Unlike your visit during Summers, Spiti has a completely different persona in the winter months. Situated in Himachal Pradesh, this cold dry desert valley is known for its scenic beauty and remarkable heritage. In the winters every year, this beautiful valley is blanketed by glazing snow and to be very honest, has extreme climatic conditions during this season. The temperature goes below minus fifteen degrees celsius. The name ‘Spiti’ defines the ‘middle land’ that is the land situated between Tibet and India. Hence, culture in Spiti is highly influenced by Tibetean culture. Geographically, Spiti is accompanied by the Pin valley and Lingti Valley and is bordered by Tibet, Ladakh, Kullu, Kinnaur and Lahaul.
Life is very calm in this ‘land in the middle’. A significant contrast to the city rat race, the pace of life in Spiti is slow and relaxed though without denying the hardships the locals face during the cold season with the friendliest of smiles. It is no secret that a tour of Spiti in the Winters is not a cake walk even if you have everything planned weeks in advance, but it is also no secret that a winter tour of Spiti is worth a memory for a lifetime! The serene valleys around peacefully slumber under the snow, and the calm skies above you, can leave you mesmerised with its tranquillity. This picturesque land cradled in the Himalayas has some of the most breathtaking stops you will come across during your tour.
Tobegin with, Sangla, meaning ‘the passing of light’ in Tibetan, is a pleasant village that looks more like a poster during the winters. It is a point where the sunlight easily passes and shines upon the flakes of snow. As you proceed, you will reach Chitkul, which is the last village in the Hindustan-Tibet trade route upto where one can go without a permit. The essence of this village is its architecture of the houses that get their snow-frames during the winter months. Nako is a small village enroute, that houses beautiful Buddhist Stupas and the 1000 year old Nako Monastery. The majestic Nako lake is a frozen beauty during the winters. Tabo is known to be the oldest operating Buddhist enclave in India and the Himalayan region, home to one of the oldest Monasteriesand a library to plenty of Buddhist Manuscripts and murals. This monastery is now preserved by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), as a national historic treasure of India. You will also be lucky enough to visit the highest post office in the world at Hikkim and can take pride in dropping a letter to a loved one from the top of the world! But you must be warned, that during heavy snowfall, this post office may be shut but don’t worry, your letter will be personally taken care by the postmaster to reach your loved ones. You cannot just miss the Ki Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in Spiti and also a religious training centre for the Lamas.
The winters in Spiti begin from October- November and stretch until March and April with extremely low temperatures down to minus thirty degrees celsius during December, January and February. The snowfall is heavy and snowstorms and blizzards are quite frequent. Usually these months receive the least amount of sunlight making the valley foggy and reducing visibility.
Why travel at -30 degree celsius?
Now, why would anyone travel at that time of the year? Well, its definitely not for the fragile. But it’s a lifetime memory worth making. The beautiful snow-capped vales and the chilling breeze from the mountains are beautiful sights. Imagine taking a vacation to a place less crowded and away from the hustle and bustle of a hill station with swamps of people barging into your beautiful selfie moment? People do not travel to Spiti much and hence the crowd is very less. You can enjoy your trip in peace. Guest houses/hotels are not operational during winters for many reasons. Primary reason being, plumbing fails completely and hence keeping staff to not only make arrangements for the guests but also to keep the place running gets next to impossible. Hence we inherit the practices of residents of the region at their own home. You get an experience of spending time with the locals and enjoying living in their style and relishing their home cooked meals. And you can definitely save a few bucks than travelling in the peak time to Spiti.
Getting to Spiti in Winter:
There are only two ways one can enter Spiti- through Manali and through Shimla. Since the winter months cause the route through Manali to be closed due to heavy snowfall beyond Rohtang, the only way to enter is through Shimla. There are no permits required for Indian nationals however, at entry points identification proof will be required before you enter.
What can you expect:
SNOW, SNOW and lots of SNOW!! Well, apart from snow you can expect beautiful views, snow covered roads (make sure you have pre-arranged a vehicle as transport is limited at the higher regions), happy smiling locals, simple food with a Tibetean touch and some beautiful Buddhist architecture and heritage. Public transport is as good as non-existent beyond Reckong Peo, so prearranged vehicles are crucial to visit this region.
What you SHOULD expect:
Now, comes the challenge. Travelling to Spiti in winters is not just an adventure, but a challenge to push your limits as a traveller. To start off, you can expect being stung on the face with the cold, so make sure you have your face covered. You can also expect water freezing as soon as it is exposed to the air and hardly any running water during your stay. Be ready for some road blocks due to snowfall and loss of electricity frequently. Be ready to deviate from your itinerary in case nature chooses to change your plans for the day! Keep a power bank with you, always charged (and warm i.e. inside your jacket/stole/sweater – because fully charged batteries can drain in a matter of seconds if they get too cold)! Towards the higher regions of Spiti, expect very basic stay and amenities. Be ready for a washroom similar to none you have seen back in your city!!
Driving is already quite difficult in the Himalayan roads and during winter, the challenge gets even tougher so if you are not a seasoned driver, we wouldn’t recommend taking that risk. Since it’s not only a strong will and good skills, you’ll need a lot more to reach, cherish the region and return safely. Expect no mechanics or any such help beyond Rampur. Diesel engines need constant attention all night to keep it warm and running. Yes, running… so carry extra cans of fuel even though Kaza has a fuel pump, the supply may get disrupted if the weather has turned worse and the fuel tankers haven’t been able to make it there.. To make things less challenging, hire a professional REGIONAL driver. They know the skills, roads, regions, behaviour patterns of weather and mountains and having the skills to drive in those conditions.
Most importantly, you can expect the very well planned itinerary going wrong at any point of time, sometimes even without a warning. Although there’s always a warning, one should know where to listen. Hence regional experts and a regional professional driver are two very important ingredients for a memorable trip, a safe return and a whole lot of stories to share with friends. They can hear/read the warning signal well in advance to prepare yourselves. They have the knowledge, network and ability of finding accommodations or food in case of calamity and most importantly they’ll know people. The people who can keep you safe at night in case of any adverse condition(s).
What should you carry for your trip?
Make sure that if you plan to travel these winters, you definitely should have these in your baggage apart from everything else you carry-
Woollen caps and mufflers
Sunscreen creams and lip balms
Warm water flasks
Pairs of woollen socks
A few candies for hilly car rides
Lots of tissue and wipes
High altitude sickness medication (If need may arise)
Well beauty indeed lies in the eyes of the beholder and in case you have the vision for beauty as a traveller, then join us this winter on our trips to Spiti by clicking here. It is important to remember that a journey may be tough, but it’s the experience and the learning that you take back with you that is worth every difficulty faced. And you are definitely going to be proud of yourself once you’re back home!