Start your road trip at 7.30 am to cover a distance of 250 kms to Chitkul in the Kinnaur district. Drive around the lush green mountains of the Shimla district via Narkanda-Rampur-Karcham Dam with a stop for lunch in Sangla. Arrive in Chitkul, the last village on the Indo-Tibet trade route, at around 5 pm just in time to watch the sunset by the Bhaspa river.
For Rs. 600 (10 USD), we spent the night in a wooden log room overlooking the river and mountains. Dinner for two cost Rs. 160 (3 USD). The accommodation needed no prior reservation and offered comfortable beds, warm duvets, and hot water. What it didn't have was a name, but at that cost, it didn't matter!
Leave early again to get to 'Reckong Peo' by 10 am. At this checkpoint, foreigners are required to get a ' foreign tourist permit'. If you take the Shimla route, the permit office is in Reckong Peo, however, if you take the Manali route, there is another permit office in Manali as well. You will need to show your foreign passport and Indian visa along with two photocopies of the same and two passport size photographs. The process usually takes an hour or two depending on the mood of the officer in charge and costs Rs. 800 (12 USD).
In the meanwhile, walk around town, get breakfast and reconnect to 3G one last time, as there is no cellular network again until you've reached Manali.
Continue your journey to 'Nako', the next stop on this road trip (105 kms from Reckong Peo) and arrive by mid-afternoon.
We decided to splurge on an ' eco-friendly glamping site' to spend the rest of our day in Nako. We had access to hot water showers, comfy beds, and yummy meals as part of the Rs.5000 (75 USD) cost for two. You can directly book tents on their website, which I suggest doing in advance if you're sure of your plans. We got really lucky and got the last available tent when we arrived. There are budget guesthouses also available in the village for Rs. 800-1000 (12-20 USD) a night as well. You can spend the evening with the village locals and watch the sunset over the lake.
Sleep in, if you'd like! The distance to be covered is lesser today and you can leave by 9.00 am and still get to ' Mane' with day-light to spare.
As soon as we got to the main road outside Nako there was a traffic jam caused by a landslide. Luckily, the Indian army was hard at work and cleared up the road in four hours and we were able to continue our journey.
We first stopped at ' Gue' village to visit the monastery and see the 550-year-old 'mummy' and then continued to 'Tabo'. Founded in 996 CE, the Tabo monastery is one of the oldest in the Himalayas and is a very beautiful one too. You can hike (15 min) to the human caves where people lived before the village was built.
We then proceeded to ' Mane' villagethe final destination for the day. Although I was bummed by the delay that morning, this was one of my best days of this road trip because I got to spend the night at 'Lobzang's Homestay'. The amazing Lady Lobzang and her humble husband welcomed us into their lives as if we were family. They showed us around the whole village, cooked the most delicious Spitian dinner, and among other things introduced us to homemade ' Arak' (local liquor), sea buckthorn juice/tea and apricot jam. For a mere Rs. 600 (10 USD) a night, this was better than any five-star hotel for me. This couple had so little but still so much to give! If you are looking for 100% authentic homestay experience, do not miss this one! Feel free to email me for her contact details.
By day 5 your eyes will automatically open at 6 am. Lobzang will take you for a long morning walk along the river and then feed you the yummiest Spitian breakfast.
By 9 am, continue the journey to 'Dhankar Monastery', which is only a 20-minute drive from Mane. The vibe in the Dhankar village was also very soothing and peaceful in spite of tourists thronging there. You could consider spending a night here as well and hike (2 hours) to the Dhankar Lake on top of the village. Since I was still nursing a broken ankle, we decided to skip it.
Next, head to Kaza, the administrative capital of the Spiti Valley. When we reached Kaza, we found out that the road from Shimla to Mane was completely closed off for at least two weeks as the patch of road surrounding the landslide had collapsed. We were so lucky!!
We got there around 1 pm, grabbed lunch in the Kaza market and immediately hired a bike for the rest of the day. Rent for the day is anywhere between Rs.1000-Rs.1400 (15-22 USD) depending on the season and Rs. 700 (10 USD) for half a day. We aimlessly rode for 5 hours and came back before dusk. It was quite a break from being cooped up in a car for 5 days.
Spend the next two nights in Kaza. It was the only place I regret not booking in advance. Ideally, I would have loved to stay at Hotel Dezor but they were sold out for those two nights and therefore we stayed at Hotel Khansar for Rs. 1000 (15 USD) a night. We did eat a couple of meals at Hotel Dezor and really enjoyed them both. Kaza was relatively pricier, and an average meal was Rs. 300-400 (3-5 USD) rupees per person, which compared to any place I know was still quite cheap.