One should know about these important tips before they plan a Spiti Valley trip in winters. The tips mentioned below are learnings from my expeditions and from what fellow travellers have shared on the internet
No Spiti circuit trip
The road from Manali to Kaza is closed due to heavy snow presence at Kunzum and Rohtang Pass. The road from Manali to Kaza remains closed in winter typically from November to May. A complete circuit is only possible in summers
Prepare for Roadblocks
The most common problem one would face is Roadblocks. The trip into the Spiti Valley should be planned keeping few days of buffer in mind. The roads from Shimla to Kinnaur and then to Kaza might also close at several places due to heavy snowfall. A possibility that the roads are closed for over couple of days or even a week should be kept in mind too.
Temperature & Cold Conditions
Spiti Valley is also known as the wild cold dessert. The temperatures in winter hit the sub zero range; Experiencing a negative 10 to 15 degree Celsius is a common phenomenon. The wind chill will make it even worse. Plan to be covered and prepare yourself for a condition as this
Snow & Ice on roads
Due to freezing conditions, the roads get a covering of snow or black ice especially around Nako and ahead of Schichiling village. Make sure you are very cautious and careful when driving on such roads. Overconfidence always makes you pay a price not worth spending
It is always better to start the day after the sun comes out. One small mistake can be fatal on such a trip or may get you stuck in the middle of nowhere without any help. The idea of starting a day after the sun is out is to let the ice on the road melt. Driving on a slushy road is far better than driving on the ice
Limited options to stay and eat
It always is a worry to find accommodation when planning a trip to Spiti in winters. One has to rely on traditional homestays and small budget guest houses. There are a couple of hotels in Kaza that may operate, however, do not bank on the service to be great. The locals are very welcoming an humble in nature, but the scarcity of resources does not allow them to provide you 5 star services
Hence, it is advised that you carry your camping gears, including good rating sleeping bag and tents that can withstand cold. Sleeping bags are anyways handy when on road trips. One may not want to use the linen provided at the homestays.
There are few homestays open during this time of the year that will cater to one’s food needs; basic home cooked food is available and one should not expect more. It is a good idea to pack food from the homestay for your day ahead. It is also a good idea to carry some packed food with you that can be used at the time of emergency
Carry a portable stove and a cylinder; could come handy
Water scarcity and usage of dry pit toilets
Please note that due to freezing cold conditions, there will be no running water in pipes and hence, no running water in the toilets. One will have to use dry pit toilets and may need to live without a bath for couple of days. Said that, there may be a possibility to get hot water at few homestays
Cash and ATM availability
Carry enough cash for the trip; there is a possibility that the ATM at Kaza may not be functional or would be out of cash. Homestays and Guest houses will not accept credit cards. An approximate cost for a trip in Spiti in winter could be around Rs 800-1000 per day per person for stay and food
Due to severe icy conditions, one may observe that the vehicle is not performing optimally.
- The diesel in the supply pipes and even in the tank may freeze. The use of antifreeze agents is recommended. For your windshield and fuel.
- Avoid the usages of wipers and windshield fluid when you start the car or the first time in the day.
- Use an Ice Scraper
- Hot water will crack the windscreen. It is recommended not to use it
- Given the low temperatures, there is a possibility that the car engine will take longer to warm up to its regular temperature; keep a clean heavy cloth handy to cover the engine to generate more heat
- Keep the car running when taking a break or sightseeing
- Best to understand you car better and have knowledge of basic repairs. Finding a mechanic could be a challenge
- Carry additional Fuel. On a regular summer day Fuel is available in Kaza
- Be the first at the pump to fill up your tank
Sunburn & Frostbites
Sunburn and frostbites are very common in high altitude regions as the Spiti valley. One may witness both these issues the same day too. Take good care of exposed skin. Try and stay under cover all the time. It is a good idea to carry a good quality sunscreen and moisturiser. Good quality polarized sunglass can help you avoid a snow glare
Clothes to Carry & What to Pack
As it would be for any winter vacation it is absolutely necessary to carry heavy woolens for a Spiti valley trip too. I suggest layering up into multiple layers of clothes than wearing one thick woolen jacket.
Below is a list of some must-have items to pack when planning this trip.
- heavy woolen jacket or parka (windproof),
- balaclava or monkey cap,
- inner thermals,
- fleece jacket,
- heavy woolen clothing,
- woolen socks,
- warm insulated shoes or trekking boots,
- warm hand gloves and,
Read: List of things to Carry on a Trip to Lahaul & Spiti Valley