Spiti in winters – Expecting the Unexpected

An insane adventure that requires planning to be done just right. Driving through the Spiti valley in the winters is not just like another drive to Ladakh and back. For those who think Ladakh was an easy drive; please ensure to be vary of few facts about driving through Spiti in the winters

Weather in the Valley

As you travel from Narkanda to kinnaur and beyond to enter higher regions of the valley, one will experience bone freezing temperature. Be prepared with adequate winter gear and carry enough woolens. The idea is to layer yourself and not to wear one single heavy woolen pullover. Layering of cloths will prevent the wind from passing thru to your body and will keep it warmer. Staying hydrated is also a good idea. Warm water does quite a trick too.

MonthAvg. Minimum (°C)Avg. Maximum (°C)
Monthly Average temperatures in the Spiti Region

Enjoy the thrill of driving on snow filled and icy roads

If you are riding or driving by yourself, then be careful of the ice and on roads. There are two types of ice formations that are found on the roads; slushy and slippery, nicely formed fresh ice.

Slushy ice is still better to drive on as many vehicles would have driven on the roads. The slush on the road does cause the vehicle to wade around. One would have experienced this when you turn right the car reacts to left. It’s like drifting; but on bad slippery roads

Freshly formed ice is very risky to drive on and has the most chances for the car to slip. This is very dangerous. It is recommended to use chains on the tires. This is a condition of the road where your 4×4 will also not react to your needs

The most comfortable and convenient drives in these bad conditions is the one you take up after a fresh snow fall – Not too much, Not too less. Though the adventure and the thrill of driving is when there is a lot of it

The Snow to Ice Life cycle

Fresh snow -> cold night -> formation of icy roads -> busy mornings -> lots of slush

Lack of basic necessities – Stay & food

If one expects to be living in the 5- or 7-star Hotels on this drive, they should wait for another few decade, for modernization to ruin the natures beauty. I am not against modernization, but the fact is, we as tourists do not respect modernization in moderation. Most of the hotels and the guest houses will be closed at this time of the year. One could always knock the door of a local resident and enjoy their warmth and endless hospitality. Expecting facilities as availability of mechanics, groceries, fruits, filter water, etc.. is be a long fetch. It is important to know your car’s mechanics, your appetite and your needs; pack your car accordingly.  

Warm & welcoming Locals

Needless to say, locals will always greet you with a lot of warmth and hospitality to ensure that your stay is comfortable with them. It is commendable on their part to do so with the limited facilities available to them. Do reward them with lots of love and affection along with some monitory benefits

This is the only one way to experience local lifestyle when you are out on such an adventure. Folks travelling in summer, land up staying in the hotels and resorts, usually miss experiencing this part of the journey. These few days with the locals will help one witness each day of harsh life that they go thru, and yet provide so much of warmth and love to you and your family. Admirable!!!

Availability of Water for regular routine

The temperatures at night are usually below Zero Degrees; the water pipes are mostly frozen, making it difficult to get running water in the toilets. One needs to get accustomed to using dry pits (traditional toilets). The washrooms will have similar challenges. Home-stay provide boiling water over gas and make it available to you but it could be rare. Keep in a practice to go without a bath for several days 😀

Carry a portable stove; you could boil water and use it quickly to wash your face and hand a couple of times a day.

Mobile Network

Given that one will be travelling thru many remote areas, keeping an expectation that the mobiles network will be available all throughout is not good. Depending on the route you take and the stops you make, there is a high possibility that you will be in the No-Network zone for a long time. Having a BSNL or an MTNL connection is a handy idea.

Scarcity of power Supply

There is all possibilities that the electric poles are swayed away or are buried in a snow. So, carry enough spare batteries and keep them somewhere warm. Batteries do also freeze to exhaust. One rudimentary way to keep the batteries from running out in cold is to keep it in the car bonnet; not in the engine compartment, but under the hood, tightly secured or play it safe and keep them inside your blankets/quilts while sleeping.

Monitory alignment for the trip

Given the possibility of power cuts being high and the availability of mobile network always a question, the credit card machines are usually not the preferred mode of transactions. Carry enough cash, there is a possibility that ATMs may also not function

Note: With a limited withdrawal facility available, SBI bank in Kaza does allow money withdrawals from the POS machine they have installed inside the bank in case the ATM is not working.

Expect bare minimum medical supply

Much like other limitations, keep low expectations on medical facilities as well when traveling to Spiti Valley in winters. Stock up all the medical supplies prior to the trip; consult your local doctor and get his opinion. In a state of emergency one should remember to visit the Army Transit Camps; they have medical facilities available and are always more than welcome to help visitors. While there are many fixed camps, there are few Mobile camps too. Hence identifying a location is not always possible.

Carry medicine in abundance and help fellow travelers and tourist in case of need. Do not be selfish to save your stock and not help others

Road closure – A Common experience

Keep few days in spare when one plans a trip in the valley. This is the most probable thing that will happen. BRO is overly active in this area to ensure roads are maintained to the top most quality, but then they also do not fight the nature if it is not in its good state. Most common reasons for a road block in this time is due to excessive snowfall or landslides.

My suggestion to not attempt to cross a road in this state and wait for BRO to give a go ahead to cross over.

Fuel Freezing

Usually Diesel takes the longest to freeze, and can sustain lower freezing temperatures, there is all possibility that it may. Carrying an Antifreeze on the trip and using it once you start experiencing sub zero temperatures is a good idea.

Pouring warm water on the diesel pump and the engine can also do the magic. Cover the Engine with blankets to keep it warm. It might be a good idea to wake up once or twice in the night and crank the engine up for 15-20 minutes to keep it warm.

READ: How to prepare your car for a Spiti Drive

No Chandratal & No full circuit

The road beyond Kaza are closed in winters. So one cannot experience the mesmerizing Chandratal and cannot complete the circular trip from Simla to Manali

READ: Summer Drive – Lahaul & Spiti Valley

Handful tourists & public transport

I always believe; “there is a place as heaven where the human has not reached“; Sadly, in our excitement to explore places we also land up ruining the beauty of the place. This is one time in the year, we get to experience the heaven on earth. It also means, there is limited help available in case you need it. You wont find many options of sharing vehicles or to be dependent on public transport. The HRTC buses do ply between Reckong Peo and Kaza, it is dependent on the condition of roads and weather. The buses also ply only till the danger point, where the passengers are expected to cross over on foot and exchange buses coming from either direction

Lose your soul to the frozen beauty of Spiti Valley

If Ladakh is the mother of all beauties to you, I can assure you that the frozen beauty of Spiti Valley is no less generous. Your soul will fall prey to it at the very first sight. Needless to say, you will loose behind a part of your soul forever on your return

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