Most people think Spiti Valley is inaccessible in the winters. For the adventurous soul, this may turn out to be the best time to visit. There are hardly any tourists around and you will have all of Spiti to yourself. Winter is a perfect time to see local life in Spiti, as it has existed for centuries.
Winter in Spiti is harsh and temperatures are known to plummet to lesser than -35 degree Celsius at night. Everything is quite likely to be frozen and there is no running water in the taps. If you are lucky, there is a huge possibility of experiencing snowfall in Spiti, and sighting a snow leopard is a good possibility.
The change in landscape means it is quite possible to think of Spiti as an entirely different land as compared to summers. There are frozen waterfalls, azure blue skies, trees devoid of leaves, pristine freezing rivers in the winter that make Spiti a more beautiful and novel experience.
It is a good idea to first get acclimatized to the bare cold and high altitude of Kaza (3700 m) before exploring the various sites in the region. While coming from the Shimla route, the monastery of Nako coupled with a walk to the frozen or semi-frozen Nako Lake will help in acclimatization and be getting used to the cold. The oldest monastery in India, Tabo Gompa complex can be explored at leisure before making the final run to Kaza.
Apart from these places, there are other noteworthy monasteries in Spiti, including the Sakya Gompa in Kaza, Ki Monastery, Dhankar Monastery and Dhankar Lake, Komic Gompa, Giu Monastery, Lhalung Gompa and Kungri Monastery.Keep in mind that, depending on the amount of snow, the roads to these places may or may not be open. If the roads are closed, it is possible to trek to these villages on foot in the snow; it is advised not to trek by yourself and have a local guide or villager around. Major Spiti Valley attraction in the winters is the possibility of walking on the frozen Spiti and Pin rivers; keep in mind that there have been instances of people drowning in the past and any attempts are off the recommended list. A visit to a high altitude Spitian village is another major attraction, you will get to see local life and experience how it goes on in spite of the unbearable freezing temperatures. Reaching the village of Losar is a big upcoming attraction in Spitian winters. It is the biggest and farthest of all the Spitian villages and is a cultural delight. Locals celebrate festivals and folk dances by singing traditional Spitian songs. To revive the tradition, winters also see young men learn the art of carving Buddhist prayers on mane stones. In Kaza, locals can be seen playing the favorite Spitian game of ‘Cholo’.
The road to Losar is almost unbelievable in the winter and the landscape is covered in a blanket of white. There may be blossoms of various colors of almond, plum, peach and apricot trees along the route in February/March. Celebrating the festivals of Dechang and Losar is another big attraction in the winters.
We recently interviewed Spriha Gupta, an adventure seeker from Bangalore. In a candid chat, she told us about her thrilling experience to Chadar trek that she recently completed in February. Read on!
Q: When did you start trekking?
A: I started trekking a couple of years ago but I only did a few short treks in South India, in and around Bangalore. Last year, I went for my first winter Himalayan trek with you guys, when I completed the Kedarkantha Trek. Hence, I was experienced and well-prepared for the Chadar trek.
Q: Why did you choose the Chadar trek?
A: There are two main reasons why I chose this trek. Firstly, I wanted to challenge myself and test my abilities. Secondly, I heard the route to this trek was going to shut down and another route was going to open. So I had to complete this trek this year and check it off my list.
Q: How was the Chadar trek?
A: For me, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Maybe, because I was better prepared for it, in terms of clothing. My experience in Kedarkantha trek came in handy as I knew how cold it can actually get at an altitude as high as 12,000 ft. So I wore thermals, better and warmer jackets this time and in addition to this, I also carried heat pouches.
Q: Sounds like it was quite a task, So what inspired you to keep walking in below freezing temperature and an extreme weather?
A: My wish and will to complete the trek kept me determined throughout the trek but yes, the trek did challenge me on so many levels. The first day was definitely difficult because I was completely clueless about everything. As one reaches there, he/she is unaware of what lies in front of them and in case of this trek, what lies beneath them. Apart from this, I was adamant about the fact that I have to reach the waterfalls.
Q: How was your stay at the Dib cave?
A: It was an overnight camp but we didn’t really stay inside the cave as it is reserved for locals but our camp was right opposite to the cave and it was pretty amazing. Overnight camps are always beautiful.
Q: How did you feel when you reached Gyalpo waterfalls, your ‘destination’?
A: It was a feeling of accomplishment and relief that I had completed the trek after all the challenges that I faced. The biggest challenge was broken chadar. As I remember correctly, every other batch except ours returned because the chadar had cracked. Our batch faced the same issue, but later that day we saw a couple of girls coming down from another route. Excitedly, I asked them about the route and they told me that the alternate route was steep and rough. So when I asked my guide to give us another shot at this, he agreed and this is where Renok adventures really helped me out. Out of our batch of 9 people, 2 trekkers, my friend and I completed this trek against all odds. And all of this was definitely worth it because when I reached the waterfalls, the view was to die for!
Q: Was there any particular event from the trek which stood out for you?
A: My journey to the waterfalls was definitely the event that stood out for me. That day, I challenged my own self and I came out as a winner and that feeling of achievement was spectacular.
Q: Lastly, do you have any advice for first-time trekkers who aim to complete the Chadar trek?
A: Yes. Firstly, go for this trek in the second half of January because the chadar might start breaking in February and trekkers can lose out on experiencing the whole trek. Our batch faced the same challenge and many others didn’t get to see the waterfalls. Secondly, carry heat pouches because it can get really cold out there.
Spriha’s determination and willpower amazed us all. Her trek to the Chadar trek proves that you can go for this mesmerizing trek if you are as strong-willed as Spriha. She definitely had an amazing experience. Do you think Chadar trek could be your calling too?