Long winding roads and valleys that present unforgettable glimpses of cold desert and snow-crowned mountains welcome you when you set foot into Spiti Valley. Bordered on all sides by the Himalayas, Spiti Valley, located in Himachal Pradesh, has an altitude of 12,500 feet above sea level, and gets just around 250 days of sunshine in the year, making it one of the coldest places in the country. With the thick Himalayan snow cutting Spiti off from the rest of the country for around 6 months a year, the summer months are the only time Spiti is directly accessible via motorway.
The term Spiti means ‘The Middle Land’, as Spiti Valley separates India from Tibet. Scantily populated, Spiti is an adventure lover’s paradise, with a number of trekking trails that tourists can choose from. All of these treks start from Kaza (Spiti’s capital from where you make your base camp) to various peaks from where you can get panoramic views of the Himalayan mountains. An easy 1.5-kilometre trek along the Spiti River from Dhankar Monastery to Dhankar Lake promises gorgeous views of the villages below. The Dhankar Lake itself is a place where you can sit back and relax amidst the cool mountain air.
Chandratal Lake is often referred to as one of the most beautiful lakes located at an altitude of about 4300 m in the mighty Himalayas. The stunning lake is situated on the Samudra Tapu plateau in the Lahaul region of the Lahaul and Spiti district and is the source of the Chandra River. The name “Chandra Taal” (Lake of the Moon) comes from its crescent shape. This lake is also one of two high-altitude wetlands of India that have been designated as Ramsar sites. Once a tentative residence for Tibetan traders travelling to Spiti and the Kullu valley, it attracts thousands of adventure enthusiasts.
Legend has that the Chandratal Lake lies in the vicinity of a place from where God Indra’s chariot picked up Yudhishthira, the eldest of Pandava brothers in Mahabharata. This fact renders the lake sacred and thus, is flocked by a lot of Hindu devotees. The colour of the water of this holy lake keeps changing from reddish to orange to blue to emerald green as the day ends. Vast stretches of green meadows house the best camping sites and an array of different wildflowers during springtime. The trek from Batal to Chandratal can be quite a tedious trail, but the captivating views and charm of the place will be worth it. The sun’s light reflecting on the surface of the astounding Chandratal Lake makes it seem crystal clear.
The Key Monastery is a famous Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Lahaul and Spiti District of India. Located at an altitude of 4,166 metres above sea level, the monastery is very close to the Spiti River in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh in India. Also known as the Kye Monastery and Ki Monastery, it is believed to have been founded by Dromton, who was a student of the famous teacher Atisha in the 11th century. It enshrines Buddha idols in the Dhyana position and has a collection of ancient books and murals.
The stunning Key Monastery is over a thousand years old and is also the largest monastery to be found in the entire Spiti Valley. The magnificent monastery doubles up as a religious training centre for the Lamas, and about 300 lamas receive their education from here. It has a long and fascinating history attached to it: a long history that involves numerous attacks that the place had to face. Nevertheless, Kye Monastery survived and celebrated the completion of its thousand years in the year 2000 in the presence of the Dalai Lama.
Kunzum Pass or Kunzum La, as it is called by locals, is one of the highest motorable mountain passes of India, located at an altitude of 4,551m above mean sea level. It serves as a gateway to the beautiful Spiti valley Via Kullu and Lahaul. It lies on the eastern Kunzum Range of the Himalayas and is at a distance of 122 km from Manali. Kunzum La offers an incredible 360-degree view of Bara- Shigri Glacier (the second longest glacier in the world), a jaw-dropping vista of Chandrabhaga Range and a spectacular view of the Spiti valley. This enthralling view makes Kunzum Pass a photographer’s dream.
There is a 15km trek to the famous Chandratal Lake (moon lake) from Kunzum Pass. It is believed that the visitors have to stop at the temple of Goddess Kunzum Devi, on their way to the pass, to pay their respect and seek the blessing to travel safely through the rugged terrain safely. The tradition is to take a complete circle of the temple in your vehicle.
Pin Valley National Park
Set amidst semi-frozen rivers in the Pin Valley, the Pin Valley National Park is situated in the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve situated in the Lahaul and Spiti District of Himachal Pradesh. The elevation of the park ranges from about 3,500 metres near Ka Dogri to more than 6,000 metres at its pinnacle. One of the fascinating facilities of its kind, the Pin Valley National Park is home to the rare species of famous Himalayan snow leopards and their prey, the Ibex. The National Park is most famous for its incredible trek which is a delight for all its visitors. It snows for the most part of the year rendering the trek a thrilling and adventurous expedition. However, make sure you obtain the required permits. Also, foreign nations are not allowed inside the park.
The Pin Valley park’s core zone is sprawled across a vast area of 675 sq km while its buffer zone is extended over almost 1150 sq km. Today it is home to almost more than 20 species of flora and fauna including the endangered snow leopard which is the most significant inhabitant of Pin Valley Park. There are also Siberian Ibex, Bharal, red fox, weasel and marten that call this place their home. Several species of birds also inhabit in the region such as pika, snow cock, bearded vulture, chukor, golden eagle, griffon, Himalayan chough and raven.
Located at an elevation of 4950 m above the sea level, Suraj Tal Lake is considered as the 3rd largest lake in India. Situated in Spiti Valley, Suraj Tale In literal sense means, ‘The Lake of Sun God’. Just below the Baralacha pass, the stunning lake should definitely be visited while here, especially if they are into photography. The Suraj Tal, is one of the most dream-like and photogenic lakes.
Due to the belief that a dip in the Suraj Tal lake cleanses a person of his sins, it attracts a lot of people and is therefore considered spiritual. However, the major reason that the lake has gained popularity is that it comes en-route to the famous Manali-Leh path that is popular for trekking and biking trips, that also encompasses the Baralacha-La Pass on the way. Suraj Tal is, thus, meant for people who are mostly adventurous, and religious at the same time.