Spiti Valley Travelogue Part 3: The Homestay at Lhalung and Visit to Chandrataal

The mesmerizing Spiti Valley extends beyond Kaza to Tabo and then Nako, after which the Kinnaur region of Himachal starts. The river flows along this route and merges with the Sutlej.  Along with a visit to Tabo, our itinerary included a day’s stay at Lhalung, one of the high altitude villages of the valley.

We checked out of Spiti Serai, our hotel at Ramrik which had provided us very good service during our stay here. The staff was extraordinarily helpful and attended to every one of our small requests. The location of the hotel also deserves a special mention as it had a 360 degrees view of the mountains, and also had BSNL mobile signal, a rarity in the valley.

The road from Kaza to Tabo along the Spiti River is perhaps the best-maintained roads in the valley. We had gone up the same road till Attargo Bridge the day before, before turning right into the road to Pin Valley. Today we left the bridge behind us and proceeded straight to Tabo at a distance of 50 km from Kaza.

Tabo is a small town known for its monastery which is more than thousand years old.  Part of the monastery including the prayer hall has been rebuilt about twenty-five years back. The monastery has a number of impressive Thanka paintings on its walls. A number of gompas are also visible on the mountains above where the Buddhist monks go up to meditate. The town has a handful of restaurants as well as a few hotels and homestays for travellers who wish to spend a day there.

After a detailed look at the monastery and its surroundings, we proceeded to Dhankar, which was the capital of ancient Spiti. To travel to Dhankar we had to come back a few km towards Kaza and then take the road uphill. It is quite a climb to Dhankar which is located at an altitude of 12,700 ft. There are a dilapidated palace and fort perched up on a cliff. We climbed up to the top of the fort to get a magnificent view of the valley. Our lunch was at a small restaurant inside the monastery complex.

Lhalung, our next destination was about 12 km away from Dhankar. Lhalung which means “land of God” is a small village in the Lingti region of the valley. Our homestay Khabrik Homestay was at walking distance from the bus stop and located in a two-storied house. Run by Tashi Gatuk and his wife, we were provided with a bedroom on the first floor with a common bathroom.  We had a long chat with Tashi over a bowl of Charul, a porridge of tea, barley, yak cheese and butter which is enjoyed by the locals.

Tashi gave us a lot of insight about the life in Lhalung. The village has about 300 inhabitants but lacks basic infrastructure like mobile connectivity and a primary health centre. A paramedic or even basic medicines are also not available in the village.

There is one bus which connects Kaza to Lhalung, it reaches Lhalung in the evening and departs in the morning. The night stay of the driver and conductor of the bus is provided in different villager’s homes by rotation. The nearest medical facility is 20 km away and gets cut off in the winter months when there are few feet of snow all around, and the bus service is stopped.  We were shocked to learn that if one has serious ailments like stroke or heart trouble during this period they are virtually left to die without any treatment. Tashi runs this homestay and is also a trekking guide for travellers who want to explore the valley on foot.

The village is serene and the inhabitants are extremely friendly. We went around the village and had long chats with people on the streets on their lifestyle. Cultivation of peas and barley (where yaks are used for ploughing the fields) and grazing of animals are the prime livelihoods. The local language is Bhoti which is spoken in Lahaul-Spiti and part of Ladakh, though most can speak a smattering of Hindi.

One enterprising person took us to the local school which has the provision of teaching till Tenth standard but lacks many students. Well-to-do people prefer to send their wards for schooling at Kaza, and then to college at Mando or Dharamshala, where they mostly stay in Buddhist monasteries and study.  There were quite a few houses which were being constructed, to build a house in Spiti one has to first make the mud bricks which are used in it. There were local labourers as well as those from UP and Bihar. As per the locals, the outsiders work at a lower per day wage, but their output is far lower than the sons of the soil. We could see the Lhalung Monastery and gompa are located at a height.

Our dinner was local food including tingmo (steamed bread), a variety of pickles, momos and thenthuk (thukpa made from handmade flat noodles, cheese and peas), we had it sitting down on the floor in Tibetan style. The homestay has very clean rooms and is extremely well maintained.  After a nights sound sleep, we were planning to leave Lhalung for Chandratal Lake early in the morning.

One of the main attractions of Spiti Valley is the Chandratal Lake. In fact, the attractive images of the lake with blue waters with mountains and blue sky in the background often beckon you to visit the valley.  Chandratal is located about 15 km away from Kunjam La, the gateway to the valley.

Next morning, we started our return journey past Kaza. The solitary petrol station at Kaza had a queue in the morning, and it was not open even at 9 am, so we had got already delayed. As we approached Losar we saw ominous rain clouds on the horizon and were apprehensive that we may not get the best view of the lake.

The road to Chandratal bifurcates somewhere between Kunjum and Batal. It is mostly a kutcha road, with quite a few places where the glacier water floods the road. The journey was rough, and in the late afternoon, we reached the camps near Chandratal where our night stay was planned. As it was threatening to rain, we decided to visit Chandratal first, and check-in on our way back.

From the taxi stand near Chandratal, it was an uphill trek of about 1500 metres. As we neared the lake, it started raining. Though the lake had a serene look, the cloudy weather ensured that the view was nowhere as stunning as the image we had in our mind. After spending some time on the shores of the lake, we started our journey back to the camps. It was a disappointing day, more so because we had good weather during most of our Spiti stay, and here was where we needed it the most.

Our camp had nice tents for us to spend the night. However, it was getting extremely cold as the evening progressed, especially with a chilling breeze. Our dinner at the dining camp was simple vegetarian food, and it was so cold at night, that we did not get much sleep and were breathlessly waiting for dawn. Next morning we started our way back to Manali saying adios to the valley which was our home in the last few days. We were all very tired and wished that the roughest journey from Batal to Manali would be more comfortable than the first day. But, our Innova broke down near Chatru, and we had to nearly hitchhike with our luggage to Manali. We only reached late at night, for an overnight stay and the next day moved out on our way back to Chandigarh.

The ten days at the valley was absolutely terrific. The journey to the valley is very tough, but once you reach Spiti, you can’t but revel in the pristine beauty of the place.  Inshallah, I would definitely like to go back there one more time.

Also Read: The Scenic Journey From Manali to Kaza
                   Exploring the Villages around Kaza

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