Every once in a while we all feel a sense of belonging to a place which, alien at first, tugs at our heart each time we conjure up its memories, like faded photographs evoke a rush of nostalgia. Lahaul and Spiti was one such. Each time we travel, our faith in human relationships is strengthened and the way it enriches our lives. Like for instance, our experience at an authentic homestay in Spiti’s Komic village, which is reportedly also the highest inhabited village in Asia. We stayed for a night at Tandup family’s humble abode and we were quite surprised to see their intimate connection with their land, animals and people. We were exposed to an entirely different pastoral way of life here in Komic and came back bewildered how even without the trappings of technology and modern amenities, people can live happily. It’s with this endeavour we apprise you of some lesser-known places from this culturally rich land in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh that few talk about.
Tucked away inside the remote Spiti valley, a small village called Tashigang spins its own story. Home to only 40 people and around six houses, this village is relatively lesser known and much less talked about. It’s a part of Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary and occassional sightings of the Himalayan Ibex, Blue sheep and Tibetan wolf should not come as a surprise. Situated at 4,650 m above sea level, Tashigang can be reached from Kibber either in a cab or if you feel adventurous you can trek it. According to local authorities, Kibber is the highest village continuosly inhabited by people, but we think Tashigang and Gette village sit higher in the valley. En route Tashigang, you will come across ancient chortens (Buddhist shrine).
Once you reach the village, there is a sole guesthouse where you can stay or you choose to stay in one of the six houses. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the people of Tashigang, who indulge in potato and pea farming mostly. As with traditional Spitian homes, you would find bundled twigs and branches of trees placed on top of houses which provide insulation and cushion from snowfall.
2. See the 400-year-old mummy in Gyu village
Behold, the Gyu Mummy! Spiti is also famous for this ancient relic that was dug out in 1976 during an excavation conducted by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. During the process, their axe hit something inside the earth that drew out blood. On further digging, a body was discovered in a meditative position with monks clothes and hair and nails intact. Estimates suggest that its around 400 years old! One more reason to visit Spiti! Gyu is also a fantastic off-beat tourist destination if you are looking to stay in traditional homes and eat local Spitian food.
3. Homestay in Komic
The moment we stepped onto his courtyard, we saw a man sitting cross-legged on the cold mud floor, thumbing his prayer beads while flipping pages from his prayer book. The moment he saw us at his door, he motioned us to sit down. Then 52-year-old Nawang Tandup got up quietly, and gave a warm welcome as he ushered us into his house. Amid the conversations, he would sneak in some time to hum prayers under his breath.
Tandup’s home was made of mud and thatched roof bundled with twigs and branches of trees to insulate against snow. His home was among the only 10 in the village. At a distance, you could notice birds trying hard to resist the immense force of wind and staying afloat at the same place.
Meanwhile, the woman of the house ambled fast uphill towards the house and said in an inviting tone, “Julley!” resting her 3-year-old son on her back. She was fast on her feet. Creased network of lines on their faces, they explain they have 7 kids out of which 3 are lamas and are in Kaza, and Dehradun. They explain that by October, the villages of Langza, Komic and Hikkim get supplies worth 5-6 month’s because of heavy snowfall. The entire day is spent with them talking about their lifestyle at this high altitude and believe us when we say this: Komic was our highlight of the trip to Spiti! It’s a must.
4. Ancient fossils in Langza and Hikkim
Situated at approximately 14,300 feet above sea level, the village of Langza is known for ancient fossils. While travellers would vouch for this fact, the unfortunate part of tourism in Langza is that locals are increasingly selling off precious and non-renewable fossils of the land to lure more travellers. Fossils of ancient creatures and plants can be discovered under sedimentary rocks. While we at Shaktivoyages don’t endorse such tourism, we would gladly advice you to visit Langza to view the larger-than-life around 1000-year-old golden Buddha statue smack in the middle of the village as well as get a taste of authentic Spitian food in this village with only 33 houses. It’s also considered to be the highest village in the world with a motorable road. Owing to its proximity to occupied Tibet in China, the village is predominantly Buddhist and belong to the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
We would advice you to explore the villages to see people working with mud to create various ornaments and utensils. Mud craft seems to be the occupation of villagers from ancient times. Many houses in Langza have now turned into homestays which provide authentic food such as traditional rice, dal, chapati and mixed vegetables. The accomodation is very basic with only beds and blankets on offer. People are generally very warm and welcoming to travellers. We would recommend at least a one night stay at Langza. For people who prefer public transport, government-run buses ply from Kaza to Langza twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Visit the Highest post office in the world at Hikkim
Some miles away from Langza is Hikkim, also widely credited as the World’s highest polling station. It finds a place in the Limca Book of Records as well. The Hikkim post office was opened in 1983 and according to National Geographic Traveller, the man who runs it has been in charge of the poll station since its inception. If you’re a fan of postcards, Hikkim should be on top of your bucket list.
5. Spend a night at Key monastery
While many have been here, not many know there’s also an option of staying here. And the experience is so virgin that it is unforgettable and quite surreal. Ensconced on top of a hill, Key gompa is Spiti’s largest monastery situated at approximately 13,660 feet above sea level. We believe that the simplest of things give most joy. Once you stay at Key, you get to experience first-hand the lifestyle of monks. Right from visiting their classrooms, to playing with monks during their games period and having three meals a day with them, is enough to give you a perspective of a different way of life.
Key Gompa in Spiti Valley, India is widely believed to have been founded by Dromton (1008-1064 CE), a pupil of the famous Teacher called Atisha around 11th century. Key monastery has witnessed several attacks in the past by the Mongols in the 14th century. In 1820 it was ransacked again during the wars between Ladakh and Kullu. In 1840 it was ravaged by fire and then in 1975 an earthquake caused further damage to the Gompa. The monastery is a treasure trove of history and is a must visit.
Spiti Valley, some say, is the lesser known cousin of Ladakh. While Leh-Ladakh has become a popular tourist destination, Spiti Valley is still untouched by the ravages of time. Although it’s slightly difficult to reach, Spiti offers views that are unparalleled. Because it’s less touristy, it has more home stay options that proper hotels. Camping is also one of the best ways to explore the Valley.
(NOTE: ALL PICTURES ARE COPYRIGHT SHAKTIVOYAGES)