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Spiti Valley reopens for tourism with new COVID-19 guidelines

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Spiti Valley has opened its doors to tourists 10 months after authorities restricted travel in the region over the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re planning a trek, make sure you take a note of the latest tourism guidelines issued by local authorities.

Spiti Valley has opened its doors to tourists 10 months after the remote Himalayan region was closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The area remained inaccessible to outsiders to stem community transmission even as Himachal Pradesh began relaxing its lockdown rules in September 2020. “The valley has been incomplete without tourism this past year and we are very much looking forward to welcoming tourists to our home,” read a statement issued by local authorities, who have issued a set of guidelines for those planning a visit to Spiti Valley. So, before you set out on your next trek, remember to travel responsibly and follow the latest tourism norms:

  • Entry to Kibber Village and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary remains prohibited.
  • All independent travellers must undergo a rapid COVID-19 test at a government hospital upon arrival at Spiti.
  • Tour operators must ensure each member of a group has undergone a RAT or RT-PCR COVID-19 test at an authorised hospital between 72 to 96 hours before entering Spiti Valley.
  • Travellers must wear masks and adhere to social distancing norms.

If you need help planning your itinerary, here are a few places we think should make it to your list:

Meet a 500-year-old monk at Giu village

Located at around 10,000 ft above sea level, close to the Tibetan border, Giu village affords beautiful views of the Spiti Valley. The main attraction here, however, is the 500-year-old mummy of 15th-century Buddhist monk Sangha Tenzin, which is currently housed in a sparse concrete structure amid the village’s mud hamlets. The remains are largely intact, with skin, hair and teeth still visible despite exposure to the elements and no artificial preservation. A likely theory suggests he was buried in an avalanche, while other lore says the yogic posture he was meditating in helped preserve his body. A remarkable, if perhaps macabre sight.

Soak in serene views at Dhankar lake

Spiti Valley Dhankar Lake
The turquoise waters of Dhankar lake at Spiti Valley. (Photo: Shutterstock/Dmitry Rukhlenko)

One of the more popular sites at Spiti Valley, Dhankar is perched precariously on a cliffside between the towns of Tabo and Kaza. The rocky, three-kilometre trek from the village to Dhankar lake is trying but you’ll be rewarded with stark but beautiful views of its turquoise surface and the surrounding mountains. The village is also home to the Dhankar monastery that’s been cut into the rock face and houses murals depicting the life of Buddha as well as an idol of Vairochana Buddha. Close by are the ruins of the Dhankar fort which used to shelter the village from invasions.

Find your zen at Key Monastery

Spiti Valley Key Monastery
A view of Key Monastery which stands out against the stark Spiti landscape. (Photo: Shutterstock/ Dmitry Rukhlenko)

Presumed to date back to 1100 AD, the Key Monastery has withstood repeated attacks by various armies, including the Mongols in the 17th century and the Sikh and Dogra armies in 1830. Today, it is still actively used by Buddhist lamas from the Gelugpa sect. The architecture bears elements of 14th-century Chinese design and inside you’ll find a treasure trove of paintings and murals, thangkas (Buddhist paintings on silk or cotton), stucco images and traditional Tibetan wind instruments. 

Go trekking at Pin Valley

Spiti Valley Pin Valley trek
The Pin river snakes through the Pin Valley National Park. (Photo: Shutterstock/Jitendera Pratap Singh)

Pin Valley comprises a cluster of 17 villages, accessible by road from the main town of Kaza. Among its highlights is the Pin Valley National Park, home to the snow leopard and Siberian ibex as well as birds such as the Himalayan snowcock and bearded vulture. If you’re planning to explore the 9,800-square-foot area, it’s best to hire a guide from Kaza. You could also spend a couple of nights at Mud village, the last inhabited village on the Indian side of the Indo-Tibetan border. It allows for picturesque views of the Pin river and is a gateway to the challenging Pin-Bhaba and Pin-Parvati treks.

Take in the sights at Langza

At around 1,444 ft above sea level, Langza is one of the highest villages accessible by road. It’s an hour’s drive from Kaza, though the terrain is precarious. Populated by under 150 inhabitants, this remote spot offers sightseeing opportunities, including ancient monasteries and views of lush pastures and snow-clad mountains. It’s also a great spot to bird watch if the weather permits. Options to stay are limited and you’ll have to make arrangements with a local family.

For more information, visit Himachaltourism.gov.in

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