Time: 5-7 days
Level: Easy to Moderate
Ideal Season: Jun to Sep
Location: This trek is in the Spiti sub-division of Lahaul and Spiti District
I lived in Spiti for over two years and visited many of the villages covered by this trek. It has gifted me a veritable treasure of memories. The Poh Rest House, with its scenic view, is forever associated with the smiling visage of Dorje Chhering, the caretaker. He always managed to rustle up delicious meals from the limited material at his disposal in Spiti’s wilderness. Lalung was a village I visited in winter after the first snowfall of the season cloaked the valley in white. I remember it not as much for the beautiful Ser Khang in the old monastic complex, as for the warmth of salt tea laced with yak butter that we drank on a sun-bathed terrace that afternoon.
Demul, on the other hand, is up in the pastures. It’s reached after a sapping climb linked to the song and laughter of a fun-filled summer evening. Komik is all about masked lama dances of 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 who venture on these trails, every windswept hamlet still has a smiling, grimy face to soften the awe-inspiring bleakness of the landscape. This is a week-long trek for those with the time and inclination to savour the many attractions en route. It can, however, be shortened for those with less time, as at every stage a motorable road connects the night halt point.
DISTANCE 14 KM TIME 4-5 HOURS
Since you will only get to Spiti from either Shimla or Manali in the late afternoon or evening, stay overnight at Tabo and get a taxi to Poh the following morning. Though Poh (3,330m) has a beautifully located rest house — to spend a last night before beginning a week’s camping out — getting a room may be difficult. Reservations can be made at the PWD Office in Kaza.
On the first day’s walk to Dhankar, located to the north-west, high above the left bank of the Spiti River, the initial 5 km are along the motor road to Kaza. We move past aged junipers, protected from the axe by divine intervention (they belong to the gods). The road heads west up the Spiti Valley and moves onto a long, sloping bank called the Poh Maidan. Climbing gradually, one stays with the motor road till the other end of this terrace. Then walk up the steep, smaller bank above, due west. Stumpy junipers, thorny seabuckthorn, wild roses and dusty ephedra, which grow even on the driest slopes, enliven the Poh Maidan.
Across the Spiti Valley, numerous silvery streaks fed by the Sopona Lake course down the steep slopes, breaking the brown monotony with refreshing vegetation. Crossing a low ridge brings up a sudden patch of verdure. This is the two-house hamlet of Londupdin (3,700m), 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 sharply with the background — immense slabs of sharply angled, grey rock and brown and yellow slopes reaching up to an offshoot ridge of the Manerang Peak.
Crossing the tiny Nipti stream midway between a series of small waterfalls the path, still heading north-west, traverses by the side of another vast terrace. Then passing another little patch of cultivation, the track climbs gradually to meet the link road from Sichling to Dhankar. A somewhat steeper climb through the fields of Dhankar Village (3,700m) takes one up to the new monastery building. Even an easy, first day’s pace should enable one to complete the 14- km walk in about 5 hrs from Poh. It will still leave time for the hour’s climb to the Dhankar Lake, located in the arid pastures north of the village. Camp can be struck on the periphery of the fields near the monastery.
DISTANCE 12 KM TIME 4 HOURS
From Dhankar, good walkers can easily make Demul, the easternmost village of the upland pastures of Bhar, the same day. But new arrivals to Spiti shouldn’t climb so rapidly to 4,300m. Besides, exploring the monastery complex at Lalung (3,680m) should definitely be on the agenda. Best then to make Lalung — about a 3-hr walk away — the night halt point on Day Two. It is more or less a level walk, initially winding west around dry, south-facing slopes with the wide valley of the manychannelled Spiti River below. The Pin River, emerging from a narrow valley on the opposite side, also widens out before meeting the Spiti. Between the Pin and the Spiti, the long, flat triangle of Pindomor, with its profuse green cover, is a refreshing change for the eyes.
Above the extensive flats of Subling Maidan (a little less than half-way to Lalung), the path turns north into the Lingti Valley. Soon after, one can meet up with the link road taking off from the Sumdo Kaza Road far below, for the last few kilometres to Lalung. Below, on one’s left, the Lingti Valley opens out. The hamlet of Chabrang can be seen across on the right bank. The much larger Rama Village is just below. Beyond Chabrang, huge terraces, smudged with green young trees, mark the entrance to the steep valley leading to Demul. Soon Lalung is visible. The green fields spread down to the Lingti, over 200m below. Camp can be made near the entrance to Lalung or down 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 heading north-west through the fields below the village. Once over the foot bridge and having passed (still heading west) the hamlet of Sanglung, located on a terrace above the Lingti left bank, the route lies up the narrow valley of the Demul stream. A steep climb of over 600m, up cliffs of sedimented slate, brings up the more gradual, turf-covered slopes of the pasture land. The hills now ascend in gradual undulations to over 300m above Demul, visible a short distance away.
To the left (south), the Demul Link Road traverses the slopes, which end abruptly in steep rock faces that drop down to the main Spiti Valley. Looking back towards the Lingti, Manerang towers in the distance while, closer at hand, Kamelang dominates above Lalung. Up the Lingti Valley, snow-covered peaks mark the divide with the Gue Valley to the east. Immediately north, across a deep valley that descends rapidly from the pastures, is a high, beautiful snow-covered ridge running west to Chau Chau Kang Nelda (6,303m). The pastures are a vast ocean of rolling green. There is soft, mossy grass (nema) near the water. Elsewhere, there is a low, even growth of bush, surviving on the moisture of late melting snows. Near the stream, south of Demul is a good place to camp for the night.
DISTANCE 16 KM TIME 6-8 HOURS
The sun rises early in Demul and in the short, busy summer the residents are up even earlier to make the most of it. Even an impromptu night of song and dance (a must to honour even unexpected guests) does not warrant a late morning. Not a minute of daylight is wasted in order to gather and store for the winter months. To be up with the lark for Demul residents can mean an enjoyable, long day meandering over the pastures before reaching Langza for a night halt. The direct route, covering some 16 km, heads north-west, up the slopes behind the village, past the source of the Demul stream, and over the ridge.
Down the other side is a long, gentle traverse around the upper edge of a huge, marshy, green bowl, sloping to the cliffs behind Lara, located on the Spiti left bank. (An alternative route lies north from Demul. Circling the ridge behind the village, you must move 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 delightful view of the pastures.) Then, across a little hump, are the soft, mossy tussocks of the Chame Meadow (4,400m).
It is possible to run down southwest to Kaza from here in less than 3 hrs, via the one-house hamlet of Kagti (4,100m). The more westerly path to Langza climbs gently out of Chame, to the upper catchment of the Kaza stream. A vast amphitheatre of rolling downs, dipping gradually to a sudden drop at the southern end, meets the eye. At the upper (northern) end is the village of Komik, on top of which is the new Tangguid Monastery (4,450m).
From Komik, one can follow a motor road, circling above Hikkim Village (4,360m) to reach Langza (4,300m) across a low ridge. More exciting and offering superb views of the Chau Chau Kang Nelda is the higher ridge above Hikkim. Approached up the diagonal slopes north-west from the monastery, therefore leaving Hikkim on the left, the route climbs over 250m higher, to reach Langza from the north-east. Fossils are scattered in abundance on the slopes behind Langza. With luck, one can pick up a few ammonites on this stretch.
Demul-Langza One can move north from Demul and then turn west across gently sloping grassland instead of taking the southern track on the Chame route. You will enjoy spending some time here with the dokpas (shepherds), tending milch cattle and putting together butter for the long winter months. Climbing gradually north-west, the trail slips over the ridge separating the Lingti catchment from that of the Shilla Nallah. Close up, in the shadow of Chau Chau Kang Nelda, the route bypasses Komik and Tangguid. Then heading south-west along the gentle contours of an irrigation channel once over the little ridge, it reaches Langza directly.
DISTANCE 18 KM TIME 8-10 HOURS
LEVEL MODERATE TO TOUGH
Those chary of the somewhat tougher march the next day can head for the comforts of Kaza down a 10-km link road from Langza (4,300m). Hardier souls face a steep descent north-west into the gorge of the Shilla stream and an even longer ascent still heading north-west to the small, six-house village of Tashigong. The 700-m climb is killing 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 across this ridge lead west down to Gette Village. From Gette, an option for those wishing to cut short the trek and reach the main valley quickly is a switchback trail leading straight down precipitous cliffs to Ki Monastery 500m lower. The road runs on to Kibber (4,120m) about 5 km away to the north-west. Camp can be struck short of Kibber or a little way across it at the edge of the village fields.
DISTANCE 11 KM TIME 3 HOURS
From Kibber, off to the right (north) is the route to Ladakh over the Parang La. Directly opposite lies the village of Chicham (4,150m), across the gorgelike valley of the Parilungbi tributary of Spiti. The sixth day out of Poh requires moving in a semicircle north, around the ridge behind Chicham, to the justly famous meadows of Ladarcha. The route from Kibber leads down to the Parilungbi Gorge along a motor road. Across a bridge, it heads north-west into the valley of a smaller tributary, that is descending from the Ladarcha (4,150m) side.
The path crosses to the right bank of this stream very soon. It then climbs up the valley north-west leaving Chicham behind way to the left. Near the hamlet of Dumle, the narrow valley becomes a gentle declivity and the grass-covered, turf country of the pastures follows soon after. Climbing gradually from Dumle, the path winds back west towards the Spiti River, bringing up Ladarcha within an hour. At over 4,000m, Ladarcha is a vast sweep of gentle slopes, carpeted with the low bush and mossy grass of the upland pastures, and one can camp almost anywhere. It is an easy 3 hrs from Kibber to Ladarcha. Ladarcha was the site of Spiti’s annual barter trade fair in the old days. The whole afternoon is free to go searching for the Tibetan snow cock and the blue sheep, on the surrounding hillsides.
DISTANCE 10 KM TIME 3 HOURS
The last day’s walk takes one back to the main Spiti Valley along the Ladarcha- Kiato Road. On the left (south-west) is a low rise, only barely more elevated than the meadows. It marks the edge of steep cliffs, which drop down to the river. Descending south-west to the riverside terraces, the road moves north-west up the left bank of the Spiti. Downstream is the tiny, 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 soil by snow melt run off, one approaches the Takling tributary of the Spiti. Once you have negotiated the short, steep descent and then the steep ascent north on the far side of the ravine, it is less than an hour to Kiato (3,950m). With more than half a day to spare one can get a bus or truck to Kaza or move on up the Spiti, to spend the night at Losar Rest House where the caretaker can arrange food and also hot water for one’s bath.
By Deepak Sanan
About the author: Deepak Sanan is an IAS officer, Himachal Pradesh cadre, who has trekked extensively in the state. His writings include a book on exploring Kinnaur and Spiti, as well as numerous articles about Himachal in magazines and books.