Planning Spiti Valley bike trip? This blog will help you plan a solo journey the basis of my personaly experiences and learning.
Many years ago, my father happened to stay in Lahaul and Spiti. He told me stories about its raw and uninviting nature (and thus helping me in this Spiti Valley itinerary).
It was from him that I knew how disconnected this place can feel. Time has changed though. Daily morning buses now connect Spiti Valley to its neighbours. Private cars and taxis also, at times, are quite visible.
But that doesn’t mean that a road trip to Spiti Valley is any less adventurous now. Compared to Ladakh, this place is still very harsh and desolate.
It takes a certain amount of madness to drive on these uninviting, mesmerizing landscapes. And to plan a solo bike trip to Spiti Valley, you need to be more than just mad.
I remember when I was planning my itinerary, I was a little scared too. But to hell with it, I still decided to go ahead!
[Update in 2023: Since Spiti Valley has grown in popularity over the years and has got crowded if you’re looking for something more adventurous do Shinkula Pass in Zanskar. Connecting Keylong to Kargil, this route was opened only last year in 2019]
Now coming back to…
Spiti Valley is accessible by road throughout the year and requires you to travel nearly a distance of 700 to 900 km, depending on all places you want to visit on the way and what route you originally took. I traveled from Shimla to Kaza to Manali.
You can also complete the journey the other way around – by starting from Manali, and following the tribal circuit until you reach Shimla.
But I would personally advise you to start from Shimla. And that is for a couple of reasons…
- If you start from Shimla, it would be easy for you to acclimatize to high altitude.
- This way you won’t need to obtain a permit to cross Rohtang Pass, which you otherwise do if you are doing Manali-Kaza-Shimla or Manali to Kaza and back. Obtaining the permit means spending the extra money and spending a day in the DC office, in Manali.
Before you leave for the Spiti Valley bike trip, do not forget to check if Kunzum Pass is open.
Though the route will remain open from Shimla, only until Losar. After a few kilometres from Losar (if Kunzum Pass is closed) you will have to turn around and repeat your Spiti Valley itinerary – Losar to Shimla to Delhi (as shown in the map below). Check about the status of the Kunzum Pass on the Himachal Tourism website.
Here’s the Delhi to Spiti Valley route map. It took me 9 days to complete the itinerary:
Now, before I discuss the itinerary, I want to tell you that this can be the cheapest Spiti Valley tour if you follow all my suggestions and camp throughout the trip, as suggested in the blog below.
For your information, I spent only 5000 Rupees to do the entire journey from Delhi to Spiti Valley, including food, fuel and accommodation costs.
But if you decide to camp, be prepared for the adventure. This place, as I said above, is very inhospitable (see these Spiti Valley pictures to get the idea) and a budget camping trip makes it even more so.
Now let’s start with the itinerary
Delhi to Spiti Valley Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Delhi to Chandigarh
Before I left home for this trip, if there was one thing I was sure about, it was – I was going to travel slowly. This was to enjoy the movement and to keep my butt away from getting sore.
Day 1 of my Spiti Valley itinerary started a little early, at 4 in the morning, and I already found myself driving on a perfect highway doing over 100 km per hour. I reached Delhi to Chandigarh (about 250 km) in less than four hours.
Night 1 turned out to be the only night, in the entire journey, when I did not camp.
[I did camping throughout my 9-day Spiti Valley bike trip. Here’s a more detailed article on it: How to do camping In Spiti Valley and save 100% money on accommodation]
Day 2: Chandigarh to Arphu
Day 2 of my Spiti Valley itinerary took me from Chandratal to a town called Arphu. It takes about one and a half hours to drive from Chandigarh to Shimla (if you end up being lucky and find no traffic on the way).
The road to Shimla, and further ahead, is mostly good in shape and stays good all year round, which assures you a smooth ride.
You might have to ask a few people about the directions before you hit Narkanda, but once you cross Narkanda there is pretty much only one single highway to follow.
People driving from Shimla to Kaza, from New Delhi often spend a night in Shimla. I would suggest they leave Shimla for lousy weekend getaways and drive a little further to stay somewhere in Narkanda or in Rampur. These towns are comparatively scenic and peaceful.
I had, however, found a small establishment near Kingel – a town named ‘Arphu’ where I camped on day 2 of my Spiti Valley bike trip. To my satisfaction, Arphu has no guest house but only local people’s houses. Since I was the only guest in the town, I was invited by a local family to dine at their house. People from Delhi bring new and worldly stories for these people, so getting such invitations in the small towns of Himachal Pradesh is no tough deal. Happens all the time!
And that’s how my camping days began during my Spiti Valley bike trip. From day 2 until the last day, I rode solo and camped solo throughout my 9-day trip.
Day 3: Arphu to Sangla
Day 3 Started with a light shower. Kinnaur can give you a drizzle at times, so do not forget to bring a rain cover for your luggage and for yourself. Spiti Valley is comparatively dry.
You’ll experience the first-ever “You Don’t Call It A Road” episode of your Spiti Valley itinerary near Wangtu where you drive about 8 km towards Tapri under an angry bright sun. It took me 40 mins to cover this nasty 8 km stretch. I had to stop every 10 minutes to check if my bike was not yet punctured. Tapri, however, awards you with a perfect Hot Spring where you can relax a bit. The hot spring is situated about 2 km away from the town of Tapri. The town also has a petrol pump, in case you’re planning a little detour towards Chitkul – the last Indian town.
Chitkul, in recent times, has gained some interest in the travel community, due to its beautiful surroundings and perfect climate.
Please note that I have added Chiktul to my Spiti Valley itinerary only because I went there. Many solo riders and group tours don’t take you to Chitkul it adds approximately 150 Kilometres to your entire Delhi to Spiti Valley distance.
But those who visit Chitkul never come back dissatisfied.
I camped in Sangla, which was a little less than 20kms before Chitkul.
Day 4: Sangla to Chitkul
You feel the difference when you enter Sangla Valley [see these Chitkul Pictures to get an idea]. Snow-capped mountains, perfectly beautified with ancient Tibetan architecture – dating back its foundation to the 19th century.
A gentle stream of water can be found running next to the narrow driveway – which, for most of its part, can be found in good condition. The drive, I am sure, at any time of the year feels no less than driving on a ‘road to heaven’.
Chitkul is a tiny Tibetan settlement claiming its small portion of land at the end of the Indian border before Spiti Valley begins.
The town also has a popular 500 years old Mathi temple with images of Shakyamuni Buddha, a wheel of life Mangala and four directional kings on either side of the door.
Chitkul is also believed to be the last point of Kinner Kailash Parikrama. Any pilgrim who does it ends their trip by praying at its Mathi Temple
Often known as the last Indian town, is a perfectly quiet town, with good – though a little expensive – accommodation options, which range from camping – for Rupees 1,500 a night – to comparatively cheaper rooms. I ended up camping, again and bailed out for free.
If you are only doing a Delhi to Chitkul trip, I have written a separate blog post on it with all the details on how to self-drive or take a bus and travel to Chitkul. Read for more details: Delhi to Chitkul blog
Day 5: Chitkul To Nako
Day 5 of my Spiti Valley bike trip itinerary took me from Chitkul to the beautiful Nako Valley.
You can kill the engine between Chitkul and Karccham, as it’s mostly downhill. Karccham to Rekong Peo is a little less than an hour’s drive which can be avoided if you’re Indian, as the town has nothing extraordinary to offer. Foreign nationals, however, are required to obtain a permit in Rekong Peo, which they will have to submit at a couple of check posts in Spiti Valley.
I skipped Rekong Peo and rode straight towards Puh. Do not, however, forget to fill your petrol tank in Rekong Peo, which has the last petrol station until you finally reach Kaza, after a long and dusty ride of more than 200 kilometres.
You’re required to register yourself at your first checkpoint in Puh, which takes 2 minutes for Indians and about 15-20 minutes for non-Indians. The road from Puh soon transforms itself into a driver’s nightmare. Though numerous hairpin bends and close-to-open views of the Spiti Valley will keep you engaged, and a little encouraged too, with its beauty.
It took me about 8 hours to reach Nako, from Chitkul. Nako is a sleepy settlement with beautiful panoramic views of the Himalayas. Cheap accommodation options make Nako a preferred destination among backpackers. Nako Lake was a big disappointment for me, due to its significantly tiny dimensions. What made Nako perfect for me, however, was the 15th-century Nako Monastery which allowed me to camp inside its premises – certainly a highlight throughout my 9-day Spiti Valley bike trip.
Day 6: Nako To Key
Day 6 of my Spiti Valley itinerary finally took me to Kaza, but I stayed in Key and not in Kaza,
Kaza is about 5 km from the town of Kaza. To me, the idea of staying in a small town, which is far less touristy and is close to a 13th-century monastery (perched on a mountaintop) seemed more appealing. Though I was disappointed, for I did not get permission to stay in the monastery, or camp anywhere outside it, the town of Key, to my satisfaction, had quite a few open spaces for camping.
The drive from Nako to Key is beautiful. Big-sized excavators and road-rollers can be found running throughout the year here, trying to remove any debris from the road and change the condition of the road from worse to moderately worse.
Once you cross the town of Tabo, the valley opens itself and keeps expanding until you cross Kunzum Pass. It is after this moment you get the most beautiful landscapes throughout your Spiti Valley bike trip.
Day 7: Key To Losar
Kaza is the district headquarters of Spiti Valley and has the only petrol pump in the area – for about a 200-km radius, in either direction – so going to Kaza was inevitable. Day 7 brought me back to Kaza (From Key), which takes about 15 minutes. With my petrol tank full again, I soon found myself enjoying the giant and vainglorious peaks of Spiti Valley, towards Losar. Kaza to Losar was a 3-4 hour ride.
Losar turned out to be a sleepy Shangri-La. Its people, its beauty, and the tranquillity, everything was perfect in every sense. It was in Losar where I was only allowed to camp inside a private property, as according to locals “it would be convenient and safe for me”. There are quite a few accommodation options too, in Losar.
Day 8: Losar To Chandratal
As you journey from Losar to Manali, you start moving away from Spiti Valley and enter Lahaul Valley. Brace yourself for the ascent to Kunzum La and for another episode of World’s Worst Roads (which lasts until you reach Gramphu and merge with the traffic of Leh-Manali). Tar will occasionally come and go here.
After crossing Kunzum Pass and driving a few kilometres downhill towards Batal, you will come across a narrow driveway – wide enough for only one car to clear. This is a 12.5km stretch which goes all the way to Chandratal. A traffic signboard, however, will point towards Chandratal, so you’ll have no problem in finding which way to go.
Caution is advised while driving, especially during a solo drive to Chandraral. Keep on the lookout for any vehicle coming from the other side, and if you spot a car in the other direction, look for a wide enough spot and wait there for the other vehicle to pass you by. Share proud looks with the other driver and part your ways.
Despite a challenging drive, Chandratal is a no-miss on any Spiti Valley bike trip. Situated at an altitude of about 4,300m, this is where you’ll find vainglorious mountains overlooking the lake on one side, with a magnificent cirque on the other – if you know what that means. The way to Chandratal is accessible by a motorbike, or a jeep, up to the very end. You would then only be required to scrape your feet and walk for 10 minutes to reach the beautiful Chandratal Lake.
Chandratal has no guest houses but only a few camping sites. For a luxury camping experience, you might need to pay around 2500 Rupees per person, and for a rugged, what-a-night experience you pay 700. I camped on my own, once again, and had a different experience. “Time to get a room,” I thought the next morning.
And that was it, my Spiti Valley road trip was coming to an end. Day 9 was moreover the day when I camped for the last time during this Spiti Valley itinerary.
Day 9: Chandratal to Manali
Return the same way that took you to Chandratal until you come back to the diversion and take the highway that goes to Batal.
Make sure you fill your stomach at one of the dhabas in Batal because the next town might be a little far. Though it’s only 18 km away since you’ll be driving at only about 10kms/hour – thanks to a poor road. This 50 km stretch, from Batal to Gramphoo, will eat up good 4-5 hours of your daylight.
After Gramphoo, comes Rohtang Pass, overcrowded by tourists looking for places to visit near Manali. Rohtang Pass is always surrounded by thick fog with rain being a certain possibility on the top, so make sure you cover up with raincoats and plastic bags. This is no Spiti Valley. Rain is now a common story here.
After Rohtang Top, there are many places to eat and rest for a while. A little further ahead lies the beautiful Solang Valley, with better camping spaces. But I decided to take a room in Manali, for I had done enough camping on the way.
From Manali, you can also plan another interesting bike trip to Sach Pass. If you’re interested, here’s the Sach Pass itinerary I followed during my trip in August 2019. Though I did it from Delhi to Sach Pass to Manali, you can repeat the entire journey the other way round, ie Manali to Sach Pass to Delhi.
Also Read: Jammu To Killar Itinerary
Have you ever attempted a solo Spiti Valley bike trip? How was your experience? Also, would you like to add anything in this itinerary? Please share in the comments below!