On my Himachal Odyssey last year, we reached Kaza after the Himalayan villages of Nako, Tabo & Dhankar. We meandered on the tough roads at a slow pace, driving along the rivers. Going over the small metallic bridges was like going from one world to another, By the time, we reached Kaza, we were used to the rugged barren landscape of the cold desert. We had forgotten that mountains and their valleys can be green too. We were feeling one with our solitude as we hardly saw a soul in those areas where villages were far apart when they were there. Small villages with few houses, but a school and a helipad became a norm.
We were told Kaza is where we would see some greenery. Kaza was, of course, the big city – for it had a population of 2000 or so people. This is where everyone came for their shopping, trading and for connecting to big cities like Manali. Our first rendezvous with Kaza was its petrol pump as were running too low on gas. If we did not get gas in Kaza, we would have to wait there till gas supplies come and we can move. Thankfully, the petrol pump at Kaza had petrol and we could continue our journey as planned.
Indian Oil Petrol Pump at Kaza is world’s highest retail petrol pump at a height of 3740 meters above mean sea level.
In the month of July, the Spiti river was flowing quietly making intriguing patterns on the path it went through. I was quite lost in the patterns as I drove – patterns that would be lost as soon as the water level rises, patterns that would change with every move of the river. It was like observing life in slow motion.
We crossed the Kaza town with our gas tank full towards our hotel at Rangrik village. Rangrik is a fairly large town with a population of nearly 900 people. At grand Dewachen Hotel in Rangrik, we were lucky to have a room that gave an unobstructed view of the Key Monastery.
Key Monastery, Kaza
The key monastery is one of the key monasteries of this region, it looks beautiful perched on the edge of a cliff-like-hill. The white and black monastery stands out in the beige surroundings. If you look intently at it – it seems it has sprouted out of the hilltop just like a mushroom sprouts from on the earth. I just loved the view that has yellow flowers outside my window, then the meandering Spiti River, then the rugged hill on top of which sat the Key monastery like a crowning glory.
Key monastery is also spelled as Kye, Kee, Ki Monastery
Next day morning we would visit the monastery for the morning prayers. The landscape looked absolutely stunning in the morning light. The stillness of the landscape around somehow becomes a part of you and you feel calm and centered. At the monastery, we navigated a few big and small doors to reach the main prayer hall . Here the lamas – young and old were chanting to a rhythm. They all breads in their hands and would take bites now and then. Someone kept serving them tea – you need that warmth to sit in that cold weather at that height. However, the lack of cleanliness was simply repulsive, Monks kept their bread on the floor – the same floor that they walked on. The floor was not clean as so many people keep walking. How I wish the cleanliness was a part of the monastery culture.
On the roof of the monastery which is an absolute vantage point to see the valley all around – we saw something very mysterious. There were demonic figures that were standing on the rooftop. They must have a reason wrapped in mythology to be there – I assume to distract the evil spirits to protect the monastery from them. I tried asking around, but most people just knew them to be an integral part of the monastery since the time they have known the monastery.
History of Key Monastery
The key monastery dates back to 11CE. It was attacked many times by various armies and rival faith groups. It even suffered a major fire in 1840 and an earthquake in 1975. They say that the constant repairs have made it a haphazard structure. Though, all the monasteries in the Himalayas are haphazard in their structures. It should be because they have to balance themselves on the steep hills and they all have come up in phases added at different points in time.
The key monastery is also supposed to have ancient wall murals but they are not easily accessible to a general visitor. The key monastery houses 350 or so monks. It celebrated its 1000 years in 2000 CE.
In the evening we took a walk in the Kaza town. It looked very crowded after being in Spiti valley for few days. In the bazaar, we saw a lot of hustle and bustle. Almost everyone we told we are heading to Spiti said, we must visit the Spiti Ecosphere office cum cafe cum shop. So, we headed there and met lovely Ishita Khanna over a cup of tea. She walked us through the various ecotourism activities that they do. I was heartening to hear about how they generate livelihood for villagers through homestays and through the guided treks that they conduct.
Spiti ecosphere has a small shop where you can pick up some interesting local souvenirs. I picked up a few fridge magnets. Seabuckthorn juice and concentrate are the most popular souvenir to pick here.
Langza, Hikkim, and Komik are three villages above Kaza. They are one of the highest motor-able villages in the world. The day we were there it was raining – which a rarity in this region. So we could not visit Hikkim & Komik as the roads were full of mud. It was not worth the risk to take the car on those narrow slippery roads on a rainy day. However, we did manage to reach Langza.
Hikkim has the honor of having the highest post office in the world.
Just before we reached Langza, we had the bunch of kids knocking our car windows. Each of them had a bag full of stones with a chakra like carving on it. These are fossilized stones. As we know that million of years ago the Himalayas emerged from the depths of the ocean. Some of the underwater life continue to live in certain regions of Himalayas. Since the signs on the stones resemble a chakra – or a wheel – it is sometimes associated with Vishnu. These stones are called Saligrams, Many temples and homes worship them. You can find them being sold in places like Rishikesh and Nepal. I am not sure if it right or not but we bought a stone before we entered Langza. At Langza we met another bunch of young girls selling Saligrams or fossilized stones.
What I would remember from my conversation with them is their sharp negotiation skills at that tender age.
We started walking around Langza making small conversations with children and a couple of women we could spot. We figured out that this village has less than 100 people and they all probably are one big family. Walked through the small lane and were directed towards the small monastery. Every village is centered around a monastery. All houses are identical in white with a black frame around their doors and windows. A batch of blue differentiates the front door. From here we were pointed towards a fairly large Buddha statue.
Statue of Buddha at Langza is a fairly new addition to the landscape. In fact across the Himalayas, large Buddha statues are being added. We walked towards the statue that sits at a perfect vantage point. The view from here is just breathtaking. It feels as if Buddha has been made to sit there to keep an eye on the pristine valley.
Rangrik is a small village but large one from Spiti valley’s perspective. We saw Buddha statues here and the prayers written on the hills.
Magnetic Stone Cave
We trekked a bit to reach a small cave on a cliff overlooking the river. It was big enough to accommodate one person but had all the conveniences that a person would need. A bed, a stove, kitchen provisions and a desk to read. Everything one needs and nothing that you can do without.
In the corner of this cave is a stone – a standing rock that has magnetic properties. We saw some coins stuck on it just like we have fridge magnets on our refrigerators. To test out, we too out our coins – and yes the coins just stick like they belong there.
I wondered why has the stone been kept inside the cave. Does it have an impact on humans or has it been kept just out of curiosity?
The only brand that we saw across the thinly populated Spiti Valley was SBI – it not only had branches everywhere it also informed how far is the next branch.
Travel Tips for Kaza
We as vegetarians survived on vegetable Thupka in Spiti Valley. Rice and daal are easily available.
We did our trip from Shimla to Manali and stopped at Kaza. If you do independently, Kaza can be approached from Manali via Gramphu and Kunzum Pass. There is state transport bus that travels between Manali & Kaza during summer months. The roads are difficult and unpredictable.
Kaza is a lovely valley where one can see blue sky, barren mountains, flowing river and a bit of greenery in one frame.
Recommend you read following travel blog posts on places to visit in Himachal Pradesh, the adventurous tourist attractions.