Not everyone might agree with me comparing Spiti Valley to Iceland, but having been to both places in winter I can assure you there are a lot more similarities in terms on landscape and natural beauty than differences. Last year around this time, I began planning for a Spiti Valley trip in winter (December last week).
After some deliberations and research I finalised a group tour, because Spiti during winters can be very harsh and with a fix schedule I had no intentions of getting stuck somewhere all alone. This travelogue is a photo recap of my entire trip.
Itinerary for Spiti Valley trip in winter
The group I was travelling with was offering packages both Ex-Delhi and Ex-Shimla. Since I was going to travel from Mumbai, I decided to go with Ex-Delhi.
- Day 0 – Fly Mumbai to Delhi. And in the evening take the bus to Shimla from ISBT, Kashmiri Gate around 9 PM.
- Day 1 – Reach Shimla in the morning and then proceed to Kalpa in Kinnaur.
- Day 2 – Kalpa to Tabo.
- Day 3 – Tabo to Kaza
- Day 4 & 5 – Kaza
- Day 6 – Kaza to Kalpa.
- Day 7 – Kalpa to Shimla & Shima to Delhi night bus
- Day 8 – Delhi to Mumbai flight
Best time to visit
Well, needless to say if you want to experience White Spiti then the best time to plan Spiti Valley trip in winter starts from 2nd half of December till March end. However, if you would like to visit Spiti in a more bearable and comfortable environment then July-Oct is also a good time. The views will be completely different and the only place you will experience snow would be in Pin Valley during those times.
Temperatures in Spiti, specially in Kaza can drop to -30° during the winters. The lowest we experienced was -27° one day before Christmas. The weather and terrain are both harsh, most hotels and resorts shut down during this time, due to non availability of easy running water. Dry toilets would be the only options and even washing your face would be a luxury. This is not meant to scare you but just to make you aware to make an informed decision.
My one liner for this trip would be:
It's a ONCE in a lifetime experience and no sane person should attempt this more than once.
Packing list (Essentials) for Spiti Valley trip in winter
If you are still reading and want to have an adventure of a lifetime, then I already have a well compiled packing checklist which I use for all my travels local and international that can help you – Download it from here.
But with Spiti, due to the special weather circumstances I am attaching a list of some essentials specifically for Spiti Valley trip in winter:
Spiti Valley Trip – Check list 🧾✔️
✔️Rucksack – 60 to 70 ltr
✔️Down jacket – Comfortable till -10° to -15°
✔️Warm Fleece 2 at least
✔️Thermals (preferably rated for – temperatures)
✔️Rain coat (yeah, it can snow anytime and if your clothes get wet then you are royally screwed)
✔️Warm trek pants
✔️Waterproof shoes or snow boots
✔️Woollen socks – 2 pair
✔️Suns-cream SPF 50 PA++++
✔️Sunglasses UV protected
✔️Toiletries (Wet wipes, sanitiser etc)
Short Video from our Spiti Valley trip in winter
Spiti Valley trip in winter – Day Wise Trip Details
Day 0 – Mired by planned CAA/NRC protests
Took a morning flight from Mumbai to Delhi. As I had taken an Ex-Delhi package, the team had booked a Semi-sleeper volvo (2*2) for me for Shimla from ISBT, Kashmiri gate at 9 PM.
Since the afternoon and evening flights, were super expensive I had taken the morning flight from Mumbai and to to kill time I had plans to meet some friends in the city. However, thanks to the sudden violent protests after Friday’s prayers and rioting happening around most metro places, I had to make an impromptu change in plans and book a hostel till evening.
Finally, in the evening when things died down a little, I along with another hostel mate (who got stuck due to the same reason) found a rickshaw ready to take us to ISBT. We had to take multiple detours and pay double the fare amount. And this made me realise something – It’s easy to sit in our cozy AC offices online and support these kind of protests but only when you are actually in the line of fire or inconvenience in this case you realise how some band of misguided protestors can hold a city or an area to ransom.
Finally we somehow made it to ISBT and I got united with the group and boarded our bus to Shimla.
Day 1 – Shimla to Kalpa
We reached Shimla around 5 AM in the morning and got ourselves freshened up at the Shimla Tutikundi Bus Depot. Facilities aren’t the best but in a good way it will prep you up for the coming days. Our tour leader Krunal (a jovial fellow) picked us up at around 7 AM and after driving for sometime we stopped for breakfast.
This was later followed by Lunch en-route and after driving till like 6-7 PM in the night we finally reached our homestay in Kalpa. It had snowed here few days back and the approach to the homestay was covered in snow. The top of the homestay afforded unhindered views of Kinnaur Mahadev peak, but with the strong winds none of us could spend more than 5 seconds on the roof.
Anyways, the homestay owners had lit up a bonfire where we got warmed up and feasted on a simple but greatly satisfying meal of dal, rice, hot aloo parathas with pickles and sabzi.
Day 2 – Kalpa to Tabo
After getting up, we had a fulfilling breakfast of Aloo parathas and headed to the first sightseeing destination for the day – Kalpa Suicide Point (Roghi). If you follow Spiti related hash tags on Instagram or Facebook, the suicide point is the most popular spot on this route after Key Monastery.
Kalpa Suicide Point (Roghi)
I don’t know how it became famous as a suicide point (specially if you really want to jump, you can jump from anywhere in this world), but it sure acts as a backdrop for some amazing photos for both Instagram and personal memories.
After doing an extended photo session, we got back on the road. Our next stop was Khab bridge which connects Kinnaur & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.
Khab is a small village in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. It is located in the Sutlej river valley near the India-Tibet border. National Highway 5 connects Khab with state capital Shimla. Khab sangam is the confluence of Spiti river (flowing from the Spiti valley) and Sutlej river (which originates from Mansarovar Lake in Tibet).
We stopped for lunch at Nako near the helipad. Lunch was a delicious meal of rajma chawal with chapatis, papad and sabji. After the lunch, we strolled around the helipad area clicking plenty of photos as usual.
Although the plan was to visit Giu monastery the next day we made an impromptu plan to visit the monastery in the dying daylight. When we reached the monastery we had only around 30-35 mins before the sunset.
Normally the vehicle takes you all the way upto to the monastery, but someone had parked their car in the middle of the road and the locals had no idea where to find them. So to make best of the daylight, we all decided to climb upto the monastery. The climb to the Giu monastery was heart pounding, not because it was steep or long but simply because this was the first time in the trip we were doing any kind of exertion. Almost every single one of us struggled with the cold winds and lack of oxygen, but slowly and surely we all made it to the monastery.
The monastery is famous for its 500 year old mummy of the buddhist monk. I won’t bore you with the details, if interested you can read more about it here.
After Giu, we finally reached our accommodation in Tabo – ZostelX. It was one of the best stays of our entire trip with all required amenities or rather luxuries in this part of the world like water in the toilets, fireplaces, comfortable beds and hot water if one needed to take a bath. Well not everyone was as crazy as me, but I did end up taking a bath next day. Only catch, the hot water was barely lukewarm by the the time I poured the first mug on me :'(.
But like they say, in for a penny in for a pound. So I completed my bath with that lukewarm/cold water.
Day 3 – Tabo Sightseeing & then onwards to Kaza
After the bath & breakfast, we visited the backyard of the homestay and I stupidly again ventured all the way upto the river bank.
Spiti River flowing from our backyard
The scene before my eyes was stunning, so out of habit I pulled out my camera and tried clicking. But the gloves were making it impossible, so I made the grave mistake of removing my gloves for like 20-30 secs and I swear there was a moment when I thought I had lost my hand due to a frost bite.
I just ran back to the homestay (another excruciating task) and held the hot water kettle for like 5 mins, before I could feel any sensation in my fingers. I just thanked God and promised not to repeat this again. (I am sure you know that by now, I do insane things for photography and I did an even bigger mistake later in the trip. More about that later..)
It’s one of the oldest monasteries in the world and dates back to 996 AD. Being one of the oldest it boasts of lot of cultural and religious heritage and its believed that this monastery contributed a lot towards the spread of Buddhism in India. It is here that the 14th Dalai Lama held the Kalachakra ceremonies in 1983 and 1996. The monastery is currently preserved and protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The only sightseeing that we missed from the itinerary. The road to Dhankar was in pretty bad shape and with the fresh snow it was a challenge. In interest of safety, we cancelled. Luckily, for the batch that went 2 weeks later they could reach the monastery. So I believe you need every bit of luck to go your way when you visit Spiti in winters.
Drive to Kaza
This yesterday, we had seen fleeting glimpses of snow on the mountain tops, but as we were heading to Kaza we came across the landscape started changing. Initially we saw some ant hill like mountains (just like Lumayaru in Leh) which were then followed by snow covered mountains and frozen waterfalls.
Throughout the drive, we kept stopping at different places to enjoy the snow and for photographs and reached Kaza homestay by evening. The homestay was owned by the tour agency that I travelled with and was next to Kaza ground. This afforded us stunning glimpses of both sunrise and sunset over the mountains surrounding the Kaza town on both sides.
Day 4 – Drive to Pin Valley & Back
Couple of us were not particularly feeling well due to the harsh and cold temperatures of Kaza. Having to go to a dry toilet with your butt exposed to the cold winds only added to the trauma. Another factor was perhaps the acclimatisation since today was technically our 1st day in Kaza.
Nevertheless, if yesterday we thought that we had seen snow, we were in for an even bigger surprise today, as we crossed the gates of the Pin Valley National Park. It was hard to find anything other than snow. The mountains, rivers, bridges were all covered in snow.
In GOT terms, it felt like I had suddenly ventured into wildling territory, north of the wall. The landscape was so similar to what I had encountered en-route Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland on my road trip in 2018.
We drove all the way upto Sangam village in Pin Valley, the roads beyond were unaccessible. We had lunch at house of a local family in the village. There are far few places which I believe my writing skills are inadequate to describe. Pin Valley would be one of them; so I’ll let you see the photos and decide for yourself
Post lunch and playing for a good 2 hours in the snow, we headed back to Kaza. Post 7 PM we were all huddled next to the fireplace in the kitchen as the expected minimum temperate today was -27 C – lowest of the trip.
Day 5 – Kaza Sightseeing
Luckily for us everyone was feeling good and upbeat today. Today was also the day when we would be covering maximum attractions.
Our first stop was actually a statue on the way to Hikkim, from the statue you get panoramic views of the town of Kaza. I forgot the details about the statue; if any of you remembers let me know in the comments section, I’ll update the article.
Hikkim village is famous for being the world’s highest post office. Just for fun, I posted a couple of postcards from the post office. From my friend’s previous experience, I was pretty sceptical of the delivery of the posts (I am yet to receive one sent by my friend 2 years back). So not only did I post the postcards but also clicked their photos just in case.
To my surprise, 3 out of the 4 postcards I sent were delivered in around 1.5 months time and but the 4th one hasn’t reached yet.
Next stop was Kibber village and monastery. Kibber is also very famous for its snow leopard expeditions which happen late during the winters in the months of February, March. As the snowfall increases, food becomes rare for these snow leopards and they descend down from their natural hunting heights in search of food.
Chicham Bridge & Village
Chicham bridge is the highest bridge in Asia. Its located at 13900 feet and connects the villages of Kibber & Chicham. Generally in summers you cross Chicham and continue your journey towards Chandertal/ ChandraTal in Manali, but in winters this route is closed.
Langza – Buddha Statue
The village of Langza is known for two things:
- The might Buddha statue overlooking the beautiful valley
- and second fossils.
- If you are visiting in during Aug-October, the night view of starry sky and milky way in the backdrop of Buddha statue is straight from one’s dreams, something which you should not miss. You won’t experience the milky way during the winters but after seeing some photos on our tour guides phone, I wouldn’t rule out a visit to Spiti again during Aug-October.
The single most influential reason for me making a trip to Spiti Valley in winters. One of the most hauntingly beautiful monastery with an equally stunning backdrop.
You have to initially climb around 100 meters to get into the monastery. The monk in one of the temples within the monastery offered us hot tea and biscuits which were a blessing considering the cold winds outside. After spending some more time, we climbed down to the parking and then began the hectic but highly rewarding hike to the other side of the mountain to click some pics. The hike takes around 15-30 mins depending on your fitness and the weather.
Here’s a video from my hike down:
Day 6 – Kaza to Kalpa
Today was the day, when I almost lost my hand again for the 2nd time in the trip. The first rays of the sun fall on the town of Kaza a little late due to it’s location between 2 mountains.This video was clicked around 7:00-7:15 AM, when the temperature was approx. -15 C, winds were strong & feels like was beyond anything I have ever felt like.
To click this 1 min video, I had to take off one of my gloves and I am not kidding when I say I almost felt like I lost my hand. I sat next to a stove, holding a glass of hot water for the next 15 mins, just to get some sensation back in my hand. I decided it was time I stopped stretching my lucks to the extreme :D.
Since it was Christmas eve, I gifted santa hats/caps & some chocolates to some of the children in the morning and then clicked some photos with them.
The drive back was scenic and beautiful, but the excitement was now replaced with a hint of sadness, it was not time to head back to our routine lives once again.
Day 8 – Kalpa to Shimla & overnight bus back to Delhi
Again a beautiful but uneventful drive, the only hiccup came during the last part of the day when we were like hardly 20 kms from Shimla around 4 PM and had made plans to visit the Ridge and enjoy pizzas and spent some more talking about the trip.
However, due to a political rally we got really late and it took us around 4 hours to cover those 20 kms. As a result, we had to go straight to the bus station to catch our evening bus for 9:30 PM. We just had enough time to get ourselves some yummy dinner at a restaurant right outside the bus station. The bus ride was ok for me, except that the guy next to me had a serious motion sickness problem and resultantly, I spent most of the time being awake.
Day 8 – Flight from Delhi to Mumbai
We reached Delhi ISBT around 4 AM in the morning (much before the expected 6 AM time). One of my travel mates was from Bangalore and we decided to head to the airport (even though my flight was like 9 PM in the night). I don’t know what’s wrong with Delhi but the weirdest shit always happens. On Day 0, it was the CAA-NRC protests and today another incident happened.
The Uber fiasco
The Uber we booked showed up, we put in our luggage and started to the airport. 5 mins into the ride, I got a message that the driver had cancelled my ride. I initially thought it was some kind of a technical issue, but when I checked with the driver he had purposely cancelled the ride.
Reason – He said whatever you pay for Uber, you pay to me directly. Since, it was like 4:30 AM and I had a girl with me on a remote road, I was scared and angry at the same time. I decided to calm myself down and I asked him to stop the car immediately. We both got down with our luggages.
The driver tried very hard to convince him that it was safe etc but I was near boiling point but I had to keep calm considering the situation. I stopped a family car coming our way on that remote road and told them our story & asked them to just stay with us till I book a new Uber. Luckily, the new Uber showed up quickly & I confirmed that this driver won’t be pulling off a similar stunt. We thanked the kind family who waited for us and moved on to the airport.
Fun fact – I have been using Uber since 5-6 years now and I have faced this kind of issue only 3 times, all in Delhi & Noida.
Anyways I dropped Ramya to T1 for her flight and then went to T3 (I think) and got my flight preponed & flew back to Mumbai. The temperature difference even in the last week of December between Mumbai & Spiti was like 46 degrees (Mumbai – 19°C & Kaza -27°C)
- Flights – Around ₹6000 (Mumbai – Delhi & Return)
- Group tour cost – ₹18000 (Ex-Delhi) inclusive of everything except evening tea/snacks and maybe an occasional lunch.
- Miscellaneous Expenses – ₹1000 (tea, snacks & food during Delhi Shimla travel & return)
- Group details – You can DM me on my Instagram id – the.backpacking.coder. If you have a fixed plan and a bigger group, I might even be able to get you a concessional deal with them.
Can this Spiti Valley trip in winter be done solo?
Yes, why not. It all comes down to how much comfort you are expecting and how much willing you are to push yourself.
Yes, it can be done as HRTC has an extensive network of buses and during our journey we saw plenty of buses. However, I must forewarn you that in winters the road conditions are difficult to predict and hence, the actual HRTC bus timings can’t be completely relied on. So you need to have some spare time on your hand.
Other option would be to rent motorcycles and cars from Shima/Delhi and then do the journey. Even then it helps to speak to local drivers for best tips. Even the mighty Thar and RE’s were struggling to start in Kaza every morning.
Luckily inspite of its harsh surrounding, Spiti valley isn’t really expensive when it comes to accommodation, but your choices would be limited in winters as most hotels/hostels shut down completely. Still there are plenty of places offering rooms from ₹400-1000/night, so you wouldn’t really get stuck.
Your options are really limited to either a private vehicle or joining a group as public transport options are non-existent.
That’s pretty much it.
Interested in backpacking Asia Or Europe?
If you are planning solo or group backpacking trips across Asia or Europe, you can check out my other trips:
- Vietnam – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/backpacking-vietnam-from-india/
- Cambodia – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/backpacking-cambodia-from-india/
- Bali, Indonesia – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/bali-itinerary-10-days/
- Maldives – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/maldives-trip-from-india/
2018 Euro Trip [Finland, Norway, Iceland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands]
- Entire Trip Blog – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/northern-lights-trip-from-india/
- Finland – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/2-days-in-helsinki-finland/
- Suommenlina Sea Fortress Day Trip – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/day-trip-to-suomenlinna/
- Bergen – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/2-days-in-bergen-norway/
- Tromso – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/things-to-do-in-tromso-norway/
- Northern lights hunt with price & tips – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/northern-lights-hunt-from-tromso/
- Iceland Road Trip (7 days) – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/iceland-road-trip-itinerary/
- Belgium, Bruges – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/must-do-things-in-bruges/
- Luxembourg – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/luxembourg-city-in-a-day/
- Giethoorn – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/day-trip-to-giethoorn-from-amsterdam/
- Zansee Schans – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/zansee-schans-from-amsterdam/
- Marken & Volendam – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/volendam-and-marken-from-amsterdam/
2019 Euro Trip [Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary]
- Germany – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/must-eat-food-in-germany/
- Bratislava, Slovakia – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/2-days-in-bratislava/
- Czech Republic, Kutna Hora from Prague – https://thebackpackingcoder.com/day-trip-to-kutna-hora/