Every year, I plan a 10 day trip to the Himalayas. Either a trek or a backpacking trip with friends. For the last two years, I was opting for high altitude treks, Rupin pass and Stok Kangri. This year, I decided to visit Spiti valley with my friends as it had always been on my mind for a while. The treacherous roads leading to surreal landscapes had me on the edge of my seat. Finally, when we had explored Spiti, I was and still am glad to have done it. Here, I am writing the first of my Spiti Valley blogs: How to reach Spiti Valley. I hope you find this post useful when you are planning your Spiti Valley trip.
You can read my other blogs about Spiti valley here.
Route options to reach Spiti Valley
When the question How to reach Spiti valley arises, there are two answers. One is via Manali while other stems from Shimla. The difference in KM is just around 20 if you compare Delhi – Manali – Kaza, and Delhi – Shimla – Kaza. Hence, distance is the least important parameter here.
The Spiti valley trip will start from Delhi or Chandigarh. So, residents of Bangalore, Mumbai or any other origin, need to reach either of these two. Chandigarh would be a better option to fly in. Subsequently, you can opt for an overnight bus or cab to reach Manali or Shimla.
Below, I am mentioning some points which might help you in deciding the route.
1. Time consumed in reaching Kaza (Spiti Valley) and back
Kaza is the headquarters of Spiti. For this article, we will consider Kaza as the endpoint when you reach Spiti.
Distance wise, Delhi to Kaza is around 740 KM. The total distance remains almost the same irrespective of Shimla or Manali route. But, if you take the Shimla route, you would have covered only 45% of your total distance when you reach Shimla with further 411 KM for Kaza. Compared to that, reaching Manali would help you cover as much as 73% of the total distance with a mere 202 KM further. So, generally, if you don’t spend a night at Manali or Shimla, you can reach Kaza from Delhi in 2 days by opting for the Manali route and 3 days via Shimla. But, I would recommend resting in Manali or Shimla for a day to enjoy the trip better by not rushing it. The routes will be as mentioned below:
If you are taking an early morning flight to Chandigarh, you can reach Shimla or Manali on the same day!
Day 1: Delhi/Chandigarh to Manali (Overnight Bus)
Day 2: Stay in Manali or Kullu. If you are opting for the public bus to Kaza, stay in Kullu as when I visited Manali, they had stopped taking advance booking for the bus and you need one for a seat.
Day 3: Kullu/Manali to Kaza. In the evening you will be in Kaza if you leave around 6 AM.
Day 1: Delhi/Chandigarh to Shimla (Overnight bus)
Day 2: Stay in Shimla, visit nearby places. You can also go till Narkanda as it is 2 hours from Shimla along the route to Kaza
Day 3: Shimla/Narkanda to Kalpa
Day 4: Kalpa to Kaza
2. High Altitude Passes and scenery
If you are going from the Shimla route, yours will be a gradual ascend while reaching Kaza. On the other side, the Manali route will take you through Rohtang Pass and Kunzum pass, both high-altitude passes offering a great experience and bountiful vistas. Due to these passes, there are chances of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) occurrence. However, I don’t think you are likely to suffer from it. But, ensure to stay hydrated.
Rohtang Pass en route Spiti from Manali (How to reach Spiti Valley)
The Shimla route will take through the lovely villages of Kalpa, Sangla and more. The Kinnaur valley also falls on the Shimla route. So, you can decide which route to take based on your preference. If you like high altitude passes, Manali route is better and a fan of quaint villages tucked in a gorgeous valley would like Shimla route more.
3. Road Condition and Landslides
The road from Manali to Kaza is very bad. Till Rohtang pass, the road condition is good. But, as soon as you take a turn for Spiti and leave the good road continuing to Leh behind, the condition deteriorates rapidly. The route is scenic, no doubt, but the waterfalls flow over the road, eroding them constantly. The water level rises a lot around evening making it difficult to cross. Hence, irrespective of which mode you choose to travel, leave from Manali around 5 AM to cross these waterfalls before 12 PM.
The Shimla route, on the other hand, is prone to landslides. In the months of June, July and August a sudden landslide can render your plans for Spiti Valley hopeless. Apart from the landslides, the roads are much better than Manali route.
One such landslide is shown in the video below, Just a week after I returned from Spiti valley from Manali route. However, I didn’t take the Shimla route at any point because multiple landslides had occurred, blocking the road for us.
However, the Manali route is open for a lesser duration than Shimla. If you are planning to Visit Spiti Valley in any other months but May to September, you might find the Manali road closed. Shimla route is open almost throughout the year.
Both these routes require permits. But, if you are hiring a cab, the driver will take care of it. In case you are going to drive, the Shimla route needs more permits as compared to Manali route, where only Rohtang pass needs permit for a Non-HP vehicle.
5. Cost and effect on your budget
The Shimla route, being longer and prone to landslides, will cost you few more thousand bucks than Manali route. I paid Rs 12,000, one way, for a Tata Sumo and reached Kaza via Manali. I am sure the Shimla route will cost you around Rs 18,000 or more, depending on the month. Also, you will be spending money on one extra night’s accommodation in Kalpa.
6. Ease of planning Spiti Valley itinerary
Chandratal lake falls on the Manali route and Tabo Monastery on the Shimla route. The road to reach Chandratal lake is worse than Tabo Monastery road. While returning to Manali, you can cover Chandratal lake and continue. But, you cannot cover Chandratal lake and reach Kalpa in the same day, it would be very hectic. The distance between Tabo Monastery and Kaza is same as Chandratal lake and Kaza, but the time taken is 1 hour and 5 hours respectively.
If you ask your Cab to go to Manali via Chandratal lake, he will charge Rs 1000 to Rs 2000 extra. But, that’s worth it.
So, are you able to decide and find an answer to the question How to reach Spiti Valley? No, right? I agree it can be confusing. So, here’s what I would recommend. Take both! Start from Shimla and enjoy the amazing views of Kinnaur valley. Cover Tabo Monastery before reaching Kaza. Reach Kaza and spend some time admiring the beautiful town and other attractions. While returning, opt the Manali route and cover Chandratal lake while returning. This was my plan too. But, the constant landslides in Shimla didn’t allow me to fulfill it. I would advise you to also keep a tab on any news regarding landslides on the Shimla route. If you reach Shimla and discover that landslides have occurred, you will end up wasting one day coming to Manali.
I hope you find this post useful. Feel free to post your questions in the comment section below. More Spiti blog posts are coming up. Stay tuned!