Lahaul and Spiti are perfect locations for nature lovers and trekkers too. Located at an altitude of 3340 m in the northeastern corner, these are the two remote villages of Himachal Pradesh. Before these two districts were combined, the Lahaul capital was Kardang and Dhankar was the capital of Spiti. But now, these are spread over an area of 13835 sq. km and as per 2001 census, the total populations of these districts were recorded around 33,224. The breathtaking snow capped hills and the craggy beauty of these regions lure the travelers. Lahaul and Spiti are two isolated Himalayan valleys of Himachal Pradesh that lie on the Indo-Tibet border. A beautiful land of captivating Buddhist art and culture- Lahaul is distinguished by inflicting mountains and glaciers while the vegetation, climate and the landscape of Spiti are similar to that of Tibet. That’s why the village of Spiti is also popular as ‘Little Tibet’.
Up near the top of Lhalung village, this fantastic medieval monastery has an atmospheric main chapel with superb old murals and a highly ornate carved wooden back freeze.
Some 36km down the Pattan Valley from Tandi, a side road leads 5km to the hilltop village of Triloknath, whose squat stone temple is a remarkable example of Hindu-Buddhist syncretism. The white-marble main idol is revered by Buddhists as Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, while Hindus worship it as Shiva. It’s a pilgrimage site for both religions, especially during the three-day Pauri Festival honoring the temple deity.
On the road up to Kibber, about 12km from Kaza, Ki village is dominated by the whitewashed buildings of Ki Gompa. Set atop a conical hillock, this is the largest gompa in Spiti and the views of it from the surrounding hillsides are wonderfully photogenic. On request, the monks will open up the medieval prayer rooms, including the Zimshung Lhakhang, which houses the bed slept in by the Dalai Lama during his visits in 1960 and 2000.
At the Chandratal turn-off, 1km north of Batal, the main road leaves the Chandra River and switchbacks precipitously up to the 4551m Kunzum La, the watershed between Lahaul and Spiti. Vehicles perform a respectful circuit of the stupas strewn with fluttering prayer flags at the top before continuing down into Spiti.
The Rohtang La (3978m) is a spectacular highlight of the journey from Manali to Lahaul and Ladakh. From Manali, the road strikes north along the Beas River and climbs slowly through pine forests and endless switchbacks to the bare rocky slopes below the pass. The name literally translates as ‘pile of dead bodies’ – hundreds of travelers have frozen to death here over the centuries.
This glacial lake of constantly changing shades of blue lies among snow peaks at 4270m, 13km off the road to Spiti from a turn-off 1km north of Batal. The first 12km is rough but driveable; the final 1km is on foot. The 5km circuit around the lake is a delightful hike, and there are other good walks in the area, including a 10.5km trail down to the lake from the Kunzum La pass.
The gompa was founded in AD 996, possibly by Ringchen Zangpo, the Great Translator, as Tibet’s Guge kingdom expanded into these outlying territories, and is reckoned to be the oldest continuously functioning Buddhist monastery in India. Five of the nine shrines inside its mud-walled buildings date from the 10th and 11th centuries, when they were painted by some of the best Buddhist muralists of their era, blending Tibetan, Indian and Kashmiri styles. Bring a torch as lighting is dim.
The spectacular 1200-year-old Dhankar Gompa perches precariously between eroded rocky pinnacles on the edge of a cliff. One glance at the crumbling cliffs and it’s clear why it was listed in 2006 as one of the world’s 100 most endangered monuments. The top-floor courtyard of the main building has a stuffed goat hanging above the stairwell and four rooms around it, including one where the Dalai Lama slept, a meditation cave, and a shrine containing ceremonial masks.