Shimla (2,276M) to Chitkul (3,450M)
Distance: 235 kms
Time Taken: 12-13 hour drive
Given how remote the district of Spiti is, to get there is a time-consuming endeavor. The first leg of trying to make our way into this virgin land involves a 220km road trip through the Kinnaur valley to Chitkul. Chitkul is a small mountain town built on the banks of the boisterous and refreshing Baspa River and is the last village on the Indian side of the border. This charming village which is manned by the army, remains covered in snow all through winters. The extreme winters in the region, make this an almost ghost when the locals move down to warmer altitudes. The wooden huts, the beauty of the village against the backdrop of the bright warm colors at dusk, sitting by the river, locals shepherding their sheep in hundreds and the overall way of life in this high-altitude village are some things you might not want to miss.
We assemble in Shimla early morning by 07:30 hours at a pre-decided location, and leave for this far away village latest by 8 AM. The first three hours of the drive is through cities and thickly habited areas which leads to a calmer road lined with forests that start to thin out as the journey along the Sutlej river progresses. The last two hours of the drive are a bit bumpy for the uneven road that leads us into Chitkul. Expect to reach by late evening.
Chitkul (3,450M) to Tabo (3,280M) via Nako (3,660M) and Gue (3,050M)
We wake up to a beautiful morning in the beautiful village of Chitkul. Since Chitkul is a closed valley, surrounded by high mountains, the sun reaches its folds only close to 06:45 in the morning so we are in no rush to start the day. There is enough time in the morning to explore the surroundings of Chitkul, Baspa River, Baspa Valley and get a better feel of the place in the light of day.
After a late breakfast, we leave this winter ghost town by 10 AM. The second leg of making our way into the cold desert is continuing our long journey from yesterday towards Tabo which goes through Sangla. We pass through Sangla within an hour and a half of starting the drive. The drive to Tabo has a lot to offer – stone and wood houses adding life to the most magnificent landscape, the lands uptil Sangla are full of apple orchards with apple trees lined neatly in rows far and wide into the distance on both sides of the road. The roads mirror the motion and curves of the river below with the high mountains towering over the path like we are driving straight into them. The mountains cut out for step farming gather snow in a particular pattern which is nothing short of mesmerizing. Driving through with overlapping mountains and snow covered peaks taking turns peeping out from the sides to investigate the visitors, we make it to Karcham Wangtoo Dam by 12 PM. From here on, the roads are smooth as butter. The mountains here change to be a bit more rocky and rugged. Twenty minutes from the dam and we reach the Shongtong Bridge laden with Buddhist prayer flags. You might want to keep your cameras handy every second of this drive!
It shouldn’t take you too long to realize that the bright sun in the sky is not too effective when it comes to protecting you from the cold of this place in winters. As soon as you are in the shade and away from the sun, the temperature seems to drop enough to leave you shivering even with 4 layers of clothing. The sharp blades of icicles on the rocks next to the road are a constant reminder of the cold outside your window!
The landscape starts to shift, trees start to thin out getting replaced by shrubs which then completely disappear too, leaving huge walls of rocky mountains with deep gorges on all sides. If you look close enough, you will see deeply camouflaged mud houses on the sides of the mountain, not in groups but standing alone at far away distances in no particular pattern – all adding to the mystical vibe of the valley.
We cross the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers on our way to Tabo, passing through the towns of Pooh and Nako. Every turn on this drive offers you a distinct view. A small detour will also take us to Gue Monastery, which has India's only known naturally preserved mummy of Sangha Tenzing – a Buddhist monk from Tibet – with his skin and hair intact from the extreme cold. The monastery also has the most beautiful Japanese style architecture embellished with bright Buddhist colours and carvings.
Further ahead, at Sumdo we cross the confluence of Spiti and Parechu rivers which leads us into our drive straight to Tabo, known for its 1000 year old monastery.
There will be a bukhari (a local chimney-like arrangement fed with wood, found in every house as a means to keep warm) waiting for you as soon as you reach the homestay in Tabo, along with some hot tea to warm your insides!
Tabo (3,280M) to Kaza (3,800M) via Kungari Monastery (3,500M) in Pin Valley
Distance: 70kms drive
There is absolutely no rush to start the day. After struggling to get out from under our warm blankets, we have enough time to explore Tabo and its surroundings, including the 1000 year old Tabo Monastery. We start our drive out of Tabo by around 10:30 AM through Tabo Bridge. The Spiti River below has started to form chunks and slabs of thick ice floating around in the clean blue river. We also will pass small villages such as Kurith which has a population of 30 people. This is just one of many such hamlets we cross on our way today. As we start the drive, to our right are scree mountains with small rocks and to our left are the river below and snow mountains with fields and peculiar trees. We also hit a massive frozen waterfall on our way today which is nothing short of a visual marvel.
Within an hour of the drive, the valley opens up on one side. On the agenda for today is to visit the most gorgeous part of the cold desert – Pin Valley. Soaked in historical and current Buddhist culture, you will find traces and presence of the Tibetan-Buddhist influence in everything in the valley – from the stupas to the monasteries to the way of life, the colours, the social structure and the clothing of the locals – not to mention the colours of the prayer flags in every corner of the valley. The air of the valley, too, holds a strong taste of Buddhism. We will be visiting the Kungari Monastery which is recognized as the second oldest Gompa in all of Lahual and Spiti. The monastery is known to belong to Nyingmapa order of Buddhism which is known as the oldest order of Tibetan Buddhism. Built around the 14th century, the Gompa houses the most exquisite craftsmanship in the form of a massive collection of silk painting, Tibetan texts and high statues. The monastery however is most famous for the ‘Devil Dance’ and the Sword dance which is reflective of the Nyingmapa culture. This, however, happens in the month of July.
On your drive through Pin Valley you will go through a series of hairpin bends. As you go higher, the changing view of the valley below is a sheer spectacle to watch. With camouflaged hamlets sitting on the smallest of plains on these crumbling mountains, and the vast expanse of land stamped with distinct patterns like fingerprints in the snow, the drive is a photographer’s paradise. The patterns of snow on this wide landscape are like frozen waves stuck in time. It will take us close to 2.5 hours to get to the monastery. Although the distance is not very long, the roads during winters tend to form a layer of ice making the path slippery.
After spending some time at the monastery, we head down towards Kaza which is where we will spend the night. Kaza is the central point to all the villages in the vicinity and the place with all the facilities for it is the administrative headquarters. Local hospitality in all the villages of Spiti is a thing to cherish and the warmth of the people who welcome you into their homes, something to take back! We will reach Kaza by late afternoon and will have the rest of the day to explore this high-mountain city full of cafes and colourful, local markets.
Kaza (3,800M) to Key Monastery to Kibber (4,270M) to Kaza (3,800M)
Today is a fairly relaxed day. After breakfast, we head out to Key Monastery which is 14 kms from Kaza and stands high on a pinnacle. With the colours, prayer flags and the warmth of the place, the monastery is a symbol of all that's good about our race. The overall vibe, the evening prayer and the view from this monastery is unparalleled. The place is also popular amongst photographers for getting great shots of the Milky Way for the altitude and the unobstructed view of the sky. By the day, too, the view is mesmerizing. The bird’s eye view of the valley, with the shadows and shapes of the fields, curvy roads, villages on the side of the river, the crisscrossing pattern of the river on the river bed, and the snow mountains with flocks of alpine choughs filling up the blue skies are only some of the elements that make the visual an absolute treat to witness.
We can also explore Kibber which is a small village with a total of close to 75 households. Twenty kilometers from Kaza, this village is a small cluster of flat-roofed and white-washed houses buried under heaps of snow but life underneath, still goes on. The houses in all of Spiti Valley don a distinct structure and colour scheme. The windows, too, are fashioned in a particular way – the overall design of the houses remains uniform. The way of life here is also something to experience.
We will be spending tonight at Kaza too. We head back late evening to the reach the warmth of our homestay before dark since dark here equals cold!
Kaza (3,800M) to Chicham (4,500M)
Distance: 21 km drive
Duration: 1 hour
The route to Chicham introduces you to the true view of Spiti as you make your way to high mountains with the snow disrupting the monochrome of the landscape, the Spiti river crisscrossing on the floor down below and the bright blue of the river is slowly replaced by thicker and wider borders of white when the river starts to freeze up with every kilometer. You cross the Chicham Bridge to enter the village. This gorgeous wonder of engineering, at the height of 4,500M is the highest bridge in Asia.
We will spend the 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 navigate 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. Expect it to be a long and tiring day made more difficult by the cold in the air. Please note that the trek up to the caves is subject to the route not being blocked by too much snow or bad weather. Since it is not a marked trail, it is important that the condition to climb is safe before we decide to take on this adventure.
Night stay is in the warmest houses with some delicious local delicacies.
Chicham (4,500M) to Langza (4,400M)
Distance: 35 kms
The expanse of Spiti is wide and desolate - long stretches of brown folds till your eye can see. But every once in a while, you will see a small group of white dots on top of mounds or resting at the foothills. These are the white-washed, flat-roofed houses of the smallest and remotest villages you would have ever seen! It is a wonder how the people here remain so warm and agreeable in a land with zero vegetation and temperatures that drop to -18 to -20 during daytime. We go to two such villages today.
Today we leave for hamlets nested higher up on the naked mountains of Spiti! We drive to Langza which is famous for its massive Buddha statue in the middle of the brown mountains striped with the white of the snow.
We then trek from here to a series of 'highest' places. Komic - the highest Village of the world and Hikkim which has the highest post office in the world. And guess what! It's functional! You can drop your postcards in the bright red post box of this winter post office. You can't miss it, because the red post box is the brightest thing in the village. The trek is fairly easy - you are likely to experience a little bit of breathlessness because of the cold and the altitude. Otherwise, it’s a leisurely walk between high villages with the snow spread across mountains like zebra stripes, in the backdrop!
Langza (4,400M) to Dhankhar (3,895M) via Dhankar Lake (4,140M)
Distance: 50 km
Dhankar is an entire town resting on fragile mud pinnacles like massive termite mounds. It's an entire civilization of mud which looks like it could crumble at any point but is sturdy enough to hold a population of 300. It looks like a place from a distant planet with the peculiar geographical formations which secretly tell the history of the place. The drive from Langza to here should not take us more than two hours which leaves us with an entire day of exploring the many attractions and marvels of this strange town.
A small trek from the village takes you to a frozen lake as massive as a football field with wild horses chilling close by. It goes by the name of Dhankhar Lake but our trekkers christened it Chadar Lites. This high altitude lake which lies at 4,140M, freezes up completely in the winters and is a major source of water for agriculture and daily survival needs of the people inhabiting the high-altitude village of Dhankhar which lies at an altitude of 3,895M. The village itself has a lot of history to offer with its monastery and forts.
We spend the night high up on one of the mud pinnacles in Dhankhar in a warm house with an even warmer family hosting our stay.
Dhankhar (3,895M) to Kalpa (2,960M)
Distance: 190 kms
Time: 7 hours
Today is when we leave the cold folds of Spiti and make our way to the warmth and sanctuary of Kalpa in the Kinnaur Valley. It's a 190km scenic drive which bids adieu to this one of a kind experience to greener and warmer lands.
Kalpa (2,960M) to Shimla (2,275M)
Distance: 210 kms
Time: 8-9 hours
Warmer still we go further down to Shimla today. It is a long drive. Expect to reach late evening and book your travel ahead accordingly.
This is a list of essential items for individuals doing the trek with Bikat Adventures. This list contains only those items which the participants are required to bring with them. The list excludes those items which are provided by Bikat Adventures on the trek. All the items in the list are essential except for those marked as optional.
Our batch sizes are capped at 15 for smaller treks with the trek leader and trekker ratio of 1:8. This ratio, in our years of experience, has proven to deliver the best trekking experience for individuals as well as groups. Capping the size of the group ensures individual attention to each trekker so that no signs of distress or need during the trek go unnoticed. It also helps to form a more cohesive cohort with better group energy which helps define the rhythm and pace of days on the trek. As you go higher up on the BRS scale, since the stakes are higher, expeditions have an even smaller group size with the ratio of expedition leader to climber set at 1:2.
We follow a rigorous regime of hiring and training our experts in the field. Each trek leader is a certified mountaineer with years of experience in the field. In addition to their qualification, they also go through practical and situational training to tackle any and all kinds of sudden conditions that may present themselves on the ground. Being unpredictable is the core nature of the mountains but being ready for any circumstance as best as possible is a controllable asset that we try to nurture. Our field experts are also trained in basic medicine and first-aid response. Watch: Forerunners - The Making of A Trek Leader At Bikat Adventures
Since Bikat Adventures is a learning-based organization, we help you climb up the ladder of difficulty within the sphere of outdoor adventure systematically. Our on-ground training modules are designed to handhold you through the upskilling process so that you are ready to take on bigger challenges.
All the gear used on our treks and expeditions is tried and tested, maintained for good quality, and is overall top-notch in quality and condition. We are continually looking to obtain the best of everything there is in the market so as to ensure optimum safety.
Along with the staff you see on-ground, we have a team of superheroes working in the background to give you the best experience possible. Our background team also comprises local staff from each area who know the region best. Having local support helps with studying the area, pre-planning, execution, and in receiving timely support in case of emergencies in these remote locations.
Our on-field staff is in constant contact with our teams based in primary locations so as to eliminate any avoidable delay in reaching additional help and support when required. We try to use the best tools for communication available, including satellite phones, in regions where they are not restricted.
Cancellations up to 30 days prior to departure date
Cancellations between 30 days to 15 days prior to departure date
Cancellations within 15 days prior to departure date
Cancellations up to 5 days prior to departure date
Cancellations within 5 days prior to departure date