Saturday, 22 November 2014

Kaza - The Premier Destination In Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

By noon of 2nd May 2014, we left behind Dhankar for our onward journey through Pin valley planning to go as far as Mud. Going down towards the river bed of Spiti valley, we had a break for watching the confluence of rivers Spiti and Pin from Close proximity. Though water volume of both the rivers was low, they had a distinctive color of their own.

Confluence of Spiti & Pin rivers - distant view
Confluence of Spiti & Pin rivers - Close view

As we crossed Attargu bridge and stepped into Pin valley, the topography changed dramatically. On the river side, big chunks of snow melting in early summer added volume of water to the Pin river. The going became somewhat rough through the patches of mud track. The river bed got a lot of silt carried from hills above. The debris getting piled up, it must have been some work to clear the road to keep some of the most remote villages in Pin valley to have its lifeline open.

Snow-melt feeding Pin river
Silt Deposition in Pin valley

Further through the valley, the silting became so much so as to prevent the Pin river from running its natural course and the accumulated water gave rise to a giant lake with even the electric poles found submerged in water. The snow mass floating on water and larger one’s crumbing into different shape made a fascinating sight.

Glacial lake - Pin valley

Snow mass around lake

When we arrived Kungri after deviating from main road and taking a narrow road upwards, the topography changed yet again. It was lively with colorful cottages a midst cultivating plots. The villagers took to their task making use of giant Yaks to plough their fields. We parked our car inside the large monastery compound.

Ploughing plot at Kungri
Tringon guest house

The Monastery area was quite lively with young would be lamas having a game of marble or volleyball. The façade of the entry to new monastery named as Ugyen Sanag Choling monastery is a huge structure with hostel facilities for Lamas and Lama students. The old monastery is a single storied structure and was open for a visit. There was too much snow piled up for negotiating though the compound. Tringon Guest House building looked impressive for tourists who plan to stay overnight.

Old Monastery - Kungri
Ugyen Choling Monastery gate

Entering through the gate, we came to courtyard of the new monastery. The peripheral area having living quarters for lamas and students appeared to be deserted. The monastery itself colorful and elegantly designed structure with glass façade reflecting the snow-capped hills looked awesome. I came out and walked to the left hand side of old monastery to the view point area from where one gets fascinating bird’ eye view of Pin valley. Pin river flowing in serpentine manner in between heavily snow-covered area, with the backdrop of snow splattered hills. There is safety railing at the edge to make it safe for visitors.

Ugyen Choling Monastery - Kungri
Pin Valley view from Kungri

Nearing Sagnam, we had a break to view at a distance, the Pin Structure in Khar village. Possibly the name of Pin river and Pin valley has its origin here. Crossing the bridge, the last lap of the journey to Sagnam on a plateau with fresh snow in all direction took us to snow-land. The barren trees and occasional cottages gave a dimension to the scenario.

Pin structure at Khar - Pin valley
Bridge to Sagnam - Pin valley

Reaching Sagnam we had a break for lunch at PWD Guest House. The Sagnam village is well spread out, one of the biggest we have seen so far, with large agricultural plots growing green Pea, barley and buck wheat. Villagers keep busy making use of giant Yaks for tilling work. The entire family of villagers seemed to be out there including children. The PWD Rest House, did provide us with lunch, but with no piped water and the wash rooms not being usable, it was not worthwhile staying here. Post lunch we decided to forgo the last 10 km drive to Mud with snow-blocks expected to block the road and deciding in not taking any risk whatsoever. We traveled 36 km to Kaza ( 11,980’), with slight change in itinerary.

Tilling Plots at Sagnam - Pin Valley
PWD Resthouse at Sagnam

Arriving in Kaza by main road, the first hotel we came across was Snow Lion Hotel. With no booking in kitty, we looked around for somebody in reception area. Motubhai – a short medium built guy did not appear to be fat as his name suggests is receptionist-cum-whatever you can think of, gave us a room with balcony overlooking the well spread out Kaza town. Being early season the hotel had just opened six rooms. But, the running water to the town had not resumed so we were to manage with water brought in buckets by hotel staff from a pipeline outside. At Rs. 600/- per day, the room rent appeared to be value for money at that point of time. Sakya monastery located at the diametrically opposite on main road looked the most colorful and imposing in the town.  The Hindu temple at slightly higher elevation had some steps to climb. The well spread out town with mostly single and occasional two storied structure serviced by interconnecting roads looked lively.

Kaza town & Sakya monastery 
Hindu temple on hill - Kaza

Evening was unwinding time. The dining cum reception area of the hotel has a library with good collection of books and tourists maps to pass time. Most interesting part was a huge collection of fossils behind glass case. Motubhai was chatting away about his experience in locating fossils in his expeditions in higher altitudes every year. After ordering for dinner going towards my room, what caught my attention was a few twigs of plants in compound which were being surrounded by ice blocks. Water being scarce and snow easily available, on a bright sunlit day the ice-melt feeding the plants was a practical solution. The dinner was freshly prepared from vegetables brought from market on same evening by Motubhai himself.

Hotel Snow Lion - Kaza
Ice at roots for moisture - Kaza

Morning of 3rd May gave us a opportunity to visit higher altitude of Langza (14,520’) and beyond, condition permitting. As we were leaving the fringes of Kaza town, there was a car parked charging some kind of unofficial toll of Rs. 100/-. They gave a receipt which did not make much sense. Going up we got a classic view of Spiti valley in early summer. The patterns of water flow on sand bed and the adjoining topography was any landscape photographer’s delight.

Spiti Valley view from Kaza uphill
Spiti valley view from Kaza uphill

Further up, we were going through snow-line, with scattered snow on both side of the road. The Langza village has a Buddha statue at an higher elevation standing like a lone sentinel with scattered single storied cottages on a flat land bereft of any vegetation. The backdrop of snow splattered hills gave a scenic touch to the village.

Signage - Langza village
Langza village

Going higher up, the snow quantum went on increasing. The car was moving slow through muddy track because of snow melt flowing to the road. To avoid skidding, following the tire-marks was the only option and avoiding snow cover at all cost. We sighted a bulldozer busy in clearing the snow piled up to open up the road to Comic and Hikkim. Here we got stuck up for good. We gathered that the road clearing process was to be completed before 7th May, the day the Lok Sabha elections were to be held in this region. Leaving with no option but to retreat, we got down from car, walking through mud for taking a few photos.

Road block beyond Langza
Through snow obstacle

Forgoing our journey to Comic and Hikkim, we rued the fact that we were tad early for this kind of an adventure. Ideally one should visit these places after 15th May. Retreating through mud packed roads was slow and cautious. Reaching Kaza we had lunch and some rest before taking a narrow mud-track suitable for people to save a lot of walking time through the main road. Nearing market place the roads are broader. The tea break at a wayside restaurant and walking through the area having cluster of winter clothing shop, my wish of buying gloves for very low temperature, materialized. Reaching the main road we were in front of Sakya Monastery in no time.

Sakya Monastery
Buddha statue - Sakya monastery

As had been our experience, early summer always greet us with closed doors of Monastery at Himachal. We were contemplating what to do when we found young lama students playing nearby. Inquiry with them revealed that they will be opening the doors for us to view monastery from inside.

Colorful interior - Sakya monastery
Trumpets on display

What a revelation! I have never seen such a colorful, neat, spotlessly clean and exquisite interiors. The golden Buddha statue at the centre surrounded by smaller statues and artifacts made a wonderful décor. The array of musical instruments like trumpets, Drum, conch shells and cymbals were on dispaly – every item neatly arranged had beauty of its own.

Drum, cymbals and conch shells
Cymbals at display

While retreating and trying to take a short cut to go back to hotel at the other extremity, we somehow lost our way and discovered some newer places. One of them was a tree lined road leading our eye to distant hotel named Hotel Winter White appropriately named with a backdrop of snow splattered hills.

Bell at Sakya Monastery
Picture perfect road at Kaza

Next day we left for Kee and Kibber for couple of days (which will be another travel story) before retracing to Kaza yet again for a night halt at same Snow Lion Hotel. The room rent had shot up to Rs.1000/- because of resumption of piped water supply to washrooms. Following day we commenced return journey via Nako in Kinnaur Valley.

Readers can see couple of short videos of Kaza as per the following captioned links:

Kaza at a Glance

Sakya Monastery at Kaza  

* Title Image is by Sachin Vaidya: Kaza town as viewed from Hindu temple. 



  1. You have very well written our travel in brief and covered all the aspects.

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  4. really needs a lot of determination and strength of mind to go for such rides :-)

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