Spiti Valley (east of Manali, Dharamsala is a Tibet-like area of northern Himachal Pradesh that is home to Buddhist monasteries and stunning natural sites and is largely are unexplored unspoiled. The valley boasts a jagged landscape that is cut by the pristine and fast-flowing Spiti river, gushing through deep gorges and valleys. The river is a challenge for whitewater rafters. Trekkers and hikers can find both barren cold deserts and green forest among the glaciers and by snow-capped Himalayan mountain.

At the head of the heavily forested Kullu Valley is 3,718-meter (12,200) foot-high Rotang Pass, which leads into the high dry plateau and heavily glaciated mountains of the Lahaul and Spiti valleys. Rotang Pass is also the border between Indian Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. The Lahual and Spiti valley towns of Karding, Shashur and Tayal are filled with stupas, prayer flags and Tibetan Monasteries. Up until fairly recently Rotang Pass was one of the most important passes on the caravan routes between India, China and Central Asia.

Spiti is often referred to as Little Tibet because its terrain, vegetation and climate are very similar to that of Tibet. It is perched at a height of 2,745 meters above sea level and is surrounded by Lahaul, Ladakh, Kinnaur and Kullu. From Lahaul, one can enter into Spiti Valley via the Kumzum La or Kumzum Pass, which is located at a height of 4,550 meters (14,931 feet).

Spiti is part of the Cold Desert Cultural Landscape of India, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Spiti, locally pronounced as 'Piti', is known as the ‘middle country’ that lies between Tibet and India. Throughout history, it kept changing hands among the various kingdoms of Tibet, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Kullu. Subjugated to successive attacks and influences, many a times the rulers had to pay attributes to one another to keep peace in the region. The archaeological records substantiate that the original inhabitants in these regions were also pastoral nomads who braved harsh climatic conditions of all sorts. For protection, they defied the natural forces and elements, and began to worship them. It is believed that this is how the Naga Cult (cult of snake worship) and others came into existence that revolve around the worship of natural features as tree, rivers, sun, moon et al. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The river Spiti originates at the base of the Kunzam range and flows eastward to join the Sutlej at Khab in Kinnaur. Spiti has its sub divisional headquarters at Kaza and is inhabited by over 113 villages, of which 81 are permanent settlements and 32 are temporary. The inhabitants are largely dependent on agriculture, wild resources such as Droh, Gandam (Triticumaestivum), Neh, Jau (Hordeum himalayense) and medicinal plants for their livelihood. About 118 species of the Medicinal and Aromatic Plants are known from the valley. Various activities such as cultivation of medicinal plants, afforestation, ecotourism, land stabilization, etc. are carried out in these zones by the Central and State Government agencies to support the sustenance of its people.”

For information on the history of the region, see Ladakh

Cold Deserts of Northern India

The Cold Desert Cultural Landscape of India was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Cold Desert Cultural Landscape of India is situated in the Himalayas and stretches from Ladakh in the north to Kinnaur (in Himachal Pradesh, or H.P.) in the south. Administratively, it can be said to comprise the Leh and Kargil districts of Ladakh and the Spiti region of the Lahaul and Spiti district in H.P. and a part of Kinnaur District in H.P. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The region constitutes a Cold Desert biome with harsh climatic conditions, which can be attributed to two factors. One is its location on the leeward side of the Himalayas, which makes it a rain-shadow zone inaccessible to the annual south eastern monsoon winds that sweep the rest of the country, thus creating desert conditions with low levels of precipitation. Second is its very high elevation (ranging from 3000 – 5000m ASL) that adds to the coldness in its environment.A huge seasonal variation is seen in the climatic conditions, ranging from short and dry summers with harsh sunlight (maximum temperature reaching upto 36˚C during the day) to long, windy and freezing winters (minimum temperature touching -32˚C at night). Blizzards, snowstorms and avalanches are common. The soil is not very fertile and the climatic conditions allow very short growing seasons making it a bare landscape. Water resources are minimal and comprise glacier-fed streams.

“These physiographic peculiarities and ensuing harsh climatic conditions have led to the emergence of a unique Cold Desert ecosystem as well as Culture of the community, which is unlike any other in the world. Within this one geographic unit lie many settlements, scattered across the landscape at locations that provide marginally improved conditions for habitation, nestled within valleys protected from harsh winds and located near rivulets. The settlements are small, isolated, sparsely populated and their planning a testament to the harsh terrain and environment. The population belongs predominantly to the Indo-Mongoloid (Tibetan) race with some parts of western Ladakh occupied by the Dards, who are intermediaries of Ladakhis and Baltis of the neighbouring Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The property displays a distinct Buddhist culture that is similar to the one of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The people are simple folk used to hard labour with colorful customs, myths, beliefs and conventions that contrast with the barren and harsh environment andform the cultural highlight of this region.

“Despite a common narrative, two distinct regions of human habitation and culture can be distinguished within this cold desert, namely (1) the Leh-Kargil areas of Ladakh (J&K) and (2) Spiti Valley (H.P.). Although they have been closely linked throughout the ages politically and socially, the two regions have different histories attributable to their isolated geographic locations and separate access routes, from Indian as well as Tibetan sides. While Ladakh lay on the trade routes from Punjab to Kashmir, and beyond to Baltistan (Skardo), Kashgar, Yarqand, Khotan (Eastern Central Asia or Xinjiang), Gartok, Lhasa (in Tibet) with Leh acting as an important trade center, Spiti valley was more isolated and split into eastern and western valleys, connected with Ladakh & Tibet on eastern side & Kinnaur and Kulu on western side through high passes.”

Ecosystems of the Cold Deserts of Ladakh and Spiti

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Cold Desert Cultural Landscape of India comprises a stunning bare landscape in the northwestern part of the country beyond the Greater Himalayas that is dotted with lofty mountains kissing the azure blue sky, clear streams in deep gorges and little vegetation that provides uninterrupted breathtaking views; a setting that receives abundant sunlight and snow but little rainfall. This region, spread across parts of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Himachal Pradesh (H.P.) has been documented to have a unique Cold Desert ecosystem with rare and endangered varieties of flora and fauna, so much so that many national parks and wildlife reserves have been declared here for their protection. The human settlements are small, isolated, sparsely populated and their planning a testament to the harsh terrain and environment. The annual average precipitation for Ladakh and Zanskar (J&K) is only around 100 mm while that of Spiti valley (H.P.) is 170 mm as against the annual national average of 1083 mm. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The natural heritage of the property is equally, if not more, unique. As discussed above, the region constitutes a Cold Desert biome with harsh climatic conditions. It displays an extremely fragile ecosystem that shows a complex relationship of the climatic and geomorphological processes, and exhibits very less but highly endemic diversity. Many rare and special varieties of flora and fauna are found here so much so that many national parks and wildlife reserves have been declared here by the Government for their protection. Furthermore, the Cold Desert has been declared as the 16th Biosphere Reserve of India in 2009 that includes Pin Valley National Park and surroundings, Chandratal and Sarchu, and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary in H.P. The Changtang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in district Leh, J&K is another protected habitat for flora and fauna in the region. In H.P., among the floral elements, medicinal and aromatic plants such as Aconitum rotundifolium, Arnebiaeuchroma, Ephedra gerardiana, Ferula jaeschkeana, Hyoscymusniger are very well known, and one of the livelihood options for tribal communities.

“Among the faunal elements, Woolly Hare, Tibetan Gazzle, Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Snow Leopard, Red Fox, Tibetan Wolf, Himalayan Ibex, Himalayan Marmot, Himalayan Blue Sheep, Red Billed Chough, ChukarPatridge, Snow Patridge, Blue Rock Pigeon, Snow Pigeon, Himalayan Snowcock, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Golden Eagle, Rosefinches, et al are found in the area. Presence of these unique cultural and biodiversity elements in the proposed landscape has high significance at regional, national and global levels.

“The Cold Desert has been declared a Biosphere Reserve of India and comprises an ecosystem of unusual scientific and natural interest. It is home to several rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, especially the Snow Leopard, Tibetan Antelope and Himalayan Wolf, which are included in the Red List of IUCN as Critically Endangered Species. The variety of flora found here has been used traditionally for various purposes by the community including medicinal, and is deemed to be of Outstanding Universal Value for the purposes of conservation.”

Culture of Ladakh and Spiti

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Ladakh and Spiti are on “a trans-Himalayan marginal plateau land and edge region between the Greater Himalayas of India and the main Tibetan Plateau, which is an unparalleled location both physically and culturally. Rooted in Buddhism, the culture of the region is strongly affiliated with Tibet but traces of Indian influences make it unique and one of its kind, which is also manifest in its architecture and intangible traditions that are already world renowned. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The Cold Desert region has a unique culture of its own which is an amalgamation of Indian and Tibetan influences, is reflective in the form of Buddhism practiced here and further manifest in its art, architecture, lifestyle, food, clothing, dance, music et al. The proposed property provides an exceptional testimony to this cultural tradition which has evolved over centuries and is living. The difficult terrain and climate of the region have shaped the location and nature of settlements that are nestled in valleys near rivulets. With a Gompa atop a neighboring hillock, the settlements follow specific patterns of layout, architectural vocabulary, façade treatments et al that are high representations of human interaction with such a difficult environment. In addition to the already difficult living conditions, phenomena such as global warming and Himalayan glacier melting are adding to the challenges being faced by the community and threatening their whole way of life.

“The Cold Desert Cultural Landscape of India has a large repository of exceptional intangible cultural resources ranging from performing arts, crafts, literary works, customs, myths and beliefs. The “Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the Trans-Himalayan Ladakh Region, Jammu and Kashmir, India”, is already inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“The intangible cultural heritage of the property is also exceptional and diverse including agricultural and medicinal practices. The “Buddhist chanting of Ladakh: recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the Trans-Himalayan Ladakh Region, Jammu and Kashmir, India”, has been inscribed since 2012 as one of elements on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Buddhist lamas (priests) in monasteries and villages of Ladakh, Lahul-Spiti and Kinnaur chant sacred texts representing the spirit, philosophy and teachings of the Buddha. The performing arts (traditional dance including mask dance, theater, contemporary plays, folk music), craft-making techniques (thangkas, carpet weaving, pashmina and marino shawls and local quilt weaving, prayer flags of cloth, gold, silver, bronze sculptures, copper objects, wooden furniture including manuscript shelves, stone, stucco and clay), customs (sacred paintings, agriculture farming, kitchen-gardening, culinary, giving birth, wedding, death et al), rituals and beliefs (medicinal ritual called Am-chi), language and literature (heroic accomplishments, folk stories, legends, classical and vernacular language, dialects, songs, poems, ancient scripts), etc. are parts of cultural legacy and well-maintained intangible heritage traditions of the property.”

Gompas (Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries) in Ladakh and Spiti

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Almost all settlements in Ladakh and Spiti “are associated with Buddhist monasteries known as Gompas with a trademark prayer flag fluttering on top.Built either on flat land or atop the neighbouring hillock depending upon local factors, these shrines are the centers of the people’s cultural life and have influenced their religious beliefs for centuries. Men usually fall back on the social security system of the Trans-Himalayan Gompas. The architecture of the region is an interesting amalgamation of Indian and Tibetan influences, and monastic buildings reflect a deeply Buddhist approach. Important Gompas in the J&K region include Hemis, AlchiChoskhor, Lamayaru, Likir, Thikse and Ridzon. Important Gompas in the H.P. region include Dhankar, Ki, Tabo, Mud, Gungri, Lidang, Hikim, Sagnam, Mane Gogma and Giu.[5] Each settlement and its Gompa have their own unique associationand the predominant culture is intensely introverted. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Gompas are constructed at a level ground as well as on higher locations on hills. Established by various kings and scholar lamas throughout history, the monasteries of early period comprising a single large hall or several halls, were enclosed by a boundary wall (Cagas-ri) if constrcuted on plain or low hills. On plan, a simple gompa generally comprises three units: a Lha-Khang (assembly hall containing a statue of the protecting deities), a Du-Khang (a room containing sacred image of Buddhist pantheon, and a chair of the owner of the monastery), and a Gon-Khang (a room for depositing monks’ belongings, including masks and weapons used during festivals). Besides, the monstery has a Chamara (a forecourt) which is used to perform various rituals including mask dance, and other monastic activites. In bigger monastic complexes, there may be many more units to serve of the purpose of more chapels, housing Tangyurs (manuscripts), and others.

“On elevation, the monastic complex may have a single, double, or more stories. In case of old and more popular monasteries, there are Zimshung (His Holiness’s residential room) which is the private room of the Head Lama. Added to it in big monsteries are Tashaks (small dwelling rooms for laity) attached to the main complex of the monasteries. Tashaks may also be isolated and scattered at a lower level than the monstery. In addition, a monastery may also have a Prayer Wheel, which may be big or small, singular or in a single long row, along the circumambulation path of the monastery for faithfuls to turn the wheels and accumulate merits. Most altars of the big monasteries have on them a neat arragement of silver, jade and amber cups, dorje bells, incense burners which may at times be fashioned like gargyyles, brass and jade figurines, etc. The walls of the monasteries are more or less decorated with frescos depicting Buddhist subjects drawn from Buddha’s life and his ideals. Apart from frescos, walls are also embellished with thankas (paintings on cloth) displaying Jataka stories and other Buddhist themes. An exceptional thanka, believed to be the biggest in the world, having an image of Padmasmbhava in his eight principle forms, and embroider with pearls, is ritually exhibited once in twelve year in the year of “Monkey”, according to the Buddhist Calendar, in Hemis monastery.

There are other architectural manifestations unique to this region. One is the Chorten (‘receptacle of worship’), which are remarkable types of stupas, and the Mani walls, long and thick platform-like row of stones, about 1 to 1.25 meters high and 1.25 meters wide, faced with carved stones inscribed with holy mantras.”

Traveling in Spiti Valley

There are two main access points to the Spiti Valley: 1) the Hindustan-Tibet Road from Kinnaur valley near Tibet and the other from the Lahaul valley near Manali. The route through Kinnaur is open throughout the year, except for occasional short periods resulting from landslides or heavy snowfall. This road, starting from Shimla, follows the Sutlej river unto a little beyond Poo, thereafter turning northwards to follow the Spiti river all the way to Kaza.

2) The other road -National Highway 505 — starts from Manali and after crossing the 3,990 meter (13,090-foot) -high Rohtang Pass to reach Gramphoo where it joins the road from Keylong and proceeds south along Chandra River till Batal then climbs up to cross the 4,550 meter (14,928-foot) -high Kunzum pass, enters the Spiti valley to reach Kaza. It remains closed during winter months, normally from October end to June due to heavy snowfall on both the passes.

Getting There: One can take a flight to Manali or Shimla to reach Spiti Valley. There are direct flights from Delhi, Chandigarh and Kullu to Shimla. From Manali, one can take a bus or taxi to Kaza. The nearest railway station is Jogindernagar. The nearest broad gauge railway stations are Chandigarh and Shimla. One can take a bus or a taxi to Spiti Valley from these two cities. There is a reasonably good road from Shimla via Kinnaur to Kaza, which is open for around eight months in a year. From Manali to Kaza, the buses ply from July to October.

Acclimatizing to High Elevations

(Acute Mountain Sickness [AMS]) is something that must definitely be taken into account if you are doing some high altitude climbing or hiking. It causes fluid to form in the brain and lungs and kills by causing the brain to swell and hemorange inside the skull. Many people die of it every year, and there is no rhyme or reason to who it strikes (sometimes fat smokers are unaffected while athletes get sick). According to mountaineering guides the effects of the low oxygen on body tissues are "noticeable above 3,500 meet (11,480 feet) and marked above 5,000 meters (16,400 feet)." Symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, lassitude, breathlessness, anorexia, fatigue, insomnia, swelling of hands, feet, or face, and decreased urine output.

AMS generally affects people who ascend to quickly at elevations above 2440 meters (8000 feet). Those who fly from sea level to a higher elevation should be especially careful. The general rule of thumb is to "climb high and sleep low" and ascend no more than 1000 to 1,500 feet a day and take every third day off. If you ascend more than that rest a day or two. Even if you are super fit that is no guarantee you won't have problems.

The only cure for AMS is to descend to a lower elevation. If you experience any of the aforementioned AMS symptoms, descend immediately, the more you don't want to the more imperative it is that reach you lower elevations, even if it is rainy night. Altitude sickness prevention includes eating and drinking a lot. Diamox tablets are taken as a preventative for altitude sickness. It generally only treats the symptoms of mild AMS put does nothing to prevent the condition. Many local people chew on raw garlic.

Festivals in the Spiti Valley

Losar is Tibetan New Year. It is celebrated at all the monasteries in February. The people worship the Dalai Lama on this day and a big rally is taken out to honour him. A stylised chham dance is also performed, in which the participants sport ornate costumes and masks.

Dechhang is celebrated in the coldest of months December and January. It is a community celebration where people get together and have a good time

Gothsi (Gochi) is celebrated by families in which a son was born the previous year. The ceremony involves four men lifting a dough of sattu (roasted barley) from a big plate and placing it in front of the deity. A young girl, dressed her best, accompanies these men while carrying a pot full of chhang, a local drink. Two more men with sticks of pencil cedar and cedar leaves tied up in lambskin accompany her. The first woman to have given birth to a boy, decked up, also walks along. The village priest, called labdagpa, offers prayer with a bow and arrow. As the dough is broken up and thrown away to appease the gods, people beat drums and the lambskin is placed on a tree or bush and arrows are shot at it. The villagers then visit each house where a boy was born, and dancing and feasting continue late into the night.

Fagli is celebrated in the first or second week of February. People decorate their houses with glowing oil lamps. A two-foot-tall bamboo stick is mounted on the floor with a white sheet draped across it to make the 'baraza', representing an angel dressed in white adorned with marigold jewelry. Various delicacies are placed in front of this guardian angel, who is supposed to bring prosperity. Early in the morning, the head of the family and his wife cook totu (dough made with roasted barley and buttermilk) and kwari. While totu is taken to the roof and offered to the gods, kwari is fed to hungry crows. The couple also pays respect to sheep and cows as a mark of gratitude. Then, they honour the village elders and visit each house with marchu, a local puri (deep-fried flatbread). While the festival is also known as kuns or kus, each of its days has its own name. Bullocks, yoke and plough are symbolised with green willow sticks and moved around the room in front of the baraza. There is much feasting and festivity and gifts and marigold flowers are exchanged with loved ones.

Khogla Festival Of Light is celebrated in Pattan Valley. The date of the festival, which usually coincides with Magh Purnima (full moon), is decided by a lama from Pattan Valley. Haldas, made of cedar branches, are cut into strips and tied together to form a bunch. They are then lit in every house in the village and brought to one central place in the evening. This ritual is repeated around five times, in order to honour different deities.

Fairs in the Spiti Valley

Tsheshu Fairs are celebrated in Shashur, Gemur, Kyi, Kardang Tabo and Mane monasteries in June. A highlight is the devil dance by lamas wearing colorful costumes and bird or animal masks.

Tribal Fair Keylong is between August 14 and 16. Inhabitants of the valley as well as tourists gather for this special fair. It sees participation by artistes and cultural troupes from Chandigarh, Dharamsala, Leh, Chamba, Kullu and Spiti as well as local artistes.

Pauri Fair takes places in the third week of August. Devotees flock here to be a part of this religious and festive fair. They start by paying obeisance to the Triloknath (Shiva, the lord of the three worlds) or Avilokiteshvara, as he is regarded by the Buddhists. This is followed by parikrama of the temple – circumambulations in the gallery three or seven times while murmuring the mantra “om mani padme hum” and rotating the prayer wheels.

This is done every morning and evening. Ghee and mustard oil lamps, which have a capacity of up to 16 kg, are lit continuously. Devotees donate money or ghee/oil to keep these lamps alight. After all these rituals, starts the fair that has stalls and tea shops. There is dancing to folk melodies in a huge circle. On the second morning is the procession headed by the Thakur of Triloknath, who rides on a decorated horse. It goes up to the place where, according to ancient tales, the seven gods had appeared from the seven springs eons ago. Once the procession returns, the devotees either head home or stay on for the third day of the fair.

Ladarcha Fair is a traditional trade fair held in July-August every year in Kaza Goods are bartered and sold at. Traders and visitors from Kullu, Kinnaur and Lahaul come together and one can see a vibrant mix of cultures. Earlier, the fair used to be held in Kibber maidan in the Spiti Valley. Traders from Ladakh, Rampur, Busher and Spiti would come here with their wares.

Hindustan-Tibet Road

The Hindustan-Tibet road, is 480-kilometer (300-mile) highway that starts near Shimla and crosses the Indo-Tibetan border near 3,930 meters (12,894 feet) Shipki Pass. Sanjay Lakhanpal, wrote in WanderWisdom: The road “from Ambala to Kaurik is also known as National Highway No. 22. It passes through the foothills of Shivalik Ranges, Shimla, Kingal and then runs along the river Satluj and thereafter passes through Rampur, Poari, and Pooh. From Khab to Sumdo, the road runs along the river Spiti. From Kalka to Wangtu, the 335 Km stretch is under the control of Himachal Pradesh Public Works Department. While from Wangtu to Korik, it is under the Border Roads Organization. [Source: Sanjay Lakhanpal, WanderWisdom, February 23, 2020]

“Following the old Hindustan â Tibet route one goes through the villages of Jeoti, Wangtu, Tapri and Karchham and past snow-capped peaks of the Rohru Valley. Tranda Dhank is on the way to Kinnaur alongside the Satluj River. Here there are steep rugged mountains on both sides of the Satlu. The Baspa River flows near Chitkul, the last inhabited village near the Indo-Tibet border.

“While traveling through the Hindustan Tibet Road, I was astonished at the human efforts put into its construction. It is strange that how they built the road with hand tools and without the help of modern machines. I came to know that the construction of Hindustan Tibet road in Himachal Pradesh began in 1850. It is an exquisite feat of human endeavor, on one of the highest ranges of the world. The half tunneling, done manually through the rocky stretches, speaks volumes of determination and dedication with which the highway was built. The tunneling done through huge rocks at "Khimring Dhankh" or cliff, on the Hindustan Tibet road is still considered to be the largest stretch tunneled for a road through the rocks.

“The road once connected the erstwhile princely state of Rampur Bushair, the major entry point to Tibet. But over the years it fell into disuse and was abandoned due to strained relations with China. I found that the road is getting importance as a reliable alternative to the National Highway 22, so that the local economy and trade with Tibet, through the Shipki—La border post on the Indo- China border could be revived. That is why the road is now being repaired and reconstructed. Because the strata of the Hindustan-Tibet road is more stable than National Highway 22.”

Towns and Places Along the Hindustan-Tibet Road

Kotgarh (60 kilometers northeast of Shimla) is a quaint and picturesque town located on the old Hindustan-Tibet road. It is noted for its apple cultivation and offers visitors a chance to walk through lovely apple orchards and pine forests. One of the main attractions of Kotgarh is the gorgeous St Mary's Church that stands as a reminder of the British rule. Built in 1872, the wooden church boasts stained glass windows and an array of benches sculpted out of cedars. Tourists can also visit the Mailan Devta Temple, which draws visitors with its splendid shikhara (spire) style of architecture. Lying 5 kilometers from Kotgarh is the serene Tani Jubbar Lake.

Sarahan (80 kilometers northeast of Kotgarh) lies on the banks of the meandering River Sutlej, surrounded by steep cliffs on one side and deep ravines on the other. The landscape is dotted with pine forests, apple orchards and terraced farms.One can see the majestic Shrikhand Peak of the Himalayas from here, which is unique in the way that its tip remains uncovered by snow. As soon as the sun rays fall on the peak, it lights up. Another attraction is the temple of Goddess Bhima Kaali. It is one of the shaktipeeths. According to legend, the place where the temple stands became a place of worship after Goddess Sati's ears fell here during Lord Shiva's dance of cosmic destruction.

Pin Valley National Park (50 kilometers north of Sarahan) is located in a cold desert. It lies on both sides of River Pin and is known for the breeding of Chaumurti horses, which are then sold at Rampur-Bushahar at the Lavi Fair and in Ladakh. The quality of grass here, along with the lovely climate, ensures that the horses bred are sure-footed and can easily negotiate heights. One can also spot herds of ibex and bharal here. The entry of foreign tourists is banned, Indians can enter if they have a permit, which can be obtained from the Deputy Commissioner Shimla or the sub divisional magistrate, Rampur.

Kinnaur (Near Tibet) has been bestowed with immense natural beauty. It has lush green valleys, vineyards, orchards, snow-clad peaks and cold desert mountains. The Kinnaur valley is teeming with flora and fauna and can be accessed by the old Hindustan–Tibet highway that runs through it.

National Highway 505

National Highway 505, commonly called NH 505 is a national highway in India that traverses Tibet-like northern reaches of Himachal Pradesh in India. It is a high altitude road runs through Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh, mainly running along Spiti river in the Spiti Valley. The highway from Kaza to Gramphu (Gramphoo) is closed for nine months of a year due to heavy snowfall and closure of 4,550 meter-high (14,930 foot) Kunzum La (pass). [Source: Wikipedia]

National Highway 505 is 282 kilometers (175 miles) long and runs from Gramphu (20 kilometers north of Manali) in the west to Khab (near the Tibetan border) in the east. It runs through a vast area high-altitude, cold desert area in Lahaul and Spiti valleys. These areas receive negligible rainfall and are cold much of the year because of their altitude. The terrain is barren and treacherous, prone to landslides and disruptions. The road is narrow and rough at places and crosses high altitude Kunzum pass, requiring good driving skills in mountains. Along NH-505 are some major Buddhist monasteries and various interesting places.

Traveling from east to north west route of NH-505 starts at Khab, near the Tibet border in Kinnaur district from the Hindustan-Tibet Road (National Highway 5), connecting Khab Sangam, Nako, Chango and Sumdo at Lahaul and Spiti district border. This is preferred point of entry to Spiti valley which is located at an average elevation of 3350 meters (10,988 feet). This mostly all-weather access point to Spiti valley from Khab is at an elevation of about 2600 meters. Travelling from Shimla to Khab gives a chance for travelers to gradually acclimatize themselves to avoid altitude sickness.

National Highway 505 Near Manali

Grampu (20 kilometers north of Manali is where the road forks with the Leh-Manali Highway heading north towards Ladakh and NH 505 heading east towards Kunzum Pass, the Spiti Valley and Tibet. At a distance of 20 kilometers from Rohtang Pass, one needs to right turn at Gramphu

Rohtang Pass (51 kilometers from Manali) is the stunning 3,978-meter (13,051-foot) -high pass and a gateway to Lahaul-Spiti, Pangi Valley and the Ladakh region. One of the most scenic places in Himachal Pradesh, the pass remains snow-covered for most of the year and is reasonably good only from June to October. Lying on the watershed between the basins of the Chenab and Beas rivers, the pass makes for picturesque drives. It is said to have once served as an ancient trade route for people living on either side of the Pir Panjal range. During summer, visitors can access the snow-covered slopes here and engage in snow scooter rides, skiing and mountain biking. But accessing this pass requires special permit, which is valid for only one day, and can be obtained from the Tourism Development Council. The road route in the area will be shortened by about 46 kilometers (29 miles) when the Atal Tunnel is opened in 2020, avoiding the Rohtang Pass.

Kunzum Pass (between Manali and Kibber) lies at an altitude of 4,590 meters (15,059 feet) and is the point of entry to the Spiti Valley from both Lahaul and Kullu. While crossing Kunzum La (Pass), it,you can see Bara-Sigri glacier, which is among the longest glaciers in the Himalayas. On the road the Spiti Valley lies on one side, and the numerous peaks of the Chandra-Bhaga range is on the other. The Spiti river’s source is also from the Kunzum range. A temple and a hut have been recently built at the Kunzum Pass to provide shelter to passers-by.

Chander Tal (six kilometers from the Kunzum Pass) is a deep blue lake with a circumference of 2.5 kilometers. Located at a height of 4,300 meters (14,107 feet), it is surrounded by snow-capped peaks and several acres of scree. The Lingti Valley is a pristine stretch cut by the gushing Lingti stream, a tributary of Spiti river. The area has a number of scenic trails that boast spectacular beauty.

Losar (30 kilometers west of Kibber) is the first inhabited village that one reaches traveling east of Kunzum La. Situated at a height of 4,080 meters (13,385 feet) above sea level. Losar lies where Losar and Peeno streams meet. This village is located adjacent to the Indo-Chinese border and is the extreme end of Spiti Valley, its landscape very much resembling that of Ladakh. Towering and beautiful mountains, picturesque rivers and gorgeous vistas make Losar a must-visit spot for nature lovers. Though it is unexplored, the village has shops, schools, a post office and a health center, serving to the convenience of those visiting it. Another attraction nearby is the Chandratal or the Moon Lake, where one can get even more lovely views. To reach the moon lake, one has to cross the Kunzum Pass. The best time to visit Losar is between July and September.

Kibber (north of Pin Valley National Park, 100 kilometers east of Manali, 16 kilometers east of Kaza) is a mountain village situated at a height of 4,205 meters (13,795 feet) known for its natural beauty and monasteries. Many say that the barren landscape of Kibber resembles that of Tibet and Ladakh. The famous Ki Monastery, which is the largest monastery in the valley, lies very close to the village that is a base for several high-altitude treks. Kibber used to be the highest village in the region and was permanently inhabited and connected by a reasonably good road.

Kibber has a civil dispensary, a high school, a post office, a telegraph office and a community TV set. The 80 houses in the village are made of stone rather than mud or bricks. Kibber Sanctuary lies a little beyond the village and is spread over a 1,400 square kilometers area. This sanctuary is the only one in India that is located in a cold desert. One can find blue sheep and ibex here. Kibber is also one of the most fossiliferous (containing fossils or organic remains) regions in India.

Ki Monastery

Ki Monastery (8 kilometers from Kibber, 12 kilometers from Kaza) is one of the largest monasteries in the Spiti Valley. Located at a height of 4,166 meters (13,667 feet) and standing above the left bank of the Spiti river, Ki (Kye, Kee) Monastery houses many beautiful Tibetan Buddhist murals, paintings and stucco images and is a fine example of 14th century monastic architecture. One can see unusual wind instruments that are used as part of the orchestra whenever the chham (masked and costume dance) dance is performed. One can also see a beautiful collection of weapons, which may have come in use whenever the monastery was attacked by marauders.The Kalchakra ceremony was performed here by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in August 2000. This prayer is organised on a grand scale with an aim to awaken the Buddha nature of each individual, using a combination of prayer, teaching, blessing, devotion, mantra, yoga and meditation.

The monastery is sprawled over a huge area and has many rooms connected by a maze of corridors. Some of the parts are three-storeys-high. This gompa, as monasteries are also called, was used both as a monastery and a fort, and it is believed to have been founded by Dromton (1008–1064), a disciple of Buddhist master Atisa. No date has been ascribed to current structure. Today, hundreds of lamas undergo religious training here.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Ki Monastery (4116m), located 12 kilometers north of Kaza above Ki village is the oldest and biggest monastery of the valley and serves the western population of Spiti. It houses beautiful scriptures and paintings of Budha and other goddesses. Lamas practice dance, sing and play on pipes and horns. Many Lamas get religious training here. It has murals and books of high aesthetic value. The ThangYugGompa is located 13km above Kaza in KazaNallah and serving western part of central Spiti. It generally has a Lama from Tibet. There is a long plateau above this Gompa which leads to Shilla peak. The KungriGompa is situated in the Pin valley about 10 kilometers from Attargo and serves the population of Pin valley. The DhankarMonestery is situated about 25 kilometers east of Kaza and serves eastern part of central Spiti. Dhankar is a big village and capital of Spiti Kingdom. On the top of a hill, there is a fort which used to be the prison in olden times. The Monastery has about 100 Lamas and Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti language. The Statue of "Vairochana" (DhayanBudha) consisting of 4 complete figures seated back to back is the principal figure. The Tabo Monastery serving the population of eastern side belongs to the tenth century and located 50 kilometers from Kaza. It is a famous Gompa next to TholingGompa in Tibet. It has about 60 Lamas and a large collection of scriptures, wall paintings etc. KyilKhor or Mystic Mandala temple is placed on the backside of the main complex. It is home to some beautiful faded mandalas (frescos). DromtonLhakhang and Maitreya Chapel are the two famous chapels to the north of the temple complex.” [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]


Kaza (15 kilometers southeast of Kibber) is the administrative center for Spiti area. Lying at an altitude of 3,660 meters (12,007 feet) above sea level, Kaza is located in area with snow-clad mountains and beautiful vistas. A relatively secluded spot, it provides access to Ki, Hikkim, Komik and Langja monasteries.

Situated along the Spiti River, Kaza is home to about 3,200 people and is divided into the old (Kaza Khas) and new (Kaza Soma) sections. The new town contains the administrative buildings. Kaza is overlooked by high mountain ridges on all sides. Kaza is the one of the coldest towns in India. The temperature varies greatly in a different seasons and during a day, January is the coldest month of the year with an average temperature of -25 °C, while July is the hottest month with an average temperature of 10 °C

Kaza is known for its colorful festivals and the ancient Sakya Tangyud Monastery in a side valley, 14 km from the town. It is also popular with tourists and adventure seekers during summer months because of its central location and connections to the rest of the valley and outside as well as the cooler temperatures. This central location also makes Kaza an ideal base camp for trekking, mountaineering, and tours directed to other parts of the valley. Some of the major tourist attractions in and around Kaza are Langza village, famous for presence of marine fossils, the Pin Valley National Park, a protected area for Himalayan high altitude wildlife. Gette (10 kilometers north of Kaza) is the highest village in the Spiti Valley. It is 4,270 meters (14,009 feet) high. The highest post office in the world is at Hikkim village (46 kilometers from Kaza) at an elevation of 4,400 meters (14,400 feet).

Tangyud Gompa (five kilometers north of Kaza, near Komic village) belongs to the Sa-kya-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The 87-volume Tang-rGyud, the Tantra treatises forming one class of Tibetan scriptures, were revised by Buddhist scholars from this gompa. It was initially located in the Hikkim village but was destroyed in the 1975 earthquake. There are still some remnants of the former monastery in Hikkim. The Tangyud (Tang-rGyud) Gompa dates to the early 14th century and is built like a fortified castle with massive slanted mud walls and battlements with vertical red ochre and white vertical stripes. It is on the edge of a deep canyon and overlooking Kaza. Approaching it from the south one sees Kyu-ling (Skyid-gling), the stately palace of the Nono (king) on the other side of the river.

Dhankar and Dhankar Fort

Dhankar (between Tabo and Kaza, 32 kilometers from Kaza) is a village with about 300 people. The prime attraction here is the Dhankar Gompa or Dhankar Monastery, which lies at a height of about 3,894 meters (12,774 feet) and is almost 1,000 years old. The word 'dhankar' means fort in local dialect, and the place was once the castle of Nono, the ruler of Spiti. This fort monastery was also used as a prison during the early days of its construction. One can find several Buddhist scriptures in the Bhoti script, along with a life-size silver statue of Vajradhara (supreme essence of all male Buddhas) that sits on a glass altar ornamented with scarves and flowers. Another highlight is the statue of Vairochana or Dhayan Buddha that leaves one in awe of its splendour.

There are five halls here, including Kanjur, Lhakhang and Dukhang. Around 150 lamas call this monastery home. On the central wall are depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrang. Another highlight is the statue of Vairochana or Dhayan Buddha. There are four figures seated back to back inside the monastery. There is a single reasonably good road on which small vehicles can ply easily. Visitors can also undertake a two kilometers trek to the Dhankar Lake, which lies above the monastery.

Kungri Gompa (20 kilometers west of Dhankar) is the Spiti Valley’s second-oldest monastery. Located in the Pin Valley and built in 1330, it comprises three rectangular blocks, detached from each other and facing east. Recently, the monastery was given generous foreign donations for its renovation. Tantrism was practiced here.

Lhalung Monastery (10 kilometers north of Dhankur, an hour’s drive from Lingti Valley) is set among rapeseed and barley fields near the top of Lhalung village.The main chapel (Serkhang Gompa) of this modest structure lies beneath a painted yellow tin roof and the interior walls boast a beautiful array of vibrant and colorful mud-plaster sculptures. They are so old that some believe that they were made by god and not man. This monastery is one of the oldest in the valley and lies at an elevation of 3,658 meters above sea level. In the vicinity is the Langkharpo chapel that has a distinct four-sided statue of the white deity, situated atop a podium of snow lions.

Tabo Monastery

Tabo Monastery (200 kilometers east of Manali, 10 kilometers from the Tibetan border) is situated at the bottom of a bowl-shaped flat valley unlike other monasteries which are usually perched atop hills. One will find galleries of wall paintings and stucco statues here, earning it the title of 'Ajanta of the Himalaya', inspired by the Maharashtrian destination which has caves full of art. Founded in 996, Tabo is the largest monastic complex in the Spiti Valley. Also called Tabo Chos-Kor Monastery, it is said to have been founded by the Tibetan Buddhist Iotsawa (translator) Rinchen Zangpo on behalf of Yeshe-O, the king of Guge in the western Himalayas. Tabo used to be part of Tibet.

Situated in Tabo, a seemingly dull village of mud huts. Tabo Monastery boasts nine temples, 23 chortens, and chambers for monks and nuns. Besides, it has many caves carved into the cliff face where monks used to meditate. Alongside are some contemporary structures. One will also find thangkas or scroll paintings and manuscripts here. For Himalayan Buddhists, Tabo is second to Tibet's Tholing Monastery in terms of its religious sanctity. In fact, it had been built as a daughter to the Tholing Monastery. After 46 years, the monastery was renovated by the royal priest Jangchub O’d who was the grandnephew of Yeshe-O.

Several Indian pundits have, over the years, visited the Tabo monastery to learn Tibetan language. After the earthquake in 1975, the monastery had to be rebuilt and a new Assembly Hall or Du-kang was also constructed. The Kalchakra ceremonies, a process of initiation and rejuvenation, in 1983 and 1996 were held here by the 14th Dalai Lama. It is being protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national historic treasure and the ASI encourages heritage tourism to the Tabo Monastery.

550-Year-Old Mummy and Near Tabo Monastery

Giu Village and Its 500-Year-Old Mummy (near Tabo) are perched at a height of almost 3050 meters (10,000 feet). The quaint village of Giu is known for its picturesque views and stunning surroundings but its biggest draw is a mysterious 550-year-old naturally preserved mummy. The mummy is believed to be of a lama who died in a sitting position when he was only 45 years old. It can still be seen in a sitting position, with a rosary in its hand, and its nails, teeth and hair intact. The body parts have not decayed either, despite a lack of chemical preservation. There is a belt tied around its body that is believed to be the gomthak that monks would tie around their neck and down until the knee as they meditated. Some believe that the yogic posture in which the monk is sitting can self-preserve the body. The monk, from the Gelugapa order, was called Sangha Tenzin. It is fondly called Mummy Lama by the villagers.

The mummy was found by workers of Indo Tibetan border police working to construct a border surveillance post near Sumdoh. Today, it sits in an independent room on a hilltop and is believed to date back to 1475. Local people say the mummy looks after the village. In fact, there is a legend that says that the monk sacrificed his life to save the village from a menace of scorpions and since the late 15th century, it is said, no scorpions have been seen in the village. Giu is located between the towns of Sumdo and Tabo. A steep 8 kilometers climb on a road that branches from NH-22 takes you to the village.

Nako Monastery (in Nako village, near the Tibetan border, 70 kilometers southeast of Tabo, about six hours away from Manali) was founded in the 11th century, according to popular belief, by a renowned ancient translator Lochen Rinchen Zangpo. Also known as the Lotsava Jhakang, which means complex of the translator, this Tibetan Buddhist monastery is situated by Nako Lake and modeled after the famous Tabo Monastery in the Spiti Valley, and is divided into four halls or chapels. The gate of the monastery is engraved with intricate patterns. Its walls are adorned with beautiful paintings. The monastery houses several clay and metal statues, along with stupas and a collection of scriptures (Kangyur).

Leh–Manali Highway

Leh–Manali Highway is one of the highest roads in the world. Traversing 479 kilometers (279 miles), with 230 kilometers (140 miles) in Himachal Pradesh and 260 kilometers (160 miles) in Ladakh. The road is open from June to mid-October, it reaches a height of 5,359 meters (17,582 feet) at Tanglang La, the second highest drivable pass in the world after another pass near the Tibetan border. Part of the road follows the old Indo-Tibetan-Turkestan-China caravan route. The primary towns and villages are Leh, Shey, Karu, Upshi, Gya Sarchu (state border between Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh), Zingzingbar, Patseo, Darcha, Jispa, Keylong, Tandi, Sissu, Khoksar, Gramphu, Rohtang, Manali

The Leh–Manali Highway connects the Lahaul and Spiti valleys of Himachal Pradesh, north of Delhi, with the Zanskar Valley of Ladakh, between Kashmir and Tibet. From Manali in the Kullu valley, the relatively new highway crosses not only the Himalayas but also the Zaskar Range and reaches Leh in the upper Indus valley.

The Leh–Manali Highway was designed and built and is maintained by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) of the Indian army. It supports the heaviest army vehicles. The average elevation is more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) This rough roads shows the Himalayas in all their glory. Mountain ranges flank the road on both sides, featuring stunning sand and rock natural formations. The length of the Himachal Pradesh will be shortened by about 46 kilometers (29 miles) when the Atal Tunnel is opened in 2020, avoiding the Rohtang Pass.

The Leh–Manali Highway begins in the verdant Beas Valley of Manali and passes over 13,078-foot Rohtang La and 16,010-foot Baralacha Pass, following the Rohtang River much of the way. The landscape changes immediately after Rohtang Pass as one enters the Chandra river valley in the Lahaul region that lies in the rain-shadow. The greenery on the southern side of the mountain pass disappears and the mountain slopes on the leeward side become brown and arid. The mountain peaks, however, are covered in snow and shine brightly in the sun. Baralacha pass is the entrance point to the stark barren landscape of the high Tibetan plateau. Here travelers cross two more passes — 5650-meter (16,620-foot) Lachalung La and 5,358-meter (17,582-foot) -high Tanglang La — before it enters the main Indus Basin near the sheep farm of Upshi. From here it is only 50 kilometers to Leh.

Road Conditions on the Leh–Manali Highway

Leh–Manali Highway is also known as Manali-Leh Road, National Highway 21, and the Manali-Keylong-Leh Highway. It is generally only open for about four and a half months in a year, from May or June, when the snow is cleared from the high passes, and mid-October, when snowfall again blocks the passes, The road crosses the More Plains, a 40 kilometer-wide plateau between Leh and Sarchu. The plain is flanked by mountain ranges. The road quality is poor in many places and high speed can cause discomfort.

The Leh-Manali highway is generally two lanes wide (one lane in each direction) without a road divider. Some sections of the road are only wide enough for a single vehicle. If two vehicles meet, one often has to back up. The bridges and culverts are often poorly constructed. There are over a dozen Bailey bridges, some in poor condition. The is road vulnerable to washouts and landslides. There are many damaged stretches and under-maintained portions, where even a little rainfall can trigger dangerous landslides. There are also no guardrails above some 500-meter (1,500-foot) sheer drops. The It crosses many small streams of ice-cold water from snow-capped mountains and glacial melts without bridges and requires driving skill to negotiate fast-flowing streams.

Conditions on the pass often worsen at night. Sudden temperature drops can produce ice and winter-like conditions in the pass even in summer. Snow and rain can make the highway slushy or too slippery to travel. Past precipitation can also create travel hazards. Much of Rohtang Pass remains covered by snow even in summer. Adjacent glaciers melt (more so as the day wears on) and water overruns the highway in many places. This water is ice-cold and travelers should avoid situations where they might have to wade through it. Manali-based Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports issues warnings of hazardous weather conditions along the road. They set up rescue posts to aid stranded motorists. Helicopters provide emergency transportation when needed. Helipads are available in Keylong and most nearby villages.

Traveling on Leh–Manali Highway

The journey from Manali to Leh normally takes two days, but can take longer depending on the road and vehicle. It is difficult to predict exactly how long it takes since the weather and road conditions can change suddenly. The peak travel season is during May and June, when tourists visit Rohtang Pass. Most domestic tourists return to Manali and do not cross north of the pass.

The Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) and the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) both operate buses that travel the entire highway in two days. Buses start from Manali north at 4:00am and after every two hours or so until 12 noon. The time to Keylong is four to ten hours depending upon the condition of the road. Traffic jams may occur at Beas Nallah near Marhi and again at Rohtang Pass. It is advisable to cross Rohtang Pass before 8:00am.

Public buses provide transport between Manali, Keylong, Kaza and Leh. HPTDC luxury buses provide transport along the Manali- Kaza-Keylong-Leh route. During the peak tourist season, private buses serve the Keylong-Leh route. Buses fill quickly. People often ride on the roof. Not recommended, due to safety risks. Buses are available from the Old and New bus stations in Manali. Buses serving the Keylong-Manali route use the New bus stand; located near Mall road. Reserve seats ahead of time. Seats on HP Tourism Buses and private mini-buses must be booked in Manali.

Private four-wheel drive taxis are available. Shared taxis are cheap as they charge per person, but they may be full of local residents who will prevent good views of the scenery outside. Some tourists travel from Manali to Leh and elsewhere in Ladakh on motorcycles, generally in a group. Tourism buses and private mini-buses are more comfortable than public buses. Fares are lower on public buses.

Leh–Manali Highway is popular with cyclists. You need adequate provisions when cycling or hiking, as the region is largely uninhabited. Climatic conditions can be harsh. Temperatures often drop below freezing, and sometimes reach - 25 degrees. Road work is often being done at certain places when the road is open. Proposed improvements are expected to save hours off the travel time. A tunnel, bypassing Rohtang Pass, is being built.

Food, Accommodation and Gas on the Leh–Manali Highway

There is a variety of hotels and guesthouses in Manali and Leh. There are also hotels and government rest houses at Sissu and atKeylong (a district headquarters). There is one luxury hotel at Jispa. Guesthouses are available at Jispa, Karu, Kokhsar village, and Upshi.

Dhabas — no-frills roadside eateries with tea, maybe some snacks at low prices — can be found at some otherwise uninhabited places along the highway. Dhabas are not motels, but many let customers lie down and rest, and some can provide an inexpensive dormitory bed (without private toilet).

Another option is sleeping in a tent or under the stars. If you have your own sleeping bag and tent you can sleep pretty much wherever you want. It is best to find a place some distance from the road with a source of water. Remember it can get quite cold at night. There are tent camps with basic and inexpensive tents that you can get like a hotel room, though luxury tents (Swiss-cottage tents) exist in Jispa and Sarchu. Some dhabas offer basic tents. Tent accommodations are available in Bharatpur (below Baralacha La pass, inhabited only during tourist season), Darcha, Jispa, Pang, and Zingzingbar.

There are no fuel stations on final 365 kilometer (227 mile ) stretch between Tandi and Leh. Vehicles should fill up at the start of this stretch, and motorcycles and vehicles with small tanks should carry additional fuel in cans. In an emergency, fuel may be available at small towns en route (Sarchu, Pang, etc.), but this fuel may be adulterated.

Places on the Leh–Manali Highway in Himachal Pradesh

Keylong (126 kilometers, four to ten hours, north of Manali) is a district headquarters and the administrative center of the Lahaul and Spiti district. Home to a few guest houses and hotels, it known for its green fields, willow trees, gurgling streams, brown hills and snow-capped peaks, Also Known as Kyelong or Kyelang, the town is generally isolated during the winter when snow closes Rotang Pass, at least from November to April, or during the rainy season. Keyong is located at an altitude of 3,080 meters (10,104 feet) and has a population of about 1,150 people. The town is about 120 kilometers from the Indo-Tibetan border.

Shashur Monastery (near Keylong) is a renowned Buddhist monastery in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh belonging to the Drugpa sect. According to legend this monastery was constructed during the 17th century by Lama Deva Gyatsho, a missionary of the then king of Bhutan, Nawang Namgyal. It is said that the Lama stayed here until his last day. The walls of this three-storey gompa (monastery) are decorated with bright paintings that depict the 84 siddhas of Buddhism, along with a 5-meter-long thangka (a religious painting or scroll) and an idol of Namgyal. Although the monastery sees tourists from far and wide all through the year, the months of June and July bring in most visitors when it hosts its annual festival. One of the highlights of the festival is the traditional chaam (cham) or masked dance, which is performed by monks. Shashur means blue pines.

Triloknath Temple (40 kilometers northwest of Keylong) is one of the oldest shrines in the area. It is visited by both Hindus and Buddhists – the only temple in the world to be revered by both. While the Hindus worship Triloknath as Lord Shiva, the Buddhists consider him as Arya Avalokiteshwar; in Tibetan language he is known as Garja Fagspa. A stone complex found in the temple in 2002 traced its establishment to the 10th century, when it was known as Tunda Vihar. The inscription also describes that the temple was built by Dvanjra Rana, one of the ancestors of the Rana thakur rulers of Triloknath village.

Devotees can stay at the temple for an immersive experience. There is accommodation available for 125 people at a time. In summer, the temple runs a free langar (community kitchen) service for devotees. Close by the temple lies the beautiful Hinsa Nallah, a lake with pristine milky white water. According to legend once seven people used to come out and drink the milk of the cows that used to graze here. One day, one of them was caught by a cowherd boy, called Tundu, and taken to the village. When the boy reached the village, the man he had caught had turned into marble, and it is said that that statue has been installed at the Triloknath Temple. The temple is considered highly sacred, next only to Kailash Mansarovar.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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