Long Himachal & Spiti Valley Road Trip is the only way you can admire the beauty of valleys of this Himalayan state of India. There is no other mode of transport you can take to the most treacherous road on earth. You have to take the narrow roads carved out of the sometimes sturdy and sometimes fragile mountains. You drive along the mighty rivers like Satlej and relatively calmer ones like Spiti River. For miles sometimes, you are the only one on the Himachal and Spiti Valley road trip.
15 days Himachal Road Trip
Most Himachal Road Trip stories are full of adventures but ours was a rather smooth travel. We were mentally prepared for some landslides as it was July. We were prepared to park ourselves on the roadside while waiting for the landslide to be cleared. It seems the Yatra Gods were with us, and we had a smooth drive all through 17 days we were on road.
Road Trip across Himachal Pradesh is by default a slow mode of travel. The narrow roads force you to move consciously, admiring them and fearing them at the same time. The landscape moves from lush green Apple country filled with Apple and other fruit orchards in Kinnaur to rugged mountains of Sangla Valley to the naked barren mountains of Spiti. The faith moves from being Hindu to being a Buddhist. Color moves from green caps to colorful Buddhist flags. The water as an element is never far away on Himachal Road Trip, either as a river or as a lake. They are always sacred.
Spiti Valley Road Trip
So, let me take you through all the stops we had on this 15 days or two weeks of Himachal & Spiti Valley Road Trip.
Day 1 – Shimla
We began our journey from Shimla. Alka and I took an HPTDC night bus from Delhi, and believe me this is the first time we ever met. After landing in Shimla, we met our driver Ravi who was to be our most valued companion on this Himachal & Spiti Valley road trip. I must say, having a good driver is a blessing in itself. We took the taxi from Shimla as the hill drivers are used to driving in the hills and also because the local taxi associations prefer that.
In Shimla, we visited the erstwhile Viceregal Lodge and enjoyed a lovely guided tour followed by a walk in its gardens. We met Prof Chandramohan Parsheera who told us about a lot of offbeat places that we can see on this trip. His guidance proved valuable.
Day 2 – Thanedar
Shimla to Thanedar is about 70 km and lovely drive overlooking the Apple Orchards. Out next night halt was at Thanedar where we discovered the story of Himachal Apple, surrounded by apples just short of being ripe enough to be eaten.
From Thanedar, we did a day trip to Hatu Peak and Narkanda. What I remember the most is our morning and evening walk – meeting the local women, picking up fallen fruits, sitting by the river and listening to stories. We also gathered information about our journey ahead.
Day 3 – Rampur Bushahr & Sarahan
Thanedhar to Sangla was a long drive, though the distance is just about 150 Kms. We started early morning and stopped at Rampur Bushahr where we fell in love with Padam Palace. I discovered the Narsimha temples on the banks of a ferocious Satlej.
We also took a small detour to meet Bhimakali at Sarahan in her beautiful stone and wood temple.
I still remember the Rajma Chawal we had on roadside Dhaba’s, and the invitation by locals to come and stay with them.
It was almost dark by the time we reached our Banjara Camp at Sangla on the banks of Baspa River. The whole night I heard the roar of Baspa, and with the first morning light, I stepped out to look at it flowing in full force.
Day 4 – Sangla
We spent the day visiting the villages of Chitkul, Rakchham, Sangla, and Basteri. Chitkul has some of the most beautiful views of the Sangla Valley. At Basteri village we saw the making of a wooden temple dedicated to Badri Narayan.
It was Baspa that stays in my heart from the two spent on its banks.
Day 5 – Rekong Peo & Kalpa
It was a short drive from Sangla to Kalpa, just about 40 km. On our way, we did a small hike to Kamru fort – the ancient wooden fort of Sangla valley with a living Kamakshi Devi Temple in its complex.
I remember the Sutlej River flowing along was at its ferocious best. We roamed a bit in the town of Rekong Peo where that was dominated by the green Kinnauri caps everywhere. It was a sunny day and the markets were bustling with activity. We also looked for pine nuts but it was not the right season.
We drove up to Kalpa and stayed bang opposite the Kinner Kailash Range. Clouds went up and down the peaks, and we kept struggling to find the peaks we recognized. Alka was unwell, so she took rest while I went around Kalpa town, looking at wooden houses and temples. The landscape is amazing with tiny villages living on the edges of sharp cliffs.
Day 6 – Nako
Kalpa to Nako is about 100 Km. On this drive, I got the first glimpse of the cold desert. As we approached Nako, we were mesmerized by the barren mountains that looked like giant piles of sand and would come crumbling down if touched. I have never seen such a clear and crisp blue sky.
At Nako, I discovered the best village level tourism management organization – absolutely inspiring. We went for a village walk and the sacred lake, admired the paintings in an old monastery as the Nako Youth Club youngsters took us around, all for Rs 50/-. They keep the village clean, have solar panels installed and beautified the village. It remains a model village in my mind since then.
Next day, on the way to Tabo, we explored the Giu Monastery that has the Mummy of a Lama in sitting position.
Day 7 – Tabo
60 odd km of scenic drive brought us to Tabo – a small village on the banks of Spiti River, best known for its ancient mud monastery. We wanted to visit the monastery and then move on to Kaza, but Tabo held us back and we decided to spend a night there.
A Lama took us through the exquisite paintings, we walked to the ancient caves and the surprise discovery were ancient rock art.
Day 8 – Dhankar
It was about 50 km drive to Kaza that in my mind was to be the pinnacle of this trip. We took a small detour to visit the fragile Dhankar Monastery that does not allow more than a few people to enter as it might collapse. I wondered how our monks lived in such remote places on the cliff edges. What stays with me from Dhankar is the view from the monastery window of the Pin River flowing below. The sharp steep roads leading to the Dhankar monastery seemed as if they have been laid for us alone with no one else in sight.
Day 9,10 – Kaza
Kaza was our hub for 2-3 days to explore the small villages around this biggest town known for ecotourism and the highest retail petrol pump in the world. We explored monasteries like Key that give you a vantage point of view of the valley, and villages like Langza, Rangrik. Due to rain, which is very unusual in this region, we could not go to Comic and Hikkim but then we saw the rare rain there.
Kaza stays in my mind for its vistas with a hint of greenery.
Day 10 – Kunzum Pass
Kunzum Pass was our reason to chose July to travel – it is a small window when this Pass is open. It was a sense of achievement when we stood there with the Kunzum milestone as the string wind tried its best to take us along. I would remember the colorful vistas of Kunzum with shepherds with their sheep grazing around.
You cannot stay at Kunzum Pass, we just stopped here on our way to Chandratal Lake.
Day 11 – Chandratal Lake
Chandratal was my magical moment on this Spiti Valley road trip. We reached the Chandratal camp around lunch time and quickly headed to Chandratal. We had discussed earlier than 5 km long Parikrama of Chandratal at 15000+ feet height will be tough for us. However, once we reached there, we decided to do the Parikrama and the way it happened effortlessly – remains magical to me to this day.
It was a surreal feeling to live in the tents surrounded by snow peaked mountains with stars almost dropping from the sky.
Day 12 – Rohtang Pass on our Spiti valley road trip
Chandratal to Manali was a long and difficult drive as we had to cross many streams with big boulders in them. Our car did get stuck in one place, but the fellow car drivers on the road helped it out. As we approached Manali, its green color suddenly looked so inviting. It was in sharp contrast to the barren mountains we were in for the last few days.
We had a Bhutta or a Cob Corn at Rohtang with a feeling that sounded like ’return to civilization’. In Manali, we planned to eat good food, chill around a bit before returning to our own worlds. It was meant to be a celebration of completing a dream trip.
Day 13 – Naggar
We spent one day at Naggar discovering the wooden architecture of Kullu kings, their memorial stones, the art galleries, and the Himachali heritage, along with some beautiful temples.
Day 14 – Manali
We roamed around on the streets of Manali, visiting temples of Hidimba and Vasishth. We merged with the tourists on the mall road, we sat back and had coffee and then in the evening we say next to the Beas that was full of water.
In the evening we listened to this Been by a Sapera, that I heard after a long time.
Day 15 – Manikaran
At Manikaran, we witnessed the hot springs right next to the ice cold Parvati River near the famous Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara.
We said bye to Ravi at Kullu where we boarded our bus to Delhi.
If you click the links above, you can zoom into each part of our journey
Even after three years, the journey remains fresh in my mind. This valley is the most beautiful part of India.
Things to know before planning the Spiti Valley Road Trip
- We did the trip in the first half of July as we wanted to do both Kunzum and Rohtang pass. Spiti is a summer destination. It is practically cut off in winters.
- Travel slow, this region demands time as well as acclimatization. Take time to let your body get used to high altitudes.
- Take a local taxi from Shimla or Manali, the local drivers not only know the roads, but they also have a network of drivers who are a big help in case your car is stuck somewhere or if you need a backup vehicle.
- There are Himachal State Road Transport Buses that ply on all these routes, but they are few and far in-between.
- Both Alka and me are vegetarians, so we literally had Rajma Chawal or Dal Chawal every day, till we reached Kaza where we had Thukpa. Food is basic but fresh. We did carry some dry fruits with us for the long driving stretches and we did buy some local fruits wherever possible.
- Use local youth clubs and companies like Spiti Ecosphere to do trekking. It supports the local ecosystem.
- We moved on an average 50 km a day on this Road Trip and that could mean spending 3-4 hours in the car at times, as you just have to move very slowly.
- Carry all possible medicines you may need. Even if you are fit and fine, carry some common medicines as your body has to go through different altitudes and temperatures.
- You must carry a jacket to protect yourself from the wind as well as cold. Keep your body covered as the sun can be harsh during the day.
- BSNL SIM cards are the only phones that work on most of this route. All other phones work only as cameras ????
- You find ATMs and Petrol pumps in limited places. We got petrol from Rekong Peo and Kaza before hitting Manali. It helps to carry cash as ATMs are not only limited but are refilled infrequently.
Banjara Camps have accommodation at most of the places on this route. Most of the times their accommodation is the best you can get in the region. Else, there are many homestays across the valleys of Himachal.