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Is it Safe to Visit Spiti Alone: 10 Things that Every Backpacker Must Know

Is Spiti safe?  I found myself pondering over this very question as I desperately searched the internet for blogs and articles that shed light on the same. I was well aware of the hardships that come with taking a trip to Spiti Valley and thus wanted to be well-prepared to ensure a smooth journey.

A lot of people who’re planning a trip to Spiti are not aware of the dangers of the locale, the nature of people and the mountain life overall. Thus, they end up worrying and thinking is Spiti safe or not. 

In my current blog, I will explain is Spiti safe or not. I’ve spent some quality time in the surreal land called Spiti in Himachal and would love to address the issues of fellow travellers.

Also Useful:

The complete Spiti Valley Bike Trip Itnerary via Manali

The complete Spiti valley Budget Trip Itinerary via Shimla

Is Spiti Safe? Highlights

Spiti will be sure to challenge you at every single step – be it no phone connectivity, be it the organic toilets, be it the harsh temperatures or be it the high altitudes.

While all of it is as exciting as it can get, being underprepared could prove to be hazardous, especially if you plan on going solo.

Let’s find out the safety of Spiti Valley by means of the subsequent table. The metrics have been based on my own travel experiences.

Type of Experience – Safety level
Solo trip – High
Trip with friends – Very High
All girls trip – High
Couple’s trip – High
Family trip – High
Public places – High
Home stays – Very High
Transport – Moderate to High

So is Spiti safe? My answer would be “yes” provided you check the points I elaborate ahead before embarking on a daunting journey to the cold desert.



Backpacking to Spiti Valley: An Overview

Before understanding is Spiti safe or not, let us first try to understand it as a travel destination.

Location

Spiti Valley is a cold desert that finds itself nestled in the northeastern part of Himachal Pradesh

Best Time to Visit

May to September

Means of Transport

Local HRTC Buses or cabs or self-drive.

You could also opt for the local Buses to reach Spiti, and go with cabs for the time that you are in Spiti due to erratic bus timings of buses then.

How to Reach Spiti?

There are 2 routes that will take you to Spiti-

1)      Via Manali

2)      Via Shimla

(further elaborated in the article)

Friendly to Solo Backpackers?

Very much!

Additionally, you’ll be sure to befriend fellow solo travellers over the course of your trip.

You won’t be all that solo after all. That will not only add a fun dimension to your trip but will also make it more economical – for example, cab fares can be shared.

Cost Per Day in Spiti

1200 INR approximately (includes accommodation, food & local cab services)

is-spiti-safe Spiti – the surreal land. Photography by Tarang Mohnot

Is Spiti Safe when it comes to Public Transport?

In spite of being tucked away, Spiti offers the option of choosing Public Transport – buses run by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) for the commute. While one can always choose to opt for cab services and private cars, I feel for the people who travel solo and most often, on a budget should use public transport.

I must admit, the seats won’t be cushioned and the drive will be bumpy. But for someone who has a heavy passion for genuine travelling and not as heavy a wallet, these buses are the go-to transport option.

What’s more is that you will be sure to get some great advice and suggestions if you happen to strike a conversation with the locals. This is something they will be more than happy to do.

From my personal experience, I can say with 100% confidence that all of the HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) bus drivers are more than equipped to ride on the riskiest of roads that take you to Spiti. So is Spiti safe when it comes to public transport? Yes.

Nitty Gritty of Public Transport in Spiti

Now, what are the aspects that need to be kept in mind before you aboard a local bus?

Route

Spiti is accessible via 2 routes –

Shimla-Reckong Peo-Pooh-Kaza (the longer route and also one which is open most of the year.)

Manali-Kaza (the shorter route and one which is open in the warmer months.)

Fortunately, there are local buses available on both of these routes.

Timings

Buses leave Shimla for Peo at a frequency of half an hour, starting 6AM until 11AM.

Note that there’s just one bus that leaves Peo for Kaza on a daily basis, which is at around 7 AM.

There are about 2 buses that go to Kaza from Manali and the departure time of the same is 5 AM and 5:30 AM.

Bookings

For buses that have a good frequency, it wouldn’t be necessary to make a prior booking. However, for times when there’s just one or two buses on the route, make sure you visit the booking office (any local would be able to guide you there) and book a day in advance.

This was something I personally didn’t keep in mind, which led to us having have to stand in a moving bus for 9 hours straight. Not my idea of fun for sure.

Fare

Relax, you won’t be burning a hole in your pocket. Most of the tickets range from 200-400 INR and also offer a concession to all the females out there.

Medicine

Although you might be someone who is comfortable travelling on rough roads, make it a point to carry medicines (like Diamox) that will help you fight AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) even in the case of going by a private vehicle. 

So is Spiti safe when it comes to public transport? YES !!

is spiti safe Local HRTC buses are pretty much Himachal Pradesh’s lifeline. Photography by Tarang Mohnot

Is Spiti safe in the light of its unpredictable weather conditions?

Being a resident of Mumbai – a city with stable warm temperatures, this was naturally the most crucial question I had. What I realize was that all it essentially takes for a successful trip to the mountains is the right kind of clothing and toiletries.

While days in Spiti can be glorious and pleasant, nights in Spiti can either make you or break you. Although they are inexpressibly beautiful, insufficient clothing could leave you freezing to death.

On one of the days of my Spiti Valley Trip, the temperature in the day was around 3 degrees Celsius, dropping to approximately -18 degrees Celsius in the night. So you have got to watch out for this.

How to pack for Spiti Valley?

Spiti Valley is a cold desert which implies fluctuating temperatures.

What’s important thus, is not packing a lot, but packing in layers. Ensure that you carry inners, thermals, light tee shirts, and jackets; instead of carrying one thick jacket or overcoat.

What to pack for Spiti Valley?

Light & comfortable clothes, jackets, beanies, gloves, woollen socks, scarves, ponchos, etc.

Toiletries

In addition to your regular toiletries, make sure that you carry sunscreen to avoid sunburns to an extent, lip balm to prevent dryness and tearing of lips, moisturizers to keep your skin hydrated.

In case you don’t own the right woollens, fret not.  You could purchase the same at the local market in Kaza at reasonable prices! 

So is Spiti safe when it comes to weather conditions? YES!



Is Spiti Safe in spite of Unstable Connectivity and Electricity Cuts?

“Make sure you inform us once you reach Spiti”, said my parents as I left home. “How am I supposed to do that when I’m going to have no network at all?” I asked myself.

Since Spiti is (thankfully) not as commercialized yet, your phone is most certainly going to be out of coverage network.

We realized that we had absolutely no connectivity 2 hours into our bus journey from Peo to Kaza. We are all used to being glued to our smartphones 24/7 back in the city, and this can thus be undeniably frustrating for starters. But trust me when I say this, it is only going to prove to be a blessing as you progress further into your trip. I wouldn’t have felt as strongly about my trip if it was for giving constant updates over WhatsApp to my friends.

In case you’re worried about family and friends back home being concerned about your safety and well-being, you could opt to purchase a BSNL sim card in Kaza. If I’d have to offer advice on this, however, I’d suggest you not to do that unless completely necessary. What we did was use the locals’ phone and call up home about twice during our trip – worked out completely fine.

What was also a fairly common phenomenon during our Spiti Valley Trip was frequent electricity cuts. Our phones along with our portable chargers were drained at times, but we couldn’t believe how quickly and effortlessly we got used to the same.

Connectivity around Spiti Valley – Things to Know

Phone Connectivity

Only BSNL sim cards partially work in Spiti Valley 

A fairly common phenomenon

Frequent and unexpected electricity cuts; sometimes even for long periods of time.

Perks

With zero phone connectivity, comes greater connectivity with the beauty of Spiti Valley. You’ll realize the true essence of this statement when you visit Spiti.

An electricity cut on one of the days of our Spiti Valley Trip made us witnesses to the starriest night we had ever seen.

is spiti safe 1 Cute Spiti kids finishing their homework amidst a power cut. They’re pretty disciplined that way. Photography by Tarang Mohnot

Is Spiti Safe in terms of Food and Drinks?

Freshly prepared steaming hot dal chawal (Hindi for rice and pulses), freshly prepared appetizing Maggi, freshly prepared fulfilling aloo parathas, & freshly prepared garam chai (Hindi for hot tea) will always be a part of your meals in Spiti.

If there’s anything you do not have to worry about at all, it’s the food in Spiti. There will be absolutely nothing coming out of metal cans and plastic wrappers, and your body will almost always be relishing fresh and delicious food.

What we also registered during the course of our trip was that we craved nothing but simple food – something you won’t find any difficulty obtaining in Spiti. The mountains surely make you modest beings.

Make sure, however, that at every point of your trip, you have a backpack that contains at least some food – fruits, chocolates, biscuits, etc. and at least a liter of water.

Remote locations in the already remote Spiti Valley like Kunzum La have no homes, no restaurants, and no shops. It is also absolutely necessary to keep hydrated at all times. In a cold desert like Spiti Valley, it might be possible that you won’t feel as thirsty, but remind yourself to keep drinking water at regular intervals – it will help you stay healthy.

Commonly found food in Spiti

Aloo parathas, maggi, momos, dal chawal, chai, lemon tea.

Point to remember

Make it a point to carry food & water with you at all points of the trip

So is Spiti safe in terms of the well-being of your tummy? YES!

is-spiti-safe

What’s better than wrapping your freezing hands around a hot bowl of Maggi? Photography by Tarang Mohnot

Is Spiti Safe for a Little Adventure and Adrenaline Rush?

Considering how beautiful Spiti Valley is, it wouldn’t be uncommon to be tempted to get a little adventurous. You might want to camp under the stars, trek and walk instead of opting to drive.

However, it would be advisable to keep your adventure in control, especially if you aren’t used to the rough terrains and extreme weather conditions that mark Spiti Valley.

Looking back to my Spiti Valley trip, I remember how we excitedly agreed to a 3 kilometre trek to the beautiful Dhankar Lake. We made it to the top completely fine and it sure was worth it. But I have to admit that it is not atypical to get breathless just a few steps into the trek.

“Adventure” also brings to my head memories of when we drove 15 kilometres ahead of Chicham, a little village in Spiti, just to camp on open ground with a 360-degree view of snow-capped mountains and photograph the starry sky.

Things went down when our tent kept collapsing amidst strong winds, when we ran out of firewood and when the cold became difficult to bare: minus 18 degrees Celsius to be precise. We made our way back to our home stay after a spellbinding yet adventurous night.

Important Tip 

Reevaluate your temptations in the light of the harsh conditions that characterize Spiti Valley.

Must Carry Things

In case you do decide to camp, trek, hitchhike etc make sure you’re geared up for the same – adequate food supplies, sufficient woollens, etc.

So is Spiti safe for the adventure freaks out there? The answer is “yes,” provided you’re fit & well prepared for the same.

Is Spiti Safe when ATM’s Bail on you?

Back in the cities, the idea of digital payments and credit cards and debit cards is being popularized and disseminated more than ever. However, these ideas continue to remain strange things in Spiti.

While most blogs will tell you that you don’t need to worry with ATM’s being present in Kaza, I’d suggest you to anticipate your expenses beforehand.

It would be a great idea to carry cash. Else, your trip will end up being spoilt due to insufficient cash. This is the last thing you’d want.

During my Spiti Valley trip, I fell short of cash, and the hosts at our homestay were kind enough to let us get back to Mumbai and make an online payment to them. I will forever remain grateful to them. This kind of goodness will take you by surprise. No wonder Himachal is often referred to as Dev Bhoomi (Land of Gods).

Point to Remember

Unavailability of cash in the ATM’s and non-functionality due to power cuts is pretty common.

Golden Rule

Go cash all the way during the course of your Spiti Valley trip.

So is Spiti safe regardless of its erratic payment options? YES!

Is Spiti Safe for those trying to Wrap their Trip in 3-4 days?

Kaza, Nako, Hikkim, Lhangza, Komic, Demul, Tashigang, Key, Kibber, Chicham, Gette, Ladarcha, Losar, Kunzum, Chitkul, Sangla, Dhankhar and Pin Valley were the places we covered over a period of 7-8 days.

I am often asked by people, “what should be the places I leave out if I only have 3-4 days in hand?” The truth is, it is impossible to answer that question efficiently, for there is no effective answer.

Every single location that I’ve mentioned above is so special in its own way. While Gette offers top views of the Key Monastery, Hikkim is home to the world’s highest post office.

While Lhangza holds splendid views of the towering golden Buddha statue, Kunzum is almost always covered with 3 feet deep snow.

While Kibber is one of the biggest villages in Spiti Valley, Tashigang houses barely 4-5 homes. I doubt you’d be wanting to miss out on any of these marvels.

While time constraints restrict a lot of us, make it a point to only visit Spiti when you have sufficient of it in hand. Doing otherwise will neither be fair on you nor on the beautiful places out there that definitely deserve a little more attention of yours.

Moreover, trying to cover more in less time is a risky proposition for it might take a toll on your body which isn’t used to the demands of quick acclimatization. 

Point to remember

Ensure that you have a good 7-8 days to spend in Spiti Valley to have a satisfying and safe trip.

Tip

In case you want to save on some time, plan on approaching Spiti from the Manali route.

So is Spiti safe for a 3-4 day trip? I’d say “not always.”

Are the counterparts of Spiti – Chitkul and Sangla Safe?

After spending a week or more in the barren cold desert, our eyes were craving the greens.

Visiting Sangla and Chitkul in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh definitely seemed like a must-do at that point. Only a few kilometers away from the Indo-Tibet border, Chitkul is majestic.

While you won’t find much to do in Chitkul, if sipping hot coffee on a terrace-café and watching the sun go down is your idea of fun, you will be sure to love the place.

A number of local buses run from Reckong Peo to Sangla and Chitkul. But it would be safe to confirm the timings at the booking office a day in advance. Safety shouldn’t be an issue here at all, even in case you’re travelling solo.

The people are helpful, the climate is warmer & phone connectivity is stronger. However, remember that the options for stay are much more diverse in Sangla. In case you plan on returning to Sangla from Chitkul for your stay, the options for transport aren’t many.

There’s barely 1 or 2 buses that leave for Sangla from Chitkul on a daily basis. While we were unaware of this very information, we concluded that ignorance is bliss, for how we ended up reading Sangla was as follows – in an open jeep while the sun was setting and the wind was blowing straight into our faces.

How do I reach Sangla and Chitkul?

You will have to take the bus from Kaza to ReckongPeo. You can then hop on to a bus from Peo to Sangla/Chitkul!

Accommodation

Numerous homestays and guesthouses are available at reasonable prices. We spent approximately 500 INR per person which included our stay & dinner.

Phone Connectivity

While you will most certainly get a connection in Sangla, it might be a little erratic in Chitkul.

Above all, Chitkul and Sangla are definitely a must-visit for each and everyone travelling to Spiti Valley.



Is Spiti Safe for those Wanting to be a little Spontaneous?

While the most common advice given to those taking a trip to Spiti Valley is “plan well and enough,” it is more than okay to be impromptu with certain decisions. We, for example, went with no prior bookings and no definite itinerary for our trip.

Most of our decisions were taken on the spot and we definitely wouldn’t have seen the places we saw and wouldn’t have paid prices as low if it were otherwise.

A lot can go wrong before you even get to Spiti – a landslide, bad weather conditions, a breakdown (of your vehicle) are not rare.

Keeping this in mind, a little spontaneity would not only be fun, but also advisable and wise.

Perks of spontaneity

Minimization of costs, exploring places you wouldn’t have read of on the internet – we hadn’t heard of Gette and Tashigang until the time a local told us about the same.

So is Spiti safe amidst spontaneity and unplanned plans? I’d say YES

is spiti safe Hands down the highlight of our visit to Tashigang. Such lovely kids. Photography by Tarang Mohnot

Is Spiti Safe for Self-Drive?

Piloting a vehicle yourself on the rough and barren roads of Spiti is something you should definitely do if you’re a passionate driver.  However, this is deemed to be a safe option if and only if you’re well informed about the conditions of the road, and have immense experience driving on jaggy roads.

One major perk of self-driving to Spiti would be flexibility in terms of time. While travelling by public transport is economical, it also ties you up in that you need to plan every single day as per the bus timetable.

Things to Remember when you’re self-driving to and/or in Spiti Valley

Experience is Important

Opt for self-drive only if you have had immense driving experience in the past, and are comfortable driving/riding for long hours.

Take Breaks

If you ever feel exhausted/drained, make sure you take a stop. Fortunately, the route to Spiti will take you through a number of villages where you could halt.

Basic maintenance and Repairing

Learning basic maintenance and repairing tasks with respect to your vehicle can come handy.

Inspect, when in doubt

In case of driving on roads covered in snow, step out of your car/bike, walk the path and inspect it when in doubt.

Refill your tank

As off now, Kaza is the only village in Spiti that offers a petrol pump – make sure you refill your tank in case you’re going to locations far off. For example, Pin Valley/Kunzum/Chandrataal.

Carry Extra Fuel

It would also be a good idea to carry 2-3 litres of extra petrol at all times.

Mechanics

Several mechanics are available in Kaza.

Spiti is not for the faint-hearted,” they say.

“True,” I’d say.

But to be honest, all it really takes is to be prepared for the worst at all times. What’s the worst that could happen apart from being stranded in a beautiful cold desert in the Himalayas? Moreover, that’s the best kind of “worst.” Would you really mind that?

is leh safe Drive in Spiti only if you’re familiar with the terrain or have had experience driving amidst mountains. Photography by Tarang Mohnot

My Budget Break Down for a Backpacking Trip to Spiti Valley – An Overview

Now that you’re aware of the 10 most crucial points to remember while backpacking to Spiti, I’ll give you an insight into what my budgets roughly were during the course of my 12-day trip.

Train (Mumbai-Delhi-Mumbai)

4000 INR

Food per day

200 INR on an average

Accommodation per day

500 INR on an average

Cab services within Spiti

550 INR per person

Local Buses

Shimla-Peo: 340 INR

Peo-Kaza: 250 INR

Kaza-Peo: 340 INR

Peo-Chitkul: 180 INR

Sangla-Shimla: 300 INR

Miscellaneous

2000 INR approximately

TOTAL

19,660 INR

Not bad at all, is it?

Traveling for me is really stepping out of my comfort zone. No matter how clichéd and typical it may sound, it really is spending a few days without Wi-Fi connection, and doing all those things I never thought I would.

When I look back to my 12 day trip to Spiti, what makes me smile the most is the little things – getting restless amidst no phone connectivity, the joy attained when I finally spoke to friends and family on reaching Peo, successfully peeing into nothing but a hole in the ground and eating simple, wholesome dal chawal for 12 days straight.

If these are the things that really make you happy as a person, do not hesitate to take a trip to Spiti. It certainly won’t offer you luxury hotels and resorts, but I believe that that is what makes it so special. It will allow you to stay ‘you.’

Happy wayfaring 🙂

About the Author

Tarang Mohnot

Tarang Mohnot

Tarang Mohnot is a student of Economics and Sociology at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai. Constantly trying to quench her thirst for travel, Tarang’s goal in life is to keep on getting her passport stamped over and over again. This implies that she wants to explore new destinations each year.

Resorting to a local inhabitant’s advice over Google searches, to physical maps over Google maps, to haversacks over suitcases, and to exploration over planning, Tarang hopes to visit places no one has ever been and to share her travel experiences with thousands all over the world – something her CV won’t ever tell.

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