The Rohtang Pass, in the northern parts of India, is a site where one can view the most drastic of landscape variances. On one side, there is the lush green head of the Kullu Valley, and to the other, an awesome vista of bare, brown mountains, hanging glaciers and snowfields that dazzle in the crisp light. It is the district of Lahaul and Spiti a place untouched by the onslaughts of time. The tough terrain here is the main reason behind its virginal landscapes and simple lifestyles.
The Spiti Valley is situated in the Trans-Himalayan Range of the Himalayan Mountains on the Tibetan plateau, which has almost no rain and is snow-covered for about eight months of the year. The average altitude is over 4500m or (12,000 feet), with temperatures dropping to minus 35°C in winter and rising to over 30°C in the summer.
The climate of spiti is too cold to support even the Thundra vegetation, and much of the land is barren and wild. It is a rare phenomenon to see temperatures rising above 20°C during the summer months, even at the lower elevations.
The origins of the people Spiti go back to the Vedic period of 1500BC. The Nono or Raja was given responsibility for the administration of the region until 1941 when Spiti became part of the sub-Tehsil of Lahaul and Spiti. In 1960,it became a scheduled area as it was close to the Tibetan border. In 1966, Lahaul and Spiti districts were merged with the newly formed state of Himachal Pradesh. The Chinese aggression 1962 saw the Spiti Valley closed to the outside world as a military restricted area, and a buffer zone between the two great powers of India and China. This was to last until 1993(31 years) when the situation eased. During those years, the local people had their livelihood curtailed and they suffered greatly. There is still a military presence in the lower border area of the Spiti Vallery.
Spiti Tourism Information
The beautiful Sissu falls cascading down is a wonderful sight, and also the dense forests of willows and poplars which do not allow the sunrays to penetrate through. With a bounty of various flowers and plants, this village looks straight out of a picture postcard during the summer months.
Dhankar is a big village and an erstwhile capital of central Spiti. A huge fort on atop the hills used to serve as a prison in the olden days. It is the living place of 100 lamas and has some Buddhist scriptures in the bhoti Language. The principal statue in this monastery is that of the four complete figures of Buddha, seated back to back in dhyan or a meditating pose.
Dhankar means “fort,” and a glimpse of this monastery precariously perched on a hill jutting against a sharp mountainside certainly suggests its usefulness as a protective stronghold. Once the castle of the Nono, the ruler of Spiti, the building typifies the traditional architecture of the town. As if wedged between massive craggy outcrops, the rather dirty whitewashed flat-topped structures create a dramatic effect against stark fingers of hard rock. Entry to the temple is nerve-wracking; access steps and uppermost rooftops drop away to perilously steep rocky slopes. Today, Dhankar is a repository of Bhoti-scripted Buddhist scriptures. You can visit this hilltop monastery as an excursion from Tabo, or en route to your next destination. It makes a sublime detour because it attracts considerably fewer visitors than relatively busy Tabo, and although the monastery interiors are rather small, the astonishing location and wonderful views more than make up for this.
Gondhla situated at a distance of 18km from Keylong at an altitude of 3160m is the district headquarters along the right bank of the river, Chandra. Gondhla is the largest hamlet in the valley.
Keylong is the district headquarters of Lahaul Spiti. Situated at an altitude of 3156m, Keylong is the main centre on the trade route between the Rohtang and Baralacha passes above the Bhaga River. It is an oasis in this cold desert. Being the most commercialized place, it also has many facilities and a regular market.
What Rohtang is for Lahaul, Kunzum is to Spiti, the sole passage through which one can reach Spiti. The Kunzum Pass is at an altitude of about 4,590m. The panoramic view of the second longest glacier in the world, the Bara-Sigri glacier can be thrilling and spell bounding from this pass.
Murkala Devi Temple
The Murkala Devi Temple is believed to have been built during the reign of Ajaya Varman. Though hardly anything of that era survives, the temple has been repeatedly built in the same way since then. This is the only wooden temple built in the traditional form of this region.
Tabo is one of the most important monasteries in the region. The Tabo monasteries are also the oldest, and are established in 996AD. It has some beautiful rock paintings comparable only to the Ajanta frescoes of Maharashtra. Tabo holds the distinction of being the largest monastic complex in Spiti.
With a population of only 715, this Buddhist settlement situated at 3,050m (9,760 ft.) in lower Spiti is centered around its celebrated 2,000-year-old monastic complex, said to be the place where the present Dalai Lama will “retire.” A serene village of flat-roofed houses topped by thatch packed with branches, mud, and grass, Tabo has as its focus its monastery—or “doctrinal enclave”—consisting of nine temple buildings, chambers for monks and nuns, 23 snow-white chortens, and piles of stones, each inscribed with scripture. The sanctity of this World Heritage Site is topped only by Tholing monastery in Tibet. Don’t arrive expecting some cathedrallike masterpiece; Tabo Gompa is a rustic center that is more spiritually than architecturally engaging. A high mud wall surrounds the compound, and the pale mud-covered low-rise monastery buildings suggest nothing of the exquisite wall paintings and stucco statues within. You’ll need a flashlight to properly appreciate many of the frescoes and other artworks that adorn the various dark, ancient spaces; only narrow shafts of natural light from small skylights illuminate the frescoed walls, saturated with rich colors and an incongruous variety of scenes. There’s a distinctly surreal, often nightmarish quality to the work—gruesome torture scenes compete with images of meditative contemplation and spiritual discovery. At the core of the complex is the Temple of Enlightened Gods (Tsug Lha-khang), which includes the Assembly Hall (or du-khang) housing a 2m-high (6-ft.) white stucco image of Vairocana, one of the five spiritual sons of the primordial, self-creative Buddha, or Adibuddha. Below this are two images of the great translator and teacher Rin-Chan- Sang-Po, who is believed to have founded Tabo in A.D. 996. Thirty-three other life-size stucco deities surrounded by stylized flaming circles are bracketed along the walls. Directly behind the assembly hall is the sanctum, with five bodhisattvas of the Good Age and beautifully rendered Indian-style frescoes depicting the life of the Buddha.Monks are initiated in the smaller Mystic Mandala Temple (dKyil-hKhor-khang), situated behind the main temples. At the northern edge of the complex is the Temple of Dromton (Brom-ston Lha-khang), entered via a small portico and long passage. Only enter the Mahakala Vajra-Bhairava Temple (Gon-Khang) once you’ve performed a protective meditation—it’s filled with fierce deities that inspire its nickname, “the temple of horrors.” Just outside the complex are several contemporary monastic buildings, including an atmospheric guesthouse run by the monks. Above Tabo, across the highway, a group of caves on a sheer cliff-face was once used as monastic dwellings.
Kibber & Ki Gompa
Kibber & Ki Gompa Just north of Kaza, a road veers off the main highway and zigzags its way up a steep mountainside. At the end of this stretch is Kibber, perched on a rocky spur at an altitude of 4,205m (13,450 ft.). Kibber enjoys a reputation as the highest permanent settlement with electricity and accessibility by motor road. Surrounded by limestone rocks and cliffs, the remote and isolated village offers stunning views of the barren valley below. There’s even a handful of guesthouses should you require accommodations. Between Kibber and Kaza is Spiti’s largest monastery, Ki Gompa, which is about 700 years old. Home to a large community of lamas (of the Gelugpa sect), Ki Gompa is well accustomed to receiving visitors; the monk on duty will brew you a welcoming cup of tea and show you around the different prayer rooms and assembly halls filled with holy relics. The most exciting time to visit is late June or early July, when a festival involving chaam dancing and the ceremonial burning of butter sculptures draws large numbers of pilgrims.
It is situated about 12km north of Kaza, and serves the western population of Spiti. It is the oldest and biggest monastery of the valley and located at about 4116m above the Kye village. It houses beautiful scriptures and paintings of Buddha. It is also a training centre for the Lamas. Some books of high aesthetic value are in its possession.
Guru Ghantal Monastery
Located on the confluence of the Chandra and the Bhaga rivers, the Guru Ghantal Monastery, is probably the oldest centre of Buddhist pilgrimage. The archaeological evidences found at this site indicate that it had been a significant Buddhist as well as Hindu pilgrimage site in the distant past.
Situated at the confluence of the two streams Losar and Peeno, this village provides some fantastic views. Moreover, it also happens to be the first big village in the Spiti valley. Another attraction is the facility for yakan horse riding.
Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti valley nestles at a height of 3,800 metres on the left bank of Spiti River about 197km from Keylong. It serves as a base for visiting the nearby monasteries. The town of Kaza is divided into two areas, the old town and the new town. The new town has some government buildings. Roads from Manali and Shimla connect Kaza except during winter. The biggest monastery of Spiti, Ki Gompa is 11km from Kaza. Kibber, located 11km from Ki Gompa, is the highest village in the world at an altitude of 4,250m.
Kunzum Pass, at an altitude of 4,590m , extends from Spiti to Lahaul. It offers a magnificent view of the surrounding areas, and also a temple, dedicated to Goddess Durga atop the pass. On the way to this pass, travelers can enjoy views of the second longest glacier in the world, the Bara-Sigri glacier. Pin Valley National Park Extanding 1,875sq km, on the south of the Spiti Valley, the Pin Valley National Park is famous as the 'land of ibed and snow leopards.' From July to October, a popular 8-day trek is organized from here over the 5,319m Pin-Parvati Pass to the Parvati Valley near Kullu.
Tow kilometers from Mashora, a Shimla suburb, lies Sipur which is known for its Sipi Fair. The fair is named after Seep, a local deity. The legend has it that the temple existed here prior to the deity's visit to this place. According to the locals the place, it commands profound religious and mystical significance. No one spends the night here. The depth of the faith can be gauged from the fact that the visitors even dust their clothes before returning to the homes so that even a minute particle of the dust, a property of Seep deity, is not carried away.
Summer festival at Shimla is a memorable event when a variety of cultural programmes and events take place. This event also provides a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage spread throughout the state to the visitors.