A geographical marvel and a photographer's delight, the cold desert of Spiti is a sight to behold. While this tiny patch of land houses all kinds of beauty that's rare, it remains so fresh to the eye because of how inaccessible it is all year round but especially during winters. Spiti Winter Homestay Trail takes you through some of the remotest hamlets and gives you a firsthand experience of being in some of the harshest living conditions people have managed to call home.
The trail makes you experience the warmth and hospitality of the people who are the beauty of this desolate patch of land between India and Tibet. We experience, first hand, what kind of lifestyle one has to adopt to thrive in these conditions. The harshness of the terrain and weather and the way people survive in those subzero temperatures is absolutely enthralling to witness. And of course the raw beauty of the valley itself. The dichromatic landscape with shades of white sprinkled across the shades of brown of the barren mountains!
Difficulty Level of the Trek:
Spiti Winter Homestay Trail is a level 4 trek on the Bikat Rating Scale.
About the BRS: The Bikat Rating Scale rates the difficulty level of all treks and expeditions in our portfolio after taking into account their geographical and climatic conditions.
According to this scale, if you are a beginner who is unsure of your fitness level and don’t know what to expect on a trek, a trek rated one will be a good place to start.
If you liked your very first trekking experience and are looking to test your limits next, the treks rated 2 or 3 will do the job for you.
A beginner who is sure of their fitness level on the other hand is welcome to skip the first two levels and directly start with one of the treks rated 3.
From 4 onwards, the rules change a little. It is mandatory to have trekking experience of the previous level to participate in the next level.
The Trails of Spiti Winter Homestay Trail:
It is not necessarily a challenging or a difficult trail, but it certainly holds a lot of stories in its folds. The pull of this trek is people and the experience of culture and tradition more than it is about the challenge of the trail. The winter trail is an immersive experience. You get to witness how the locals live their everyday life in such extreme and harsh conditions. It is also a chance to put yourself into their shoes, homes and lives, figuratively as well as literally. Having said that, the altitude and temperature do bring in some difficulties. We are listing them down in this article so you are better prepared for what’s waiting for you in this gorgeous land when you arrive here!
Challenge 1: Acclimatization
If you are a mountain enthusiast, you would be aware that the body takes a fair bit of time to adapt to new temperatures, altitude and terrain. While these altitudes are hard to adapt to in any case, the frigid temperatures of winters make it even more difficult to adjust to. This is especially true if you are coming from sea level. The trek starts from Shimla which is at an elevation of 2,276M and takes you to the highest altitude of 4,587M. This quick gain in height is likely to produce AMS-like symptoms. However, worry not! It is not all bleak because there are ways to lessen the chances of getting sick. Remember to drink lots of water, layer up as instructed by the leader and keep them informed of any irregularities you notice in your body so that necessary action can be taken as required.
Challenge 2: Nature of Roads
The nature of this trail is a little different from regular treks. Those who have an issue with motion sickness may find it challenging. Given that we will be spending a lot of time on wheels getting from one village to the other, on mountain roads which tend to run in circles, do remember to carry your medication or whatever eases your discomfort during long journeys.
Challenge 3: Trek to the Caves
We spend a day trekking up the mysterious caves 4 hours up from Chicham. Chicham (4,500M) is a tiny hamlet nested high up on the naked mountains of Spiti and holds a lot of the secrets of bygone eras. Trekking to the mysterious caves 4 hours up from Chicham in the winters where temperatures fall to as low as -20 during daytime, is no small feat. This medium difficult trek which will take us to a cave rife with ancient paintings is a time machine to old times. A lot of folk tales are associated with the cave and locals go up there to pray for the spirits of their dead even today! The route to this cave gets steeper with every step and has you navigate snow and the scree-ridden slopes of this peculiar landscape. It is likely to take close to 4 hours to make your way up to the caves on this unmarked, virgin route which has no clear trail. The route needs to be figured out as you go along. It takes close to 2.5 hours to descend down. This may prove to be extremely difficult for someone who is not used to these heights and lacks knowledge of the techniques employed to walk in such scree and snow ridden terrain which is made more difficult by the cold in the air.
Challenge 4: Living Conditions
Winters in Spiti are extremely harsh. They are so inhospitable that most locals come down to warmer lands too, with the advent of the first snowfall. The extreme cold, along with being a challenge to adapt to, comes with a whole different set of challenges. The trip is likely to be rife with uncertainty with our schedules at the mercy of the unpredictable weather. Slippery roads, frozen motor of our vehicle which refuses to turn on, blocked water pipes meaning little to no availability of water – these are only some of the issues we are likely to encounter. Dry pits as toilets is also something you should be prepared for when you decide to embark on this journey. While we consider these to be an experience and an adventure, they might seem to be insurmountable challenges for few.
GEAR REQUIRED FOR SPITI WINTER HOMESTAY TRAIL
Spiti Winter Homestay Trail does not require any technical equipment whatsoever. However, there are some basic things you will need to make the trip comfortable.
Some of the things you will need are:
1) A sturdy, lightweight backpack: A good backpack which sits comfortably on your back without putting too much pressure on it can be the deciding factor between a good hiking experience versus a terrible one. Although we will not need to carry all of our things on this trail, it helps to have a sack which can hold all your essentials and sit on your back comfortably enough to be carried with ease. Good, however, is not a synonym for expensive.
One of our founders, Pankaj, purchased a non-branded pack for INR 1100 in 2010 and the pack continues to work just fine for him even today. In the article linked below, he shares some helpful tips on what to look for when choosing a trekking backpack.
2) Comfortable trekking shoes: Happy feet equal a happy trek. Conventional sports shoes don’t suit trekking trails. We recommend wearing high ankle shoes with sturdy soles. These not only provide better support but also reduce the possibility of injuries while hiking. They also keep the wind out and hence your feet warm. In case, you need help with a list of deciding factors that make for good trekking shoes, please refer to the article below.
3) Right Clothing: Any high-altitude trek requires specific kinds of clothing. It should be warm but light weight. It should also be such that it is easily packaged. On high-altitude treks like Spiti Winter Homestay Trail, we usually employ the layering method where you put on multiple layers of clothing instead of one very heavy, thick jacket. This is for two reasons:
1) The weather in Himalayan regions is unpredictable and changes very quickly. Layering gives you the freedom to adapt to that accordingly where you are not left feeling too hot or too cold.
2) These are easy to carry and are packing-friendly.
ELIGIILITY FOR SPITI WINTER HOMESTAY TRAIL
The point of this trail is to experience first-hand how people live in such extreme conditions. To explore this high-mountain culture is to bring back learning to your own life. The extreme and rugged terrain in addition to the hardship of procuring everyday essentials and basic infrastructure that the people there thrive in is extremely fascinating. To witness the locals manage their lives the way they do with the least of facilities is intriguing – the desolate land, no running water, constantly frozen feet, blocked toilets – Spiti is a different world – one you can’t conceive of until you witness it on your own.
The cold will be unbearable, the living conditions not always favourable and the plan not always set in stone. However, once experienced, you will realize that there is something very special about shedding convenience and embracing uncertainty. Nonetheless, the conditions might get too challenging in case you do not have a baseline for how your body reacts to such heights from previous experiences. It would greatly help to make this an enjoyable trip if you have some experience in the Himalayas and can judge for yourself how you might react to these conditions physically as well as mentally.
We hope that this article answers all the questions you might have about the Spiti Winter Homestay Trail. If you have any further queries, we are only a call away.