Road trip to Spiti valley during wintertime.
Winter Spiti 4X4 Expedition 2020-21 w/ Snow Leopard Spotting
4×4 WINTER SPITI EXPEDITION WITH SNOW LEOPARD SPOTTING
Embark on an adventure road trip to the Spiti Valley and experience treacherous Himalayan roads leading you to the most beautiful landscapes of Spiti.
An unmatched (10 nights & 11 days) road journey to the Spiti Valley and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch a glimpse of the grey ghost of the Himalaya!
4X4 Winter Spiti Expedition – 10N & 11D
We have been driving on the Shimla-Kinnaur-Spiti route aka the Snow Leopard Trail route from the last six years now. Our itinerary covers most of the o beat locations on this route. While driving a 4WD powerhouse through the dreamy wintery white landscapes of Spiti valley makes the road-trip safe, the true highlight of Spiti valley winters itinerary is catching glimpses of endangered & evasive Snow leopard & rare Spitian wildlife like Red fox, Himalayan Ibexes, Himalayan snowcock & Blue sheep.
Spiti or Piti —people of Spiti call the valley by this name — is the ‘middle land’ between Tibet and India. It is a scarcely populated region — population density of just 2 people per square kilometers — located in northeastern part of the Himachal Pradesh. The valley is a beautiful cold desert mountain region located high in the Himalayas. Spiti valley region falls in the rain shadow of Greater Himalayan ranges. It is bittery cold dry zone of Himachal Pradesh. Spiti valley receives solid precipitation in the form of snow during winter months(i.e.December to March) and little to no precipitation in the remaining period. The valley remains under snow cover for 4-5 months in a year.
Winter Spiti 4X4 Expedition 2020-21 w/ Snow Leopard Spotting
Sub-zero temperatures(minimum temperature falls to -30 degree celcius in winter), rocky outcrops & ravines, and high altitude areas of above 3000m perfect sanctuary to endangered snow leopards and rare trans Himalayan species like Himalayan blue sheep, Ibexes and Red foxes.
Delhi/Chandigarh to Narkanda
Narkanda altitude: 2700m
Drive time: 5-6 hours
Distance: 190 km (from Chandigarh)
Route: Shimla – Narkanda on National Highway 5 (previously known as Hindustan-Tibet road or Old HT road)
Trip highlights: Green Valley, Kufri, Fagu, Narkanda, Hatu Peak
In this first leg of the Winter Spiti Expedition, we drive through the pine forests of green valley and Kufri on National Highway 5. We will explore trails around Narkanda and relish the beautiful sunset and peaks of the Dhauladhar mountain range and the Greater Himalayas from the town/Hatu Peak.
We will stay overnight at Tethys Resort at Narkanda with an introductory session while enjoying bonfire, snacks, drinks, music, dance and delicious dinner.
Narkanda is a beautiful and serene hill town in the state of Himachal Pradesh that has been blessed with salubrious weather all year round. Below Narkanda, to the north lies the valley of snowy mountain massifs and deep gorges, the Kinnaur and Spiti Valley.
Narkanda to Baga Sarahan
Baga Sarahan altitude: 2900m
Drive time: 5 hours
Distance: Around 120 km
Route: Narkanda-Duttnagar on National Highway 5 and Duttnagar to Bhaga Sarahan on a connecting road via Nirmand and Bagipul.
Trip highlights: Old villages with shingle-roofed houses, Baga Sarahan village, meadows
Today, we will drive into the very heart of the outer Siraj valley of Kullu. Drive is easy and beautiful until Duttnagar – a small town located on the left bank of Satluj river on NH5 near Rampur Bushahr. A single lane road connects Duttnagar to Baga Sarahan. Nirmand – a village hailed as one of the largest in Himachal Pradesh — is famed for lord Parshuram and goddess Ambika temple built in ancient times. Nirmand will be our pitstop for lunch. Nirmand to Bagipul road is well-tarred and the drive will be easy, though sometimes it becomes hard to negotiate curves and give way to the heavy vehicles coming from the other side due to the narrow width of the road. Driving on Bagipul-Baga Sarahan road will be the first test of your driving skills. The road is tarred and the incline is quite steep on some stretches.
Baga Sarahan to Sangla
Sangla altitude: 2600m
Drive time: 6 hours
Distance: Around 150 km
Route: Baga Sarahan- Duttnagar – Rampur Bushahr- Karcham – Sangla. Baga Sarahan to Duttnagar on the same route, Duttnagar to Karcham on NH5 and Karcham to Sangla on Karcham-Sangla road.
Trip highlights: Rampur Bushahr town, Tranda cliff, Sangla valley
On day 3, we will cover a long distance of around 150 km. It will be a roller coaster ride. We will be driving back to Nirmand on a downslope. Nirmand to Wazir Bawdi road will take us back on NH5. A two-hour drive on the NH 5 will take to Tranda Dhank (cliff), a kilometer-long stretch along deep Sutlej River gorge on old Hindustan-Tibet road where overhanging rocks will cover our cars like an umbrella. It was built by Britishers in the mid-19th century.
The road to Sangla diverges from Karcham bridge. It is broken at places and there are some hairpin bends that are hard to negotiate. The overhanging cliffs near Rutrang will remind you of Tranda-styled cliffs.
Sangla is one of the most beautiful places in Kinnaur – a valley renowned for its lush green meadows such as Sangla Kanda and apple orchards.
We will enjoy your night stay at Banjara Retreat camp, Sangla, shadowed by Kinner Kailash on one side and sky-piercing rocky mountains capped with snow on the other.
Situated on the banks of the Baspa River, Banjara Retreat camp is surrounded by apple orchards on all sides. The campsite offers a comfortable stay and best hospitality in the remoteness of mountains.
Rest day in Sangla valley
Today, we will take a breather and give some time to cool off your mean machines. We will explore Sangla village and hike to Kamru fort, if time and weather allow.
Snow Drive To Chitkul
Blue sky, clouds hanging overs the snowy towering peaks of Kinnaur-Garhwal Himalayan ranges, and surreal excitement of discovering the last village on Indo-Tibetan border – driving on snow covered Sangla-Chitkul road in winters leaves one startled and pleasantly surprised.
On day 4, after exploring Sangla and surrounding places, we’ll head towards the last frontier village, Chitkul. After driving for about 20kms, we’ll get to see the first glimpses of Chitkul village. The whole Baspa valley usually receives heavy snowfall during the winter season. The snow clearing operation is carried out by local administration and ITBP personnel of Mastrang camp. During long continuous days of snowfall, it takes a few days to clear snow from the road and to resume road connectivity. The drive to Chitkul may not be doable under such circumstances.
Chitkul greets one with soft sounds of gurgling water and Buddhist flags fluttering in the air. The shops, hotels and home stays get closed there during the harsh winter season. Some places worth visiting in Chitkul are Mathi temple, Chitkul fort, bridge over Baspa River and Nagasti ITBP camp.
Sangla to Nako or Tabo
Tabo altitude: 3300m
Drive time: 7 hours
Distance: Around 180 km
Route: Sangla to Karcham on Sangla-Karcham connecting road, Karcham-Khab (confluence point) on NH5 and Khab-Nako or Tabo on NH 505.
Trip highlights: Driving along Sutlej River, Ka loops, Nako Monastery, Nako Lake, Tabo Monastery
Day 5 will be a long haul. We will drive a distance of around 180 km and call it a day. We will either stop at Nako or Tabo for an overnight stay. Nako village is located near the Indo-Tibet border in Kinnaur district. We are the first travel company to have Nako as a winter destination.
Nako Lake complements the charm of this high altitude village in the Hangrang Valley. There are several small but significant Buddhist temples in the village. Stone and wood houses with flat thatched roofs guarded by small gates exhibiting colorful Buddhist God images, Nako is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience in winters.
Reaching Nako in winters is itself an adventure as the place is going to be extremely cold. The diurnal range of temperature is high whereas nights are going to be really cold as mercury drops as low as -10 to -12 degrees Celsius. To keep you warm and comfortable in harsh environmental conditions, we offer great stays and food with a tinge of great hospitality.
Nako/Tabo To Kaza
Kaza altitude: 3800m
Drive time: 4 hours
Distance: Around 110 km
Route: Nako – Sumdu- Tabo – Dhankar – Lingti – Attargo (road diverts to Pin Valley at this point) – Kaza on NH 505
Trip highlights: Dhankar Monastery, Lingti frozen waterfall, Kaza Monastery and town
Our pitstop for today will be Kaza. Before reaching our destination for the day, we will visit Dhankar monastery en route Kaza. If time permits, we will take a detour to GYU Monastery) as well. The road condition ranges from normal to average.
Kaza is a small town and administrative center of the Spiti Valley surrounded by high mountain ridges on all sides. This is the coldest town in India. This place is well-known for its colourful festivals. It is also renowned for its pure wool shawls, carpets and woollen fabrics. We will stop here for an overnight stay at a homestay.
DAY 7 AND DAY 8
Snow Leopard Spotting (Kibber Village) and Snow Drive
Trip highlights: Snow Leopard Spotting, Key Monastery, Kibber and Chicham Village.
Two full days to explore the snow leopard trails around Kibber village (only if the sighting is on). The snow leopard spotting expedition is led by our own local snow leopard tracking experts, guides and porters to help the group, but the ability to navigate and walk in the snow and cope with sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes also help immensely in sighting the highly camouflaged and evasive Himalayan cat. During the expedition, we will also have a chance to see the Blue Sheep, the Himalayan Ibex and Red Foxes.
Kaza to Kalpa
Kalpa altitude: 2900m
Drive time: 8 hours
Distance: Around 200 km
Route: Kaza – Tabo – Nako – Khab (on NH 505) – Khab – Powari Jhulla (on NH5) – Kalpa (on Powari – Reckong Peo – Kalpa connecting road)
The longest haul of the Winter Spiti Expedition. We will drive back on the same route, i.e., Kaza – Tabo – Nako – Khab route to reach Kalpa. Khab to Powari drive will be on NH 05. A connecting road from Powari Jhulla will take us to a beautiful village of Kalpa.
Kalpa to Narkanda
Narkanda altitude: 2700m
Drive time: 6 hours
Distance: Around 160 km
Route: Kalpa – Powari (connecting road) – Karcham – Tranda – Rampur Bushahr – Narkanda (on NH 05)
After an exciting week full of wonderful memories in snow and beautiful landscapes, this day is the sign of the end of Winter Spiti Expedition. We make our way out of the Kinnaur Valley. On the way back, we will have time to capture moments and scenic beauties we might have missed while on the other side of the road. After a scenic and memorable drive, we bid adieu to beautiful landscapes and friends we made along the way in the kaleidoscopic canyons of Spiti valleys and reach Narkanda in the evening for an overnight stay at a hotel.
Departure to home city.
This is the day when 10 days of Winter Spiti Expedition filled with adventure, happiness and wonders come to an end and we drive home with our heads full of delightful memories and exciting stories we will remember for years to come.
ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT WINTER SPITI EXPEDITION
Chitkul to Nako Road Conditions: The road is in good condition and there is no need to engage the 4WD gear. Though the tarmac is non-existent at places, and snow slushy roads force you to drive with extra caution. The road is under widening work and repair at places like Shongtong, Pangi Nalla, and Dubling. The expertise of drivers leading the expedition convoy helps a lot in negotiating bad roads at such places.
Nako village to Tabo Road Conditions: The infamous Malling Nalla, A nullah (stream), and waterfall that turns into huge hanging icicles in winters and form an interesting landform. It is an icy stretch of about 75 meters. On this stretch, It is mandatory to maintain enough distance between two vehicles. Also, pressing the brake or changing gears can cause tyres to lose traction and can lead to a fatal accident. The 4×4 mode is absolutely required.
Tabo to Kaza Road Conditions: The road is narrow & incline is gradual along the Spiti River.
Accommodations in Spiti Valley: The stay in Spiti Valley (and Nako) is arranged in homestays. Staying in homestays in a unique experience. The owner usually accommodates guests in a large hall. The hall serves the twin purpose of dining and sleeping around a Bukhari (fireplace) to beat extremely low temperatures that may fall way below zero degrees during the night. Spitian Thukpa and momos – a staple diet of locals in Spiti – are highlights of food served in the homestays.
Tips for Driving on Icy Roads of Spiti valley
- Look out for the “black ice” (dirty ice that appears like tar or mud and is highly deceptive and slippery).
- Do not apply breaks.
- If you start to lose control of your vehicle, swerve to the mountainside.
Challenges to Overcome:
- Driving on icy roads in bone-chilling temperatures.
- Keeping diesel-engine alive during night time when minimum temperature drops below -8 degrees Celsius. Diesel starts to freeze below -8 degree mark.
- Keeping the body warm during winter long nights and fighting the frostbites.
- Finding a good mechanic & vehicle parts in Spiti when your car breaks down.
- Keeping camera and phone batteries alive. Lithium ion batteries of cameras and phones drain quickly; it takes a long time to charge in sub-zero temperatures.
- Keeping windshield clear on free from frost on cold & dusty roads of Kinnaur and Spiti Valley.
- Fuel: Kaza fuel station is the solitary filling station in the whole Spiti Valley.
- Landslide prone zones: There are many landslide prone zones on Kinnaur – Spiti valley route. Such unpredictable zones pose a challenge for first timers who have no previous experience of driving on the treacherous Himalayan roads.