I have always wondered about those painters who usually get to finish their masterpieces. On my first interaction with the mountains, valleys and people of Spiti Valley, I almost got that rendezvous moment after crossing the mighty Kunjum Pass – the gateway to Spiti Valley. You cross through the rugged snow clad mountains, thundering rivers, barren cold lands and then these tiny dots on the mountain cheeks — the villages of the Spiti valley would appear to you like those last touches of a painter.
Rudyard Kipling said about Spiti — “a world within the world” and it certainly is one heck of a beauty. However, for me the search of this beauty in Spiti Valley ended beyond its never ending skies, the ever rising mountains or bottomless gorges of Spiti River. These villages that would appear like the tiny dots of a masterpiece from distance are full of life, wonders, hospitality and you would often come back with a lesson or two on survival skills.
In this 3 part series on my experiences and journeys into the villages of Spiti Valley, here is what all you need to know if you are planning a trip to this wonderland.
Kee Village: There is more beyond the famous Kee Monastery
Kee is the village of the famous Kee monastery. Photos of this monastery perched on the face of a mountain surrounded by nothing but a bunch of old houses would feature at the top when you Google Spiti Valley. Often the village of Kee is overlooked due to the grandeur of the centuries old monastery which has this very uncanny resemblance to Patola Palace of Lhasa.
No doubt, the monastery gives you that essence of coexistence of a centuries old heritage, but the Kee beyond this monastery nests in it around 367 people. The families of the 70 households of the village is apparently run by the 150 women. People harvest peas, wheat and vegetables; and are dependent for water from the stream that goes through the village. The village market is full of life and you can get the basic supplies easily. However, you would not get any branded alcoholic beverage here except for the locally produced chhang.
How to reach Kee Village and Kee Monastery:
Kee village is just 12 km from Kaza. The monastery is a 3 km uphill climb from the village. There are taxis running all day long on this route. Shared taxis are not much common like other parts of Himachal but you can tag along with someone to reach Kee Village. I would recommend an early morning walk to Kee Village since Kaza gets to be the base when you are visiting Spiti.
Best time to visit Kee Village:
July to September. However, the village is accessible in winter so if you want to experience the tough life of Spitians then come to Spiti in winters when air is the only unfrozen substance out here.
Stay Options in Kee Village
The monastery provides accommodation with free tea at INR 200. There are a handful of homestays you can try. I did not stay in the village as i had to go ahead to the next village hunting.
TIP for photographers & Instagrammers: The spot from where you can get the iconic frame of the monastery comes at the first bend by a shop on the road.
Suggested Read: All You Need To Know About Majuli, The Only Floating Island
Chicham Khas –The One With The Highest Suspension Bridge in Asia
Until September 2017, access to this secret village of Spiti Valley was by a pulley and ropeway system which was made by locals of Chicham to avoid 3-4 hours trek to reach the nearest road. Chicham is now connected to the rest of the Spiti valley with the highest suspension bridge of Asia at an altitude of 4145 meters. The bridge is built on Samba Lamba Nallah across the Parilungbo Canyon.
Apart from this engineering marvel, the drive from Hansa Village to Chicham is quite breathtaking with the views of Mt Kanamo, Kibber village and the other villages on the other side. The village has close to 85 homes and the people harvest similar crops during the season. There are homestays, though.
How to reach Chicham:
Chicham’s distance from kaza is 15 kms and generally a taxi takes about 45 minutes to get there. Private taxis are best options to visit Chicham but there is an evening bus from Kaza which goes till Kibber and comes back the same day. Kibber is the gram panchayat of the Chicham Khas Village.
Best time to visit Chicham village :
Just like other villages of Spiti valley, best time to visit chicham is between July and September months. Winter is pretty harsh and bone chilling yet Chicham too, remains open in winter. If not Kibber, Chicham is probably the best place for seeing the elusive cat of Spiti valley, the snow Leopard.
Stay Options in Chicham Khas:
The people here have been hosting travellers in their homes. Just try knocking at a door or two.
Kibber: The Home Of The Elusive Cat
Once hailed as the Highest motorable village in world, Kibber, originally known as Kyber, is unarguably not only one of the most beautiful but most famous villages of Spiti Valley. Perched in the narrow valley of Parilungbo Canyon at an altitude of 4270 meter above mean sea level, Kibber is the base for Kibber Wildlife sanctuary. The sanctuary covers around 1400 square kms in the cold deserts of Spiti valley and in it reside the Ibex, Blue Sheep, Red Fox, Tibetan Woolly Hare, Himalayan wolf, Lynx, Pika, Tibetan Wild Ass and the most famous of all – the Snow Leopard. Kibber is located on the outer limits of the sanctuary and becomes a base in winters for people interested in spotting this rare, shy and beautiful large cat. Kibber is also the starting point for Parang La and Kanamo Peak trek.
To understand the significance of Kibber as a village or of Kibber monastery, we must take into account that HH Dalai Lama wishes to retire in Kibber someday. The Kibber Monastery was established by Serkong Rinpoche, the teacher of the current Dalai Lama who died in Kibber in late 80s.
How to reach Kibber:
Kibber is about 15 kms from Kaza and can be reached by private taxis from Kaza easily. and then of course there is this daily evening bus which goes to Kibber and comes back to Kaza the same day.
Best time to visit Kibber Village:
Kibber village has got its special Peas hence, I recommend the pea harvest season during the months of August and September. Although, anytime is during July to September is a pretty good option to visit Kibber. During winters, Kibber works as a base camp for people who want to see and document the snow leopard.
Stay Options in Kibber: The village has plenty of homestays to choose from.
Gette: The Village From Where You Get The Bird’s Eye View Of The Key Monastery
Situated on top of a mountain which can be seen from Kee monastery, Gette village is right above the Kee monastery. The village has a total population of 26 out of which 15 are women in the total of 8 households. Gette is situated on the way to Tashigang from Kibber. The village is inhabited at an altitude of 4270 meters and ranks among the highest villages of Spiti and the world.
Owing to its location in the mountains of Spiti Valley, Gette offers you the bird’s eye view of the monastery.
Distance from Kaza and How to reach Gette Village:
Gette is 7 kilometers from Kibber and about 22 kilometers from Kaza. A road climbs up before entering Kibber and goes till Tashigang which is the end of the road. At about 6 kilometers from Kibber, if you leave the dirt track and a kilometer of walk or offroading will take you to Gette village.There is an easy to moderate 1.5 to 2 hour trek to Gette which starts from the back of the Kee monastery which has some of the finest views of the Kee monastery.
Best time to visit:
Just like all the villages of Spiti valley, july to September is the best time to visit Gette.
Stay options in Gette: Not available
Tashigang: The Village That Would Show You The views Of Chau Chau Kang Nilda and Kanamo peak
A village with 4 houses, only 2 out of which are occupied, Tashigang has a population of not more than 15. Tashigang is home to an 800 years monastery. While you are here, you get to witness the grandeur of Chau Chau Kang Nilda. Besides, the Langza village is also a delight to look at from here. A small walk ahead from the village would bring you to a view of both the Chau Chau Kang Nilda and Kanamo Peak. Kanamo trek can be done from Tashigang side too. There is also a small lake on the trail leading to Kanamo peak.
The village has a single homestay namd Blue sheep Homestay. It’s always a delight to spend some time here at this homestay listening to the stories of the family.
How to reach Tashigong:
Tashigong is 32 km from Kaza and can be reached either by private taxis or a 3 hour hike starting from Kee monastery passing through Gette village.
Best time to visit:
During pea harvest season and anytime between July and September.
Stay options in Tashigong: The Blue Sheep Homestay
The reason behind dividing the villages of Spiti valley in three part is to create a schedule for days in Spiti valley. Each of the part of this series can be done in day from Kaza. Hire a taxi or rent a bike in Kaza and start for Kee village and follow them us written for best to avoid any hiccups.