Originally our plan was to get to Kaza via Komik (World’s Highest Village accessible by motorable roads) and Langza however we changed things up a little bit because of one reason or another, I can’t quite remember… and please excuse me if I have some things chronologically mixed up from Day 6 onwards. You’ll find out why by reading on but plans had to change and I couldn’t keep up! We were just going with the flow!
We left Dhankar and the sun was scorching hot on our skin; we had been blessed with amazing weather for the past week. From here onwards it got noticeably colder (I even wore my coat), cloudy and overcast with occasional showers.
Ahead of us today was a short 35km journey to Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti Valley. Sanjay had planned a long driving route for us to see more villages, wildlife (unfortunately no snow leopards), breath-taking scenery as well as a visit to Key Gompa as the sun was setting.
We drove through many villages along the long round route and it’s sad because I’ve actually forgotten many of the names and I didn’t take that many photos either so I can’t reference them very well… Rookie mistake!
I know for certain that we drove through lots of tiny little villages consisting of about 10-80 houses and we also ended up reallyyy high up a couple of times at different viewing points. It was just such a nice chill day of watching the scenery changing and coming across lots of lovely little hidden gems.
Along the route we visited a beautiful little monastery and we were pleasantly greeted by an old monk with such a happy soul… You could just see it beaming out of his eyes and face. Zak and I were the only people there at this time as the monastery was about to close for lunchtime. The happy old monk showed us around and told us things about the depictions painted on the walls and the Buddhist culture… We tried but unfortunately we couldn’t understand alot of what he was saying so its a good job that we had previous understandings from meeting the English woman in Tabo Monastery who spent time teaching us about these enchanting places.
This monastery was also thousands of years old and showcased similar paintings, sculptures and decorations to those in Tabo Monastery. Unfortunately photography is prohibited in Tabo Monastery but the old happy monk invited us to take photos of the walls and not to take photos of anything with gold painted faces. We were extremely delighted at his invitation to allow us to do this! I can finally share some photos of the examples of beauty to be seen of Buddha’s life and bodhisattvas as well as depictions that all seem to represent the common themes of knowledge, power and compassion through Buddhism.
If you look at the two photos above, you will see a pulley system that villagers use to transport food and goods from one side of the valley or mountain to the other… We continued the drive through more villages including Kibber (I’m pretty certain we visited here anyway). Kibber thrives off its agriculture and sits at a height of 14,200ft surrounded by lush green fields and limestone rocks. Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary also spans across miles of this high altitude land and if you are lucky enough you might just get to see some of the beautiful wildlife such as Spiti’s famous snow leopard (Sanjay has seen 3 in his life), the Tibetan wolf, the Tibetan wooly hare, birds of prey, ibex, goat, blue sheep, weasels and red foxes. We were very lucky to see many birds, goats, blue sheep and also managed to catch eyes with the beautiful red fox.
Later on in the day we visited the village of Key, also spelt Ki, Kye and Kee. Similar to Dhankar Monastery it was situated high up in a tall spiral formation with Key Gompa sitting at the very top at an altitude of approximately 13,700 ft above sea level. It is known as the biggest monastery and religious training centre for lamas in Spiti Valley, at times housing near to 250 monks and there is also a veryyyy small guest house for tourists. I would love to stay there as it just had THE most stunning views and it was SO peaceful. As we walked up the spiral walkway to the top, passed lots of Om Mani Padme Hum blessings, we walked through the welcome gate and then inside the Gompa we were greeted by a practicing monk who offered us a seat on one of the temple steps and then gave us each a cup of hot tea.
We enjoyed our tea and had a walk around the grounds, overlooking the valley and silver sparkling river. The view from up here was just phenomenal. I didn’t take any photos as photography was prohibited in certain areas. There is a beautifully decorated and brightly coloured Assembly Room, a new Prayer Room which was inaugurated in August 2000 by HH The Fourteen Dalai Lama and there is also a room called the Tengyur which houses lots of beautifully painted murals, books and ancient scriptures.
Key Gompa has withstood many troubles since it was first founded in the early 11th century. In the 17th century Key Gompa was attacked by the Mongols, damaged by the wars between Ladakh and Kulu, damaged again by the Dogra army and then even more damage was caused by the Sikh army. Later on Key Gompa was left devastated by a fire and then a violent earthquake in 1975 caused further damage. The Gompa has now been repaired with the aid of the Archaeological Survey of India.
As the sun was started to set we met up with Sanjay and went on another “short” walk to a viewpoint of Key Gompa… I didn’t go all the way to the top of the viewpoint but I had a fantastic view of the Gompa sitting majestically in the narrow valley, 360° mountain views, shimmering silver river below as the sun was setting. A great spot to sit, relax and meditate OR take a time lapse with the GoPro!
Before it got completely dark we headed back to the jeep to continue with the last leg of our journey to Kaza. There are two access points through long winding roads following the Spiti River, one from Kinnaur Valley and the other from Lahaul Valley. At 12,000 ft, it is the biggest town and commercial centre for miles around this area and is known as a cold desert, sharing many similarities with Tibet and Ladakh in terms of landscape, climate and a strong influence of the Buddhist culture. Kaza is surrounded by mountain ridges and can be considered as one of the coldest places in India, with temperatures varying between -40°C and 10°C throughout the seasons.
Many tourists use Kaza as a transit point as it is in a great central location for many sights, attractions, treks/tours and connections to the rest of the valley such as Koumik (World’s highest village accessible by motorable roads), Hikkim (highest post office in the World), Langza (famous for fossils), Pin Valley National Park, Himalayan high altitude wildlife and Lossar village, which we also visited.
Kaza is kind of split in two halves, you have Old Kaza where you will find many shops and markets and then you have New Kaza where you will find new industrial buildings and headquarters as well as hotels and restaurants. We reached our accommodation in New Kaza, it was a new hotel, so new it didn’t yet have a name. You can read about our stay in my accommodation review of Hotel No Name here.
So…We went to the petrol station to refuel (highest retail outlet in the World by the way at 12,270 ft above sea level) and unfortunately our plans had to change again… The petrol station had run out of fuel but there were problems. There were flocks of people, sooo many bloody motorcycles, cars, trucks and constant horn beeping in true typical Indian style! No one knew when more fuel would be coming and it stopped plans for people who were in Kaza on transit, including us. Sanjay being the Spiti Valley wanderer that he is, knows everyone and finds everything out so he told us that more fuel was due to come at 6AM the next day from Manali so it shouldn’t be a problem. If he met us at the usual time in the morning then we were good to go, if not then we may have to stay in Kaza for another day and night… Only time would tell…
We took this chance to relax in Kaza… have a beer, some good food, catch up on some documentaries, make friends with some stray dogs and just take it easy. We were both extremely tired after this day and I think the rest of the week was starting to catch up with us now.
The next morning came but there was no sign of Sanjay by our usual meeting time so we understood that we’d have to stay here in Kaza for a little while longer. Apparently the fuel truck could not make it over one of the bridges along to roads to Kaza as it was way above the weight capacity so this meant that another truck had to make the same long journey to get to Kaza but carrying less fuel. The journey that the fuel truck would have to take to get to Kaza is well over 200km by the way! Taking the same route we did including all the switchback roads, cliff edges and bridges… Not my idea of a fun job to be honest!
We still had no cellular signal since Day 1 in Kalpa, it was very enjoyable indeed but I couldn’t shake a strong feeling that I had of mother worrying about me back in Shrewsbury. We hoped that we might be able to find a Wi-Fi access point somewhere so we headed to a close by restaurant/hotel which had limited internet just so we could get in touch with family and friends. I was right, momma had been worrying about me so she was very happy to hear from us.
So the next day we were up and ready to meet Sanjay but again he wasn’t there… Again, we might have to stay in Kaza for yet another day and night… So we just thought alright, we’ll go for breakfast and head to the markets and see what’s happening. We found a fab little cafe called Taste of Spiti, I would definitely recommend a visit here! Delicious fresh food and a varied menu with a lovely decorated interior. It can get very busy here so always try to pop in and book ahead of time so you know that you can get a table… The building is bright yellow so you can’t miss the place!
When heading back to our Hotel No Name, we managed to bump into Sanjay who was on his way down to us. Good news! The petrol station has been refilled but its chaotic! He had been awake all night in a long queue of traffic waiting for the fuel to arrive and then to be allowed a set amount of fuel otherwise it would run out again! We packed up and were ready to hit the road again, woohooo!