Spiti Valley

Spiti Valley
Spiti River upstream of Kaza
Cscr-featured.svg Spiti River upstream of Kaza
Floor elevation2,950–4,100 m (9,680–13,450 ft)[1]
LocationLahaul and Spiti district
State/ProvinceHimachal Pradesh, India
Population centersLosar, Kaza, Tabo, Sumdo, Chango
This is a "quality" image View of Spiti Valley and Key Monastery in winter, Jan. 2008

Spiti Valley (pronounced as Piti in Bhoti Language) is a cold desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas in the north-eastern part of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name "Spiti" means "The middle land", i.e. the land between Tibet and India.[2]

The local population follows Vajrayana Buddhism similar to that found in the nearby Tibet and Ladakh regions. The valley and surrounding region are among the least populated regions in India. Spiti valley is a gateway to the northernmost reaches of the nation. Spiti forms part of the Lahaul and Spiti district. The sub-divisional headquarters (capital) is Kaza, Himachal Pradesh[3] which is situated on the Spiti River at an elevation of about 12,500 feet (3,800 m) above mean sea level.

Spiti valley is surrounded by high mountain ranges. Spiti valley is separated from Lahaul valley by the high Kunzum Pass, at 15,059 feet (4,590 m).[3] A road connects these two divisions of Lahaul and Spiti district, but is cut off frequently in winter and spring due to heavy snow. A southern route to India proper, via the Sutlej in the Kinnaur district and Shimla, is periodically closed for brief periods in the winter storms of November through June, but road access is usually restored a few days after the storm ends.


Tabo Monastery viewed from monks' caves

It is believed that Spiti came into existence as a principality after the decline of central power in India as was the case with Lahaul. Local rulers had the title of Nonos. They were either descendants of a native family of Spiti or chiefs sent to look after the affairs of Spiti by the rulers of Ladakh. In the 10th century, Spiti was given to one of the three sons of the King of Ladakh. After that, the history of Spiti was linked with the history of Ladakh for a long time. This region became autonomous whenever the rulers of Ladakh were weak. However they periodically sent tribute to Ladakh, Chamba and Kullu.[4]

Spiti became practically free after the Ladakh-Tibet war of 1681-83. This prompted Man Singh, Raja of Kullu, to invade Spiti and establish a loose control over this principality. Later on, in the 18th century, control once again passed back to Ladakh. An official was sent from Leh as Governor, but he usually went away after harvest time, leaving the local administration in the hands of the Wazir or Nono. There was a headman for a group of villages for day-to-day administrative affairs.[4]

Spiti remained under the Dogras till 1846 and then annexed to the British Empire in 1846 after the defeat of the Sikhs. Mansukh Das, hereditary Wazir of Bushahr, was entrusted with the local administration of this region from 1846-48. The Wazir had to pay the British revenue of only Rs. 700 annually for the whole of Spiti. In 1849, Spiti came directly under the control of the Assistant Commissioner, Kooloo (Kullu).[5] Kooloo was a sub-division of Kangra district, Punjab. In 1941, Spiti was made part of the Lahaul tehsil (sub-division) of Kullu district, with its headquarters at Keylong. After the formation of Lahaul & Spiti into a district in 1960, Spiti was formed into a sub-division with its headquarter at Kaza.[6] Lahaul and Spiti district was merged with Himachal Pradesh on 1 November 1966 on enactment of the Punjab Reorganisation Act.


Huge mani stone in the Spiti Valley, India

The local population follows Vajrayana Buddhism similar to that found in the nearby Tibet and Ladakh regions. Spiti valley is a research and cultural centre for Buddhists. Highlights include Key Monastery and Tabo Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the world and a favourite of the Dalai Lama.[7] It was the location of the scenery and cinematography in the Indian films Paap, Highway and Milarepa, a biographical adventure tale about one of Buddhism's most famous Tibetan saints. The Buddhist monastery in the valley served as the locus of the set and some of the monks appeared in the film. The Pin Valley of Spiti is home to the few surviving Buchen Lamas of the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism.

Spiti is a summer home to hundreds of semi-nomadic Gaddi sheep and goat herders who come to this valley for grazing their animals from the surrounding villages and sometimes as far as 250 km (160 mi). They enter the valley during summer as the snow melts and leave just a few days before first snowfall of the season.


Cscr-featured.svg Deep gorge in alluvium bed, Spiti River, and NH-505, Jun '18

Spiti valley is accessible throughout the year via Kinnaur from Shimla on a difficult 412-kilometre-long (256 mi) road. Tourists from outside India need inner line permits to enter Spiti through Kinnaur. Spiti's border starts at Samdo (74 km from Kaza) which is quite near to the India–China border. In summer it can be reached via Manali through the Rohtang tunnel and Kunzum Pass. Manali is 201 km from Kaza, headquarters of the Spiti subdivision. The road joining Manali to Spiti is treacherous and in bad condition as compared to the Shimla to Spiti road.

Due to the high altitude one is likely to feel altitude sickness in Spiti. The Shimla to Spiti route is advised for travelers coming from lower altitudes as it gives them enough time to get acclimatized to the high altitude. This is because the road runs parallel to the Sutlej river initially, climbing steadily to 2,550 metres (8,370 ft) at the confluence of the Spiti and Satluj near Khab. From Khab, NH-505 runs along the Spiti River, climbing steeply up to Nako (elev. 3,620 metres (11,880 ft)) before continuing to Kaza. NH-505 enters Lahaul at Kunzum La.


The Spiti emerges from a gorge to merge into the Satluj near Khab, Jun '18
Barren, high mountains with sparse vegetation along Spiti tributary near Kunzum Pass

The Spiti River originates from the Kunzum range. Tegpo and Kabzian streams are two of its tributaries. Water draining the famous Pin Valley National Park is also a part of the Spiti river system. Its position across the main Himalayan range deprives it from the benefit of the South-West monsoons that causes widespread rain in most parts of India from June to September. The river attains peak discharge in late summers due to glacier melting. After flowing through Spiti valley, the Spiti River meets the Satluj near Khab and Namgia in Kinnaur district traversing a length of about 150 km. from the North-West.[8] Steep mountains rise to very high altitudes on either side of the Spiti River and its numerous tributaries. The mountains are barren and largely devoid of vegetative cover. The main settlements along the Spiti River and its tributaries are Kaza and Tabo.

Thomson during his 1847 expedition noted 3 forms of alluvia in the Spiti valley. The first is deposits of fine clay. The second is triangular platforms that slope gently from the mountains to the river, usually ending in a steep cliff. The third are enormous masses of great depth, 400–600 ft (120–180 m) above the river bed. The river has cut deep gorges through these platforms. The latter two consist of clay, pebbles and boulders. Thomson speculated that the valley appeared to have been a lake bed in the past though he could not conceive mechanisms to explain the phenomena.[9] Now, we know that the valley was uplifted from the ocean bed due to the movement of tectonic plates.

Places to visit in Spiti Valley[edit]

Pin valley in Spiti

Places to visit include these:[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Losar - Chango, OpenStreetMap". OpenStreetMap. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  2. ^ Kapadia (1999), p. 209.
  3. ^ a b "Himachal Tourism - Lahaul & Spiti District". Department of Tourism & Civil Aviation, Government of Himachal Pradesh. Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 28 September 2008.
  4. ^ a b Kapadia (1999), Ch. 2.
  5. ^ Harcourt, A.F.P. (1871). The Himalayan Districts of Kooloo, Lahoul and Spiti. London: W.H. Allen & Sons. p. 132.
  6. ^ "District Lahaul and Spiti: History". Government of Himachal Pradesh. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  7. ^ "Lahaul & Spiti District, Himachal Pradesh, India". District Lahaul & Spiti, Government of India. Archived from the original on 23 July 2008.
  8. ^ "Khab, Himachal, OpenStreetMap.org". OpenStreetMap.org. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  9. ^ Thomson, Thomas (1852). Western Himalayas and Tibet. London: Reeve and Co. pp. 27, 123–124.
  10. ^ "Places to Visit in Spiti Valley | Welcome to the Heaven!". Being Himalayan. 3 February 2019. Retrieved 22 March 2019.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°17′N 78°00′E / 32.283°N 78.000°E / 32.283; 78.000