Surreal Spiti - Travel guide to Pin Valley
Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, India is a heaven for those seeking for gorgeous landscapes, high-altitude freshwater lakes, ancient monasteries, rich culture, and quaint little villages. In spite of the rise in tourism, several places in Spiti Valley still remain offbeat and unexplored. One such hidden gem is Pin Valley. Pin Valley is a cluster of 17 villages in the Spiti district that houses not more than 2000 people. It is largely popular for its Pin Valley National Park and the snow-laden unexplored higher peaks like Pin-Parvati Pass and Pin-Bhabha Pass. Unlike other villages of Spiti Valley, Pin Valley has a lot more greenery and vegetation. If you want to quickly analyse if Pin Valley is worth-visiting, watch the song named ‘Intezaar’ from the Bollywood movie ‘Paap’. In this blog, we provide you with a travel guide to visit and explore Pin Valley.
Read our previous blogs on Spiti Valley by clicking on the links or images below:
6. Travel guide to Pin Valley (This blog)
Location of Pin Valley: Mud, the last village of Pin Valley is located at a distance of about 50 kilometres from Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti Valley. If you are driving from Kaza, Pin Valley is situated on the road towards Dhankar. About 16 kilometres from Kaza, you will reach Attargo bridge towards the right side. You enter Pin Valley right after crossing this bridge over the Spiti river. Pin Valley can be easily visited as a day-excursion from Kaza ensuring that you start early from Kaza.
How to reach Pin Valley: The best way to reach Pin Valley is by hiring a car or bike from Kaza. The frequency of government buses from Kaza to Pin Valley is erratic and might not suit your timings. Moreover, the road to Pin Valley is also not in very good condition. It is mostly a bumpy, untarred dirt road, full of loose gravel. As you enter Pin Valley, the Pin river flows right next to you and it accompanies you till Mud, the last village of Pin Valley. After a 35-kilometre drive from Kaza, you will come across the first village of Pin Valley – Sangnam. Sangnam is the largest village of Pin Valley. It has well-built houses, large open fields, a school and a post-office. Another 15-kilometre drive from Sangnam will take you to Mud village. The entire drive from Kaza to Pin Valley is filled with breath-taking scenery. It will be too difficult for you to take the eyes off your vehicle’s window.
Things to do in Pin Valley: 1. Visit Kungri monastery: Several monasteries in Pin Valley are worth a visit but Kungri monastery (or Kungri gompa or Pin gompa) is the most popular amongst them. After crossing Attargo bridge, if you continue driving for 16 kilometres, you will reach Gulling village. After crossing Gulling, you will see a road towards right going uphill. This road will take you to Kungri monastery.
Kungri monastery was built in the year 1330 and is believed to be the second oldest monastery of Spiti Valley, first being the Tabo monastery. Kungri monastery is the only monastery that follows Nyingmapa Buddhism. Kungri means ‘snow mountain’ in the Tibetan language. And the monastery is located right below the snow mountains. The monastery is believed to be founded by Guru Padmasambhava or the second Buddha. During your visit to Kungri monastery, make sure that you visit both the old as well as the new monastery.
The entrance to the old Kungri monastery is via a narrow door that leads through a dark narrow passage to a central hall. There are not many wall paintings or clay images here, unlike the other rich monasteries. Manuscripts are stacked on all four walls in wooden racks. In a side room is a beautiful 10-feet high prayer wheel. This monastery has a portrait of Demchhog (or Demchhok) and Phangmo clinging to each other in close embrace. Demchhog is a form of Lord Shiva and Phangmo is Parvati. It is interesting to find forms of Hindu deities in a centuries old Buddhist monastery. The statue signifies the union of male and female. The burnt condition of some of the murals in the old Kungri monastery is attributed to the Sikh invasion of Spiti in 1841 or it may be the work of Ghulam Khan in the earlier times when he plundered all the monasteries in Spiti.
Adjacent to the old monastery building is the new Kungri monastery. It has a central image of Tandupa, a form of Buddha, studded with precious stones. The central image is said to be brought in a glass case from Shimla, carried by humans at most places due to the uncertainty of the roads. The frescos on the walls of the new Kungri monastery do not seem too old. But according to scholars, the carved wooden specimens are definitely ancient.
We met a monk at the Kungri monastery who took us around both the old and new monasteries and was happy answering our curious questions. In fact, all the monks were very warm and welcoming. One is even allowed to stay overnight at the monastery’s monks’ quarters if one wishes to.
2. Venture into the Pin Valley National Park: Pin Valley National Park is an animal wildlife sanctuary located within Pin Valley. It was declared as a National Park in the year 1987 and is considered as home to the ‘grey ghost of Himalayas’ i.e. the snow leopard. Great Himalayan National Park and Rupi Bhabha sanctuary sandwiches the Pin Valley National Park from two sides. Spread over an area of 9800 square kilometres, Pin Valley National Park is believed to house as many as 12 snow leopards. Apart from the snow leopard, the National Park is also a natural habitat to several other rare and endangered animal species like Siberian ibex, red fox, weasel, Tibetan gazelle, bharal, marten, woolly hare, Himalayan brown bear, and Himalayan marmot. Several rare birds like snow pigeon, Himalayan snowcock, bearded vulture, golden eagle and raven can also be found in the Pin Valley National Park. The altitude of the National Park ranges from 11,500 feet to 19,500 feet. The park also has many unexplored high-altitude peaks and slopes. You will have to hire a local guide to venture through the park.
3. Visit the Mud Village: Mud village is the last inhabited village on the Indian side of Indo-Tibet border. As you enter the village, a huge chorten will welcome you. The monotony of the Spitian landscape is broken by the abundant greenery and flowering plants around Mud village. The ferociously flowing Pin river flows right beside Mud village turning the entire landscape into carpets of green with snow-capped mountains in the background. Strong winds cause rhythmic movements of clouds that create shadows in specified areas over the landscape.
We never saw a place as beautiful and colourful as the valleys around Mud village. God had painted the landscape using various shades in his palette. Club this with ethereal silence and miles of isolation – Mud village was truly a paradise.
4. Help the locals with peas/ potato harvesting: The fertile land of Pin Valley is ideal for potato and peas farming. On our way to Mud village, all the fields surrounding the roads were filled with peas plantation. And to our surprise, it was the harvesting season in August. We stopped at one of the farms to watch the locals harvest fresh peas from the soil. They let us enter their farms, where we helped them with harvesting. The farmers were very warm and welcoming and let us taste the sweet and delicious peas. Their taste was totally different from the peas that we get in the cities.
5. View the confluence of Spiti river and Pin river: The Pin river originates from the southwestern part of Spiti Valley, whereas the Spiti river originates from Kunzum range. Both these rivers meet at a confluence point right after the Attargo bridge. The best view of the confluence of the Spiti and Pin rivers can be had from the Dhankar village. However, you can also stop by after the Attargo bridge to click some wonderful pictures of the confluence.
6. Visit the Pin River Bank: Close to Mikkim village in Pin Valley, we came across a suspension bridge over the Pin river. It was laden with colourful Tibetan flags. We stopped our car by the bridge and crossed over one of the small tributaries of the Pin river to the other side. The thrill of crossing the dwindling bridge and dipping our feet in the ice-cold water is indescribable. The vast expanse of the Pin river bank, surrounded by the brownish high mountains made it one of the most picturesque spot of our trip to Spiti Valley.
7. Trek the Pin-Parvati Pass: The trek to the high-altitude Pin-Parvati Pass starts from Mud village in Pin Valley. Pin-Parvati Pass is the mountainous range that divides the Pin Valley from the adjacent Parvati Valley. The Pin-Parvati Pass trek is one of the most challenging treks in Himachal Pradesh. It reaches an altitude of 17,500 feet covering a distance of 100 kilometres. The trek is 11-day long and requires prior experience of at least two high-altitude treks. 8. Trek the Pin-Bhabha Pass: Mud village is a base camp for trekkers willing to trek the Pin-Bhabha Pass. This trek crosses over the Bhabha Pass at an altitude of 15,900 feet to the Bhabha valley. Bhabha Pass is the ridge between Pin Valley and Kinnaur Valley. Pin-Bhabha Pass trek covers a total distance of about 50 kilometres which can ideally be done in 7-8 days. This is again a high-altitude trek requiring prior trekking experience and good physical fitness.
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Trip to Pin Valley does not offer a lot of activities or tons of places to visit. The trip is rather relaxing and calming and should be done at a slow place while enjoying the stunning vistas. Though Pin Valley can be covered as a day trip from Kaza, we highly recommend spending a night at Mud village. Several basic homestay facilities are available at the Mud village. Staying with the locals will give you a marvellous insight into their culture, tradition and hardships.