After Tabo, you can drive off to Dhankar and then Kaza for your next stops in Spiti Valley.
Tabo to Dhankar to Kaza
The road from Tabo to Dhankar/Kaza is an easier stretch. You can lazily drive by the river and take ample of stops as well. I, as expected, stopped at a couple of places by the road. Mostly owing to my unyielding urge to jump in wild, mountain rivers and even catch a nap! Also, there is a lot of stone skipping that needs to be done on the river here; true story again.
What to do in Dhankar?
The first sight of Dhankar Monastery will take your breath away, for it sits on the top of a hill, looking over a threatening cliff. It seems like that the entire complex is sitting in contemplation, cut off from the rest of the world, watching over the playful confluence of two rivers – Spiti and Pin.
The monastery insides are rather interesting, especially with a stuffed yak skin hanging right over the entrance stairs! Plus, the wooden ladder that takes you to the terrace; with all its groans and squeaks, you also get a placard saying – NOT MORE THAN 3 PEOPLE AT A TIME. That, because the structure might just cave in.
For a fact, know that the monastery is listed as one of the world’s most endangered sites in the world! A light landslide and it might just topple off the cliff; I found a threatening 2-inch crack in the inside walls, going all the way up to the roof. While efforts by the World Monuments Fund listing has led to an increase in its conservation efforts, its treacherous, might-be-gone-any-moment setting left me in awe of its very existence.
The monks allowed me to go inside the meditation caves as well as the tiny kitchen as well; the sight of hundreds of butter lamps lighting up the dark insides of the monastery in such terrain is something that is too interesting to be put into words. It warmed me in spite of the cold, even harsh, landscape outside.
If Dhankar Lake trek is on your mind, remember that it is tricky in spite of how easy it looks, AMS might hit you hard here. Even after spending more than 10 days in the high-altitude region, I went reeling on the trek with a weird bout of dizziness. Carrying camphor might help; it will take you anywhere between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on your fitness level. A sturdy pair of hiking shoes will do you go, for the trail is mostly loose rocks and stones and does not make it easy. Do not expecting a Pangong Tso or Chandertal like wonder, for the lake is smaller in comparison and usually a pale shade of muddy brown. Still, much wonder lies in camping on its banks and losing yourself in the sheer enormity of the mountains around.
Here, in Spiti, unlike Kinnaur or the greener Himalayas, mountains are brown, barren and almost merciless. Cold, harsh winds or unrelenting Sun, this is where nature shows how powerful it can be. Back from the trek, do not forget to wolf down on dum-aloo, raita, and a welcome north Indian meal at the new monastery’s restaurant. Chefs, from Kashmir especially, will woo you with their expert culinary skills.
Where to stay in Dhankar?
You can choose to spend the night in Dhankar itself, or drive off to Kaza. Stay over if you can spend an evening doing nothing but watching how wonderful the meeting of two rivers can be. The new monastery at Dhankar has a stay facility that is as close to luxury as you can be in this region. Quite plush for its settings, it is an ideal place to stay in Dhankar. If all booked, Dhankar has 3-4 more stay facilities, mostly homestays.
You can also drive to Lhalung village from Dhankar; it is home to another monastery, famous for its fables. Going by the lore, you should not touch the monastery walls or the residing angels will fly away. Lhalung has more homestays than Dhankar and is perfect if you want to have a more local experience.
Dhankar to Kaza
Kaza lies at some 42 km from Dhankar, and the drive on this Himalayan road takes almost 3 hours owing to its innumerable bends and turns. Kaza is the biggest town in Spiti Valley and is also the headquarter for the valley. Rather than a tourist attraction, Kaza is a prominent pitstop for fuel, food and, of course, a good bath if you are desperate for hot geyser water and such stuff on this road trip.
What to do in Kaza?
While there is plenty in the lanes of Kaza for the foodies, there are not many places to visit or explore. Kaza Monastery (also Sakya Kangyud Monastery) is more famous for being a riot of colours rather than ancientness, especially when compared to the monastery at Tabo or Dhankar.
My suggestion for Kaza in this itinerary for Spiti Valley is to rest in for the evening, explore the local market, kitty in souvenirs for people back home, have a hearty, lavish meal at one of the cafes, dig into apple-cinnamon pies in the main market. Better still, if you have the good chance of staying at a homestay, you might have a better chance of gorging over the famous Kinnauri peas, used widely in soups, vegetables, rice and more. My good people made me eat more than I could, and I could not thank them enough. Skygazing at Kaza is a different experience altogether, with astonishingly clear views of the Milky Way as well.
Next morning, you can drive off the Ki Monastery. Again, not as high on the heritage quotient as the Tabo Monastery, this one is more of a to-do-when-there sort of place. Your second day in Kaza can be better spent in visiting the villages around Ki Monastery and Kaza, that is Kibber, Ki, Gette, Langza and Komic. Langza and Komic are great camping spots as well, almost meadow-like in a rather harsh terrain. Tents and other camping gear can be bought or taken on rent from any of the tour organisers and sport equipment shops in Kaza. Yes, that is quite some luxury from a place that has an altitude of 3800 m.
Where to stay in Kaza?
You can choose to not reserve a hotel in Kaza as there is no lack of stay options here. Other than some run of the mill hotels, Kaza is also home to some very interesting homestays. I stayed at Sakya Abode homestay and can simply term it as one of the best stay experiences in Spiti. Caution – they are going to feed you more food than you can! You will need a reservation for this one, especially if you are visiting in the peak tourist season.