This remote area of Himachal Pradesh was only recently opened up to trekkers. The Spiti Valley is remarkable because you can cross from the Himalaya through to the trans-Himalaya without having to ascend a major pass. Some of the settlements in this fascinating region were historically key centres of the Buddhist world. Not surprisingly there are monasteries here to rival the grandest in Tibet, Zanskar, and Ladakh, with brilliant statuary, frescoes, murals, and rock carvings. The area combines Tibetan influences with those from the rest of Kashmir, and highland Pakistan. The landscape here displays much lushness and many wildflowers, but soon gives way to classic trans-Himalayan and Tibetan features - painfully clear skies, bright blue lakes, stark granite and limestone cliffs, sharp-edged snowy mountains. The prayer flags fluttering, and the mani walls, chhorten, monasteries and prayer wheels add a sense of calm and composure to even the most jaded traveller. The people look like the descendents of marriages between Tibetans and other Central Asians, and Afghans and Iranians, and they speak a centuries-old version of Tibetan.
Day 1: Arrive at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport and transfer to hotel.
Day 2: Fly to Leh (3,500 m), enjoying the spectacular view of towering 5-7,000 m peaks, the high-altitude desert, the river snaking through it, and the green, yellow, and pink patches of cultivated land. Spend the day acclimatising in this Lhasa-like town.
Day 3: On the drive from Leh to Rumtse (4,325 m), stop at historic, beautiful palaces and monasteries. Shey, which was the ancient capital of Ladakh, is home to an old crumbling palace, and also a brilliant temple with well-kept stunningly paitned murals and 11th century statuary. Thikse, a 15th century monastery perched, as they so often are, on a hill smack in the middle of a wide valley, offers great, shimmering views as well as some of the best religious architecture in this part of the world. The palace at Stok, occupied by the rulers of Ladakh after it became independent in 1843, is now home to a excellent museum, replete with thangka and statues as well as the props of royalty and religion - chalices and jewellery, for example.
Day 4: It's not a hard walk today, though you do need to ford the river a couple of times to reach Kyamer.
Day 5: You need to have your wits about you today, as you make the rather hard climb up to two high passes, Kumur La (4,770 m) and Mandal Chan La (4,850 m).
Day 6: Walk past the river and along gorges, scramble a little and walk the edge of a little cliff to cross the Shibuk La (4,900 m). The area is home to blue sheep and wild asses and you might be able to spot some as you walk to Pangunagu (4,100 m) near Tso Kar lake.
Day 7: As you walk along the shores of the lake (4,260 m), keep an eye out for the many exotic forms of bird life here. There are black-necked cranes, among others, on the way to Nuruchan.
Day 8: Today you get into Changpa country, and it is inspiring to see these hardy people in their old-fashioned skin tents taking all the challenges of life as they come along. The camp at Rachun Karu is fairly remote, and all the more exciting for it,
Day 9: There's a high pass today, but the views from the top of Kyamayuri La (5,410 m) of the massive desert dotted with the occasional bright field or shimmering monastery are pure magic. Camp at Gyama.
Day 10: Another high pass today - Yalung Nyau La (5,450 m) - tests your stamina and walking skills. Keep your eyes on the prize when you reach the top; the famous blindingly blue lake Tso Moriri, which attracts some spectacular bird life including the otherwise elsuive bar-headed geese, is tantalisingly close. Descend to Karzok.
Day 11: The area around Tso Moriri lake, which is where bar-headed geese nest in the Himalaya, is classic high-altitude country, complete with a pass, and the lake itself is lovely, aquamarine and serene. The Karzok monastery is vibrant and well-preserved, and between that and the lake, today might be one of the most perfect days on this trek.
Day 12: Today you walk along the banks of the lovely lake to reach its southern tip at Kyangdam, where you camp.
Day 13: Today is an interesting day - at least one heavy dity river crossing, but also the chance to see entire herds of kyang, or wild asses, and other local wildlife on the way to Nurbhu Sumdo.
Day 14: Walk along the new river, the Parang Chu climbing easily to camp at Getpa Buzak.
Day 15: A pleasant day's walk, today you go along gently undulating paths and slowly reach Tharang Yokma.
Day 16: Typical trans-Himalayan country makes today a brilliant study in light and shade, as the hills of granite and limestone change colour and caste shadows along the riverbanks on the way to Kharsa Gongma.
Day 17: Another day that you start with a river crossing also includes trailing along the lateral moraine of a glacier with lots of scree, boulders, rock and ice to reach the highest pass on this trek, indeed one of the highest most trekkers cross in Ladakh/ Zanskar/ Spiti, the Parang La (5,800 m). Then its a scrabbly, extremely steep - but quick! - descent o Dak Ldan.
Day 18: Descend through a narrow, fairytale gorge only to have to climb steeply up to the Thangltak pastures, where you camp for the night.
Day 19: A little pass, a river crossing, but an all in all easy walk brings you to the roadhead at Kibber which, at 4,200 m, is one of the highest permanent settlements in the world. Drive down to the pretty Ki gomba on the way to Kaza (3,640 m).
Day 20: Drive over the good roads built by the Indian army crossing the 4,500 m- Kunzum La as well as the famous Rohtang Pass (3,880 m) to reach the bustling tourist centre of Manali.
Day 21: A day to recover from the rigours of your high altitude trek is well spent in Manali. Here is a pleasant old temple set in a glade atop a hill, an Old Town where all the houses and stone-paved alleys are as they have been for centuries, and a wonderful hot spring centre at Vashisht where you can soak away your aches.
Day 22: Make the 550 km-long drive through the valleys of the large Beas and Sutlej rivers, through parts of the Punjab and the north Indian plains to reach Delhi.
Day 23: Transfer to New Delhi's international airport for your flight back home.
Cost on your request
1. Accommodation in Leh in B category hotel on full board basis (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
2. Arrival and Departure transfer by non-a/c jeep/ car in Leh
3. Full board during the trek section of the tour
4. English-speaking Ladakhi mountain guide for trekking
5. Cook, ponies (where needed), and porters
6. Complete kitchen gear and all supplies including gasoline
7. All tents for camping
8. Accommodation in Delhi in budget hotel with AC rooms on
Cost does not include:
1. Lunch and dinner in Delhi ($ 5-10 per day per person)
2. Rescue in case of emergency
3. Medical and personal insurance
4. Tips, laundry, all drinks, telephone calls if any
5. Sleeping bags/ ropes/ crampon/ ice-axe/ other gear
6. Inner-line permit fee (US$12 per person)
7. Delhi-Leh airfare (Current fare is US$164 one way)
8. Kaza-Manali-Delhi car/ coach cost