Traveling on the road from Manali to Spiti Valley is an adventure in itself. Once you leave the highway at Gramphoo and turn right towards Batal, you are in for a bumpy but fun ride. There is no Tarr on the road and you will forget the count of the water streams that you crossed.
The 11 kilometers drive from Batal to Chandratal Lake further adds to the thrill. The road is barely wide enough for one car and your heart will be jumping into your mouth at several places.
We enjoyed all of this the day before when we reached Chandratal Lake from Manali. This was now day 2 of the trip and we were now on our way to Kaza. To read the previous part of the journey, please follow the link below.
- Journey So Far: Manali to Chandratal Lake
The Kaza road continued to be bouncy and rocky and we reached Kunzum in no time. The views from Kunzum were majestic and the pass inspired awe.
There is evidence of both Buddhist and Hindu temples at the pass. The Kunzum Mata temple has an idol on which people try to stick coins as an offering. In case the coins stick to the idol, the wishes are fulfilled. Mine did not.
Chandratal Lake to Kaza
A lot of time was spent at Kunzum. It was cold and windy and overcast.
The road meanwhile continued to be treacherous. I knew about the Gramphoo – Losar stretch but still did not imagine that it could be this bad. The entire road from Manali to Spiti Valley is a complete nightmare. The views however were unmatched.
So after a butt-breaking and bouncy time, we reached Losar and the gateway to Spiti welcomed us. Losar was also to be the stop for our lunch.
It seemed like a charming village having peas and wheat cultivation. More importantly, it had telephone connectivity. This was the first time after Rohtang that we had got a signal. Our families were informed of the well-being and lunch of okayish Maggi was had.
The road improved after Losar and soon the trademark Spiti formations started to appear. The road was beautiful and desolate. There was almost zero tourist traffic on the roads.
We soon reached Pagmo and Kye monastery could be seen from a distance. Key was to be seen tomorrow but the classic Kye monastery shot could not be missed.
We reached Hotel Spiti in Kaza which was to be our abode for the night. After a quick bath, I proceeded to the Kaza Monastery but did not find it that impressive. The Chortens outside were much better.
Dinner was at Sakya abode and it comprised of aloo momos, stir-fried Chow Mein, and Veg Manchurian. Non-veg had to be ordered in advance. The dinner was average but acceptable as I had realized by then that Spiti is no gourmet heaven. But how wrong I was.
Tomorrow was going to be an easy day. Acclimatization had not yet set in and so paracetamol had to be popped again for a good night’s sleep.
Kaza to Langza
Today was day 3 of our trip & it was going to be an easy day. Just the drive up to Key & Komic and then move to Langza for the night stay.
The sleep was wonderful & it was so nice to have that soft mattress under the back again. The washroom of Hotel Spiti, though dirty and leaky seemed like a luxury.
The breakfast of horrible Poori Sabzi was ditched and we started for Key.
The key monastery is perched high up on a hill and has a dramatic setting. It is visible all throughout the drive up the hill and there are several vantage points from where one can capture the whole monastery with the huge hill behind it.
The view of Key monastery from one of the vantage points
A friendly Lama at the monastery took us around. While the monastery did not impress me much, more so since photography was not allowed inside, the view from the roof was to die for.
The vast expanse of the Spiti Valley in the background of the monastery looked so beautiful. It made my day. After the round of the monastery, the Lama took us to the Monastery kitchen and offered us some tea.
After an immensely satisfying visit to the Key Monastery, we proceeded to Komic, which used to be the highest motorable village in Asia. The road took us back to Kaza and from there we moved towards Komic.
The road understandably was bad and narrow. What an effort it would have taken to build a road on this terrain. The road to Komic passed through Langza which was to be our night abode.
The guide ran to the village to pass on instructions to the homestay owners and we moved on to Komic. The drive from Langza to Komic was extremely picturesque. There were small pockets of greenery in the ruggedness. People here grow sweet peas and even wheat.
The first look of Langza
The monastery at Komic was undergoing a major renovation as some big Lama was expected there in a week’s time.
Walking at Komic was a lot of effort because of the altitude. There was nothing to eat or drink. It was more like a ghost village. After spending some time we commenced our descent to Langza.
The village of Langza has a huge Gautam Buddha statue around 100 meters up the hill from the village and the car parking is around further 100 meters up. So we reached the parking and came down to the Buddha statue. The views as always remained majestic.
While coming down to the statute we had not realized that we would have to walk up too. The village was around 100 meters down a steep descent and the car was around 100 meters up a steep ascent. So caught between the devil and the deep sea we thought it wiser to go down than to climb up.
Also Read: When is the Best Time to Visit Spiti Valley
Homestay at Langza Village
When we got to the village square, I got a bit apprehensive about the stay. It was a small village of around 15 houses, dusk has descended and there was hardly any light.
Not only in this Manali to Spiti Valley trip, but this was the first time I was going to be staying in a homestay. I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
I was tempted to go back to Kaza for the night’s stay so that I could have basic material comforts. My tentmate went down further to have a look at the homestay and shouted back – Sir it is quite decent by any standard.
Having got this assurance I decided to spend the night at Langza itself and walked down to the homestay. The room was small but extremely neat and clean. The house had a thick layer of local material on the roof and that kept it so warm and insulated.
The room met with our approval and we settled down to a dinner of Aloo Momos that was lovingly made by the lady of the house.
The night was again windy and cold outside but the insulation of the house was remarkable. Tried to take some night shots in that extreme weather.
Langza to Mud Village, Pin Valley
The night was amazingly comfortable. In the meanwhile, acclimatization had also set in as there was no headache or heaviness at all.
Langza was an amazing village. Each of the houses had a separate toilet, though basic. The toilet was a small cubicle with a small crevice for the point and shoot thing.
Below that was a small chamber wherein all the poop was collected and immediately after each crap, the lady of the house put in some husk to cut down on the adversities.
The husk not only did that, but it also accelerated the process of conversion of the waste into organic manure. This manure was then taken out at a regular interval and put into the wheat and peas field. Sorry for the graphical detail but I found it amazing.
A village cut off from the mainstream for the major portion of the year and totally self-reliant. Each of the houses had a small greenhouse wherein spinach, radish, coriander, etc were grown for home consumption.
Each of the houses had been given a solar lantern by the govt and a set of solar panels from which to charge them. The govt has done a good job here.
The morning was spent wandering around the cultivation. The air was fresh though thin. Langza was one of the prettiest villages we saw during our week long Manali to Spiti Valley trip.
And then we were called into the kitchen for the breakfast.
The breakfast consisted of fermented parathas, Dahi chutney, and some pickles. What a breakfast it was.
The fermented paratha was soft like bread, looked like a kulcha, tasted divine, and melted like butter in the mouth.
The Dahi chutney was made of curd, coriander and god knows what but the taste of the same was heavenly. Other than the fermented paratha and the chutney we did not taste anything at all.
The lady of the house told me that the paratha is made by mixing some baking powder with the flour and keeping it overnight. This breakfast remains to date the tastiest breakfast ever.
I had a hearty breakfast after so many days, thanked the homestay owner, gave him a handsome tip, and started for Dhankar.
Langza to Dhankar
The road to Dhankar again passed through Kaza. Lunch was to be had at Kaza which consisted of Mutton Curry and Rice.
Now, this thing again was damn good. Today was turning out to be a culinary delight. It was the best day in terms of food in our entire Manali to Spiti Valley trip.
This is a small place just opposite the Kaza bus stand on the first floor. I don’t remember the name and I don’t remember if it even had a name but this place is highly recommended for the non-vegetarians.
After the meal, we started towards Dhankar. The terrain was typically Spiti – huge mud formations and barren mountains.
Soon we reached Attargu from where the road to Pin Valley bifurcates but that was later. Now we were off to Dhankar to see the monastery and trek up to Dhankar Lake, another high-altitude lake this side of Himachal.
The road condition from Attargu to Dhankar was extremely bad and then upon reaching Schilling, the road to Dhankar bifurcates.
The road suddenly becomes a beautiful, black tarmac one. The drive up was also exhilarating – steep and picturesque.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip To Dhankar Village
Now Dhanskar Monastery was the other reason for me taking this trip. Ever since I had read about the save Dhankar initiative at Mcleodganj 3 years back, I had always wanted to visit this place.
It seems that this centuries-old monastery is in danger of falling down the cliffside due to the continuous erosion of the soil below it.
This monastery is now not in use and a new modern monastery has been constructed just next to it. It does hang tantalizingly close to the edge, however, the place is a photographer’s delight. It looks pretty and daunting no matter what angle you shoot it.
The fort up the monastery was also nice.
The monastery had an amazing view of the Pin River forming a delta to meet the Spiti river.
We didn’t go into Dhankar monastery as we did not want to add to its sinking problem. There is a small canteen near the new monastery from where awesome views of the ancient monastery and the Pin & Spiti valley could be had.
Next on agenda was the uphill trek of 3 Kms to Dhankar lake. The trail to the lake passes just in front of the new monastery and the climb was mind mindbogglingly steep.
We huffed and puffed our way up, though the views of the monastery and the rivers improved with every single meter we climbed.
Now when I look back I wonder how I managed the climb but the fact was that I did manage to climb and then it was pure bliss.
What it lacked in its size, it more than adequately made up by its serenity, calmness, and silence. This actually is shaped like a fish but you need to climb further up to see that.
That seemed impossible to me after the climb up to the hill. Secondly due to inadequate snowfall last season the tail has dried up.
After spending some time at the lake, we walked back to the monastery. This was one spot where coming down was as difficult as climbing up. It was steep and loose soil top bordered by deep valleys. It indeed was a bit scary.
Dhankar to Pin Valley
A lot of time was spent coming down. Finally, after having our refuel of Maggi and Thumbs up, we started for Pin Valley. The sun had set already by then.
Thank God for that or else the heart would have been in the mouth for most of the time as it was one hell of a drive. Imagine a completely dark river valley just next to the narrow road, no tarmac road running into boulders all of a sudden, and absolutely zero road traffic.
We reached Mud and comfortably settled into the Tara homestay after having a scrumptious dinner of Butter toast and ginger, honey, and lemon tea. The day had been good on the stomach.
The night was again utilized for some night shots and time-lapse, though it was a bit cloudy for that.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Pin Valley
Mud is one of the remotest parts of Himachal. It is the last motorable village in the Pin Valley and after that starts the expanse of the Pin National Park. That, of course, has to be reached on foot.
But it did not seem so. Mud Village was a happening place. When we reached there at around 9 in the night, a party was on. There was a huge bunch of Israelis partying away to glory.
Loud trance music, boom Shankar all around. All of it was happening on a generator as there has been no electricity in the whole village for the last 2 months !!!!
It was here that I had a brawl with a desi drunkard. In fact, he was a taxi driver that has brought some of these Israelis here and even he was having a party.
He was put in his place when he started acting cheesy to the girls in our group. The generator conked off at around 10 PM and normalcy returned.
Mud Village to Kaza
I could not gather the beauty of Pin Valley last evening as the drive was pitch dark, but the view was amazing when I woke up in the morning. The homestay which was again very comfortable, warm, and insulated had unparallel views of the young Pin valley.
The plan of the day was to go to Kungri as some big festival was going on there and return to Kaza for the journey back home. The views behind us were amazing as we drove out of the Pin valley.
The Kungri monastery was a disappointment as the festival was already over when we reached there and it was another modern monastery though having an enviable location.
The morning at Mud was wonderful but I was sad deep within for today was the last day of the trip and tonight and the next was to be spent in reaching home.
One of the Israeli at Mud told me that she was here to cross the Pin Parvati Pass over the next 3 days and then even she would reach Manali. She was surprised that I was going back the same way I came – to Kaza and then to Kunzum and then to Manali. What a waste of an effort she must have thought.
So after Kungri, it was time to go back to Kaza but not before we take a detour of around 26 Kms from Attargu, the place where we leave Pin valley and join the National highway, to Tabo.
The road to Tabo was again adventurous, totally off-road but we have gotten used to it by now. Most of our trip from Manali to Spiti Valley has been on such roads only.
Tabo monastery may appear disappointing from the outside but oh boy what an experience it turned out to be.
The interiors were full of murals and the statues of the 3 Buddhas (past, present, and future or Amitabha, Sakya, and Maitreya Buddha) were amazing.
It was clearly the mother of all the monasteries and is a must-visit on this side of Himachal. It is called the Ajanta of the North and I must admit that the wall paintings are even more beautiful and intricate than the ones at Ajanta.
Sadly no photography is allowed inside the monastery. Despite the fact that there was no one to enforce this rule, I did not take any pictures to respect the place.
One of the monks at the monastery told us about the caves high up on the hills facing Tabo. These caves were used for meditation by the Lamas and to get away from whatever material comforts the monastery provided.
We were intrigued and so climbed up the distance to the caves. The caves were ignored today, in fact even abused by the visitors as there was so much muck all around.
We spotted Kurkure, Uncle Chipps, Black Label, RC, and Smirnoff to name a few.
The views from up there were awesome and the whole of Tabo with the monastery was visible.
There was also a new monastery just next to the old one with a nice Chorten. Now people would say that Tabo Monastery is on the World Heritage list of UNESCO but that is factually not correct. Tabo was considered for this honor but to date, the decision has not yet been taken.
So after Tabo and having a strictly okayish lunch we started for Kaza. In one place there is a dilapidated bridge over River Spiti, where the river is really roaring. All of us got down, climbed the bridge, and had a child-like time. It was scary but so much fun.
Kaza to Manali
The night at Kaza was silent. We had seen almost the whole of Spiti in our trip from Manali to Spiti Valley. The drive back to Manali was on expected lines. We stopped at one of the places which were extremely pretty.
And so we leave the valley. It was amazing as to how much the valley had affected me but had itself remained so unaffected.
The drive to Manali took around 10 hours. Lunch was again had at the Sonam Dhaba at Gramphoo. Manali presented a wonderful sight of a man-made waterfall.
Thus ended my trip from Manali to Spiti Valley. The long-cherished desire of visiting Chandratal and Dhankar Monastery was accomplished on this trip. This trip has also brought me closer to the ultimate destination – Ladakh for this is what remains now.
Manali to Spiti Valley – Conclusion
I hope the travelogue, pictures, and information on planning a trip from Manali to Spiti Valley were of help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. You can also follow me on Instagram and chat with me live there or subscribe to my YouTube channel and ask a question there.