Deep Powdered in the mesmerizing Spiti Valley

by Neeraja Kandala (India)

I didn't expect to find India


“It is snowing!!” I heard a loud cry from the neighbouring room. As I peered outside I saw little white cotton balls falling down. What a sight!! This was my first winter trip to Spiti valley. Situated at an altitude of 2670 m from the sea level, Reckong Peo is one of my favourite travel destinations. Surrounded by majestic mountains, it is an easy get-away from Delhi (570 kms) or Shimla (235 kms). It gets crowded with tourists during the summer months. Winters are harsh with temperatures dipping to -40 degrees Celsius. However, I personally thought winter was a perfect time to enjoy the deep powdered beauty of Spiti valley. After a long cycling program in the hot and dry part of India, Spiti valley in Himachal was a spontaneous decision for me. I packed my bags and took a bus from Delhi to Reckong Peo. I hadn’t planned my trip and thought I will work it out on the go. Luckily I found a decent guesthouse in Reckong Peo, where the gatekeeper agreed to let me stay. Travelling by local bus is the best way to feel the pulse of the place. Next day morning, I woke up thinking I will go Kalpa, a small town 8 kms from Reckong Peo. As I walked out of the guesthouse, it was a lovely sight to watch the entire place snowed in. However, when I went to the bus stand, I decided to head towards Kaza. Local buses are the lifeline of these places connecting small villages situated along the way. Drivers are used to the narrow and sometimes dangerous roads passing through stiff mountains. As we go ahead, we have to get used to less oxygen. Walking small distances and drinking hot tea at regular intervals helped me throughout the journey. We halted at a place called Spello for tea. As we were about to start, just after 500 meters, there was a landslide. The driver announced that we cannot go ahead and quickly turned backed the bus. Landslides are a common occurrence in this area. We were told that we can either halt at Spello for the night and wait for the morning bus the next day (which if we are lucky will go ahead) or go back to Reckong Peo in the same bus. I decided to take my chance and stay back at Spello. A river called Sutlej flows nearby and I set out for a walk with my camera. Luckily, next day morning roads were cleared and I got in the bus going towards Kaza. The road is populated with scenic landscape making it a wonderful journey. There were just five people in the entire bus and the driver and his assistant were friendly and started chatting with us. They had been working here for more than 15 years. We talked about the winter time in Spiti valley, village life, how people go about their lives, local food and much more. The driver offered me local food and guided me regarding stay options in Tabo and Nako villages ahead. During winters, it is difficult to find accommodation as most guesthouses and homestays are closed for the season. It is a good idea to enquire for which stay options are open at bus stations. The bus stopped at Kaza. As I stepped out of the bus, it felt as if I was freezing. Temperature had dipped to minus 25. Luckily, I had purchased extra woollens at Reckong Peo for the travel. Kaza is the biggest settlement in Spiti. It possesses a distinctive Buddhist culture. As I chatted with the locals at the bus station, I got to know of a fun festival being held there in the evening. I headed towards finding a homestay. A few days more at Kaza will help get used to the cold and then I plan to go ahead to visit Kye Monsatry, Kibber, and Hikkim. Meanwhile time for another cup of tea!