Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh is one of the least developed region in India in terms of the public transport. Although the population density of this district is the lowest( 2 person per sq.km.) in India, but still due to its huge tourism potential there is a requirement of a decent public transport system in this area. If you travel by your own car or a hired cab, you do not face any problems, but if you want to travel this region by using public transport, then be prepare to wake up early in the morning to reach bus stand at right time or else be prepare to spend one more day at your present place. I did not travel in the Lahul part of this district, but I just returned from the Spiti Valley. This post will give you a lot of information on the public transport while travelling in the Spiti Valley.
Since Delhi is the major hub for all tourists in India, I consider Delhi as the starting point of your trip and since Kaza is the largest town in the Spiti Valley, I consider Kaza as the first destination of your trip in the Spiti Valley.In this post, I talk in terms of hour rather than kilometers, because in the hills, I believe the hours are more important than the kilometers to plan your trip.Delhi ISBT refers to Delhi Maharana Pratap ISBT in this post, which is close to Delhi Metro Kashmiri Gate Station. All bus fares mentioned in this post are round up by 10-20 INR.
There are two main routes to reach Kaza from Delhi: either to travel via Shimla and Reckong Peo or to travel via Manali. During my trip Manai-Kaza route was closed due to the snow at Kunzum Pass and the authorities are still working to open this route.As per rumours at Kaza, it is expected to open by July 7 this year, but nothing is assured. Although my initial plan was to complete this tribal circuit by travelling on the route Delhi-Shimla-Reckong Peo-Kaza-Manali-Delhi, but due to this closure at Kunzum Pass, I took Shimla route in the onwards as well as in the return journey. Now I explain each route one by one.
Please Note: These information are gathered during our trip in the first and second week of June. Public buses frequencies may increase in the month of July-September, during the peak travel season to Spiti Valley. You may also find some shared jeeps/taxis plying on the route in that season.
Delhi-Shimla-Reckong Peo-Kaza Route:
This route is an all-weather route open throughout the year, but subjected to weather and road conditions after Reckong Peo onwards. According to the Google Maps, this route is 755 Kms long and required 13 hours and 10 mins to travel by your own own car. But in reality, It takes upto 30 hours to complete this route if you travel by your own car and upto 36 hours if you travel using the public buses, that too without a long break, which is highly recommended on this route. In this long journey, you indeed pass through the numerous historical and natural attractions, tourist places etc, but I assume that your intention is to reach Kaza first, so no description of en-route places is here. This helps me to keep this post shorter, because each en-route attraction requires a post for itself, so I left them for other posts in the future. Now,let us start our journey from Delhi.
Start from Delhi to Reach Shimla: It takes 8-12 hours by road depending on the mode of transport.
There are two ways to reach Shimla:
First to catch a Volvo AC or an ordinary bus from Delhi ISBT direct to Shimla. Volvo bus takes around 9 hours, while ordinary bus takes around 10 hours to reach Shimla. Volvo AC Bus Fare: INR 800/- and Ordinary Bus Fare: INR 320/-. There are lots of ordinary buses running between Delhi ISBT and Shimla on hourly basis, specially in the evening hours and in the morning hours. They belong to Himachal Roadways, Haryana Roadways or to Punjab Roadways. Four Volvo Buses timings are at 6:30 AM,9:25 AM, 21:00 PM and 22:00 PM. These four Volvo buses belong to Himachal Roadways. Apart from this, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) also runs two Volvo AC Buses from Delhi at 8:00 AM and 20:30 PM, fare is INR 880/-. Himachal Roadways AC bus starts from Himachal Bhawan, while HPTDC AC bus starts from HPTDC Office at Chanderlok Building near Janpath, but you can catch both the buses from Delhi ISBT also .
Second way to reach Shimla is to travel via Chandigarh. Chandigarh is 250 kms away from Delhi and Shimla is further 120 kms away from Chandigarh. There are lots of ordinary as well as AC buses running between Delhi ISBT and Chandigarh at every 10-15 minutes round the clock. If you do not get a direct bus to Shimla from Delhi, you can board a bus going to Chandigarh and from there; you can catch another bus to Shimla. I have seen the list of about 180 buses at Chandigarh ISBT running between Chandigarh and Shimla, that means you can get a bus to Shimla in every 10 minutes from Chandigarh. Fare: Ordinary Buses, Delhi-Chandigarh: Ordinary Bus INR 200/- AC Bus INR 500/-, Chandigarh-Shimla:Ordinary Bus RS.150/- AC Bus: Rs.320/-
Important Caution: Be careful that there are two ISBTs in Chandigarh. One is in Sec.17 and another is in Sec.43. Sec.17 ISBT is the hub for the buses departing towards Delhi from Chandigarh, while Sec.43 is the hub for the buses departing towards north of Chandigarh to the state of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. So if you catch a bus from Delhi to Chandigarh, it may terminate at Sec.17 ISBT. In this case, you can catch a local Chandigarh Transport Undertaking Bus to Sec.43, which is about 15 minutes away and fare is Rs.10 for AC bus. From Sec.43, you can catch a bus to Shimla. To avoid this situation, it is better to catch a northbound bus from Delhi that has a halt at Sec.43 ISBT in Chandigarh.
Train Availability Between Delhi and Shimla: There are also a train link available between Delhi and Shimla, but it takes the same amount of time, even more as compared to the buses. First you have to catch a train from Delhi to Kalka. Then, catch another train from Kalka to Shimla. Kalka-Shimla line is a narrow gauge line and tourists regularly enjoy the toy train journey between these two stations. Kalka-Shimla Railways is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage .
Flight Availability between Delhi and Shimla: One daily Kingfisher flight is available between Delhi and Shimla. This Flight departs from Delhi IGI Airport Terminal 3 at 09:45 AM and reaches Shimla at 10:45 AM. Fare remains above INR 5000/- in all season. Shimla Airport is located at Jabarhatti, approx. 22 kms away from the Mall Road.
Reached Shimla, now Move to Reckong Peo: It takes around 8 hours to complete this part. Fare: Rs.205/- for ordinary bus
Shimla is a most sought, over-crowded hill station near Delhi and the honeymooner’s paradise in India.If you want to rest here, you can spend many days exploring the beauty around this hill station, but I take you further away to Reckong Peo a.k.a.Kinnaur. There are many government as well as private buses running between Shimla and Reckong Peo at nearly every hour from 5 AM in the morning till the 8 PM in the evening. Beyond these hours, there are only 2-3 buses to Peo (shorter and popular name of Reckong Peo). You can get these buses from the New Bus Stand of Shimla, which is 3 kms away from the old bus stand below the Mall Road. Few Buses are available from the Old Bus Stand as well and all the buses going to Peo make a stop at Lakkar Bazaar Bus Stand in Shimla.
This part of the journey is very crucial to decide the total time of your travel between Delhi and Kaza, because there is only one bus going further away from Reckong Peo leaving at 6:30 AM. So, your arrival time at Reckong Peo and your body’s need for rest is very crucial for onwards travel beyond Peo.
Important Note: There are two government ordinary buses operate from Shimla to Kaza in the evening. First government bus departs from Shimla at 18:30 PM and second one (Hamirpur-Kaza) at 20:00 PM. But none of this bus goes upto Kaza. You can purchase a bus ticket direct to Kaza, but You have to leave these buses at Reckong Peo in the morning.Your bus conductor issues the seat numbers for onward travel and in Reckong Peo, you have to board on another bus that is going to Kaza at 6:30 AM as per your seat number.
There is a private bus by Kumar Bus Service at 19:00 PM from Shimla New Bus Stand. They claim to go upto Kaza, but in my knowledge they go upto Yangthang only,one hour before Nako Village and well before Kaza. So, be sure about the destination while boarding on that bus. In peak tourist season, they may operate upto Kaza.
Alternate Bus Availabillty:
Delhi-Kalpa HPTDC Bus: HPTDC runs a daily Volvo AC bus between Delhi and Kalpa (10 kms above the Reckong Peo) during the peak tourist season. Right now, this bus is not operating.
Delhi-Reckong Peo Ordinary Bus: This bus departs from Delhi ISBT at 20:10 PM in the evening and arrives Reckong Peo at 16:45 PM in the next day afternoon.Fare: INR 575/-
Chandigarh-Reckong Peo Volvo AC Bus: I have seen a Volvo AC bus in Shimla that runs between Chandigarh and Reckong Peo. This bus reaches Lakkar Bazaar Bus Stand in Shimla at 11 AM and arrives Reckong Peo at 6 PM.
Train Availability between Shimla and Reckong Peo: Not Available, No railway line exist
Flight Availability between Shimla and Reckong Peo: Not Available, No airport beyond Shimla
Return Buses from Reckong Peo to Shimla: In day time there are plenty of buses at hourly basis from Reckong Peo to Shimla starting from 4.30 AM. In the evening,last bus to Shimla departs at 19.00 PM.
What to do in Reckong Peo: If you arrive in Reckong Peo from Shimla and not in the mood to travel further on the same day, there are lots of places to explore around Peo. You can explore Kalpa, Roghi, Chitkul Villages and Sangla Valley for next 2-3 days from Reckong Peo (read my another post for details on these places Trip to Kalpa and Chhitkul ). Foreign Nationals visiting Spiti Valley has another work to complete. To Travel beyond Akpa Police check post on Reckong Peo-Kaza route requires Inner Line Permit for non-Indians and it is strictly mandatory. So foreign nationals can spend their time in Peo arranging for an Inner Line Permit for onwards travel to Spiti Valley.This Inner Line Permit can also be arranged at Shimla.
Final part of the Journey from Reckong Peo to Kaza: It takes around 11 hours subject to the weather and the road conditions
So, you have visited Reckong Peo area, your body does not ask for the rest now and you have your inner line permit in your hand, Its time to move beyond Reckong Peo now. There is only one ordinary bus running between Reckong Peo and Kaza, popularly known as Kaza Bus.The bus leaves Peo Bus Stand at 6:30 AM and reaches Kaza around 17:30 PM.Fare:INR 470/-. Popular tourist attractions of this route are Nako Village (Bus reaches at 12:00 PM), Tabo Village (reaches at 16:00 PM) and Schichling Village ( reaches at 16:45 PM).
It is on you to decide whether to leave this bus at any of these villages or to reach Kaza first. But if you leave this bus in any of these villages, next bus will be available only on the next day. I will write a separate post on the mode of transport available between the villages of Spiti valley later. That will help you to plan your travel, if you want to leave the Kaza bus in any of these villages.
Alternate Bus: There is also a bus running between Reckong Peo and Chango ( 40 kms., 2 hour prior to Tabo). If you intended to go to Nako Village first, you can also try this bus. or you can take this bus upto Chango and make alternate arrangement for onward travel to Tabo at least. This bus starts from Peo ealry in the morning, perhaps well before the Kaza Bus, but I am not sure about the timings. However, while returning from Kaza by Kaza bus, I found this bus in Chango waiting for the passengers around 10.30 AM for return journey to Peo and another day I found it at Nako village around 12 PM going towards Peo.
Train Availability between Reckong Peo and Kaza: Not Available, No railway line exist
Flight Availability between Reckong Peo and Kaza: Not Available, No airport beyond Shimla
Retrun Bus from Kaza to Reckong Peo: Only one ordinary bus departs from Kaza at 7.30 AM and reaches Peo at 16.30 PM.However, you can get a direct ticket to Shimla and catch the 19.00 PM bus from Peo to Shimla as per the seat number allotted earlier.
Delhi-Manali-Kaza Route: The beauty of this route is that it takes lesser time,full of scenic places and a foreign national does not requires an Inner Line Permit, if he/she gets in to the Kaza via Manali.But again If a non-Indian wants to travel beyond Kaza towards Tabo or Nako (especially between Hurling and Spillo section of the highway), there is a requirement of Inner Line Permit. This is the most popular route to reach to the Spiti Valley, but it is not available always. The section of the route between Manali and Kaza is available only for 5-6 months during the summer and monsoon seasons in a year. It generally opens in the month of June and closes in the month of November.According to the Google Maps, this route length is 735 Kms and it requires 12 hours 16 mins to travel by a car, but again due to the hilly terrain it requires about 24 hours time to cover the entire route. During my visit, this route was closed, so I do not have much information, but I want to share some useful information which I gathered from the web.This route consists two parts of the journey: Delhi to Manali and Manali to Kaza.
Delhi to Manali: You can reach Manali from Delhi thorughout the year. Manali is a popular hill station and also a honeymooner’s paradise.There are many ordinary as well as AC Volvo buses available between Delhi ISBT and Manali at frequent intervals. Bus Fare: Ordinary Bus INR 525/-and Volvo AC Bus INR 1150/-. Alternatively, You can reach Chandigarh ISBT Sec.43 and from there catch a bus to Manali as explained above in the case of Shimla.
Train Availability between Delhi and Manali: No train up to Manali, No railway line in the region. However you can board a train either upto Chandigarh or upto Rupnagar (Ropar). Thereafter you have to catch a bus.
Flight Availability between Delhi and Manali: A daily Kingfisher flight operates between Delhi and Bhuntar Airport, which is 50 kms prior to Manali. This flight departs from Delhi at 06:05 AM and arrives Bhuntar at 07:25 AM. There is also a daily flight operated by Air India Regional (Alliance Air)fare always remain above INR 5000/-.
Manali-Kaza:When this 210 kms.route is open, there are two daily ordinary buses leaving from Manali Bus Stand to Kaza at 5.00 AM and 5.30 AM.These buses are run by Himachal Roadways and fare is approx. INR 200/-.The bus passes thorugh Rohtang Pass,Batal, Kunzum Pass, Lossur and takes about 11 hours to reach Kaza. If you have plenty of time you can detour at Batal or Kunzum Pass for one day each side trek to Chandratal, which is a very scenic lake at the altitude of 4300 meters.
Important point is that once the route is declared open by the authorities, you do not get the public buses for next 2-3 weeks. They only allow small vehicles to run on the road initially. In this period, you can get a shared sumo/jeep. A shared sumo between Manali and Kaza cost you Rs.700 and takes 9 hours to complete this trip. There are ten people in the Sumo; Two on the front seats, excluding driver, four on the middle and four on the back seats. The seats are available at first come first basis.
Train Availability between Manali and Kaza: Not Available, No railway line exist
Flight Availability between Manali and Kaza: Not Available, No airport beyond Kullu
I hope these information will be helpful to plan your trip to Spiti Valley.