Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Home stays in Spiti

Simplicity, surrealism, splendor and scare! Frightful even..That’s the surge of emotions that the Kinnaur-Spiti has up its sleeve. Go behold and attempt. A drive through the valley is a bold initiative; the trans-Himalayan belt has the most treacherous curves and notorious patches of roads to offer, 13,000 feet above mean sea-level. From the perspective of tourism, one of the virgin lands, nestled in the northern state of Him-Achal, this heavenly abode, also known as Little Tibet, will not fail to enchant you. A fantastic blend of Buddhism and Hinduism with the former reigning for obvious reasons, the green lushes of Kinnaur, followed by the sudden change of topography, to that of a cold desert in the Spiti valley leaves you utterly speechless!

Drive down on your own provided you have the required skillsets (here, these will be much required) and the passion to cover these 800-1000 odd kilometers within a span of a few days. For travelers coming from coastal areas or having little experience with high altitudes, carry the necessary medicines to fight breathing trouble and other associated ailments. Unless you plan to spend a longer time, these preparations for a week-to-two-long travel will also prove to be a morale booster. Whatever the carrier (if on a bike, avoid a pillion), Lahaul Spiti will surprise and inspire you, both at the same time!

Variety in topography is the main spice here!

Such scenic vistas are in abundance!

Homestays in Spiti

The heart of any region lies within the local cultures, beliefs and traditions of its populace. For a region as tucked away from mass tourism as Spiti, this could not be any truer. Most of the villages ornamenting the Spiti valley like Tabo, Dhankar, Kaza, Losaar have homestays. A homestay is literally a ‘home stay’ where you can accommodate yourself with a local Spitian family, either in their own house or a guesthouse, if they have catered for one, for tourists. It’s one of the best ways to closely connect with the cultural and religious vein that ticks in the valley. Bigger towns like Kaza do have hotels but luxury and comfort is all that you can look for there. For a heartfelt connect, go for homestays over the usual commercialized accommodations. I will talk about 3 in Tabo, Kaza and Losaar where we (husband and self whilst on a road trip) tried to capture the real essence of the region thanks to the hospitality of the families we stayed put with.

Tabo – One of the bigger villages in Spiti, we could hardly spot it as there was no electricity. We drove past the entirety of it in a couple of minutes and decided to take a U to stay put. Came across a few homestays and chose Namsay Homestay at the farther corner of the village towards Dhankad.
The entrance!
The guest room!

The Indian seatee!
Mr. Schchot Tchering, Mrs. Tchering and their daughter Suman (the other 3 children were away for studies etc..) welcomed us. A tastefully-done up garden (we could spot this only in the morning but what a sight!) with a cemented entryway led to guestrooms right adjacent to the house. Even in complete darkness, they served us tea and promised a great dinner in their living room with the family. This was to be a thrill! The homestay was nothing short of a well maintained hotel room (for those used only to these) with a comfortable bed and warm bedding. Much required. Solar lamps are a savior (ecologically too) in the region that often plunges into darkness. Although ill-lit, we could see and manage ourselves so as to freshen up after the tiring drive.
Mr. Schchot Tchering, our host!

By around 6.30-7 pm, we were seated in the garden below a star-lit sky and a fantastic full moon that looked so big and close enough to be up for grabs! The silence and the fragrance of flowers was so eerie and soothing at the same time that we soon felt at home. Mr. Tchering fixed dinner and served us Timok, the Spitian homemade bread with fresh cauliflower vegetable, straight from the garden. Add to that the dash of lemon pickle and we were in seventh heaven. We were joined for dinner by their boy-servants, a trait you will notice quite commonly in Spiti. Lot of young boys from Bihar have migrated to this part of the country and work in the fields of the locals and live with Spitian families as house help.
Timok, the Spitian homemade bread with a dash of pickle by the side!
What followed took us by surprise. Mr. Tchering strung his Khoppo (a smaller sitar-like instrument) and sung a local melody transpiring us to some other universe, or so it felt by the time he had finished the song. His wife then made me wear the local bridal costume and offered a white pearls necklace as a fond souvenir. Upon inquiring about the price, I was stunned to know that the real pearls (red in colour) cost around 30 to 40 thousand a pearl and are inherited by the eldest girl of the family!
Spitian weddings are a very expensive affair and the daughter-in-law too is gifted in gold and pearls by the groom’s family. A surprising revelation was the fact that this affair was felt less expensive by the Spitians as compared to their Kinnauri counterparts. Their elder son was however sent to the local monastery for life, a practice followed by one and all under the Tibetan Buddhist faith. Mr. Tchering too worked in the same monastery as a care-taker and showed us around the following morning. 
Mrs. Tchering, busy with her beads, making pieces of lovely jewellery!

Before departing, he prepared Thinthuk, Spitian homemade pasta and vegetables! All gone within minutes! We then saw his ‘mandir’ upstairs which was an amalgamation of what looked like Buddhist statues and Hindu deities. Goodbyes are never good but we had to leave, with tad too heavy a heart!

The local staple breakfast, Thinthuk!

{Namsay Homestay – Mr. Schchot Tchering (drsuresh72@gmail.com)}

Kaza – Proceeded Dhankar onwards and the next night halt was at Kaza. A lesser homestay and more of a guest house by the name of Nyingma Guest House. One of the very few places with a wi-fi and a hot water connection. After a complete cut-off for 4 days, this being a welcome change could not be denied. This place owned by Urgian Chhering is managed by a caretaker who has shifted base from Solan. He not only cooked for us but also offered help with a bit of car maintenance. The homestay is located in the heart of Kaza with the local market a few steps away and if you are lucky to meet a few travelers along the way, this can be a good crash pad. Also, with the Internet connectivity, you can better plan your upcoming journey and get information about current weather conditions as you scale higher up in the valley towards Kumzun La.
We met Urgian the following morning and he generously offered help with planning the itinerary for the rest of our day, over breakfast. A visit to Kye, Kibber and Komik villages followed by a tip on homestay in Losaar was all chalked out by him and we couldn’t thank him enough! A sumptuous sandwich-coffee breakfast at the typical Spitian low-lying tables’ set-up was a perfect start to the day!
{ Nyingma Guest House – Mr. Urgian Chhering
Urgian – 9459909191 / Indu – 9418609191 / Kusang – 9418556344)}

Losaar – Losaar is a smaller village as compared to Kaza. You scale altitude Kaza onwards and might have to fight altitude sickness here. We looked for Shambala Guest House as suggested by Urgiang in Kaza and soon found it. Located in central market place, the owner is a local couple who stay in the same building. They have built twin-sharing and single rooms and offer just a bed too for travelers running on pocket string budgets! We met a Taiwanese girl here who had rented a bed for as little as Rs. 100 a night. Hot water for washing up was made available on request and local cuisine, as anywhere else, was heartily prepared.
The owners also ran a café downstairs. This was a great place to meet travelers as they come for meals and catching up. We met a few Israelians and some fellow Indians here and shared experiences. A cozy little place with all essentials and good meal options. Fight the cold, meet like-minded (or preferably not) people and bathe in the sun on the terrasse during daytime! This was one place where we had a 2 hour-long conversation with the 22 year old Taiwanese girl who was so intrigued by India that she had travelled across the length and breadth of the country for over 6 months by then! All in all, great ambience, pocket-friendly, local food and some long-lasting exchanges with people!
Jia Ling, our Tiwanese counterpart thereon!
{Shambala Guest House – Mr. Angdui}


  1. Spiti does surprise and inspire you! You've excellently conveyed the feeling of homeliness that one gets in the Homestays in Spiti.

  2. Nicely written... Would definitely like to visit here... ☺

    1. Thank you Chinmay Mama! You must, it's an experience of a kind! :)