Lahaul and Spiti are sister valleys surrounded by snow clad, mighty mountains on all sides. While Lahaul boasts of greener pastures, Spiti paints a barren yet picturesque scene with the Spiti River flowing through this mountain desert at an elevation of 4,270m. Though separate districts before, they are considered united now with the capital centre being Keylong at Lahaul. Rohtang pass becomes the entry point into Spiti from Lahaul which is connected to all major cities by road. Manali is the place where all the buses make a stop from all over the country and from here one can easily depart for their destination in Lahaul-Spiti by hiring a taxi or something.
The valley is wrought with spiralling roads and hairpin bends which lead to other districts and mountain passes which lead you on to other equally beautiful valleys. You will feel a very deep Tibetan impact on the people, lifestyle, and the religion followed in the district. This is because of their proximity to Tibet. Most people follow Buddhism and speak and understand Hindi. Though the native language is Bhoti, and you can even try to learn it at the monastery, if you have some extra time on your hands.
The valley is full of sights that you would love to behold and cherish for the rest of your lifetime. The coloured flags of the monasteries fluttering in the wind against the clear forget-me-not blue sky are a beautiful picture. The lamas in their red robes with an expression of ultimate tranquillity are at first a little reserved of outsiders but make some efforts with a few smiles and they will open up a wide array of nooks and corners which are unseen by a visitors’ eye. They will show and explain the historical as well as religious significance of the monasteries that they live in. Some of the ‘Gompas’ (monasteries) that you should visit are Key Gompa, an 11th century structure, Saskyagongmig Gompa ( Tangyud Monastery), Tabo Monastery (established in 996 AD) it is one of the oldest functioning Buddhist monastery, and the Dhankar Gompa. The Dhankar Gompa is almost a century old and is perched atop a mountain slope offering entrancing views if you decide to stay here for the night. Ask the residing lamas to show you around and they will take you on a tour which will tell you how much the climate is changing.
You would also like to see the enchanting Chandra Taal (the Moon Lake), Khoksar (which is the coldest place of Lahaul during winters), and Sisssu which has dense forests of straight poplars and sinuous willows through which sunlight cannot penetrate.
HOW TO GET TO LAHAUL-SPITI
As mentioned earlier, Manali is a place where buses from all over India stop. And from here Lahaul is well connected by road. You can board a local, rickety bus for a wanderer feel or you can hire a taxi to get to Lahaul. It’s always convenient to have your own vehicle, preferably an SUV, to go around the rugged terrains of the valleys of Lahaul-Spiti.
ADVENTURES OF LAHAUL-SPITI
There is a lot of food for the eyes in this heaven like district. But there’s a lot to do as well.
Challenge the waves of the local tumultuous river as they traverse the valley, making them perfect for river rafting. Best time is usually during the month of September. There are different routes like the Darcha- Udaipur ( 90km) stretch and the Koksar- Udaipur ( 70km) stretch. These stretches culminate at Tanfi bridge which is the junction of Chandra and Bhaga rivers to form Chenab. It’s located in Pattan Valley, which is known as the grain bowl of Lahaul.
Soaring amidst the periwinkle sky flecked with wisps of snowy clouds is indeed an activity worth trying. So give paragliding a chance at Jispa, Sumnam, Dalang, Triloknath, Rohtang, etc. The best time is from June to September.
Tent colonies are erected in many places like Sarachu, Darcha, Jispa, Koksar, Sissu,etc. Where you can kick off your shoes and relax with a canopy of stars overhead. Enjoy bonfires, local hot and steamy fares, and a scene of mountains all around you. You will feel tiny when you look around at the mountains guarding you.
You can erect your own camp or go with a travel organizer, either way the beauty is sublime and you would not want to leave. But take care to not litter the surroundings and put out the fire properly before you leave for your next adventure.
ROCK CLIMBING AND TREKKING
These ragged mountains are perfect for this strenuous exercise of conquering them. The best time to undertake this feat is June- September. If you are an expert climber you can choose any path you like but for those wishing to give this sport a try for the first time many centres like the Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Aleo, Manali, Incharge Mountaineering Institute, Jispa, Keylong, Lahaul, etc. offer treks with experts who will make your climb safer and enjoyable.
Racing through the snow on two wooden planks as the conifers around you are nothing but a blur of green.... seems exciting? Then try skiing on the many slopes of Lahaul. The perfect conditions are in April when the weather is amiable and there are fewer chances of accidents. Slopes like the Sumnam Ski Slope, one of the largest in India, Kardang Slope, Gondhala Slope, etc. are excellent for a day of adrenaline pumping action. The triloknath Slope is ideal for those who are trying skiing for the first time or for beginners.
OTHER ACTIVITIES TO TRY
The region is a treasure trove of rare flora and fauna and a great place to take a jeep safari. If you are a nature enthusiast or want to see the secrets of the Himalayas then this is the hole in the wall for you. Take a jeep safari and observe the flora, watch how the conifers stand erect like an army, lookout for the elusive ibex and keep your eyes peeled for the hunter of the region, the snow leopard. You can also get a glimpse of the snow cock, marmots, silver carp, trout etc. when you go fishing at one of the crystal lakes.
We bet you have taken a horse ride, a camel ride, but have you ever mounted a yak? The great woolly animal looks pretty docile. Its milk is what sustains the people of the hills. So get on one and take a safari through the hills. Also try the Thangka painting art, it is taught by monks at monasteries like Dhankar, Tabo, etc.
There is accommodation available at cheap prices in and around the district. Also the locals give rooms on request. You can try a day of living in the monasteries and observing the lama way of life. And there is the option of camping which is thrilling and gives you an experience of living life entirely outdoors dependent upon nature and yourself.