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Himachal Pradesh >>

Lahaul Spiti Travel Guide

Lahaul and Spiti are two remote Himalayan valleys of Himachal Pradesh lying on the Indo-Tibet border. Strange, exciting, primitive, these valleys are incomparable in mountain scape, in the rugged beauty of their rocky escapements and the splendor of their snow covered peaks. Lahaul is marked by a central mass of uniformly high mountains, massive glaciers, passes, lakes and gushing rivers. The two rivers, Chandra and Bhaga, which rise on either side of the Baralacha La, flow through the narrow Chandra and Bhaga valleys. Lahaul is a land of fascinating Buddhist art and culture. Often called as the 'middle country', Spiti is a cold desert regarded as a "World within a world" and "Palace where the gods live". The monasteries of Lahaul-Spiti are rich repositories of ancient murals, thanks, woodcarving and golden images of Padmasambhava.

Location: Himachal Pradesh
Altitude: 6,500m
Formed In: 1960
Best Time To Visit
Lahaul- mid June to Late October
Spiti- August To October

Gemur: 18-km
Manali: 115-km
Sarchu: 116-km
Kaza: 197-km


Between Gondhla and Keylong is Tandi, where Chandrabagha or Chenab River meets the road. A legend says that there were two lovers, Chandra being the daughter of the Moon and Bhaga the son of the Sun god. To perform there eternal marriage, they decided to climb to the Baralacha La & from there they ran in opposite directions. Chandra being active and smart easily found her way & reached Tandi after covering the distance of 115-km. Soon Bhaga was found coming with great struggle through the narrow gorges to Tandi where consequently both met and the celestial marriage was performed. Bhaga covered about 60-km distance, which was very difficult.

Trilokinathmeans the Shiva. A Temple is situated in the village, which is about 4 kms short of Udaipur on the left bank of Chenab River. Devotees from far off places come to pay their respects at this unique temple. This Shiva temple was given a look of Buddhist shrine by Guru Padmasambhava by installing the 6-armed image of Avalokiteshvar. In August, a big festival named Pauri is held for three days when people including the sadhus and followers of various religious sects gather to receive the blessings of Lord Trilokinath.

Udaipur (2743m):
In olden times this village was known as Markul, derived from the name of the local goddess Markula Devi. The temple here is unique and famous for its wooden carving on its roof and ceiling. Later on, Raja Udai Singh of Chamba changed the name to Udaipur. This place is situated near the confluence of Chenab and Mayar Nallah, therefore, became a starting point for Mayar valley and further on to Zanskar and other peaks. This is a green area rather the whole Chenab valley is greener than the Lahaul valley.

Keylong (3340m):
Keylong is the district Headquarters of Lahaul Spiti on the main road to Leh over Rohtang. It is an oasis of green fields and willow trees, water streams surrounded with brown hills and snow capped peaks. There are hotels, tourist bungalows and rest houses to stay.

Kardang Monastery (3500m):
It is about 5-km from Keylong across Bhaga River, believed to be built in 12th century. The Monastery has a large library of Kangyur and Tangyur volumes of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti. Kardang village was once the capital of Lahaul. In Lahaul is the 'KHARDANG GOMPA', a monastery that lies on the mountainside opposite to the Kyelong village. It is believed to be built in 12th century. Khardong village was once the capital of Lahaul. The monastery is about 200 years old and the head Lama is called 'Narbo'. The architecture and sculpture of the monastery are typically 'Lahaul and Spiti' style. One of the most revered places of the Durga-Pa Sect, the monastery also has a large library of Kangyur and Tangyur volumes of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti and a huge repository of some exquisite thank paintings, musical instruments such as lutes, drums, horns and old weapons. The frescoes are colorful and the murals fascinating. This monastery has a huge prayer drum containing strips of paper upon which is the sacred mantra 'Om Mani Padme Hum'. This mantra has been written a million times.

Shashur Monastery:
Situated on a hill about 3-km far from Keylong, towards north on the same slope. During June/July months, this monastery attracts lot of visitors when Lamas perform devil dance. It was founded in the 17th century AD and belongs to Red-Hat sect, located among the blue pines. The paintings over here represent the history of 84 Buddha's. At a distance of around 1.5-km from Keylong is the Shashur monastery. Shashur means "in the blue pines". Lama Deva Tyatsho of Zanaskar, Ladakh, who was a missionary of Nawang Namgyal, the king of Bhutan, in the 17 A. D, founded it. Deva Gyatsho renovated the present monastery and stayed till his death. When he was being cremated, his heart did not burn and was enclosed in a black image of Gyatsho. A statue of Namgyal is also installed in the gompa. The Gompa belongs to the Red sect of the Tibetan Buddhist. They are also known as the 'Gelug-pa' and have spiritual links with the Lion Cave Temple of Bhutan. This gompa has a 15-feet 'Thankha' and invaluable wall paintings depicting all the siddhas of Buddhism. This monastery is famous for its ritual-plays, which are enacted by the lamas while donning masks and exotic costumes. The three-storey tall structure is significant in architectural terms. Due to the narrowness of the site, the complex has been planned vertically, yet it conforms to the ancient mandala concept. In the month of June/July Chham is celebrated in the monastery.

Kye Monastery:
It is situated 12-km north of Kaza and serves the western population of Spiti. Known as the oldest and biggest monastery of the valley, Kye Monastery is located at 4116m. Above Kye village. It houses beautiful scriptures and paintings of Buddha and other goddesses. Many Lamas get religious training here such as dancing, singing and playing on pipes and horns. It has murals and books of high aesthetic value.

Thang Yug Gompa:
It is located 13-km above Kaza, serving the western part of central Spiti. Situated in a secluded place in the narrow gauge of Kaza Nallah, it generally has a Lama from Tibet. Above this there is a long plateau, which leads to Shilla peak.

Kungri Gompa:
It is situated in the Pin valley about 10-km from Attargo where Spiti River has to be crossed to enter Pin valley. It is serves the population of Pin valley.

Dhankar Monastery:
It is situated about 25-km east of Kaza and serves eastern part of central Spiti. Dhankar is a big village and erstwhile capital of Spiti Kingdom. On top of a hill there is a fort, which use to be the prison in olden times. The Monastery has about 100 Lamas and is in position of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti language. Principal figure is a Statue of "Vairochana" or Dhayan Buddha, consisting of 4 complete figures seated back to back. It has relics in the shape of paintings and sculptures. The 'DHANKAR GOMPA' casts its subtle spell upon a person. Anyone, who visits it, finds himself unable to forget this place. It is about 25-km east of Kaza and serving eastern part of central Spiti. Dhankar is a big village and erstwhile capital of Spiti King. Dhankar means " a place in the mountains unreachable for strangers" and which is home to another monastery associated with the Great Translator, Rinchen Zanggpo. On top of a hill there is a fort, which used to be the prison in olden times. The Monastery has about 100 Lamas and is in possession of Buddhist scriptures in Bhoti language. Principal figure is a Statue of "Vairochana" or Dhayan Buddha consisting of 4 complete figures seated back to back. It has relics in the shape of paintings and sculptures. Set against a lunar landscape of crumbling cliffs, the 'Lha Opa Gompa' dates back to the 12th century. The main interest, however, lays in the small chapel on the uppermost peak behind the village of Dhankar- the 'Lkhang Gompa'- with its brilliant murals depicting the life of the Buddha. Probably printed in the 17th century, the dominant bright red pigment has survived especially well. Although some work has been vandalized, the scenes depicting the Buddha's birth in the heavenly realm, his birth and life in Kapilvastu and his rejection of worldly ways are spectacular.

Tabo Monastery:
This is another big gompa for serving the population of eastern side. It belongs to the 10th century and is located 50-kms from Kaza. It is a famous gompa next to Tholing Gompa in Tibet, comprising of about 60 Lamas and a large collection of Scriptures and wall paintings. Murals of this gompa have a great similarity to that of the Ajanta paintings.
The rugged hills around Tabo house a tiny hamlet that is home to some 350 people. The Tabo monastery also referred to, as Tabo Chos-Khor- 'doctrinal circle' or 'doctrinal enclave' is a complex that holds nine temples, 23 chortens, a monks' chamber and an extension that houses the nuns' chamber. On the sheer cliff-face above the enclave are a series of caves, which were used as dwellings by the monks and include andassembly hall'. Faint traces of the paintings that once embellished the rock face can be discerned. Even today, Tabo holds the distinction of being the largest monastic complex in Spiti. Constructed in 996 AD, Tabo was the brainchild of the great translator and teacher, Rinchensang Po.

The Temple of the Enlightened Gods (gTsug Lha-khang):
This is also known as the Assembly Hall (Du-Khang) and forms the core of the complex. It houses a vestibule, an assembly hall and a sanctum. The central figure in the assembly hall is the four folds Vairocana. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is regarded as one of the five spiritual sons of the Adibuddha, who was the self-creative primordial Buddha. He is portrayed here in a posture "turning the wheel of law". On brackets arrayed along the walls and with stylized flaming circles around them, are life size stucco images of what are commonly known as the Vajradhatu Mandala. These image number thirty-three in all, and are the other deities of the pantheon. With five Bodhisattvas of the Good Age placed within, the sanctum is immediately behind the assembly hall. The walls around the stuccoes are elaborately adorned with wall paintings that depict the life of the Buddha. The Golden Temple (gSer-khang): believed to have been layered with gold, Senge Namgyal, ruler of Ladakh, exhaustively renovated this shrine in the 16th century. The walls and ceiling are covered with murals.

The Mystic Mandala Temple or Initiation Temple (dKyil-hKhor-khang):
A massive painting of Vairocana, who is surrounded by the eight Bodhisattvas, embellishes the wall facing the door. Mystic mandalas cover the other areas. It is here, that the initiation to monkhood takes place.

The Bodhisattva Maitreya Temple (Byams-Pa Chen-po Lha-khang) -
This shrine houses the image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya that is more than six-meter high. The temple has a hall, vestibule and sanctum. The array of murals within also depicts the monastery of Tashi-Chunpo and Lhasa's Potala palace.

The Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha-khang) -
The temple lies on the northern edge of the complex and is said to have been founded by Dromton (1008-1064 AD), an important disciple of Atisha. The doorway is intricately carved and murals cover the inner walls. The above shrines are said to be the earliest in the Tabo complex and the following are later additions:

The Chamber of Picture Treasures (Z'al-ma):
This is an anteroom of sorts attached to 'the temple of enlightened gods'. It too is covered with paintings, which are in the Tibetan style.

The Large Temple of Drom ton (Brom-ston Lha-khang):
The second largest temple in the complex, this has a floor area of over seventy square meters, while the portico and niche add another forty-two square meters. The front wall sports the figure of the Sakyamuni, flanked by Sariputra and Maha Maugdalayana. The other walls depict the eight Medicine Buddha’s and Guardian Kings. The wooden planks of the ceiling are also painted.

The Mahakala Vajra-bhairava Temple (Gon-khang):
Temple enshrines the protective deity of the Geluk-pa sect. Fierce deities people the room and it is only entered after protective meditation. Often it is also called known as 'the temple of horror'.

The White Temple (dKAR-abyum Lha-khang):
The walls of this shrine are also intricately adorned leaving a low dado for the monks and nuns to lean against

It is 18-km from Keylong in Bhaga valley where devil dance is held during July in the Local Gompa. The place is situated on Manali-Leh highway.

It is the last border point between Himachal and Ladakh, where HPTDC put up a tented colony for the convenience of the tourists during summer season. It is situated at a distance of 116-km from Keylong.

Kee Gompa:
A picturesque collection of Tibetan style buildings set on a small hill is the largest in Spiti. Along the road, it is 14-km from Kaza, but the best way to get here is on foot, a 10-km hike along the path. The 'KI (KYE) MONASTERY' serves the western part of Spiti and the most prominent feature of the valley. It lies about 14-kms north of Kaza and holds the honor of being the oldest and biggest monastery of Spiti.It is a well-known religious training centre for the Lamas, whom one will find dancing, singing and playing on their pipes and horns. One will also find murals, books, scriptures and paintings of Buddha and other Goddesses.

This monastery is an outstanding example of the monastic architecture, which developed during the 14th century in the wake of the Chinese influence. The Mongols plundered the monastery in the middle of the 17th century. In the 19th century, it again suffered three brutal attacks.The successive trails of destruction and patch-up jobs have resulted in a haphazard growth of box-like structures, and the complex now resembles a defensive fort. Among the other important monasteries in the Spiti valley are an ancient temple at Lha-Lun, and another temple complex at Dhankar. The temples at Dhankar seem to be precariously dangling between heaven and earth

15-km northwest of Kaza is Kibar or Kyipur, which at 4,205m. Is reputed to be the highest village in the world. It is 200 km from Manali, and there's a bus to Kaza via Keylong and the bus trip takes 8 hours.

Kunzum Pass (4590m):
As Rohtang pass is a gateway to Lahaul so Kunzum pass is the gateway to Spiti from Kulu & Lahaul. After crossing Rohtang pass and driving 20-km, one has to turn right from Gramphoo. While going to this pass, the panoramic view of Bara-Sigri glacier, known as the second longest glacier in the world, is enthralling and inspiring. There is a temple at the top of this pass dedicated to goddess Durga. As Rohtang Pass is a gateway to Lahaul so Kunzum pass is the gateway to Spiti from Kullu & Lahaul. After crossing Rohtang Pass and driving 20-kms, one has to turn right from Gramphoo. While going to this pass, the panoramic view of Bara-Sigri glacier, known as the second longest glacier in the world, is enthralling and inspiring. There is a temple at the top of this pass dedicated to Goddess Durga. After seeing this pass one can drive to Batal for a night stay in the Rest House. The view from the top is breathtaking. On one side is the Spiti valley and to the other are numerous Chandra-Bhaga range peaks. On way back from Gramphoo one can either return to Manali, 71-kms or can go to Leh via Keylong, Darcha, Baralacha La, Sarchu, Tanglang La by road. From Tandi, 8-km short of Keylong one can also drive to Pangi valley along the Chenab River to Udaipur, Trilokinath and Tindi and thereafter by trekking to Killar. From Killar to Chamba/Dalhousie/Delhi or to Kishtwar- Jammu - Delhi.

Cotton in summer and woolen in winter

Losar (4080m):
Situated near the confluence of Losar and Peeno streams, this village is worth a visit being the first big village of the Spiti valley and because of its Location. Yak and horse riding are other charms to add to its beauty and unique experience.

Kaza (3800m):
224-km from Manali, 197-km from Keylong and 425-km from Shimla, Kaza is a Sub Divisional Headquarter of Spiti Valley. It is situated at the foot of the step ridges on the left bank of Spiti River. Once it was the headquarter of Nono, the chief of Spiti. It has all modern facilities and is connected by road with Manali & Shimla except in the winter months.

Kibber (4205m):
It is locally known as Khyipur, one of the highest villages in the world at an altitude of 4205 m above sea level in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains from all sides. Gette village, at a short distance away from kaza, is the highest in the world with a height of 4270m.

In Lahaul, the trek route goes from Darcha in the Bhaga Valley over the Shingo La pass to Zanskar. The trailhead, on the main highway, can be reached by bus from Manali, 145-km south. The trail itself winds up the east bank of the Barai or Khade Nala over the pass to Kurgiakh, the highest village in Zanskar. From Kurgiakh, it takes seven more days to hike down the Tsarap Lingti Valley to Padum. Among the more amazing sights en-route is the famous Phuktal gompa, a four-hour side trip from the main path. Lahaul's other trekking route, which follows the river Chandra north to its source at the Baralacha Pass, makes a good extension to the Hampta Pass hike. Alternatively, one can catch the daily Kaza bus from Manali to the trailhead at Batal, below Kunzam La. About 3-km beyond the bridge, a track bifurcates left off the main road to climb towards Chandratal Lake, a relentless seven-hour slog from Batal. The next campground is at Tokping Yongma torrent. Tokpo Yongma, the second of the two torrents, is quite precarious. From Baralacha la, crossed by the Manali-Leh highway, the trail to Zanskar via the 5435m high Phirtse La is a challenging alternative to the Darcha-Shingo La-Kurgiakh route above. This ten-day trek involves lots of difficult stream crossings and strenuous camping.

Road: Lahaul is connected with road from all parts of the country. Manali is the point where buses from various stations come. From here, one can take bus/taxi to any destination in Lahaul-Spiti, Pangi & Leh during the months between June to November depending upon opening and closing of Rohtang pass, the gateway to this valley. National highway 21 passes through this valley enroute to Leh. Other two directions are from Shimla via the Spiti Valley, along the road, which runs up to the Tibetan border through Kinnaur and from Zanskar and Ladakh over the Shingo La and Baralacha La passes. The Shingo Lo gives access to Lahul from Zanskar while the Baralacha La is on the Leh-Manali road and provides access to Lahul from Ladakh.

Lahaul's climate is very much similar to that of Ladakh and Zanskar, which border it to the north. Beyond the reach of the monsoon, the valley sees little rain in summer, when the sun is strong and the nights are cool. Between late October and late March, heavy snow closes the passes, and seals of the region. Less rainfall in both valleys enables climbers & trekkers to enjoy a long and unbroken season in perpetual sunshine and explore the wilderness and grandeur of the inner Himalayan. This unique feature makes Lahul-Spiti as an ideal destination for tourists and trekkers in the month of July, August and September.

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