After a cozy night’s sleep at our guest house in Tabo, we woke up very fresh to a moderately cold morning. Today was the seventh day of the journey. After tasty breakfast at the guest house we bid adieu to Tabo and started around 9.00 am, towards our onwards journey to Kaza, but before that would visit the famous Dhankar Monastery and Pin Valley National Park.
If you have missed the earlier parts then here is the link-
The distance between Tabo and Dhankar monastery is 32 km. The road was winding and bumpy but it was definitely better than what we had experienced earlier. The Spiti river on the left was our companion all through the journey. We quickly reached the Dhankar village and now we needed to travel 8 km up to the mountain to reach the Dhankar monastery.
Dhankar or Dhangkar Gompa is situated at an elevation of 3,894 meters (12,774 feet) in the Spiti Valley above Dhankar Village. The Gompa is built in the style of a Central Tibetan fort, Dhang or dang means cliff, and kar or khar means fort. Hence Dhangkar means fort on a cliff. It is a beautiful monastery overlooking the confluence of the Pin and the Spiti rivers, offers breathtaking views from the first-floor roof of the monastery. One of the major attractions of Dhankar Monastery is the statue of Vairochana (Dhayan Buddha), consisting of 4 figures seated back to back.
Sitting at the gompa observing the small village of Shichilling which contains the new Dhankar Monastery on one side and the confluence of rivers on the other give pure joy and peace. The prevailing silence which is disturbed only by constant wind noise and sometimes by the sound of passing Royal Enfield bikes, recharges the soul with a kind positive energy enough to withstand the journey through this lunar landscape! Yes, the landscape looks like a part of otherworldly setup! Although Dhankar also has a lake called Dhankar lake. we could not go there due to lack of time. One more place added to my bucket list!
After spending some quality time in and around monastery we started descending towards the main highway which we left at Dhankar village but this time we were not going back and choose the road which passes through another side of the Dhankar monastery.
Our next stop was Pin Valley National Park which is to the south of Dhankar Monastery, around 115 km from it. Set up in the year 1987, the park is famous for many medicinal plants endemic to this region, Himalayan Ibex and yes the shy snow leopard. The valley derives its name from the Pin river which flows through the valley. Once the vehicle took a left turn from the main highway leading to Kaza, this pristine river with sea green colour water accompanied us to the innermost parts of this beautiful valley, leading to the Mud village. The place is majestically surrounded by barren snow-capped mountains. The elevation of the park ranges from 3,500 meters (11,500 ft) near Ka Dogri to more than 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) at its highest point. It was completely isolated from the rest of the places that fall near the main highway. It can be gauged from the fact that ours was the only vehicle traveling on the road at that time! The journey was slow as the roads were in very bad shape for the most part but this slow speed gave us ample opportunity to soak in the beauty in a better way. This is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.
We reached Kungri Monastery or Gompa which is around 3 km from Guling village, around 3 pm. The place was abuzz with child monks playing around and soaking in the warm sun. Kungri is Spiti’s second oldest monastery, built around 1330. The Gompa consists of three detached rectangular blocks facing east. The Gompa offers commanding views of the stunning Pin valley. The best part of the place is the peace it offers to your soul, your mind. The place is so silent that you can hear your breathing quite clearly. After spending quite some time in the Gompa, most of it spent by sitting at the entrance of it, enjoying the views we came down to the village and have our very simple lunch of rice and veg curry at one of the few home stays which double as a small restaurant. The place offers a few number of food options to the travelers like us. We wanted to spend some more time around the village but since we had to reach Kaza by the evening and much distance needed to be traveled through the same road, we stated around 4.30 pm and reached Kaza by 7.00 pm.
We had no bookings at Kaza too (like most other places), so after reaching Kaza first job was to find a suitable place to stay. We did not go to inside the market area instead we choose to stay little away from the market area near the beautiful Sakya Tangyud Monastery. The place was on the highway and also not very far from the town.
Situated on the banks of Spiti river Kaza at an elevation of elevation of 3,650 meters (11,980 ft), is the largest township and commercial center of the Spiti valley. Kaza is one of the coldest towns in India. The temperature varies greatly in different seasons and during different times in a day; January is the coldest period of a year when the lowest temperature could well go beyond -25 degree Celsius, everything freezes then, even the nearby fast flowing Spiti river. The average temperature for the period we were in Kaza was around 10 degree Celsius.
After the good night’s sleep, we woke up very fresh that morning. Since the day would be spent in Kaza so we were not in hurry. After finishing our breakfast leisurely we set out for the day’s trip to the local place, of interest around Kaza. Our first stop today was Langza village, 12 km from Kaza at around 4200 meters (14000 ft) above mean sea level. This place is also known as the ‘Fossil village of India’ for its rich fossil reserves. One can purchase some fossil pieces from the local cafe at Lanza. Langza is one of the most picturesque villages of Spiti located on the highland meadows with the beautiful snow capped peak of Chau Chau Kang Nilda in the backdrop makes the view of this village even more beautiful.The highlight of the village is a beautiful statue of Lord Budhha facing the distant snowcapped mountains.
There is another ancient temple nearby called ‘Lang’ said to be the Abode of the Deities of the region and over 1000 years old. The place has few homestays as well for those who want to spend the night in this beautiful yet tough place. The day we visited Lanza was also one of the rarest days when the place received good rainfall. The weather changed suddenly making this already cold place even colder, speedy wind had made the weather bitterly cold. We went out of our car only waiting for the weather to become normal. After some time the weather opened up a bit and only then we came out of our car to explore the place and what a place it was! I think the rain made the place even more beautiful and unique. After some photo sessions at Langza, we went for our next stop Komik or Comik village, the highest village in the world connected by a permanent road.
Komik village situated at 4587 meters (15,050 ft) above sea level is a very small and sparsely populated village. The signboard put up by the authorities indicates the presence of only 112 souls in this beautiful but rugged village. The village surrounded by snow-capped mountain also has a very old monastery at its entrance.
The village is situated in a valley little below from the monastery. The place is good for trekkers. There is a small restaurant near the monastery which serves a few items like Maggie, Momos, tea, coffee etc. We were very hungry so we decided to have hot Maggie and coffee at the restaurant there for lunch and believe me the Maggie never tasted this yummy! The village below also has a few homestays but don’t expect any luxury here. By the time we finished exploring the village and the monastery it was already 2.00 pm.
While returning from Komik village we also visited another village called Hikkim. Situated at the height of 4440 meters (14,567 ft) above sea level Hikkim Post Office is known to be the highest post office in the world, giving this village a unique identity. Like Komik this village is also very sparsely populated. Except for the Post Office, there is nothing much to see in the village. We dropped some letters to our friends from this post office as memory. I posted a letter to myself too. It felt very strange in the age of the internet, facebook, and Whatsapp! The letter reached me after 15 days with the all important stamp on the envelope showing the name of the post office. I did not open the envelope and kept it as memory.
From Hikkim we came down to the highway again and moved towards our next stop for the day- Kibber village but before that, we visited the famous and the biggest monastery in the Spiti valley –Kye or Key Monastery. Located at an altitude of 4,166 meters (13,668 ft) Kye Monastery presents a sight to behold. All tiredness would vanish just by getting a glimpse of this monastery from the village below. The place is paradise for photographers. I would have seen the image of Kye monastery numerous times but I was awe struck when I had seen the monastery for the first time, then the second time…. well every time! The village below probably offers the best place to see this monastery.
Then we took a small detour from the road to Kibber to visit this monastery. The monastery was built by Dromtom, a pupil of Atisha in the 11th century now houses around 300 lamas. After spending sometime in and around monastery we set off for Kibber, our last stop for the day.
The beautiful village of Kibber is situated at an altitude of 4270 meters or 14,200 ft is just 17 km from Kaza and around 8 km from the Kye Monastery. The village houses a monastery and a few home stays. Kibber once held the distinction of highest village connected by a motorable road before Komic village took over this unique title. The village also boasts a wildlife sanctuary named after it and is famous for being home to the animals like the elusive Snow Leopard, the Bharal- a type of mountain goat found in these areas, Tibetan wolf among many others. Kibber is also an excellent location for star gazing and night photography. Though I could not stay for the night there because we had to start early next morning to reach Manali but I have added the night stay at Kibber village to my bucket list. We returned to Kaza by 8.00 p.m. This was our last day at Kaza and from tomorrow we would start our return journey.
By road– Tabo to Kaza is 48 km. except few patches the road conditions are good but narrow. Dhankar to Pin Valley route is extremely bad with no sign of tar over it.
Stay- Kaza has many hotels and guest houses fitting all kinds of budget. For example our guest house which was yet to be named by that time and only section was started cost us Rs. 800 per night. The rooms had facilities such as hot water, room service etc. More searches could result in finding even cheaper rooms. Places like Dhankar, Pin valley, Langza, Komik, Kye, Kibber etc also have a few home stays. However, these are remote areas so don’t expect any luxury beside basic facilities. Except Kaza food options are also limited and comprises mostly of items like Maggie, momos and other Sino-Tibetan food varieties.
Connectivity- Except BSNL no other telecom network works here and that too in Kaza. Internet connections are present but it is very erratic, don’t expect high speed internet networks here. But some time loosing cell phone connectivity is best way to connect with an excellent person i.e. you.
Precautions– All areas in and around Kaza, including Kaza are situated at very high altitudes. So take care of yours body and mind. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is very common for non locals/ travelers. Kaza has a big government hospital outside the town that provides medical facilities for the locals as well as tourists. The hospital has proper oxygen supply and the facilities can be used in case of any emergency. Don’t exert yourself. Diamox tablets are good for AMS. Regular water intake is very important to keep the body properly hydrated. The Sunlight during the day time is very harsh so a good sunscreen lotion is very handy; it prevents the body from sun burns.