Thursday, 2 March 2017
Everything you need to know about what you can do in & around Kaza
You've heard about this elusive place called Spiti Valley. You've Googled the photos and you're in love with its natural beauty. You've learnt that Kaza is the biggest town and you're planning to drive/ride down to this picturesque destination but you're not sure what you're supposed to do there.
Worry not, here's a list of things for you to do in & around Kaza:
1. Key Monastery
Key Monastery is the face of Spiti Tourism. Google 'Spiti Valley' and Key Monastery is the first thing that will show up. Barely half an hour away from Kaza, the monastery is an architectural masterpiece. As you enter the place, the monks will ask you to remove your shoes and follow them. You'll walk up to a traditional Ladakhi kitchen where you'll be treated to some snacks along with their traditional butter tea. You can have as many servings as you want. Once done, the monks (or lamas, as they're called) will give you a guided tour of the entire monastery. Since the monastery is situated high up in the mountains, you get sweeping views of the entire valley.
2. Kibber Village
Kibber is situated another 20 minutes further up from the Key Monastery. It's a sleepy little town where you can go and spend a relaxing afternoon. You can take a stroll along the fields and have some local delicacies at one of the tiny restaurants littered throughout the village. The village is also a starting point for many grueling treks. It's the last point till where you can take a motorized vehicle, from thereon, you have to rely on your feet. Hence, you'll see many seasoned trekkers get down from taxis, grab a quick bite, setup their Garmin watches and start their expeditions.
3. Buddha Statue at Langza
|Buddha Statue at Langza|
Langza is home to one of the largest Buddha statues in the entire Spiti. Unlike other statues, this one's not part of a monastery. You can see the statue from miles away as you're approaching the village.
4. Hunting for fossils in Hikkim-Komic-Langza belt
As per the scientists, millions of years ago, this area was under the ocean. When the Indian subcontinental plate collided into the what is now China, the debris rose to the surface. Hence, you can find million-year-old fossilized seashells. If you're too lazy to look around and go through the dirt, worry not; you'll find locals sitting by the side of road waiting to sell their discoveries to you. You can get a fossil the size of your fist for as low as 100-200 bucks. Make sure you bargain!
5. Sending yourself a postcard from the world's highest post office at Hikkim
Hikkim is home to the world's highest post office at an altitude of 15,500ft. While I couldn't go there myself, I've heard that it's pretty common for tourists to send a postcard to their home address from here.
If you leave early and plan smartly, you can cross the above five things from your list in a single day. If you have more time and if you wish to spend more days, Langza and Kibber also have homestay options.
6. Check out the millenia-old Lallung Monastery and the holy tree which is even older
|With the head monk of the Lallung Monastery. Behind us is the holy tree|
Situated one and half hour away from Kaza, along a dust detour is this thousand year old monastery of Lallung. Next to the monastery is a tree which is considered to be even older than the monastery - one year older, to be precise. There's an interesting story about the origin of the monastery. When you reach the monastery, make sure you knock the door of the adjoining hut, that's where the head monk lives. The seventy-something monk is really sweet and if you're a good listener, he will take you through the history of the monastery, how it came into existence as well as some fascinating concepts & beliefs of Buddhism. It's an experience you shouldn't miss. The lama is really knowledgeable and kind.
7. Shortcut to the Dhankar Monastery
To reach Lallung or Dhankar Monastery, you'll have to take a detour from highway on to roads which branches out towards the mountains. On the map, it may seem that both these monasteries are situated on unconnected, parallel branch roads and to reach Lallung from Dhankar (or viceversa), you'll again have to came back all the way to the highway, drive for few more miles and then take the parallel branch road inwards to the next monastery; but that's not the case. There's a shortcut from Lallung to Dhankar, but this road is not for the faint-hearted. It's one of the most treacherous routes and only the most-seasoned drivers/riders should take it. But once you've reached the destination, it does fill you up with a sense of achievement.
8. Enjoy the vistas of the Pin Valley
Pin Valley starts just few kilometers after Dhankar, as an offshot along the river. Depending upon how much time you have, you can either go all the way to Mud village and spend a night at one of the homestays OR you can do a short visit to the Kungri Monastery (which is half-way to Mud) and return to Kaza the very same day. We didn't have much time to go to Mud, so did a shorter trip only till Kungri. Additionally, the day when we had planned to go to Pin, we learnt that it was the birthday of the head monk of Kungri Monastery. Which meant, it was a day of celebration for the monastery and the whole town had turned up to partake in the festivities. We were really lucky to witness the action.
9. Stay where you get Wifi
BSNL is the only phone network that works in Kaza. The only hope for you to get any sort of connectivity is either you go to Manali or stay in a hotel with stable Wifi connection. Let's be honest, from Langza village to Pin valley, it's wilderness out there. If you wish to stay in touch with your loved ones and want to inform them of your well-being, make sure your hotel has good wifi and not many guests.
10. Local experiences
|The structure on the left is the accommodation for tourist willing to get a taste of a monk's life at the Key Monastery|
Many hotels in Kaza have tie ups with adventure groups that can provide you with experiences that are unique to the region. From mountain biking around the valley to spending a day with female monks and experiencing their daily routine, there are a bunch of things you can do. Speaking of monk life, you can even stay at the Key monastery and get a first-hand experience of what's it like to live like a monk. But make sure you know what you're signing up for. Over here, you'll need to get up at dawn, eat at the mess at a stipulated time, wash your own vessel and switch off the lights at night when you're asked to do so.
BONUS: Playing with cute, little, furry fellows
If you're a dog person, Spiti Valley is heaven for you. It being a cold region, only the dogs with thick fur survive. Hence, all the four-legged fellows over here are fluffy af. I might have to write a separate blog post if I start mentioning all the dogs that I've met during my trip to Spiti.
Pro-tip: All big monasteries have their own festivals. Try to plan your visit around one of the festivals. Even if you can't, when you reach Spiti, ask the locals, if you're lucky, you might be able to witness a celebration of some sort.
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