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Lahaul and Spiti district
Location of Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh
State Himachal Pradesh,  India
Administrative division Two
Headquarters Keylong
Area 13,833 km2 (5,341 sq mi)
Population 33,224 (2001)
Population density 2.4 /km2 (6.2/sq mi)
Literacy 73.1%
Assembly Seats 01
Average annual precipitation Scanty Rainfall mm
Official website

The district of Lahaul-Spiti in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh consists of the two formerly separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The present administrative centre is Keylong in Lahaul. Before the two districts were merged, Kardang was the capital of Lahaul, and Dhankar the capital of Spiti.

Kunzum la or the Kunzum Pass (altitude 4,551 m; 14,931 ft) is the entrance pass to the Spiti Valley from Lahaul. It is 21km from Chandra Tal.[1] This district is connected to Manali through the Rohtang Pass. To the south, Spiti ends 24 km from Tabo, at the Pare chu gorge where the road enters Kinnaur and joins with National Highway No. 22.[2]

The two valleys are quite different in character. Spiti is more barren and difficult to cross, with an average elevation of the valley floor of 4,270 m (14,009 ft). It is enclosed between lofty ranges, with the Spiti river rushing out of a gorge in the southeast to meet the Sutlej River. It is a typical mountain desert area with an average annual rainfall of only 170 mm (6.7 inches).[3]


Flora and fauna

Lahaul valley in winter
Mountain peak in Lahaul and Spiti district

The harsh conditions of Lahaul permit only scattered tufts of hardy grasses and shrubs to grow, even below 4,000 metres. Glacier lines are usually found at 5,000 metres.

Animals such as yaks and dzos roam across the wild Lingti plains. However, over-hunting and a decrease in food supplies has led to a large decrease in the population of the Tibetan antelope, argali, kiangs, musk deer, and snow leopards in these regions, reducing them to the status of endangered species. However, in the Lahaul valley, one can see ibex, brown bears, foxes and snow leopards during winter.


Mother and child in near Gandhola Monastery. 2004

The language, culture, and populations of Lahaul and Spiti are closely related. Generally the Lahaulis are of Tibetan and Indo-Aryan descent, while the Spiti Bhotia are more similar to the Tibetans, owing to their proximity to Tibet. Fairer skin and hazel-colored eyes are commonly seen among the Lahaulis.

The languages of both the Lahauli and Spiti Bhotia belong to the Tibeto-Burman family. They are very similar to the Ladakhi and Tibetans culturally, as they had been placed under the rule of the Guge and Ladakh kingdoms at occasional intervals.

Among the Lahaulis, the family acts as the basic unit of kinship. The extended family system is common, evolved from the polyandric system of the past. The family is headed by a senior male member, known as the Yunda, while his wife, known as the Yundamo, attains authority by being the oldest member in the generation. The clan system, also known as Rhus, plays another major role in the Lahauli society.

The Spiti Bhotia community has an inheritance system that is otherwise unique to the Tibetans. Upon the death of both parents, only the eldest son will inherit the family property, while the eldest daughter inherits the mother's jewellery, and the younger siblings inherit nothing. Men usually fall back on the social security system of the Trans-Himalayan Gompas.



The lifestyles of the Lahauli and Spiti Bhotia are similar, owing to their proximity. Polyandry was widely practiced by the Lahaulis in the past, although this practice has been dying out. The Spiti Bhotia do not generally practice polyandry any more, although it is accepted in a few isolated regions.

Divorces are accomplished by a simple ceremony performed in the presence of village elders. Divorce can be sought by either partner. The husband has to pay compensation to his ex-wife if she does not remarry. However, this is uncommon among the Lahaulis.

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood. Occupations include animal husbandry, working in government programs, government services, and other businesses and crafts that include weaving. Houses are constructed in the Tibetan architectural style, as the land in Lahul and Spiti is mountainous and quite prone to earthquakes.


Kunzum Pass between Lahul & Spiti
Ki-Gompa Spiti

Most of the Lahaulis follow a combination of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism of the Drukpa Kagyu order, while the Spiti Bhotia follow Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelugpa order. Within Lahul, the Baralacha-La region had the strongest Buddhist influence, owing to its close proximity to Spiti. Lahul has temples such as Triloknath, where pilgrims worship a certain god in different manifestations, notably in the form of Shiva and Avalokiteshvara. This bas-relief, of marble, depicts the Buddhist deity Avalokiteshvara (the embodiment of the Buddha's compassion) in a stylized seated position; Hindu devotees take it to be Shiva Nataraj, Shiva dancing. This image appears to be of sixteenth century Chamba craftsmanship. It was created to replace the original black stone image of the deity, which became damaged. This original image is kept beneath the plinth of the shrine. It appears to be of 12th century Kashmiri provenance.

Before the spread of Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, the people were adherents of the religion 'Lung Pe Chhoi', an animistic religion that had some affinities with the Bön religion of Tibet. While the religion flourished, animal and human sacrifices were regularly offered up to the 'Iha', a term that refers to evil spirits residing in the natural world, notably in the old pencil-cedar trees, rocks and caves. Vestiges of the Lung Pe Chhoi religion can be seen in the behaviour of the Lamas, who are believed to possess certain supernatural powers.

The Losar festival (also known as Halda in Lahauli) is celebrated between the months of January and February. The date of celebration is decided by the Lamas. It has the same significance as the Diwali festival of Hinduism, but is celebrated in a Tibetan fashion.

At the start of the festival, two or three persons from every household will come holding burning incense. The burning sticks are then piled into a bonfire. The people will then pray to Shiskar Apa, the goddess of wealth (other name Vasudhara) in the Buddhist religion.


The natural scenery and Buddhist monasteries, such as Ki, Dhankar, Shashur, Guru Ghantal and Tayul Gompas, are the main tourist attractions of the region.

One of the most interesting places is the Tabo Monastery, located 45 km from Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, the capital of the Spiti region. This monastery rose to prominence when it celebrated its thousandth year of existence in 1996. It houses a collection of Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist statues and Thangkas. The ancient gompa is finished with mud plaster, and contains several scriptures and documents. Lama Dzangpo heads the gompa here. There is a modern guest house with a dining hall and all facilities are available.

Another famous gompa, Kardang Monastery, is located at an elevation of 3,500 metres across the river, about 8 km from Keylong. Kardang is well connected by the road via the Tandi bridge which is about 14 km from Keylong. Built in the 12th century, this monastery houses a large library of Buddhist literature including the main Kangyur and Tangyur scriptures.

The treacherous weather in Lahaul and Spiti permits visitors to tour only between the months of June to October, when the roads and villages are free of snow and the high passes (Rothang La and Kunzum La) are open. It is possible to access Spiti from Kinnaur (along the Sutlej) all through the year, although the road is sometimes temporarily closed by landslides or avalanches. Avalanches and poorly tarred roads are another issue, cases of tourists getting killed or injured while making their way to villages have already occurred.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Kapadia (1999), pp. 215-216.
  3. ^ Kapadia (1999), pp. 26-27.


  • Handa, O. C. (1987). Buddhist Monasteries in Himachal Pradesh. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. ISBN 81-85182-03-5.
  • Kapadia, Harish. (1999). Spiti: Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya. 2nd Edition. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. ISBN 81-7387-093-4.
  • Janet Rizvi. (1996). Ladakh: Crossroads of High Asia. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Delhi. ISBN 019564546-4.
  • Cunningham, Alexander. (1854). LADĀK: Physical, Statistical, and Historical with Notices of the Surrounding Countries. London. Reprint: Sagar Publications (1977).
  • Francke, A. H. (1977). A History of Ladakh. (Originally published as, A History of Western Tibet, (1907). 1977 Edition with critical introduction and annotations by S. S. Gergan & F. M. Hassnain. Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.
  • Francke, A. H. (1914). Antiquities of Indian Tibet. Two Volumes. Calcutta. 1972 reprint: S. Chand, New Delhi.

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Darcha in the Lahaul region
Darcha in the Lahaul region

Lahaul and Spiti is a district of Himachal Pradesh in India. Lahaul tends to be a bit more green and fertile, while Spiti is mostly stark high-desert.

  • Kaza – the regional headquarters of Spiti district.
  • Keylong – the regional headquarters of Lahaul district.
  • Kibber – a small village at alt. of 4200 m, starting point of the Tso Moriri trek
  • Ki – the Ki Monastery
  • Tabo – a charming little village set around a monastery


Buddhism dominates the area, and its proximity to Tibet and Ladakh is evident in the people and culture.

Get in

Manali is the main jumping off point for Lahaul and Spiti, and many travelers retrace their footsteps from Tabo and return to Manali. It's also possible to enter the back way, coming up from Kinnaur valley.

Get around

Rickety buses ply the windy mountain roads with varying frequency. Motorcycles are also an option if you on an Enfield tour, but make sure you're experienced and comfortable on a bike before heading up into these rocky high altitude areas. Another option in some areas is to walk between villages, which can take anywhere from a couple hours to a whole day, and is rewarding in its own way.

  • Dhankar Gompa – is a fascinating site to behold. Nearly 1000 years old, it's beautifully perched among the rocks. Very basic accommodation is available in the "new monastery" for around Rs 150, and basic food will be served at meal times.
  • Gungri Monastery – a nyigma monastery founded by Padmasambhava in 1330AD. It is located 18 km into the Pin Valley
  • Chandra Taal (Lake of the moon) – a beautiful natural lake surrounded by hills.

Khoksar: Khoksar is the entrance point for Lahul. This village is the gateway for Lahul and situated at an altitude of 3140 meter from the sea level, right side bank of the Chandra River. Khoksar river remains fully covered with snow in winter time, it is the coldest place of Lahul during winter season.


Sissu is located at an altitude of around 3130 meters, on the right bank of the Chandra River. This village is locates on a flat ground. There is a very good plantation of poplars and willows on the both side of the road of this village. This plantation is very dense and even during summer time, sun rays don’t get success to penetrate it.

  • Treks. Inquire locally in any village, there are several popular treks that can be done.
  • Spiti Trek

Tourists can experience the rich culture and natural beauty of Spiti. Trekking on this trek provides a deep insight into the life of Spitian people. Tourist can experience local people life style, way of living, cuisine, livestock grazing machine, irrigation practices and agriculture. Spiti people life is very much balanced with the rare species of wildlife. [1]

Spiti Safari: It’s a popular trekking place in Himachal Pradesh. This trek is surrounded by the Kullu Valley, Ladakh and Tibet with Lahaul and Spiti.


There are restaurants at Chhatru and Betal village on the route from Manali to Kaza.

Stay safe

Bus drivers can be far less careful than you would like, especially on windy mountain roads. It may do no good, but don't be afraid to speak up if he's being reckless.

Take care when heading out trekking, it's easy to get lured into thinking you're out for an easy stroll, but make sure you've got enough food and water for the whole trip and then some.

  • Kinnaur Valley – if you're heading down into Kinnaur, make sure you pick up an Inner Line Permit in Kaza (free, good for 14 days) before setting out. Then take a bus east from Tabo to the landslide (about 2 hours). Once there you'll hand over your bags to be shuttled across on the wire by basket (Rs 5/ea), while you'll spend 45 min or so exerting yourself as you hike up and around the rockfall. It's not too strenuous, but expect to break a sweat, at least a little. If you're lucky there will be a bus waiting for you on the other side headed toward Reckong Peo (4-5 hours). If it's late and nothing is headed that far, the closest village with (limited) accommodation is Nako, about 45 minutes away.
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