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Spiti - A Difficult Valley

Travelling is my passion as it gives a chance to visit different places and enjoy the natural and manmade marvels.

Prologue

Lahaul & Spiti is one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. The people of the area still follow the age-old traditions. Everything in the region is strange and exquisite and the entire valley is not less than a miracle. Every tourist coming to the place from the outside world becomes wonder-struck to see several ancient and centuries-old things in the valley in their preserved form. The history and the time seem to be held at a fixed point in the valley where they were centuries ago.

The Lahaul & Spiti region is also known as “A Little Tibet", as it has a similar terrain, vegetation, climate, topography, and culture like that of Tibet. The local people pronounce the word Spiti as Piti which means, the middle country, and the valley also lies between Tibet, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahaul, and Kullu in the Great Himalayan region.

Spiti is the remotest and the sparsely populated picturesque valley with little natural resources. The spectacular Pin Valley National Park is botanical. zoological, geological and archaeological museum.

The rich cultural heritage and spiritual appeal of the Himalayan Buddhism have always drawn wanderers and Western explorers towards it. The roots of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism could be traced to these high mountain ranges. The religion has shaped the political and economic facets of the valley.

The incredibly located ancient monasteries in the entire valley are the homes to the few surviving Buchen Lamas, belonging to the Buddhist Nyingmapa sect of Tibet. These enormous architectural marvels are the result of the age-old prevalence of religious and monastic traditions. They hold the treasures, secrets, and wisdom of ancient civilizations. Such marvelous and fascinating monasteries perched precariously on steep cliffs display the indigenous culture.

This virgin region is surrounded on all sides by the soaring snow-covered summits. The mountains devoid of any vegetation look like the valleys of the Moon because the peaks of the valley have become bare due to soil erosion caused by wind, sun, and snow. The formations of plunging gorges and towering ridges expose each layer of the ancient rocks thrust from the deep ocean, to form the roof of the world. The mountain slopes have been swept down to the riverbeds and the deep blue sky seems to be pierced by the pointed cliffs.

Things have hardly changed for over a century, since Rudyard Kipling in his novel "Kim", termed Spiti as “a place where God lives: and "a world within a world", or - a valley of leagues where the high hills were fashioned of the mere rubble and refuse from off the knees of the mountains.

The flora of the region has been divided into three zones namely- dry temperate, alpine zone and zone of perpetual snow.

Geographical Conditions

Spiti is a desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayan Mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in India. The Spiti valley lies between the latitude 31° 45’‐32° 20’ and longitude 78° 00’‐ 78° 30’. It has two parts, the eastern and western ones, the former is connected with Ladakh & Tibet, while the latter with Kinnaur and Kullu through high mountain passes.

In the close neighborhood of Tibet, it runs parallel to the border. Towards South of Spiti is situated the beautiful valley of Kullu across Rohtang Pass at 3,979 meters and the Bara Bangahal of Kangra district across the Asakh pass at 5051 meters. The Rohtang pass separates the Lahaul & Spiti from the Kullu valley.

Towards West, it touches the boundaries of Pangi and Churah areas of Chamba district.

The eastern and southeastern boundaries touch Kalpa and the western Tibet across Kanzum La, where La means mountain pass in the local language.

The word Lho-Yul, or Lahoul means the southern country, as it is in the south of Ladakh. Towards north are the valleys of Zanskar and Ladakh across the passes of Shingola at 5090 meters and the Baralacha la at 5450 meters respectively.

Untamed Landscapes

The Spiti valley has vibrant, unparalleled and breathtaking landscapes. Every day the ever-changing hues of the barren mountains and their play with the sun and floating clouds provide a captivating spectacle. The surreal panorama complete with a quietly flowing Spiti is marvelous.

The Spiti valley is often confused with the Lahaul valley, while the real beauty of the region begins beyond Kunzum Pass. The journey of the area towards Losar Kaza and Tabo in Spiti valley and then the trail ahead to the region towards Nako in Kinnaur district is an experience in itself. The Pin Valley, Kaza, Tabo, Keylong, Zanskar etc are known for their heavenly beauty.

The Language

The life and culture of Spiti are diverse and even up to even up to seven dialects are spoken by the people of the same valley. A new language is found almost in every region. This is due to the reason that for centuries these remote valleys remained isolated from each other, which developed and preserved their distinct culture.

Their language is a dialect of Tibet, because of more than thousand years ago. the people adopted Bhoti as their language and Buddhism as a religion,

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Acclimatization

A certain amount of acclimatization is required before entering the Spiti valley. Because the mountain sickness due to high altitude occurs in the valley, as the place lies in Trans Himalayan region at an altitude of more than 11000 feet.

The altitude gradually increases from the Shimla route and the body gets properly acclimatized, without being hit by acute mountain sickness. On the other hand, the high altitude from Manali route comes quickly and the chances of mountain sickness increase.

Neelkanth Mahadev

spiti-a-difficult-valley

Terrain

Tibet is the next door neighbor and ethnological cousin of the Spiti valley, which is strategically located in the trans-Himalayan region. The entire area is surrounded by enormous mountain ranges traversed by the main Himalayas. The drainage of the Northern waste of the river Tsarab runs into the Indus, while that of the main Spiti valley goes into Sutlej.

The mountain ranges of Spiti, have an average elevation of 18,000 feet and they are somewhat higher than Lahaul. They are some two thousand feet higher than the Chandra and Bhaga valleys of Lahaul. The minimum elevation of Tsarub is 14,000 feet, while the lowest parts of Spiti lie at 11,000 feet or more.

When and How to Visit Spiti

The best time to visit this picturesque valley is in summer, while the ancient monasteries should be explored in October. Because the road at Rohtang Pass remains cut off from the outside world from mid-November to mid- May.

Further, the road between Lahaul to Spiti also remains closed from November to June due to the closure of Kunzam Pass, though Spiti is almost an all-weather place.

Another route from Shimla through NH 22 or the Hindustan- Tibet Road, is quite near the India-Tibet border and is one of the most adventurous or the deadliest roads of the world. The Spiti valley begins from Sumdo, which is 74 km from Kaza. The road goes through Reckong Peo, Sumdo, Kaza and Kunzam pass. It leads to Sumdo via the Hangrang valley that remains open up to Kaza for about 9 months. Kaza is 412 Km. from Shimla.

On the other hand, the Leh- Tanglangla – Baralacha la – Keylong route is an all-weather road.

Inner Line Permit

The Spiti valley was opened to foreign tourists in 1992, but a travel permit is needed to visit the area, as it is close to the Indian- Tibet border. This inner line permit is required to enter the valley through Kinnaur. Only the foreign visitors need the permit, while a valid identity proof is required from Indian nationals.

Road and fuel

The condition of roads in Spiti valley from Shimla and Manali is not good. Most of the times, the road remains closed at one place or another. So it is better to confirm the road conditions and ascertain whether the high mountain passes are open or not.

During night traveling, always carry extra fuel and take an additional driver. There are only two petrol refilling stations on the road, the first is about 100 km from Manali at Tandi, and the second one is at Kaza.

Life in Spiti Valley

Climate

Scanty rains - plenty snowfall, has turned the valley into a land of fascinating contrasts. There come the shocks of green patches in an alternating barren expanse of russet in the valley.

The extreme cold in the shades, the heat in the sun and the freezing temperature at night has turned the sand into a fine dust, which whirls and floats in air at the slightest agitation, thereby creating the shades of countless hues.

Wandering amidst the lush green valley, the bright sunshine makes the weather pleasant and quite comfortable during summers from May to mid- October. Throughout this period the Mercury level does not go beyond 300 Celsius and never falls below 150 Celsius.

The heavy snowfall from November end to April due to western disturbances brings down the temperature below minus 30 0 Celsius. The average annual snowfall is about 7 feet in the valley.

The harsh climate of the valley has turned the entire land into a cold desert. The altitude of the lowest point in the valley is 11,000 feet and several villages lie at 14,000 feet or more.

The life is difficult due to prolonged winter, high altitude, lack of communications and poverty. A thick sheet of winter snow which has now become scarce due to global warming just provides a little flow of water for irrigation. The winter snow evaporates or melts down in summer.

It seldom rains in the valley, because the clouds fail to surmount the Pir Panjal ranges and rarely soften into rains. Sometimes there are heavy showers when the monsoons become forceful, but it is insufficient for crops and vegetation.

The overall climate is dry, invigorating and cold. The days are hot and night is extremely cold, so heavy or light woolens are recommended for the night and the daytime respectively.

The entire family is busy spinning indoors in winter

The entire family is busy spinning indoors in winter

Agronomy and Economy

The valley has little cultivatable land in isolated patches. The man and the yak were able to scratch out less than one thousand hectares of arable land, despite the hard work of centuries. There is sufficient water in the glacier-fed rivers, but the searing flats are dry. For six to seven months of the year, the fields remain covered with snow.