Spiti valley is a place of dreams. It is the white wonderland of India. The trans-himalayan ranges when covered in snow, makes your heart skip a beat. For all the travelers out there, a roadtrip to Spiti valley in winter will warm your heart and your soul.
The snowcapped mountains of Himalayas, wispy clouds, frozen waterfalls and the red-headed Himalayan fox makes the place utterly irresistible. The extreme conditions in which the locals live teaches a lesson for a lifetime. If there is one destination that makes my heart go weak in my knees, it is The Himalayas and Spiti with its numerous Himalayan peaks makes sure to steal one’s heart right away.
Whenever I travel I believe in looking for the soul of the place rather than just ticking off the sightseeing spots. And I decided the best way to see Spiti was by living the local life and it was possible only during winter when the herds of tourists don’t throng the place.
Spiti is one of the country’s sought out road trip destinations during summer while winter still remains a low key. Finding a guide to Spiti for winter travel was a task before.
So I put together all the details needed for you to travel to Spiti during winters. I had made sure to include all the possible details out there into one single post. This should be sufficient enough for you to plan an epic winter roadtrip to Spiti Valley.
Let’s start with the Pros and Cons of travelling to Spiti during winter
- If you ever have believed in fairytales and magic, ( err read Frozen here, even till date I watch the movie with awe) then visiting Spiti during winter is a must. The place looks jaw droppingly beautiful.
- You will be the only set of people visiting Spiti apart from the locals living there, which means you get to witness the unadulterated beauty of the place and have it all to yourself
- If you’re lucky enough, you will be a part of a snowfall in action. (I wasn’t lucky enough I guess but jumping into fresh snow the first thing in the morning was close enough for me)
- Everything that’s worth in life comes with its own set of hurdles. The weather in Spiti during winter is HARSH and COLD (has the ability to even freeze your blood, the temperatures drop till -30 degrees at night)
- There is no running water, almost all the taps are frozen in that weather. Be prepared for dry toilets. There are few homestays that provides hot water in buckets to clean yourself up. (this is not like a nice hot spring shower, use them only when needed, remember water shortage, so use them wisely)
- The most important of the lot, there is literally no oxygen in the air. It’s a mountainous desert and in winter it’s just a sea of snow. You’ll have to be medically backed up to withstand adverse conditions
- All the shops, restaurants and cafes are closed during winter, which translates into no shopping and café hopping. It doesn’t mean there is no food, obviously there is better home cooked meals served hot on your plate for almost every meal.
- There is only one primary health-care centre in Kaza, so in case you fall sick, that is your only goto place for survival.
- Expect road closures due to snowfalls and driving on snow and ice.
Possibility of taking the roadtrip to Spiti in winter
One of the most asked question is the possibility of doing the roadtrip to Spiti during winter. YES, it is possible to go to Spiti even during the months of November, December and January. Only the route from Manali is closed. The road from Shimla to Spiti via Kalpa is open throughout the year. So you’ll have to take the same road to and fro Spiti.
The roads are in pretty bad shape, basically no roads and to top it you will have to cross Pangi Valley (considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous roads) but then there is no point in taking a roadtrip if you aren’t game of a bit adventure.
Who all can go to Spiti during winter?
Anyone with breathing issues, asthma, bronchitis and chest congestion, forget about stepping into Spiti during winter. You will have to get medically certified to travel, even then I wouldn’t suggest cause the conditions in the place can change adversely and too quickly for us to even react. Kids are also not advised to be on the trip as they are the first ones to be prone to oxygen deficiency. Apart from the ones mentioned, anyone with a strong will can travel to Spiti to witness the magic.
Transportation & Route
Forget frequency of buses in this route. There is one government bus that leaves Reckong Peo at 7 am in the morning to Kaza. This is the only bus for the entire day and the tickets also cannot be booked in advance. So if you’re planning a budget travel, you will have to be at the bus stand at 7 to take the one and only bus to Kaza.
The best way is to take the taxi (few ply from Rampur to Kaza on daily basis, costs around 1000 bucks per seat I guess) or spend a bit more and pre-book a cab for your entire roadtrip to Spiti. The road from Shimla is open so that’s the only way to reach Spiti. The route from Rohtang pass and Kunzum La is closed during winter making Manali circuit impossible to do during these months.
TIP: It is better to break the trip into 2-3 days starting from Shimla to Kaza by resting it out at Reckong Peo, Kalpa and Tabo before finally reaching Kaza. This way you’ll gain altitude slowly and get acclimatised to the cold before entering the freeze zone.
Weather in Winter
The climate of Spiti throughout winter is bone-numbingly cold. October to March is the perfect time to experience winter in Spiti. While in October the temperature hovers around an average of 8 degrees celsius during the daytime, at night the mercury touches -10 degrees when snowfall flourishes at its best. October to December experiences least sunshine but mostly the conditions are cloudy, foggy, and there’s plenty of snowfall around. During December – January, the temperature at night falls even below -30-degrees celsius.
Preparations for the trip
Travelling to Spiti during winter is not a luxury vacation, the weather conditions are extreme and the facilities are basic. One needs to be aware of the region before venturing into a winter roadtrip to this cold desert. Some level of prep can make your trip a lot easier.
Add a bit of cardio workout to your routine before the trip. This helps a lot while gaining altitude with low oxygen levels. Make sure to do a round of warm-up even during your time there. It activates the large group muscles and produces heat to your body.
Layer yourself up. Cover every part of your body with multiple layers of warmers before stepping into the chill zone.
Discuss with your doctor on starting a 3-day course of Diamox (helps with the prevention of AMS) before the start of your trip.
Dry fruits and dark chocolates are another excellent source of energy which you should always have with you during the trip. Keep munching every 1 hour and you’ll never fall sick (my secret mantra to beat low oxygen level in the body)
Mental strength is as important as physical strength. Make up your mind on what to expect from Spiti during winters from the below pointers
- Be prepared to stay in basic homestays. No glamourous resorts or hotels function during winter.
- Be prepared for no mobile signals except BSNL (that too rarely)
- Brace yourself for no electricity for couple of days to weeks
- Be prepared for bare minimum hospital facilities and medical support
- Be prepared to witnessing your car’s fuel freeze
- Prepare yourself for roadblocks due to shooting stones and camping in the tent till the block is cleared (We din make use of the tent, luckily because we were stuck only for 4 hours before Nako)
- Be prepared for the heart melting love from the locals (this one I can’t mention enough, I would be forever grateful for all the love and help the locals did)
- Be prepared to have casual encounters with the Himalayan Red Fox and if you’re God damn lucky, a snow leopard.
Places To See and Things to do in Spiti during winters
Frankly speaking, travelling to Spiti during winter is an adventure in itself. The places that are a must visit are the monasteries: Key Monastery, Dhankar Monastery, Tabo Monastery. There are too many world’s highest here, so tripping on some of the world’s highest points will be fun. You can visit the world’s highest motorable village Kibber and the world’s highest post office Hikkim and the nearby villages Komic, Langza.
Ride over on World’s highest bridge, Chicham. It’s a fascinating bridge built above a deep gorge of 1000 feet high. And a ride to pin valley is a must. I loved the entire open jeep ride to Pin valley, where the houses and the roads were laden with snow. But the one activity that won my heart is the frozen waterfall hike. This was something that was not even in my dreams. (All the “Frozen” movie fantasies came true). I was also lucky enough to spot a Himalayan Red Fox during my return from Key monastery.
Accomodation & Food
I stayed in homestays throughout the trip and couldn’t have asked for anything better. The locals are warm people who will give their love the instant they meet you. The facilities are basic with wooden furnace for central heating, extra blankets for withstanding the extreme temperatures at night and warm seabuckthorn tea to keep you energized.
TIP: After all the exploring is done, once you reach the homestay, don’t stick to your room. Remember this is not a European holiday, you won’t have a central room heater. So spend time in the kitchens of your homestay. The kitchens are always warm and can you give your body the warmth it needs. This way you can also engage and help the hosts in a way or two.
I remember withdrawing cash in an ATM in Tabo. Close to Tabo monastery there is a SBI ATM which can come handy. There is one in Kaza. But it is always a good idea to withdraw cash in Shimla or Rampur before the trip.
Your packing list for a winter roadtrip plays a vital role in deciding how you’ll handle the situation.
Warm Clothing: Layering up is the key! 2 layers of thermals, a t-shirt followed by fleece jacket and a down jacket on top and then thermal bottoms and trek pants can set you right for dealing with subzero temperatures. Woolen socks and gloves are super essential and a fur beanie cap to cover your head. Don’t forget to cover your ears at all times. Cottom dabs come handy.
TIP: Pick a pair of Merino wool socks. It works wonders for that temperature. Snow gloves are also mandatory and a rain poncho, in case you get caught in a snowfall.
Sunglasses: UV protected sunglasses are a must. You might even go blind if you look at the sun directly.
Shoes: Shoes that are water resistant is a must. Trek shoes are good enough for the place, you don’t have to invest in snow boots.
Power bank: Carry additional power banks for your camera. The battery seems to drain fast at higher altitudes so its better to have the power banks handy.
Thermal Flask: I cant stress enough on this. Never forget to carry one and drink ONLY warm/hot water from the flask. Keep sipping hot water during regular intervals. It’s your life saver and gives you the immediate dose of oxygen that your body needs.
Medicines: Diamox is a must have in your medical kit along with the usual supply for crocin, disprin, flagyl, domstall and electrolyte.
Should we go on our own or go through a travel operator?
You can do the trip on your own, it needs extensive planning and definitely some local help cause you’re travelling to a remote place in Himalayas (and in winters) and you can’t land up there without a clue about the region. But I wouldn’t recommend taking a trip on your own during winter season.
I took a package with Spiti Expedition and I cannot be thankful enough to UC and his team for taking care of us. We were a group of 4 and a friend fell terminally sick before even reaching Kaza. The trip would have turned into a nightmare if we had gone by ourselves considering the temperatures we braved were -30 degrees. We had to hospitalise her and UC was the most supportive person through all of this. He did everything possible to help us out of the situation and made sure to show us around and make us happy in the end. I would highly recommend going through Spiti Expedition for your winter travel to Spiti.
Spiti in winter is all about survival instincts and how smartly you can tackle when nature tests you on different levels. Amidst all the frozen rivers, lakes and snow laden houses, the warmth of the people and the beauty of the place will melt your soul. Yours truly fell madly wildly in love with the rawness of the place. During all my trips to the mountains, I have never felt the mountains intimidating, but a trip to Spiti proves who truly rules the place. It is the mountains, the Himalayas.