part of Lahaul & Spiti district. Many Himalayan ranges in Spiti have a height above 6000m and have no name and are not submitted till now. The average elevation of Spiti valley is between 3500m to 4500 m. The inhabitants of the Spiti valley are divided into four categories - "Sham" the lower region, "pin" who lives in the pin river valley, "bhar", people who live in the middle tract and "Tud", the high territories.
Spiti river is the main river which starts flowing down the Kunzum range to the eastward direction to meet the Satluj river at Khab. Many river streams feed Spiti river of which Pin, Chioma, Gyundi, Rah-tang, Ulah, Lungze, Mane, Surahi, Hanze, Tagling, Thumpa Lumpa, Kaza, Lingti, Parechu and Tabo are the prominent ones. Most of the valleys are narrow but they gradually gain the width upto 3 kms as they approach the Spiti river. The land in Spiti is found barren with an exception of Pin Valley where you can find considerable greenery and meadows, but still you can discover few trees of poplar or willow.
Most of the population of the valley is Buddhist. You will be able to discover "mani" stones, prayer flags and "chortens" which signifies that religion plays a major role in their life. Many people in the valley continuously chant the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" to bring all good fortune and to remove all the sins.
The Spiti was mainly ruled by their self-styled hereditary wazirs known "Nono". For a very short period, the valley was ruled by few neighboring kingdoms. Spiti had witnessed attacks from the states of Kullu and Ladakh to take over the control of the valley. Two rulers of Jammu and Kashmir named as Gulam Khan and Rahim Khan invaded the Spiti valley in 1841 AD. Later in 1846, the Sikh army raided the valley. On the conclusion of the first Anglo-Sikh war, the East India Company took over the control of the valley in 1846. Nothing got changed in the valley and their Nono of Kyuling started ruling as a hereditary Wazir of Spiti. Spiti always had the geographical advantage to stop the invaders who would not dare to cross the invincible passes.
How to Reach
By Air: Nearest Airport is Bhuntar Kullu (KUU), 251 Km, July to October OR Shimla (SLV), 422 km /Chandigarh (IXC), 540 Km, All Season
By Road: Delhi – Chandigarh - Manali – Rohtang – Kaza, July to October OR Delhi – Chandigarh - Shimla – Rampur – Kaza, All Season
By Train: Nearest Broad Gauge Train Station is Chandigarh 540km
Places to Visit
· Tabo: A thousand-year-old monastery situated at an altitude of 3050m appears to be a cluster of large mud huts. Inside this monastery, you will find a series of wall paintings and stucco statues. Tabo is one of the largest monastic complexes in Spiti. Founded in 996 A.D. this monastery has an old section which includes nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks’ chamber, and a nuns’ chamber. You will find several caves and modern statues that form a part of Tabo Complex. In trans-Himalayas, the Tabo monastery is just 50 km from Kaza and is next to Tibet's Tholing Monastery.
· Kaza: Situated at an altitude of 3660 km, Kaza is the administrative headquarters of Spiti. The place has basic facilities such as filling stations, rest houses, and hotels. Some of the easily reachable places from Kaza are Hikkim, Komic and Langza monasteries.
· Dhankar: Dhankar Monastery is dramatically hanging on the cliffside of a place called Schichling which is stretched between Nako and Kaza of around 7km. The locals claim that this monastery is a fort and once it was served as this only. This monastery is a perfect example of Spiti building and architectural skills. The monastery was once the castle of the Nono, the local ruler of that area. Today, the Dhankar Monastery has a collection of Buddhist scriptures in the Bhoti script. Dhankar lake is the highest elevation in the Dhankar Monastery.
· Kee (Ki, Kye) Monastery: Kee Monastery is situated on the left bank of Spiti river at an altitude of 4116 m. This place has a volcanic shaped hillock, sheltered by towering cliff and is just 12 km away from the Kaza. You will find a great collection of rooms and a complex structure of corridors inside that are not constructed by the plan. There is no specific date when was the Gompa that acted as the monastery and fort were constructed. Though some of the scholars believe that the monastery is estimated to be built by Drompton (1008-1064 AD) who was a Buddhist disciple. Many locals believe to have its origins of later centuries of around the 15th century.
Kee has a great collection of Thangka Paintings and several ancient musical instruments of cymbals, drums, and other instruments. The monastery here contains manuscripts of Tangyur texts. The monastery has cells which are been occupied by the monks. The Gompa has a large Dukhang assembly and Chamber whose walls have a great collection of religious paintings. You will find various chambers for worshipping in the complex. This chamber is rebuilt by the abbot Zimchung and is the highest point of the building. The village is just a few kilometers away from the monastery.
· Kibber: Situated just 8km away from the Ki village, Kibber is one of the highest villages in the valley that was connected via motorable road. The place act as a base for several high altitude treks. You will find Kibber Sanctuary which is spread over 1400 sq. km lies past the village and is a habitat for blue sheep, ibex and snow leopard.
· Pin Valley: The valley is formed by the Pin river which is 10 km away from the Schichling village at Atrangoo. Pin valley is a tributary of Spiti and is fed by Kungri glacier. There are various monasteries in the valley out of which Kungri is one of the most important.
The Pin valley is good for trekking while the main route connects the Kullu valley with Spiti over the Pin Parvati pass while another one passes through Bhaba Valley which further connects to Kinnaur.
The pin valley has a national park that has a core area of almost 675 sq. km and has a buffer zone of another 1150 sq. km. The sanctuary have over twenty protected species of animals which includes highly endangered species of animals in which snow leopard is one of them. The other species include the ibex, bharal, Red Fox, Marten, Weasel, snow cock, bearded vulture, chuckor, Golden Eagle, Griffon, and Himalayan Chough Weasel.
· Kungri Monastery: Guru Padmasambhava founded the Kungri monastery in the 14th century. The century is one of the oldest monasteries and belongs to the Nyingma sect. The monastery is about 3km away from the Gulling village and has about 80 residents of monks. Kungri Monastery is quite famous among scholars, pilgrims, and tourists who want to stay for months or longer to live a life of monk without disowning their religion. The Gompa has a prized collection of around 300 Thangka paintings and many old relics. Every July, monks perform 'Devil and Sword Dance' which is the best time to witness the religious life of the community.
· Lingti Valley: Lingti valley passes through a deep gorge and is one of the Spiti's tributaries that flows down from the North. The valley offers some beautiful treks to the adventure seeker.