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Tabo to Kaza via Dhankar Monastery: A Short Road Trip in Spiti, India

My first stop in Spiti (after a week in the equally awesome Kinnaur region) was Tabo, a midget of a town surrounded by rocky cliffs and distant snow-capped mountains. I arrived on a bus from Nako, an ancient village in the bordering Kinnaur province, and it was a rugged ride. The bus was completely packed and I ended up standing for the three hour journey. I was hoping to die and be instantly reincarnated as a pregnant woman so that someone would offer me their seat, but it didn’t happen.

A Short Road Trip in Spiti

After spending the night in the old Tabo Monastery with some new-found Indian friends, I organised a cheap taxi to Kaza, the biggest town in this remote region of India. Not only would I avoid another predictably packed bus ride, but I’d also get to see Dankhar Monastery, which is a hefty eight kilometer uphill walk from any public transport connection.

Tabo Monastery

Tabo Monastery

Winding, bumpy roads are par for the course in this region, but the stretch between Tabo and Kaza wasn’t quite as bad as those I’d endured previously. The scenery, as is usually the case when driving on mountain roads, was dramatic. After a few maneuvers to get around diggers busy widening the road, we arrived at the hilltop Dankhar Monastery.

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Dhankar Monastery

Set on a rocky hill overlooking snow-covered mountains and the twisted webs of the Spiti and Pin rivers, Dankhar Monastery should be on everyone’s Spiti itinerary. The compound contains the monastery and several other similar looking buildings, including the remains of a fort built way back in the 12th century.

The dark interior wasn’t particularly interesting but the view from the terrace on the upper floor was worth the price of admission (which is only 25 INR). The blend of completely lifeless high altitude desert, towering Himalayan mountains and the various river tentacles makes it one of the best view points in Spiti. Also, there’s the obligatory prayer flags, which always look interesting in photos.

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After stumbling my way back through the dark monastery, I went for a quick climb to the top of the hill. It was cool to see the monastery from above and the remains of the old fort were also worth a look.

prayer-flags-dhankar

Dankhar to Kaza

Part of the road from Dankhar to Kaza is smooth tarmac, making for a nice change from the rocky messes that pass as roads in much of Kinnaur and Spiti. My driver told me that more of the roads will be improved in the coming years, which will lead to more accidents as people will drive faster.

dhankar-buddhist-monastery

We soon made it to Kaza, the administrative centre of Spiti. The fact that it’s home to only around 3000 people says a lot about how sparsely populated Spiti is. I found a nice little room in Bodh Guesthouse (400 INR) and finally found some WiFi (it had been four days since I dropped off the face of the virtual Earth due to network problems in Kalpa).

Tabo to Kaza by Taxi

I paid 800 INR for the Tabo – Dankhar – Kaza road trip. Taxis usually charge 2500 INR for this route but the guy at the monastery guesthouse in Tabo managed to find a driver who was going to Kaza anyway and was happy to earn some bonus money.

You can reach Dankhar by public transport — take the bus to Sichling then walk the 8km up hill. There was (in mid May) only one bus a day from Tabo to Kaza (originating in Rekcong Peo) at around 3 pm, so if you’re doing it by public transport you’ll need to spend the night in Dankhar (you can either stay in the new monastery guesthouse or one of the nearby home stays) and walk back down to Sichling the next day in time to catch the bus to Kaza, which should stop by at around 4 pm as Sichling is around halfway between Tabo and Kaza.

Bear in mind that these bus times are liable to change and there maybe more buses as the tourist season hits full stride. Lonely planet said there was a bus from Tabo to Kaza at around 9 – 10 am but there wasn’t. Check with someone in Tabo and they’ll give you the up to date details and might also hook you up with a cheap taxi ride / help you team up with other travellers.

You can also visit Dhankar as part of the “Home stay Trek” — a multi-day trek which takes you to various high altitude villages.

dhankar-panorama

The short road trip from Tabo to Kaza via Dankhar was a great way to start my Spiti adventure. From there I visited more tiny villages, let my eyes feast on some of the world’s most amazing scenery and travelled on lots of rattling buses along bumpy mountain roads. Stay tuned for the rest of the journey!

Is a road trip in Spiti on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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