The mountainous regions of Lahaul and Spiti are interconnected, yet distinct. Each with similar- but unique customs and traditions. Lahaul is populous, green and part of an ancient route to Ladakh. Spiti is a wild, rugged high altitude mountain desert that was relatively unknown to most tourists until few years ago. Though both areas are predominantly Buddhist, both follow different orders.
Imagine lofty snow clad peaks, sparkling blue rivers, emerald lakes, barren mountainsides and wild, untainted beauty. This is Spiti- A high altitude desert mountain valley located between the middle and higher himalays in the North Eastern edge of the state of Himachal Pradesh. With an average elevation of about 11,000ft, the environs of Spiti are similar to Tibet. Being the next door neighbour, the culture and traditions of the two regions are simlar too. A hub of cultural and spiritual research in Buddhism, Spiti is home to many ancient monasteries, the most notable ones being Ki and Tabo. Home to the last surviving Buchen Lamas, the Pin Valley in Spiti is a sanctuary for the followers of the Nyingmapa sect.
Spiti is somewhat remoter compared to Ladakh as it is accessible for even shorter periods of time than Ladakh via Manali before heavy snowfall cordons off the only access to Spiti via Lahaul- the mighty Kunzum La. Situated at 4500m, Kunzum La is snow covered and closed for vehicular traffic for most part of the year sans the three months when the road is opens for vehicular traffic. The lifeline of Spiti is the Kinnaur-Spiti road that allows traffic to reach Spiti via a challenging road that guarantees an adrenalin rush and unending breathtaking scenery.
The source of the Chandra river and endowed with crystal clear emerald green water, the crescent shaped Chandratal Lake is at the junction of the Lahul and Spiti valleys in the Kunzum Range. Kaza is the administrative headquarters of the Spiti region. Nestled on the left bank of the Spiti river is the citadel of Dhankar, the official capital of Spiti. The Lha-O-pa Gompa is an ancient temple built in the 7th century and is the old temple complex of Dhankar. Tabo is the oldest monastery in the region. With nine temples, four decorated stupas, and cave shrines, this is one of the oldest continually operational monastery in the Himalayas. Rebuilt in the 1970s, this monastery is a must visit for any traveller visiting Spiti. Also worth a visit is the tiny Gue monastery that houses the mummified remains of a Lama.
Although not as well known and not very frequented, the Spiti valley has something on offer for every kind of traveller- from lofty mountains to snow clad valleys to flowing rivers to history. This region has it all.
Compared to the mostly barren Spiti Valley, Lahaul is greener, vibrant and culturally diverse. Although most lahaulis are followers of the Drukpa Kagyu order, Hindus form a sizeable population in this region. Mostly known as the gateway to Ladakh by tourists, towns in the Lahaul valley are more developed compared to those in Spiti.
Houses have become guest houses, meadows campsites. With its district headquarters at Keylong, lahaul is extremely popular with tourists and religious travellers alike. The Trilokinath is an ancient temple close to the Udaipur village. The monasteries of Guru Ghantal, Sasur and Kardang are major Buddhist places of worship.
Access to Keylong is cut off for upto six months a year when the lofty Baralacha La, Rohtang La and Kunzum La passes close due to heavy snowfall and incumbent weather. The valley remains snow clad for the same duration.
Alpine meadows filled with diverse flora and lofty snow clad peaks enchant trekkers as they visit unconnected regions in Lahaul. Lahaul is well connected to most parts of the country by road.
Regular bus services from Manali reach Keylong and onwards to Ladakh. The Baralacha pass is the gateway to the Ladakh region and is the highest motorable pass in the Lahaul valley.
Beautiful, enchanting, mesmerising and breathtaking vistas await travellers in the mystic region of Lahaul