Places to visit near Kaza, Spiti Valley - Surreal Spiti
Spiti Valley is unlike any other valleys in Himachal Pradesh, India. It doesn’t have any vegetation rich mountains, dense jungles, farms and orchards and English hamlets like other valleys. Instead, Spiti Valley has Grand Canyon like brown and barren mountains with strange shapes and colours. However, the valley has much more to offer than just the mountains, rocks and arid vastness. The charm of Spiti Valley lies in its quaint villages. These villages that seem like a tiny dot from afar, are full of life, culture, tradition and hospitality. Settled in the lap of trans-Himalayan range, Spiti Valley is home to some of the remotest, highest and most beautiful villages like Key, Kibber, Hikkim, Komik and Langza. On your trip to Spiti, do not miss out on Spiti's most famous sight of Key monastery, world's highest post office at Hikkim, world's highest and 2nd highest motorable villages at Komik & Kibber, Asia's highest bridge at Chicham and giant Buddha statue at Langza. In this blog, we will list down 5 villages of Spiti Valley that are worth visiting. Stay tuned.
Read our previous blogs on Spiti Valley and Kinnaur Valley by clicking on the below-mentioned links/ images:
7. Places to visit around Kaza (Key, Kibber, Chicham, Hikkim, Komik, Langza) (This blog)
Key monastery in Key village:
Key Village (also known as Ki or Kee village) is situated between Kaza and Kibber on the left bank of the Spiti river. It is located just 12 kilometres away from the bustling town of Kaza. The small village houses an odd 70 families who mainly depend on agriculture for survival. Key village houses the famous Key monastery. The monastery is a 3-kilometre uphill climb from the village. You can either hire a taxi/ rent a bike from Kaza or tag along with someone going towards Key to visit the monastery.
Key monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and is one of the oldest monasteries in Spiti Valley. It is located at an altitude of 13670 feet above sea level. Key monastery was built by Dromton, the founder of Gelugpa sect, in the 11th century. The monastery was constructed on a conical shaped hill, possibly on an extinct volcano, as per the Himachal Pradesh Gazette. It was devastated several times in petty wars between Kullu and Ladakh and particularly during Dogra war in 1841. It was also attacked by Sikh army and its old books and statues were destroyed. An earthquake in 1975 caused further damage, after which Archaeological Survey of India took steps to repair the monastery. Hence the outfit of Key monastery seems rather modern today.
Key monastery has three floors, one of which is underground and used as a storage area to store supplies for winter, and dresses, musical instruments, masks and other necessities for occasions of religious ceremony. The ground floor has invariably fashioned rooms, built in similar architecture, for the monks. The large heap of rooms have low doors and narrow corridors between them. Through dark passages and torturous staircases, one can reach the topmost floor which has a beautiful assembly hall richly painted with murals. Currently, the Key monastery is home to 300 lamas who reside within the sacred walls throughout the year. They also provide guest house services to the tourists for a meagre amount.
During our visit, red-robed child monks were playing around in the playground outside the Key monastery. With their guidance, we hiked up a hill towards the backside of the monastery. On a defined trail, we went upwards for 10-15 minutes and as we turned, we got a stunning bird’s eye view of the Key monastery with the beautiful Spiti river and mountains in the backdrop. From above, the Key monastery appeared like a hill fort perched on a rugged ridge. The view gave us the essence of the existence of the century-old heritage beautifully painted in white and red. This view of Key monastery is the best view we got in Spiti Valley.
Photography is allowed only in some sections inside the Key monastery. If you are doubtful, ask before clicking.
Monks will invite you for butter tea while exploring the Key monastery. They will tell you all about the history and working of the monastery. Do give them some donation while you leave.
In the meditation hall of Key monastery, you will find many monks chanting prayers or in deep meditation. Please keep silence and respect the aura.
Do not miss visiting the view point we just described above
Kibber is a large village and is the last Spiti outpost before Ladakh. It is located at an altitude of 14010 feet above sea level and is just 10 kilometres away from Key village. Originally known as Kyber, the Kibber village was once hailed as the highest motorable village in the world till road to Komik village was built. Kibber village houses some 90 families, has a beautiful monastery and a wildlife sanctuary. It is also a base camp for treks to adjoining high altitude peaks. Popular treks like Parang La and Kanamo peak trek starts from Kibber. The Kibber wildlife sanctuary is 1400 square kilometres vast and protects animals like snow leopard, red fox, Himalayan wolf, ibex and Tibetan wild ass. In winters, Kibber village becomes a base for travellers interested in spotting the rare snow leopard. Kibber monastery was established by Serkong Rinpoche, the teacher of Dalai Lama. The monastery is located in such a serene and peaceful location that even Dalai Lama has expressed a wish to retire in Kibber someday.
Kibber is considered as one of the highest well inhabited village of Spiti Valley with inhabitants staying all the year-round. Picturesque white houses with bright red rooftops add to the charm of the village. With an increase in tourism, many households have set up basic homestays with the help of the local community. Kibber village is a paradise for nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts as well as for photographers owing to its panoramic beautiful landscapes and immeasurable beauty.
Hardly 6 kilometres from Kibber village lies Chicham village, which you must not skip visiting due to two reasons. One, because the drive from Kibber to Chicham is extremely breath-taking with wonderful views of Mount Kanamo. And secondly, because you will get to see and walk on Asia’s highest suspension bridge situated at an altitude of 13600 feet from sea level. Chicham bridge is an engineering marvel as it is built over a 100-metre-deep gorge. Before Chicham bridge was built, that is till 2017, locals had access to Chicham village only via a pulley and ropeway system called as the Kibber-Chicham ropeway.
Hikkim village, located at an altitude of 14570 feet, houses the highest post office in the world. Situated 16 kilometres away from Kaza town, Hikkim is nestled between the villages of Komik and Langza. Hikkim village is home to 40 odd families who mainly depend on agriculture for a living. The post office in Hikkim was set-up in the year 1983 in the house of a post-master named Rinchen Chering. From the parking area, we had to hike down through steep 65-degree decline to the house cum post-office of Rinchen Chering. The post-office goes into a half-yearly hibernation every year when it snows. The high-altitude village of Hikkim does not have any cell phone signals of internet connectivity; hence the post office is the only source of communication for the villagers with the outside world.
The post-delivery system in Hikkim is a 2-man show. Every alternate morning 2 men from the village deliver the mail on foot to Kaza post-office. From here, the letters reach Reckong Peo by bus and another bus takes them to Shimla railway station. From Shimla, the letters travel on a toy train to Kalka and then again in a bus to New Delhi. It is from Delhi’s post office that these letters get sorted as per their destinations and are forwarded to the respective directions via road, rail or air.
We were extremely eager and excited to send a postcard to our family and friends from the highest post office in the world and we sure did send hordes of postcards. It felt quite strange to write a postcard in this world of SMS and mails. But honestly, it was fun and we felt a deep sense of connection to our loved ones while writing to them, unlike the mails. We had already bought beautiful postcards from Kaza; however, they are on sale just near the parking area in Hikkim village. The locals charge INR 40 for a postcard. A stamp amounting to INR 5 has to be stuck on a postcard to be sent anywhere in India and INR 25 has to be stuck on postcards to be sent to international destinations. Surprisingly, the ones which we sent to Singapore were delivered earlier than the ones which we sent to our home towns in India. Do remember to click a picture with the red post-box hanging outside the post-office.
Apart from the highest post-office in the world, Hikkim has nothing much to offer except the beautiful village and breath-taking views. You can also visit the village monastery at one far corner that overlooks the entire village and the valley. With Chau Chau Kang Nilda (CCKN) peak in the backdrop and view of the trans-Himalayan range in the front, Hikkim is the most stunning place to send a postcard to a loved one.
Komik village (also spelled as Komic village), at an altitude of 15500 feet, is about 4 kilometres from Hikkim and 20 kilometres from Kaza. Komik village is considered to be the highest village in the world, though this ranking has been debated. The road to Komik is partially unpaved mud trail and it steeply winds uphill through barren mountains set against the bright blue sky. A sudden change in weather condition can be felt as one reaches Komik village. The village is set in a bowl-shaped depression in the high trans-Himalayan ranges. Hardly 20-25 families live in complete isolation, literally cut off from the rest of the world in Komik village. Their houses are similar to any other Spitian house with white walls and bright red roofs.
Komik village is famous for the Komik monastery or the Tangyud monastery that houses a statue of Maitreya Buddha or future Buddha. The locals believe that the Buddha looks after the well-being of the people in Spiti Valley. Hence the monastery is highly revered and is considered to be of great religious significance by the locals. The Komik/ Tangyud monastery is built like a fortified castle on the edge of a deep canyon above Komik village. The monastery overlooks the vast valley covered with patches of greenery and with snow-peaked mountains towards the front. Komik/ Tangyud monastery is also the highest motorable Buddhist monastery in the world.
The mud-walled monastery, built in the 14th century, houses several murals, scriptures and thangkas belonging to the bygone era. It also houses monk quarters where some 40-50 monks reside. We were lucky to witness a lama rally where they circumference around the monastery on foot while chanting mantras. We also visited a separate room full of tantric masks and fearsome statues in a building besides the monastery. Right at the entrance to this room was hung a stuffed snow leopard from the ceiling. Women were not allowed inside this room. Towards the other side of the same building were a few other monk residencies and a guest house as well. We wondered how it would feel to stay at the highest village in the world next to a room that housed a dead snow leopard.
World’s highest restaurant is located just next to the Komik monastery. It is named ‘Spiti Organic Kitchen’. They serve delicious food made from local ingredients and you have to believe us when we tell you that their menu was exhaustive; at that highest point of the valley. We enjoyed the mouth-watering food soaking in the meditative silence, the untouched beauty, and the view of majestic mountains, with hardly a soul around. And soon we came to know that there’s a horse race to be conducted in the valley near the Komik village. Within less than an hour, the parking area was full and locals from near and far wandered around, practising sprinting with their beautiful horses.
Langza village, located at an altitude of 14500 feet, is popularly known as the Fossil Village as you can dig up fossils of marine creatures everywhere in and around the village. It is also popular for the huge statue of Buddha overlooking the snow-capped mountains and the beautiful Spiti Valley. The majestic peak of the Chau Chau Kang Nilda (CCKN) mountain can be best viewed from Langza. However, the essence of Langza village lies in its villagers. A trip to the village is incomplete without spending time with locals and understanding their way of life, culture and tradition. We highly recommend spending a night at a local homestay in Langza village.
Langza’s beauty cannot be described in a couple of short paragraphs. Hence, we have written a dedicated blog on Langza village which you can visit to know more.
Covering these 5 villages near Kaza
These 5 villages can be covered while staying in Kaza as a day trip. Kaza has enough hotels/ homestays/ guest houses and if you start at 7-8 AM, you can complete all these places in a day. However, if you are into photography or want to immerse yourself into Spiti's culture, we would suggest staying in a homestay in any of the villages. All these villages have homestay options but our recommendation is to stay in Langza. Hikkim and Komik are on the same route while Key and Kibber are on the same route. Langza is a slight deviation in the middle so we would recommend covering Hikkim - Komik and stay in Langza. Proceed to Key, Kibber and Chicham bridge the next day.
Note that if you want to start from Kaza or Langza and cover - Key, Kibber, Chicham, Kumzum pass and reach Chandrataal, you would have to start early in morning around 6:30 AM and would have to spend limited time at each of these locations. If you want to spend more time at these places, split your trip in 2 days.
All of these villages can be visited as an excursion from Kaza, the headquarter of Spiti Valley, where you will find the most comfortable stay. However, each of these villages has basic homestay facilities you can choose to stay in. Based on your time and comfort you can choose to wander in these little hamlets as per your convenience. Just remember, the beauty of Spiti Valley lies in its villages!
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Hope you fall in love with these little isolated villages of Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, India just like we did. Let us know if you found this article useful in comment section below.