|Spiti (locally pronounced 'Piti') or the
'middle country', has its sub divisional headquarters at Kaza. The river Spiti originates
at the base of the Kunzam range and flows eastward to join the Sutlej at Khab in Kinnaur.
In practical isolation for centuries, Spiti has an intensely introvertive culture centred
around its several monasteries- Dhankar, Ki, Tabo, Mud, Gungri, Lidang, Hikim, Sagnam,
Mane Gogma and Giu to name a few. Spiti was loosely ruled for many centuries by a
hereditary wazir, styled Nono. The majority of the people are Buddhists, followers of the
Geluk-pa sect. The repetition of the mantra "Om mani padme hum" (literally,
'Behold, the jewel is in the lotus'), is constant; it is believed to bring good fortune
and wash away all sins. For all the seeming bleakness, Spiti possesses a haunting beauty.
The wildlife in the region includes the elusive snow leopard and ibex, found in the Pin
Spiti has come to be known as the "fossil
park of the world". The three villages Kibber, Kaza & Kye fall on the
route faovourite among those looking for fossils. These villages are situated at heights
between 13,500 ft. and 14,400 ft. above msl. Langza is famous for fossils of maritime
life. These fossils are found on either side of Kang-yur and Paapen-yu nullahs near the
|Kaza, the sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti,
is situated on the left bank of the Spiti river at an altitude of about 12,500 ft. above
msl. The village is overlooked by steep ridges. The otherwise soporific place hums with
activity of tourists during summer, who converge here for permits, current exchange,
information, accommodation, petrol and to witness the annual trade fair which a number of
visitors compare with the fairs in some of the gompa towns of Ladakh. Besides, Kaza makes
a ideal base camp for all treks and tours within the valley. Guides, porters, pack animals
and most importantly permits for treks can be obtained in Kaza.
There are two rest houses in Kaza proper. The Electricity Board rest house is at
Rangrik just 4 km away. It is the best in the valley. Kaza has one of the two Sa-
kya- pa sect monasteries. The other monastery is at Hikkim. Opposite Kaza on the right
bank of the Spiti river is Kyuling from where the nono of Spiti ruled over his
subjects. Rani Damyanti, a descendent of this ruling, family, now resides in Kaza
preserving all the stately charm of the yester years.
On the left bank of the Spiti
river at a distance of 32 kms downstream from Kaza, near Shichling at an altitude of 3870
m, nestles the citadel of Dhankar, the official capital of Spiti. The citadel is built on
a spur which projects into the main valley and ends in a precipice. The location of this
fort is strategic as Spiti always had to suffer innumerable aggressions by its neighbors.
The location allowed the Spitian to keep vigil on the approaches and to submit messages to
surrounding inhabitations in case of danger. Whenever the Spitians were attacked, they
built huge fires to signal meeting in the safe sanctuary of rocks, i.e., Dhankars. In the
meeting all men and women decided the course of action to be taken against the aggressors.
According to the State Gazetteer, "(The fort) became notorious for housing a
cavernous dungeon which the Nono used as prison. It contained a cell without doors having
only a small opening at the top through which the condemned person was lowered and
received his meals."
The fort of Dhankar now lies in ruins, but still is a place worthy of visit. From the
remnants of the fort one can see vast expanses of the Spiti valley.
Dhankar is also of art historical importance. Founded between 7th and the 9th
centuries, Dhankar's old temple complex occupies the southern part of the steep mountain
slope of the village. It is known by the name of Lha-O-pa Gompa (monastery of the
followers of Lha-O).
The monastery consists of a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together, giving a
fortress like impression. There are five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and
Dukhang where a life size silver statue of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is placed in a
glass altar embellished with scarves and flowers.
Most interesting at the Lha-O-pa gompa is the small chapel on the uppermost peak above the
main monastery - Lhakhang Gongma. The building is decorated with depictions of Shakyamuni,
Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrag on the central wall Dhankar's main attraction, although least
publicised, is a fresh water lake about 2.5 km from the village at a height of 13500 ft.
Set amidst lush green pastures, the lake offers a perfect idyllic camping site. Some
boating facilities are proposed to be introduced in the near future. Under the Desert
Development Project of Spiti the common carp variety of fish has been introduced in this
lake. No angling is, however, allowed in the lake.
Dhankar is approachable by a motorable road, good for small vehicles only, that branches
off for Dhankar from the main Kaza - Samdu road at a point around 24 kms from Kaza. The
branch road is 8 kms in length upto Dhankar.
There is no rest house in the village. If you plan to halt for night, do carry tents,
sleeping bags and other provisions.
the small hamlet of Attargu the track leads through deserted and rugged terrain over
heights of around 3800 metres into the Lingti valley. Lingti is the third biggest river,
after the Pin which pours its great waters out into the spiti. The road into the Lingti
valley leads along the slopes of the Lingti's right bank in serpentine curves from which
one has a giddy view of the few medieval settlements along the river. After an hour-long
drive the valley opens up a little for the rich pastures of Lhalung town, consisting of
barley and the yellow rape that adds another beautiful colour to the reduced palette of
A few of the chhortens lead up to the monastic
site from the outskirts of the village. The compound consists of five buildings. At some
spots fragmentary remains of a wall encircling all the buildings are to be found. The
local tradition that the site once consisted of nine temples, together with the rich
interior of the main chapel and the fact the building is also attributed to Rinchen
Zangpo, may suggest that the temple like that of Tabo was designed as a Chokhor site, a
place of learning and debate as opposed to a simple chapel for worship by local people.
The paintings on the walls are of recent date.
Serkhang, the golden hall is completely overwhelmed by the number of deities present. The
small chapel has a total of 51 deities, either mounted against the walls or placed on the
central altar, of which the most are painted in gold.
|This pass is situated at 60 kms from Gamphu on the Gramphu-Kaza-
Sumdo road. It provides chief access to the Spiti-valley from Lahaul which is separated
from the Spiti valley by the great Kunzom range, and from where the Spiti, pronounced
Piti, the chief river of the area takes its source. Though higher than the Rohtang Pass,
Kunzom is safer and provides easier ascent and descent. The altitude of this pass is about
4590 m. The panorama as viewed from the top is breathtaking. The lofty Shigri Parbat can
be seen right in front in all its grandeur. The crest of the pass has been marked by a
chhorten of stones erected ages ago. Recently a temple has been built on the top. A hut
has also been built for the people to take shelter.
crest of the pass is marked by a wall of mani stones clearly suggesting that one is now
stepping into a Buddhist country. A temple dedicated to Durga, the fierce female deity,
was built by some gaddies but it could not withstand avalanches and today is in ruins.
People believe that the deity has refused to live in the temple. She prefers to stay in
the open. Her foot impressions worshipped by gaddies and local people.
There is a small hut about 200 m. away from the temple where travellers can find shelter
during foul weather. For tourists it is a favourite halt for tea or snacks. From Kunzom
one trek leads. Chandrataal, the lake of the Moon.
Lossar is the first inhabited
village on the Spiti side if you advance to the valley from Manali over Kunzom pass.
Situated at a height of 4,085 m., the village is singularly secluded. Sight of Lossar to a
trekker coming down from Kunzom brings instant relief. The neatly white-washed mud houses
with red bands look extremely picturesque. The contrast is rendered all the more appealing
by verdant fields and willow plantations around the village. According to Gerard,
"Lofty as the level of Lossar is, there is little in the landscape to betray its
position when viewed in summer, embosomed in flourishing crops and herds of Pashmina wool
goats. Yaks and horses meet the eye upon the high activities of the mountains, and an
ardent sunshine keeps the air looming from the effect of mirage.
There is a small gompa in the village. The flat roofed houses are topped by white
flagpole which the superstitious believe saves them from evil spirits and brings
There is a PWD rest house at the edge of the village where one can stay. A few meters from
the rest house from Spiti river in all its serenity. A small flight of steps leads to the
river bank where one could even venture a swim.
The village grows seed potatoes and green peas besides traditional crops. Yak is the beast
of burden. Ibex, blue sheep, etc. can be seen in the higher reaches around the village.
Porters, pack animals and guides for Chandrataal and other treks starting from Lossar can
be hired from here.
The people of Lossar are very hospitable, it is common for the villagers to invite touring
officials to their village for a binge where the gusts are regaled to the tunes of local
music and dance an liberal helpings of chhang and arak. One wonder if the tourists are
also accorded the same hospitality.
The inhabitants dress up more like their Tibetan counterparts and perform an interesting
post harvest Yak dance which can be witnessed during La Darcha fair.
Lossar is surrounded by vast alpine, meadows which are frequented by herders from Kangra
Mandi, Chamba, Kullu and Bilaspur. The shepherds believe a stay of two months in and
around Spiti immunises their flock and increases their fertility.
Kaza from a height of about 13,500 ft, the Kye monastery is the largest in the valley and
holds a powerful sway over the most populous part of the valley around Kaza. The gompa is
an irregular heap of low rooms and narrow corridors on a monolithic conical hill. From a
distance is resembles the Thiksey monastery near Leh in Ladakh. The irregular prayer
chambers are interconnected by dark passages, tortuous staircases and small doors.
Hundreds of lamas receive their religious training in the monastery. It is also known for
its beautiful murals, thankas, rare manuscripts, stucco images and peculiar wind
instruments that form part of the orchestra whenever Chham is enacted in the gompa in
summer. Another interesting aspect of the gompa is its collection of weapons which may
have been used to ward off marauders as also to maintain its control over people betraying
a church-militant character.
Thousands of devotees from all over the world here attended
the Kalachakra ceremony which was performed in August, 2000 by His Holiness Dalai
Lama.Kalachakra initiation (Skt. Abhisheka, Tibetan Wang) is not just an elaborate puja or
a religious congregation. It is a workshop in a grand scale to make an earnest effort by
both the teacher and disciples to awaken their Buddha nature by the combined forces of
teaching, prayer, blessing, devotion, mantra, yoga and meditation. It is an effort by
every participant to try to discover the true and permanent peace for the sake of all
others. The Buddhists believe mere presence during this elaborate initiation ceremony
stretching over a few days, liberates the participant from suffering and bestows on him
the bliss of Enlightenment.
The ceremony focuses on five main subjects - cosmology, psycho-physiology, initiation,
sadhana and Buddhahood. A Kalachakra mandala and Viswatma deitiy in union with his consort
are at the centre of this ceremony guiding the disciple through the tedious process of
The gompa is approached by road from Kaza (only 12 km). However, it is only 8.5 kms trek
|Kibber is located at a height of about 14,200 ft
in a narrow valley on the summit of a limestone rock. It is only 16 kms from Kaza and a
bus service plies between these two places in summer. Kibber is a rather pleasant village
with plenty of cultivation. The moment you get down from the bus you are greeted by lush
green fields which look strikingly refreshing against the arid backdrop of lofty hills.
are only 80 houses in the village. The remarkable feature about the architecture is the
use of stone instead of mud or adobe brick used extensively in the valley. There are a
civil dispensary, a high school, a post office, a telegraph office and a community TV set
in the village. There is a monastery in Kibber which is named after Serkang Rimpochhe of
Tabo. The lama breathed his last in Kibber in 1983 and when he was being cremated a water
source erupted from that spot. Even today the source is being used by the villagers. There
is a traditional trade route from Kibber to Ladakh over Parang La. The Spitians go to
Ladakh to barter their horses for yaks or to sell for cash. The trek to Ladakh takes
minimum 3 night halts. Permits are required for this trek.
|One of the four local units of Spiti is the Pin
valley which lies on either side of the Pin river. Geographically, the Pin valley is shut
off from the rest of Spiti by high mountains. The only opening has been provided by the
Pin river that forces its way through a deep narrow gorge to join the main river Spiti, at
The Pin valley is famous for its internationally recognised Chaumurti horses that are bred
and sold for considerable sums in Rampur-Bushahar during Lavi fair and in Ladakh. The
climate and the rich grass of the valley produce extremely sure footed horses able to
negotiate great heights without much difficulty. A tourist in the Pin valley may see
scores of horses, colts and fillies grazing on the river banks and some youths galloping
away on these horses singing wildly in joyous abandon.
Horse racing and arrow shooting are very popular in the valley. A tourist may frequently
come across arrow shooting competitions called Dhuvor.