Hiking to Ki Monastery, Spiti: The Long Way Round
Chances are that if you’ve seen photos of Spiti, the remote, high altitude region in northern India, Ki Monastery would have caught your attention. It’s the largest monastery in Spiti, housing over 300 monks. The stacked white buildings stand out amidst the sharp serrated edges of the surrounding hills, while a seemingly endless row of giant mountains sits in the background. It’s definitely a must-see sight in Spiti, but it’s not always the easiest place to visit. I decided to hike to Ki Monastery (AKA Ki Gompa) from Kibber (a small mountain village) and then on to Kaza — here’s a quick guide and some photos to inspire you to do the same.
Kibber to Ki Monastery
Before I start, I should mention there is more than one way to reach Ki from Kibber. I took the long way round, or the long road round, but it worked out pretty well. I had travelled up the road by bus the day before and was excited to walk down it. It was pretty much all downhill and it only took two hours. The only sign of traffic for the first hour was the daily bus to Kaza, which crept past me at around 8.45 am. It was just me, the road and the stunning countryside for most of the way. I walked past a canyon, a village high up on the hills surrounded by green crops and barren earth, and the mountains of the Spiti Valley. After a peaceful couple of hours I reached the turn off to Ki Monastery, which overlooks the Spiti Valley.
Unless you’re really into Buddhism, monasteries like this are generally more interesting from a distance. There wasn’t really a lot to see inside the monastery, but visiting at lunchtime allowed me to share a meal with the monks and get a feel for the their way of life. There were lots of kids of all ages training to be monks. Some of them seemed more interested in playing, gathering round to watch a video on a cell phone or practicing their cricketing skills — I guess it shows you that kids are the same pretty much everywhere.
The white box buildings of Ki Monastery contrast with the surrounding hills and mountains to create one of Spiti’s most iconic scenes — it’s worth seeing it from as many angles as you can. From Ki village, a short downhill walk to the main road away, you can see Ki Monastery in all it’s glory. It’s also worth seeing it from above, surrounded by snow-covered peaks (but more on that later).
Ki to Kaza
From Ki village it’s around 12 kilometres to Kaza, the biggest town in Spiti. I decided to walk there and catch the bus back to Kibber, which leaves at 5 pm. Walking along the valley, with mountains and the splintered Spiti River by my side, was fun but quite tiring. The scenery was unbelievable though and it’s worth walking at least a section of this road. A couple of kilometres before Kaza a car rolled up beside me and offered me a ride. I gladly took it, and before long I was relaxing in a cafe while I waited for the bus.
Hiking to Ki Monastery: The Details
There are two main routes to Ki Monastery from Kibber. The first is by road (well, there are two roads, but they meet eventually). I took the road just down from Norling Home Stay (on top of the hill overlooking Kibber) but the road leading down from the other side of town would be faster. The other option is to hike above Kibber towards the village of Gete and then down to Ki Monastery. This might save you some time but it’s quite hilly and is a tougher walk (it’s well over 4000 metres above sea level so even small inclines become lung busting challenges). The advantage of this route is that you can get that iconic view of the monastery surrounded by mountains, which is a sight worth seeing.
If you go for the road option you can walk a little way up the hill behind the monastery when you get there, or you can take a slight detour (like I did) while hiking from Kibber to Tashigang, another great day hike in the area. Or, if you’re really pressed for time and only have one day to see it all, you could hike from Kibber to Tashigang (via Gete) and then down to Ki Gompa, where you could either stay for the night or continue on to Kaza. I had plenty of time so decided to go for two great day hikes from Kibber, and I’m glad I did it that way.
Oh, you could also take a bus or a taxi to Ki Gompa. The bus times aren’t ideal though (buses from Kaza leave at 5 pm and return at around 9 am). A taxi could be a good option, assuming you have a few people together, but hiking there is the best option in my opinion.
Have you visited any scenic Buddhist monasteries? Let me know in the comments below!