Yes, you read that right! While there are a number of tour operators selling the mystical land of Spiti Valley all over the world wide web, and while there are countless blog posts (including mine) that list out the charms of this high altitude barren land of Himachal Pradesh, I’m here to tell you differently. I agree that anyone who’s been to Spiti has not been able to stop singing praises of the Middle Land (myself included) but not everyone will tell you what Spiti really means. Not everyone will tell you the bads and the uglies and no one will tell you how much it will wear you out to just get a glimpse into Spiti’s incredible beauty. What are, after all, these bads and uglies that I talk about? Let’s find out.
1. the altitude will make you sick
Let’s start with the no-brainer. When you’re travelling from Manali to Spiti via Rohtang Pass, you gain an altitude of 1,728 meters in 50 kilometres (about 3 hours). While Manali is at a height of just 2,250 meters, Rohtang sits at a whopping 3,978 meters above sea level and after this point, the altitude only rises. By the time you reach Losar, one of the first villages of Spiti Valley, you have already crossed 4,084 meters in altitude. It is only inevitable then that nausea and the explosive headaches that you have perhaps already read and heard so much of are bound to come get you. (They got me too.)
2. there is no tarmac
Well, this is half true but true nonetheless. Throughout most of your trip to Spiti Valley, you will find absolutely broken and bumpy roads (or the lack thereof). There are however a few patches of black slatey roads without a single bump on them but truth be told, these will be the few moments of your journey that you will actually cherish as against to the usual roadless dirt tracks that you will have to swerve your vehicle on. And if you’re travelling through an HRTC bus, god help you!
3. spiti is cold
You probably already know this but it never hurt to caution anybody twice (or thrice). Expect temperatures dropping to sub-zero during the night even if you’re travelling bang in the middle of summers. And if you plan to visit Chandra Tal as well, camping in such extreme cold will probably take all the joy away from it. The wind gods seem to get especially wrathful once the sun sets so if you’re interested in stargazing, you will have to torture your body in the process by having to bear the (extremely cold) winds.
4. the food is average, to say the least
While you’re in Kaza, you will find fancy cafes selling fancy food on the menu but don’t get your hopes up too high. Your chicken lasagne will mostly be bland and that Nutella milkshake you ordered will have more water in it than milk- regardless of the cafe you go to. And if you’re eating in some of the smaller villages of the region, you will need a very strong will to stomach the uncooked noodles and tasteless fried rice they will feed you. But if you can sustain yourself on basic dal roti and rajma chawal, you’re good to go.
5. you’ll have to carry your luggage on your back
No tarmac, no suitcases. Sorry to burst your bubble about the ultimate dream vacation that you were planning but since there are no proper roads especially inside the villages, you are bound to either a lug around a rucksack on your bag (oh, the horror) or carry your suitcases on your head the way porters at railway stations do. And if you do decide to carry a rucksack, you will have to throw most of your dream travel attires away and carry only as much as you can fit in that small bag.
6. there is dirt everywhere
I mean it. Since Spiti is a cold desert that falls under the rain shadow area, so there is barely any rain that would bind up the soil. So the loose soil is just flitting about everywhere. It’ll be in your hair, on your clothes, on the floor of your hotel’s room, a little on the bed. There’s no escaping it. That, coupled with the continuous road-building work and rock blasting work in the hills, you can only imagine. Speaking of rock blasting and road building…
7. you will have to be stuck for hours in the middle of nowhere with no food, no water, no washroom
Rock blasting and road-building equal road blockages. On some occasions, this is organized with fixed timings but mostly it is unforeseen with large boulders dropping from a mountain and blocking the road. I was once stuck near Spillow in Kinnaur for five hours on the road with nowhere to go for food or water and had to make do with whatever we already had.
8. road blockages mean delay in plans
I’ve been to Spiti twice and both times I have seen people not being able to make in time and thus having to ask for an extra leave or two from their work. If you’re caught in a road blockage, you will have to cut short your trip if you’re to make it back in time for your flight (or just quit your job and enjoy Spiti as it is) (I’m just kidding ) (am I?).
9. Weather in Spiti valley is unpredictable
I know I said the Valley lies under a rain shadow and it is true. But what is also true is that you can never foresee weather conditions. Last year, because of unforeseen rains, the roads turned into slush and vehicles could not leave the Valley, which consequently meant my friend had to miss her flight home. Snow came early too last year, in September instead of the usual late October, which meant around 2000 people were stuck in a snowstorm for a week with no means of communication and had to be evacuated by the Army.
Unpredictable weather also means you can never have too many clothes. While I packed according to the weather forecast, one night the weather took an unpredictable turn and the winds were so strong that regardless of how many clothes I layered upon myself, I couldn’t sleep all night long. After all how many clothes can you carry in that small rucksack of yours! That coupled with some AMS? A recipe for disaster.
10. forget hot showers… or any showers
The last time I went to Spiti I didn’t bathe for 4 days and didn’t wash my hair for 5. And considering the fact that Spiti is, well, dusty, that is not the best thing you can imagine. In most places, however, you will find arrangements for taking a bucket bath but if you chance upon a shower with a (working) geyser for hot water supply, consider yourself the luckiest of them all. But if you can brave icy cold baths in temperatures no warmer than 10 degrees, you’re good to go!
12. camping means alpine tents and not swiss tents
This is one misconception many have until they reach Spiti and get disappointed with the arrangements. The concept of Swiss tents is only coming up and you will barely find these luxurious renditions of camping in very few parts of the valley. Camping? alpine all way!
11. spiti is a no network zone
While travelling from Shimla, Spillow in Kinnaur is the last village where you can call up your family and update them about your whereabouts and post those Instagram stories before heading into an absolutely network free zone in Spiti. The only operator that (seldom) works is BSNL and don’t make the mistake of getting an internet SIM (which I did) because you will barely even get a 2G signal. But if latergrams work for you, you’re good to go!
Update: As of December 2019, Jio 4G in Spiti Valley is now functional in some parts Key, Kaza, Kibber, Chicham, Nako, Tabo etc. Langza, Hikkim, Komic still do not have any network.
When I visited Spiti in winters for the new year, I found a weird kick in video calling friends and family at home from the remote valley!
12. Proper toilets (or any toilets) are a luxury
Well not so much at your hotels or homestays but on the road for sure. Public toilets are a foreign concept here and what you will find are tin sheets stacked on top of each other to create a little box for you to go. And for washing hands, you’ll have to make do with the large tub of water without a running tap. But mostly, these facilities are also considered a luxury and the real way to go in Spiti is to go behind a bush (or a rock). Oh, and speaking of it,
13. luxury doesn’t exist
You must’ve guessed as much by now but it’s better I spell it out. There are no fancy resorts, no fancy dinner places, no hot showers, not even proper toilets. Spiti, as if often compared to, is not Ladakh.
So next time you’re planning to visit this magical valley, make sure you keep these pointers in mind before making your bookings. If you can leave luxury at home, travel with an open mind and be ready to be pushed out of your comfort zone far and wide, Spiti will welcome you with open arms.
If you liked this post, you might want to check out my Instagram for more stories and adventures from Spiti and elsewhere!
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