Time: 5-7 days
Level: Easy to moderate
Ideal season: June to September
Location: This trek is in the Spiti subdivision of Lahaul and Spiti District
I lived in Spiti for over two years and visited many of the villages visited by this trek. It has given me a real treasure trove of memories. The Poh Rest House , with its picturesque view, is forever associated with the smiling face of Dorje Chhering, the caretaker. He always succeeded in preparing delicious meals from the limited material available to him in the Spiti wilderness. Lalung was a village I visited in winter after the first snowfall of the season enveloped the valley in white. I don’t remember it so much for the beautiful Ser Khang in the old monastic complex as for the warmth of salty tea laced with yak butter we drank that afternoon on a sun-drenched terrace.
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Demul on the other hand it is in the meadows. It is reached after a descending climb coupled with the song and laughter of a fun summer evening. Komik is all about masked llama dancing the Tangguid Monastery Festival in the chill of early October. Langza , always dominated by the majestic backdrop of the Chau Chau Kang Nelda, the snow princess of the celestial bodies, was where I picked my first rock fossils.
For those venturing on these trails, each windswept hamlet still has a smiling, dingy face to soften the awe-inspiring gloom of the landscape. This is a week long trek for those with the time and inclination to enjoy the many attractions along the way. However, it can be shortened for those with less time as a low-traffic road connects the night hall sign at each stage.
DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS
Since you only get to Spiti from Shimla or Manali in the late afternoon or evening, you can stay overnight in Tabo and take a taxi to Poh the next morning. although Poh (3,330m) has a beautifully situated rest house – to spend a last night before embarking on a camping week – it can be difficult to get a room. Reservations can be made at the PWD office in Kaza .
On the first day walking to Dhankar , located in the northwest, high above the left bank of the Spiti River, is the first 5 km along the motor road to Kaza. We pass ancient junipers, protected from the ax by divine intervention (they belong to the gods). The road heads west into the Spiti Valley and heads to a long, sloping bank called the Poh Maidan . Climbing gradually, one stays with the motor road until the other end of this terrace. Then walk up the steep smaller bank to the west. Stumpy juniper, prickly sea buckthorn, wild roses and dusty ephedra, which grow on even the driest slopes, enliven the Poh Maidan.
Across the Spiti Valley, numerous silvery streaks fed by the Sopona Lake run down the steep slopes, breaking the brown monotony with refreshing vegetation. Crossing a low ridge brings up a sudden patch of greenery. This is the hamlet of two houses of Londupdin (3,700 m), high above the left bank of the Nipti Nallah . The two Mane villages are visible across the Spiti River. The green of their irrigated fields contrasts starkly with the background – immense slabs of sharply angled, gray rock and brown and yellow slopes reaching up to a spur from the rim of Manerang Peak .
Crossing the small Nipti stream midway between a series of small waterfalls, the trail, still running northwest, skirts the side of another huge terrace. Then passes another small piece of cultivation, the trail gradually climbs to the connecting road from Sichling to Dhankar. A somewhat steeper climb through the fields of Dhankar Village (3,700 m) brings you to the new monastery building. Even an easy, first-day pace should allow one to complete the 14km hike from Poh in about 5 hours. It will still leave time for the hour’s climb to the Dhankar Lake , located in the arid meadows north of the village. Camp can be made on the periphery of the fields near the monastery.
DISTANCE 12 KM TIME 4 HOURS
From Dhankar, good hikers can easily make Demul , the easternmost village of Bhar highland pastures, the same day. But newcomers to Spiti shouldn’t be so quick to climb to 4,300m. Besides, exploring the monastery complex at Lalung (3,680m) should definitely be on the agenda. It’s best then to make Lalung – about a 3-hour walk – the night stop point on day two. It is more or less a flat walk, winding west at first around dry, south-facing slopes with the wide valley of the much-sweetened river Spiti below. The Pin River emerges from a narrow valley on the other side and also widens before meeting the Spiti. Between the Pin and the Spiti, the long flat triangle of Pindomor, with its abundant green cover, is a refreshing change for the eyes.
Above the extensive flats of Subling Maidan (just under halfway to Lalung), the trail turns north into the Lingti Valley. Shortly after, you can head down to the link road from the Sumdo Kaza Road far below for the last few miles to Lalung. Below, on the left, the Lingti Valley opens up. The hamlet of Chabrang can be seen on the right bank. The much larger Rama Village is just below. Beyond Chabrang huge terraces smeared with green young trees mark the entrance of the steep valley to Demul. Soon Lalungis visible. The green fields extend to the Lingti, more than 200 meters below. Camp can be made at the entrance of Lalung or below, close to the Lingti River, after visiting the monastery complex.
DISTANCE 12 KM TIME 6 HOURS
Lalung to Demul (4,300m) requires crossing the Lingti River northwest through the fields below the village. Once over the foot bridge and past (still to the west) the hamlet of Sanglung, situated on a terrace above the left bank of Lingti, the route is in the narrow valley of the Demul stream. A steep climb of over 600m, up cliffs of sedimentary shale, brings the more gradual, grassy slopes of the grassland. The hills now rise in gradual undulations to more than 300 meters above Demul, visible at close range.
To the left (south), the Demul Link Road traverses the slopes, ending abruptly in sheer cliffs that drop down to the Spiti Valley. Kamelang looks back at the Lingti, towering in the distance, while Kamelang, closer, dominates over Lalung. In the Lingti Valley, snow-capped peaks mark the divide with the Gue Valley to the east. Directly to the north, across a deep valley that descends quickly from the meadows, is a high, beautiful snow-capped ridge that runs west to Chau Chau Kang Nelda (6,303m). The meadows are a vast ocean with rolling greenery. There is soft, mossy grass (nema) near the water. Elsewhere there is a low, even growth of shrubs, surviving on the moisture of the melting snow. Near the stream, south of Demul, is a good place to spend the night.
DISTANCE 16 KM TIME 6-8 HOURS
The sun rises early in Demul and in the short, busy summer, the residents are even earlier to make the most of it. Even an impromptu night of song and dance (a must to honor even unexpected guests) doesn’t guarantee a late morning. Not a minute of sunlight is wasted collecting and storing for the winter months. To defy the lark of the inhabitants of Demul, it can be a pleasant, long day winding across the meadows before reaching Langza for a night stop. The direct route, which is about 10 miles (16 km) in length, heads northwest, up the slopes behind the village, past the source of the Demul stream and over the ridge.
On the other side is a long, gentle traverse around the top edge of a huge, swampy, green bowl, sloping down to the cliffs behind Lara, located on the Spiti Left Bank. (An alternative route is north of Demul and circles the ridge behind the village, you have to go back south to join the direct route above Lara. It is a longer walk but with a more gradual ascent and a more extensive and nicer view of the meadows.) Then, over a small hump, are the soft, mossy tussocks of the Chame Meadow (4,400m).
It is possible to run south-west from Kaza from here in less than 3 hours, via the single-family hamlet of Kagti (4,100m). The more westerly path to Langza climbs slowly out of Chame, to the upper basin of the Kaza stream. A great amphitheater of rolling downs, gradually plunging to a sudden drop on the south side, meets the eye. At the upper (northern) end is the village of Komik, above which is the new Tangguid Monastery (4,450m).
From Komik one can follow a motorized road, which circles above Hikkim Village (4,360m) to reach Langza (4,300m) over a low ridge. More thrilling and offering stunning views of the Chau Chau Kang Nelda is the higher ridge above Hikkim. Approached on the diagonal slopes northwest of the monastery, leave Hikkim on the left, the route climbs more than 250m higher, to reach Langza from the northeast. Fossils are scattered in abundance on the slopes behind Langza. With a bit of luck you can pick up some ammonites on this stretch.
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Demul-Langza One can head north from Demul and then west across gently sloping grassland instead of taking the southern route on the Chame route. You’ll love spending some time here with the dokpas (shepherds), tending to dairy cattle and compounding butter for the long winter months. Gradually to the northwest, the trail climbs over the ridge separating the Lingti basin from that of the Shilla Nallah. Close by, in the shadow of Chau Chau Kang Nelda, the route bypasses Komik and Tangguid. Then, once over the small ridge, it heads south-west along the gentle contours of an irrigation channel, straight to Langza.
DISTANCE 18 KM TIME 8-10 HOURS
LEVEL MODERATE TO BUNCH
Those words of the somewhat harder march the next day can be found in the comfort of Kaza on a 10 km connecting road from Langza (4,300 m). Hardier souls face a steep descent northwest into the gorge of the Shilla Stream and an even longer ascent still northwest to the small six-house village of Tashigong . The 700m ascent is deadly, but the reward lies in stepping on hallowed ground since His Holiness the Dalai Lama camped here for many days in 1983.
A motor road crosses the low ridge on the Spiti side (south) and gentle slopes over this ridge lead west down Gette Village . From Gette, an option for those wanting to cut the trek short and reach the main valley quickly, is a return trail that leads straight down sheer cliffs to Ki Monastery 500 meters below. The road continues to Kibber (4,120 m) about 5 km away to the northwest. The camp can be closed off from Kibber or a little way over the edge of the village fields.
DISTANCE 11 KM TIME 3 HOURS
From Kibber, to the right (north) is the route to Ladakh over the Parang La . Directly opposite the village of Chicham (4,150m), across the rocky valley of the Parilungbi tributary of Spiti. The sixth day from Poh requires a movement in a semicircle to the north, around the ridge behind Chicham , to the rightfully famous meadows of Ladarcha . The route from Kibber leads to the Parilungbi Gorge along a motor road. Over a bridge it goes northwest into the valley of a smaller tributary, which descends from the side of the Ladarcha (4,150 m).
The path very quickly crosses the right bank of this stream. It then climbs across the valley to the northwest, leaving Chicham to the left afterwards. Near the hamlet of Dumle, the narrow valley gently slopes and the grassy, pastureland of the meadows follows soon after. Climbing gradually from Dumle, the path winds back west towards the River Spiti, bringing Ladarcha within an hour. At over 4,000 metres, Ladarcha is a vast area of gentle slopes, covered with low shrubs and mossy lawns from the highland meadows, and one can camp almost anywhere. It’s an easy 3 hours from Kibber to Ladarcha. Ladarcha was the site of Spiti’s annual swap meet in the old days.
DISTANCE 10 KM TIME 3 HOURS
The last day’s hike takes you back to the main Spiti Valley along the Ladarcha-Kiato Road. To the left (south-west) is a low rise, only slightly more elevated than the meadows. It marks the edge of sheer cliffs, which drop down to the river. As you descend southwest to the riverside terraces, the road moves northwest above the left bank of the Spiti. Downstream is the small, isolated hamlet of Chikzur and across the Spiti River, the larger village of Pangmo. Climbing gradually, past bizarre totems carved into the erosion-prone sedimentary bed by melted snow, one melts the Takling tributary of the Spiti. Once you’ve made the short, steep descent and then the steep ascent north on the other side of the ravine, it’s less than an hour to Kiato (3,950m). With more than half a day to spare, you can take a bus or truck to Kaza or head up the Spiti to spend the night at Losar Rest House where the caretaker can arrange food and also hot water for the bath.