Lahol & Spiti

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ABOUT LAHOL & SPITI

The district of Lahaul & Spiti consists of the two formerly separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The district was formed in 1960. Out of the two, Spiti is more barren and difficult to cross, with an average elevation of the valley floor of 4,270 m (14,009 ft). It is enclosed between lofty ranges, with the Spiti river rushing out of a gorge in the southeast to meet the Sutlej River. To the south, Spiti ends 24 km from Tabo, at the Sumdo where the road enters Kinnaur and joins with National Highway No. 22.

The harsh conditions of Lahaul permit only scattered tufts of hardy grasses and shrubs to grow, even below 4,000 metres. Glacier lines are usually found at 5,000 metres. Kunzum la or the Kunzum Pass (altitude 4,551 m; 14,931 ft) is the entrance pass to the Spiti Valley from Lahaul. Lahaul is connected to Manali through the Rohtang Pass.

The natural scenery and Buddhist monasteries, such as Ki, Dhankar, Shashur, Guru Ghantal, Khungri Monastery in Pin Valley, Tnagyud Gompa of the Sakya Sect in Komic, Sherkhang Gompa in Lahlung (believed to be older than Tabo Monastery) and Chandrataal Lake are the main tourist attractions of the region. One can see ibex, brown bears, foxes and snow leopards during winter.

The treacherous weather in Lahaul and Spiti permits visitors to tour only between the months of June to October, when the roads and villages are free of snow and the high passes (Rothang La and Kunzum La) are open. It is possible to access Spiti from Kinnaur (along the Sutlej) all through the year, although the road is sometimes temporarily closed by landslides or avalanches epically during rainy and winter season.

Spiti is one of the important centers of Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh. It is popularly known as the ‘land of lamas’. The valley is dotted by numerous Buddhist Monasteries or Gompas that are famous throughout the world and are a favorite of Dalai Lama.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Key Monastery

Key Monastery in Spiti is the main research center of the Buddhists in India. Near about 300 lamas are receiving their religious training from here. It is oldest and biggest monastery in Spiti. It houses the rare painting and beautiful scriptures of Buddha and other gods and goddess. One can also find rare ‘Thangka’ paintings and ancient musical instruments ‘trumpets, cymbals, and drums in the monastery.

Tabo Monastery

Perched at an altitude of 3050 meters, Tabo Monastery in the valley of Spiti is often referred to as the ‘Ajanta of the Himalayas’. The 10th century Tabo Monastery was founded by the great scholar, Richen Zangpo, and has been declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The monastery houses the rare collection of scriptures, pieces of art, wall paintings -Tankhas and Stucco. This monastery rose to prominence when it celebrated its thousandth year of existence in 1996. The ancient gompa is finished with mud plaster, and contains several scriptures and documents. Lama Dzangpo heads the gompa here. There is a modern guest house with a dining hall and all facilities are available.

Dhankar Monastery

Also known as Dankhar, Drangkhar or Dhangkar Gompa is village and also a Gompa. It is situated at an elevation of 3,894 metres (12,774 feet) in the Spiti Valley above Dhankar Village, between the towns of Kaza and Tabo. The complex is built on a 1000-foot (300-metre) high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers – one of the world’s most spectacular settings for a gompa. In 2006, World Monuments Fund selected Dhankar gompa as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. Dhankar was the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley Kingdom during the 17th century. It was the seat of the early rulers of Spiti, the Nonos.

Pin Valley National Park

Pin Valley National Park was established by India in 1987. Steeped in historical and present day Buddhist Tibetan culture, the area has many Tibetan Buddhist influences, evident architecturally in monasteries and stupas, and in the daily living of its residents and lamas. The park is located in the desert habitat, within the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve in the Himalayas. The elevation of the park ranges from about 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) to more than 6,000 metres (20,000 ft) at its highest point.

With its snow laden unexplored higher reaches and slopes, the Park forms a natural habitat for a number of endangered animals including the Snow Leopard and Siberian Ibex. In summer, rare birds such as the Himalayan Snowcock, Chukar Partridge, Snow partridge and Snowfinch flourish in the park. Twenty-two rare and endangered medicinal plant species, have been discovered in and around Pin Valley National Park, which are distributed over 10 different habitat types.

Kardang Monastery

Kardang Monastery is located at an elevation of 3,500 metres across the river, about 8 km from Keylong. Kardang is well connected by the road via the Tandi bridge which is about 14 km from Keylong. Built in the 12th century, this monastery houses a large library of Buddhist literature including the main Kangyur and Tangyur scriptures.

Adventure activities

For trekkers, the Spiti Valley is a paradise, offering challenging treks to explore the new heights of the Himalayas. The treks takes you to the most remote areas including the rugged villages and old Gompas followed by the exotic wildlife trails. Some of the popular trekking routes in the area includes Kaza-Langza-Hikim-Komic-Kaza, Kaza-Ki-Kibber-Gete-Kaza, Kaza-Losar-Kunzum La and Kaza-Tabo-Sumdo-Nako. There are some very high altitude treks also where you have to cross passes- like Parangla Pass (connecting Ladakh with Spiti Valley), Pin Parvati Pass trek are few to name. Tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, heavy wooolens, sunscreen and sunglasses are a must.

Skiing is another popular adventure sports in Spiti and is popular in India from the past few years. The snow clad mountains with the added advantage of inspiring heights are enough to allure the adventure spirits of the avid skier, providing all the thrill and fun attracted to the sport.

Yak Safari is one of the most exciting of all adventure activities in this region. One can hire the Yak to see the flora and fauna of trans-Himalayan desert. This is a kind of opportunity that one won’t find anywhere else so easily. Apart from this, horse safaris are also conducted in this area.

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