Spiti

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Spiti
Spiti River upstream of Kaza
Spiti River upstream of Kaza
Floor elevation2,950–4,100 m (9,680–13,450 ft)[1]
Geography
LocationLahaul and Spiti district
State/ProvinceHimachal Pradesh, India
Population centersLosar, Kaza, Tabo, Sumdo, Chango
View of Spiti Valley and Key Monastery in winter, Jan. 2008

Spiti (pronounced as Piti in Bhoti language) is a high-altitude region of the Himalayas, located in the north-eastern part of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name "Spiti" means "The middle land", i.e. the land between Tibet and India.[2] Spiti incorporates mainly the valley of the Spiti river, and the valleys of several rivers that feed into the Spiti river. Some of the prominent side-valleys in Spiti are the Pin valley and the Lingti valley. Spiti is bordered on the east by Tibet, on the north by Ladakh, on the west and southwest by Lahaul, on the south by Kullu, and on the southeast by Kinnaur. The valley and its surrounding regions are among the least populated regions of India. Spiti has a cold desert environment. The Bhoti-speaking local population follows Tibetan Buddhism.

Administrative[edit]

Spiti forms one of the two sub-divisions of the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, the other one being the Lahaul sub-division. The sub-divisional headquarters (capital) of the Spiti sub-division of the Lahaul and Spiti district is Kaza,[3] which is situated on the bank of the Spiti River at an elevation of about 3,650m. The eastern administrative boundary of the Spiti sub-division is the Sumdo bridge, beyond which, the valley of the Spiti river - till it merges with the Sutlej river at Khab - is called the Hangrang valley. The Hangrang valley lies in Kinnaur district. The district headquarters lies at Kyelang in the Lahaul valley. But the Spiti valley is separated from Lahaul valley by the high Kunzum Pass, at 15,059 feet (4,590 m).[3] A road connects these two divisions of Lahaul and Spiti district, but is cut off for 5-6 months in winter and spring due to heavy snow.

Designated as one of the 'Tribal Areas' of Himachal Pradesh, Spiti is administered under the Single-Line Administration system, which facilitates direct communication between the Kaza administration and the higher levels of administration in Himachal Pradesh.[4] Electorally, Spiti is a part of the Lahaul and Spiti constituency for the state-level Vidhan Sabha, and of the Mandi constituency for the national-level Lok Sabha.

The Spiti sub-division is spread over an area of 7,101.1 square kilometers.[5] According to the 2011 Census, the population of Spiti is 12,445 persons.[6]

Geography[edit]

The Spiti emerges from a gorge to merge into the Satluj near Khab, Jun '18
Barren, high mountains with sparse vegetation along Spiti tributary near Kunzum Pass

The Spiti River originates from the Kunzum range. Tegpo and Kabzian streams are two of its tributaries. Water draining the famous Pin Valley National Park is also a part of the Spiti river system. Its position across the main Himalayan range deprives it from the benefit of the South-West monsoons that causes widespread rain in most parts of India from June to September. The river attains peak discharge in late summers due to glacier melting. After flowing through Spiti valley, the Spiti River meets the Satluj near Khab and Namgia in Kinnaur district traversing a length of about 150 km from the North-West.[7] Steep mountains rise to very high altitudes on either side of the Spiti River and its numerous tributaries. The mountains are barren and largely devoid of vegetative cover. The main settlements along the Spiti River and its tributaries are Kaza and Tabo.

Over millenia, the Spiti River and its tributaries such as the Pin River, have cut deep gorges in the uplifted sedimentary strata. With little rain or snow there is not much of weathering of the steep valley sides. As vegetation is sparse, the rock strata in the steep cliffs are easily visible to the geologist, without excavation or drilling. Thomson during his 1847 expedition noted 3 forms of alluvia in the Spiti valley. The first is deposits of fine clay. The second is triangular platforms that slope gently from the mountains to the river, usually ending in a steep cliff. The third are enormous masses of great depth, 400–600 ft (120–180 m) above the river bed. The river has cut deep gorges through these platforms. The latter two consist of clay, pebbles and boulders. Thomson speculated that the valley appeared to have been a lake bed in the past though he could not conceive mechanisms to explain the phenomena.[8]

Now, we know that the valley was uplifted from the ocean bed due to the movement of tectonic plates.[9] The Moravian geologist Ferdinand Stoliczka discovered a major geological formation near Mud village in Spiti in the 1860s. Stoliczka identified a number of layers or successions, one of which he named as the Muth succession.[10] This was later renamed as the Muth System by Hayden (1908) and as the Muth Formation by Srikantia (1981).[11] For more details, see the Geology of Mud village.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Despite being a high altitude cold desert, Spiti boasts of more than 450 species of medicinal & aromatic plants. These include Seabuckthorn, Hatagirea, Aconitum, Ratanjot (Khamad), Ephedra, Artemisia and other condiments. The alpine pastures on the high plateaus of Spiti are home to a variety of small bushes and grasses including the Rosa sericea, Hipopheae and Lonicera among others.[12] In terms of wildlife, among other species, the Spiti region is home to the Siberian Ibex (Capra ibex sibirica), the Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Pika (Ochotana roylei), Himalayan Wolf (canis lupus laniger) and Weasels (Mustela spp).[13] The avifauna of the region includes the Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis), Golden eagle (Aquia chryaetos), Chukar partridge (Alectronics Chukor), Himalayan Snow Cock (Tetraogallus himalayensis) and a host of Rosefinches (Corpodacus spp).[14] Spiti is home to two protected areas, the Pin Valley National Park and the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary.

Access[edit]

Deep gorge in alluvium bed, Spiti River, and NH-505, Jun '18

Spiti valley is accessible throughout the year via Kinnaur from Shimla on a difficult 412-kilometre-long (256 mi) road. Tourists from outside India need inner line permits to enter Spiti through Kinnaur. Spiti's border starts at Samdo (74 km (46 mi) from Kaza) which is quite near to the India–China border. In summer it can be reached via Manali through the Atal tunnel and Kunzum Pass. Kaza, the headquarters of the Spiti subdivision, is 201 km (125 mi) from Manali. The road joining Manali to Spiti is treacherous and in bad condition as compared to the Shimla to Spiti road. Due to the high altitude one is likely to feel altitude sickness in Spiti. The Shimla to Spiti route is advised for travelers coming from lower altitudes as it gives them enough time to get acclimatized to the high altitude. This is because the road runs parallel to the Sutlej river initially, climbing steadily to 2,550 metres (8,370 ft) at the confluence of the Spiti and Satluj near Khab. From Khab, NH-505 runs along the Spiti River, climbing steeply up to Nako (elev. 3,620 metres (11,880 ft)) before continuing to Kaza. NH-505 enters Lahaul at Kunzum La.

All foreign nationals require an inner line permit to visit the Spiti valley. Earlier, Indian citizens also needed an Inner Line permit to visit Spiti; but this was abolished in 1992.[15]

History[edit]

Tabo Monastery viewed from monks' caves

Pre-historical period[edit]

There is evidence of very early human habitation in the Spiti valley, primarily through its rich heritage of pre-Buddhist rock art. Spiti's rock art is thought to have been produced over a wide period of time, with the earliest examples dating back nearly 3,000 years. Spiti's rock art has been categorized, based on differences of the designs depicted, into the following periods: the Late Bronze Age (c.1500-800 BCE), the early Iron Age (c.800-500 BCE), the Iron Age (c.500-100 BCE), the Protohistoric period (100 BCE-650 CE), Early Historic Period (650-1000 CE), Vestigial Period (1000-1300 CE), and the Late Historical Period (post-1300 CE).[16]

The period from the mid-7th century to the early 19th century[edit]

There is some evidence to show that Spiti was a part of the western Tibetan kingdom of Zhang Zhung till the mid-7th century CE.[16][17] Buddhism first came to Spiti likely through the Second Diffusion of Buddhism into Tibet, and it was at this time that the Tabo monastery was built (996 CE).[18] In the 10th century, Spiti was part of the kingdom of Ngari Khorsum established by Kyide Nyimagon of the Tibetan royal lineage.

After Kyide Nyimagon's death, Zanskar and Spiti were given to his youngest son Detsukgon, while the eldest son Lhachen Palgyigon became the King of Ladakh. After that, the history of Spiti was linked with the history of Ladakh for a long time. Local rulers had the title of Nonos. They were either descendants of a native family of Spiti or chiefs sent to look after the affairs of Spiti by the rulers of Ladakh. This region became autonomous whenever the rulers of Ladakh were weak. However the rulers of Spiti periodically sent tributes to Ladakh, Chamba and Kullu.[19]

Spiti became practically free after the Tibet–Ladakh–Mughal War of 1679-83. This prompted Man Singh, Raja of Kullu, to invade Spiti and establish a loose control over this principality. Later on, in the 18th century, control once again passed back to Ladakh. An official was sent from Leh as Governor, but he usually went away after the harvest time, leaving the local administration in the hands of the Wazir or Nono. There was a headman for a group of villages for day-to-day administrative affairs.[19] Spiti briefly came under the Dogra rule (as part of the Sikh Empire) between 1842 and 1846, after which it was annexed to the British Empire.

Colonial period[edit]

Under the Treaty of Amritsar (1846), Spiti alongside Lahaul was split off from the erstwhile kingdom of Ladakh, and came under direct British administration.[20] Mansukh Das, hereditary Wazir of Bushahr, was entrusted with the local administration of this region from 1846-48. The Wazir had to pay the British revenue of only Rs. 700 annually for the whole of Spiti. In 1849, Spiti came directly under the control of the Assistant Commissioner, Kooloo (Kullu).[21] Kullu was a sub-division of Kangra district, Punjab. Now, the Nono of Kyuling in Spiti was made incharge of collecting and submitting revenues from Spiti to the British. In 1941, Spiti was made part of the Lahaul tehsil (sub-division) of Kullu district, with its headquarters at Keylong.

Post-Independence period[edit]

After the formation of Lahaul & Spiti into a district in 1960, Spiti was formed into a sub-division with its headquarter at Kaza.[22] Lahaul and Spiti district was merged with Himachal Pradesh on 1 November 1966 on enactment of the Punjab Reorganisation Act.

Society and culture[edit]

Religion[edit]

The local people of Spiti follow Tibetan Buddhism, and its culture is similar to those of its neighboring regions such as Tibet, Ladakh, and the Hangrang valley of Kinnaur. The Gelug, Nyingma, and Sakya schools of Tibetan Buddhism have a presence in the Spiti valley. Each of these schools has monasteries in Spiti.[23][24] The Tabo, Key, and Dhankar monasteries of Spiti belong to the Gelug school. The Gungri monastery in the Pin valley belongs to the Nyingma school. The Kaza and Komik monasteries belong to the Sakya School. In the recent decades, nunneries have been established at Kwang, Morang, Pangmo, and Kungri. The Pin Valley of Spiti is home to the few surviving Buchen Lamas of the Nyingma school.[25] Every village in Spiti has a small temple, or 'Lhakhang'. A well-known Lakhang in Spiti is the 'Serkhang', or 'Golden Temple', at Lhalung village.[26]

Social organisation[edit]

Traditionally, in Spiti, the society consisted of a hierarchy, with the Nonos (local aristocracy) at the top, the Chhazang (agriculturalists, practitioners of Tibetan medicine, and astrologers) in the middle, and the 'pyi-pa' (the separate endogamous groups of the 'Zo' blacksmiths and the 'Beda' musicians) at the bottom. Each of these groups tended to marry only among others of their own status.[27] By custom, inheritance in Spiti has been through primogeniture, with the eldest son inheriting the estate. All younger sons would have to become monks. If the eldest son died, the younger brother would have to leave the monastery and become the husband to the widowed wife. This was a form of fraternal polyandry.[28] Similarly, among women, by custom, only the eldest daughter would marry in earlier times. In some cases, younger daughters would become nuns. In others, they would stay at home either with their parents or the eldest brother, and were valuable additional work hands. In many cases, they died spinsters.[29] Polyandry was prevalent till a few decades ago; its practice has almost disappeared now. Monogamy and nuclear families prevail nowadays.[30]

The entire local population of Spiti is categorised as a Scheduled Tribe by the Government of India.[4] Nautor land rules have made it possible for those people to resort to law to get land, who by custom could not inherit and own land, just as in the neighbouring district of Kinnaur.[31]

Traditional livelihoods[edit]

Agriculture in Spiti has traditionally revolved around the cultivation of barley, and some amount of black pea. In the recent decades, they have been taken over by green pea cultivation. Animal husbandry, particularly in higher parts of Spiti, revolves around yaks. Pin valley is renowned for rearing the rare Chumurti horse breed.[32] Spiti is a summer home to many semi-nomadic Gaddi sheep and goat herders who come to this valley for grazing their animals from neighboring regions and sometimes as far as 250 km (160 mi). They enter the valley during summer as the snow melts and leave just a few days before first snowfall of the season.

Local festivals[edit]

Some significant local festivities in Spiti include the Guitor at Kyi Gonpa (July), Ladarcha fair (mid-August), Spiti Losar (around November), Thuckchu (winter solstice in December), Dachang (around February), and Sia Mentok (around February). All these festivals have been traditionally tied up with agricultural and seasonal shifts. The alcoholic bevarages chhaang and arak are locally prepared and very popular, both in festivals and on various occasions like birth, marriage, the celebration of some success, and death.

Economy[edit]

Cash-crop agriculture (of the green pea), employment in state-departments and development projects, and tourism are the main sources of income in the Spiti valley.

Sports[edit]

Spiti valley is an emerging destination for winter and ice sports, trekking and mountaineering, and adventure sports.

Winter sports[edit]

Winter sports in Spiti include ice-skating, ice-hockey, skiing, and ice-climbing.

  • In December 2019, an ice-skating and ice-hockey training camp was organised for the first time in Spiti, in Kaza.[33] In winter 2021-22, national ice-hockey and ice-skating championships were held in Kaza.[34]
  • Skiing can also attempted during winters in Spiti.[35]
  • In January 2019 and January 2020, ice-climbing festivals were organised in Spiti.[36][37]

Trekking[edit]

Some of the popular treks in Spiti include the following:

  • The Kanamo peak is a popular 5,960m high mountain above Kibber village, whose summit people can trek to.[38]
  • The Parang La trek is a well-known trek for crossing from Spiti valley into Ladakh.[39]
  • The Bhaba Pass trek in the Pin valley is a popular summer trek.[40]
  • The Pin-Parvati pass trek, from Spiti into Kullu or the other way round, is considered a more challenging trek.[41]

Mountaineering[edit]

Spiti also has a number of peaks of interest to mountaineers.[42] Some of the significant peaks in Spiti include:

Others[edit]

Cycling and running in Spiti's high altitudes are also undertaken by some visitors to Spiti.[44][45] Driving cars and motorcycles on the roads leading to and within Spiti is considered an adventurous activity by many.[46][47]

Climate change[edit]

Villagers in Spiti, especially those in higher villages like Komik, Kibber, Lhangza etc., claim that in recent decades, glaciers have been melting faster, and the quantity of snowfall has decreased. Villages in Spiti are dependent entirely on snowmelt water from winter snows and glaciers. Lesser snow and faster-melting glaciers endangers agriculture in the valley, which anyhow has only one agricultural season, being a high-altitude cold desert.[48] Climate change is threatening the tradition of Gaddi shepherds' annual migrations to Spiti with their herds of goat and sheep. It is degrading the quality of the pastures, and the ice bridges that Gaddis with their flocks could earlier use to cross rivers while bypassing villages are now disappearing.[49] Scientific studies back up the ground-level observations that climate change due to global warming has been adversely affecting the environment of the Spiti valley.[50][51]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Spiti was first photographed in the 1860s by Samuel Bourne, an early pioneer of photography in the Himalayas.[52]
  • Spiti was first filmed in 1933 by Eugenio Ghersi, a member of the Italian Tibetologist Guiseppe Tucci's expedition to Spiti and Western Tibet. The narration of this 46 minute-long video is in Italian.[53]
  • The climax episode of Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim, first published as a book in 1901, is set in the Spiti valley.
  • Spiti valley was the location for the shooting of some scenes in the Bollywood movies Paap, Highway, and Kesari.
  • The Tibetan language film Milarepa, a biographical adventure tale about one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist masters, was partly shot at the Dhankar Gompa and some other sites in the Spiti valley.
  • Lonely Planet listed Lahaul and Spiti district as a whole, with specific mentions of both Lahaul and Spiti regions, among the 'Top 10 regions' in the world that were considered the best for travel over 2018, in an article published online on October 23, 2017.[54]
  • The National Geographic issue of July 2020 carried a long story on the snow leopards of Spiti, and the social, conservation, and tourism-related issues around them.[55]

Places to visit in Spiti Valley[edit]

Kibber village. Jun '18
Pin valley in Spiti

Places to visit include these:[56][57]

Best time to visit Spiti Valley[edit]

The best time to visit Spiti Valley is May to October. During this summer season, Spiti is accessible from Manali and from Shimla. In winters the road from Manali is closed for almost 6 months due to heavy snowfall. Spiti is accessible during most of the winter from Shimla. Besides tourists, many film-makers visit Spiti in winter for shooting.[58]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Banach, Benti. (2010). A Village Called Self-Awareness, life and times in Spiti Valley. Vajra Publications, Kathmandu.
  • Besch, Nils Florian (2006). Tibetan medicine off the roads: Modernizing the work of the Amchi in Spiti (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Ciliberto, Jonathan. (2013). "Six Weeks in the Spiti Valley". Circle B Press. 2013. Atlanta. ISBN 978-0-9659336-6-7
  • Francke, A. H. (1914, 1926). Antiquities of Indian Tibet. Two Volumes. Calcutta. 1972 reprint: S. Chand, New Delhi.
  • Jahoda, Christian. (2015) Socio-economic organisation in a border area of Tibetan culture: Tabo, Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India. Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna.
  • Kapadia, Harish. (1999). Spiti: Adventures in the Trans-Himalaya. 2nd Edition. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. ISBN 81-7387-093-4.
  • Mishra, Charudutt. (2001). High altitude survival: Conflicts between pastoralism and wildlife in the Trans-Himalayas. (Doctoral dissertation).
  • Thukral, Kishore. (2006). Spiti: through Legend and Lore. Mosaic Books, New Delhi.
  • Tobdan. (2015) Spiti: a Study in Socio-Cultural Traditions. Kaveri Books, New Delhi.

References[edit]

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  35. ^ High Altitude Skiing in Spiti | 12800ft, retrieved 11 August 2022
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  44. ^ Paul, Abhirup (8 June 2020). "Cycling in Spiti Valley - Experience of a Lifetime". Vargis Khan. Retrieved 12 August 2022.
  45. ^ "Spiti Half Marathon". World's Marathons. Retrieved 12 August 2022.
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  47. ^ Sharma, Dheeraj (18 February 2013). "Spiti Valley Most Common Itinerary - Detailed Travel Plan for Travellers". Devil On Wheels™. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  48. ^ "Climate change in Spiti: Water crisis engulfs world's 'highest' village". The Indian Express. 15 November 2017. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  49. ^ Lenin, Janaki. "How Climate Change is Affecting an Old Pastoral Tradition in Spiti". The Wire. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  50. ^ "Impact of Climate Change on Flora of Spiti Valley, SAC (2016), Monitoring Snow and Glaciers of Himalayan Region, Space Applications Centre, ISRO, Ahmedabad, India". Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  51. ^ Sangomla, Akshit; Sajwan, Raju. "On thin ice: Less snow, high temperatures have upturned lives in Himalayan cold desert". www.downtoearth.org.in. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  52. ^ "Samuel Bourne's Himalaya". https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/. Retrieved 13 August 2022. {{cite web}}: External link in |website= (help)
  53. ^ "Nel Tibet occidentale - Primo, secondo e terzo tempo". Archivio Storico Luce (in Italian). Retrieved 14 August 2022.
  54. ^ "Best in Travel 2018: top 10 regions". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  55. ^ "Himalaya snow leopards are finally coming into view". Magazine. 16 June 2020. Retrieved 11 August 2022.
  56. ^ "Places to Visit in Spiti Valley | Welcome to the Heaven!". Being Himalayan. 3 February 2019. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  57. ^ "Spiti Valley Circuit Tour". Raacho Trekkers. 21 April 2022. Retrieved 21 April 2022.
  58. ^ Sharma, Ashwani (3 December 2021). "Himachal Wakes Up To Blanket Of Snow In Lahaul-Spiti, Winter Rain Freezes Shimla". Outlook (Indian magazine). Retrieved 18 July 2022.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°17′N 78°00′E / 32.283°N 78.000°E / 32.283; 78.000