Lahaul Valley – the gorgeous mountainous region situated between the green alpine slopes of Kullu & Chamba valleys and the dry plateau of Ladakh – is what dreams are made of! There’s so much to explore in this Himalayan Wonderland. Synonymously known as the Lahaul & Spiti valley by the travelers – usually a lot of places in this valley becomes a transit point. I am here to tell you why you MUST explore Lahaul in its entirety and fall in love with the unique, untouched little magical locations sprinkled across this valley.
About Lahaul Valley
Lahaul forms an integral part of the Lahaul & Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh and enjoys an enthralling past as back in the 10th Century, the valley along with Spiti and Zanskar formed a part of the Ladakh Kingdom. But, as later as the 17th century, Ladakh was defeated by a combined Mongol-Tibetan force. Because of this, Lahaul was separated into Upper Lahaul which fell under the control of Kullu Kings, and Lower Lahaul which came under the Chamba Rajas. Because of this deep history, Lahaul has a fascinating amalgamation of cultures with a unique Hindu and Buddhist blend.
Lahaul isn’t as dry and arid as its Spiti counterpart, receiving enough monsoon to allow extensive cultivation. This region has some of the best potatoes in the world and other crops include green peas, hops, cabbage and herbs.
When you’re travelling from Manali’s side, after crossing Rohtang-la and Khoksar, the highway reaches Tandi at the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers, forming the Chandrabhaga river. The road branches off at Tandi to go to Udaipur in the Pattan Valley. From here on, you’ll enter the Lahaul region and traverse through lush green Lahauli villages such as Jahalman, Thirot, Tindi before reaching Udaipur.
Best places to visit in Lahaul Valley
Apart from the off-beat, undiscussed locations mentioned in the list below – other notable mentions include – Surajtal Lake, cave Dzong Gompa (Tino) and Yardong Monastery.
Once the capital of Lahaul Valley, Kardang village has the biggest monastery in Lahaul. Assumed to have been founded about 900 years ago, Kardang Monastery was pretty much in ruins until l 1912 when a lama renovated it. The Kardang Monastery Gompa is beautifully perched against the bare mountains of Rangcha, giving the valley an intimidating Himalayan feel.
The main temple has statues of Sakyamuni in the center, Padmasambhava on the right, and Vajradhara on the left. This monastery houses the largest number of lamas and chomos (female monks). The library of Kardang Gompa is huge and contains full volumes of sacred Buddhist texts.
Kardang village is home to another small monastery – Jabjesh Monastery and outside the gompa, you can see rock carvings and two big chortens. You can reach the monastery by taking a road from Tandi Bridge directly. Ask locals for directions, if needed.
Shashur Monastery is surrounded by patches of blue pine and can be reached by a 3 km uphill walk from the main road of Keylong. Although, you can also use the 5 km long motorable road which has been built recently. The monastery was built in the 17th Century by Lama Deva Gyatsho of Zanskar who was a missionary of Nawang Namgyal, the king of Bhutan. The lamas of the Gompa are of the Drukpa sect. This gompa has the some beautiful and large thangkas, with one thangka of over fifteen feet. Another unique aspect of the Gompa is the well-preserved wall paintings which depict all 84 siddhas of Buddhism.
I would urge you to spend some time in marveling and understanding these paintings! The Tsheshu Festival is help in this monastery in the month of June with a lot of fanfare! The trek to the Gompa will shower you with lots of beautiful views
Mrikula Devi Temple
The unique Mrikula (Markula) Devi Temple was built in the 11th or 12th century and is located just above the bazaar in Lahaul’s second largest town – Udaipur. This temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali and doesn’t look imposing from the outside – it has an old looking wood-tiled ‘conical’ roof and simple walls. However, the real magic happens when you enter the premises of this beautiful temple – the elaborate deodar-wood carvings depicting scenes from Hindu epics is a sight to behold. Locals believe that the temple was constructed from a block of wood by Pandavas. Scenes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana epics decorate the temple walls. The two door guardians are marked with the blood of sacrificed goats and rams.
If you’ve been to the Hadimba temple in Manali, you’ll draw similarities between the two temples. In fact, it is believed the woodwork is done by the same 16th-century craftsmen. The silver idol of Kali (Mahisha-shurmardini) is a combination of Rajasthani, Kashmiri and Tibetan styles with an oddly proportioned body.
Temple of Raja Ghepan
A prominent village after crossing Rohtang-la is Sissu, located on the right bank of the river Chandra, at an elevation of 3000 m. The waterfalls in this village are out of this world mesmerizing. The village is known for its terrace farming and entire hills are green with potato, peas, barley and cabbage and other vegetables.
In this unassuming village, Lord Ghepan (Gyephang) is the most revered deity, with a beautiful temple dedicated in his lordship! In fact, such is the prominence of Lord Ghepan that a peak is also dedicated to him, towering over the Sissu Village. Wars in yesteryear were fought under the banner of Lord Gyephang.
Tayul Monastery is located on the Manali Leh Highway, just above the village of Stingri (after Keylong). The word Tayul literally translates to “the chosen place” in Tibetan. Legend says that Rinchen Lama from Kham region of Tibet, founded this monastery in the beginning of the 17th Century. The monastery has a massive statue of Padmasambhava and houses a complete library of Kangyur. The Monastery also has multiple thangkas which depict various episodes from the life of Lord Buddha.
You reach the Monastery after an upward climb of an hour through potato and tea plantations. The views during the entire trek is stunning to say the least, with juniper trees growing all around you. There is a chomo (female monk) gompa on top and a lovely monastery with old mud and stone construction nearby. Tayul Monastery itself isn’t a huge monastery, but is prettily located and is beautiful with brightly-coloured doors and windows. Also, it is advisable to ask the locals about the whereabouts of the Lama before embarking on your journey to the Gompa.
Guru Ghantal Gompa
This 10th Century Gompa is the oldest monastery in Lahaul and it lies close to the sacred Drilbu Ri Mountain. Situated on a hill above Tupchiling Monastery near Tandi Bridge at the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga rivers, the Gompa is crumbling. But, it contains ancient murals and beautiful statues of bodhisattvas. One unique feature worth exploring is that the Gompa has wooden idols (as opposed to the clay idols common in other monasteries). There are numerous notions of founding of this monastery; one hypotheses are that it was established by Guru Padmasambhava himself; another says that Rinchen Zangpo is the founder of Guru Ghantal Gompa. One more belief is that a revered local lama, Guru Ghantapa, established this monastery.
The trek to Guru Ghantal Gompa begins at Tupchiling Gompa, a few minutes’ walk from the Tandi Bridge. The trek can be strenuous, taking you 3-4 hours of an upward relentless climb. It is advisable to consult the lamas at Tupchiling Gompa for keys of Guru Ghantal Monastery, as sometimes it may be closed. Tupchiling Gompa is a small monastery and is a branch of Guru Ghantal Gompa. The views from the top are mesmerizing to say the least and the trek is pretty unique and stunning as well!
Triloknath Temple is located at an elevation of 2700 m and is situated near Udaipur region of Lahaul. Overall, in terms of distance, the temple is about 46 km from Keylong and 16 km from Udaipur. This holy shrine is celebrated likewise by Hindus and Buddhists. Hindus consider Triloknath deity to be Shiv Ji, and the Buddhists worship the deity as Avalokiteshvara; a form of Buddha. The views of Chandra bhaga river flowing below and the lush valleys all around makes for a great contemplative point on your journey!
The temple is believed to be have been built in the 11th Century. Painted pearly white, the approach to the temple is exquisite and takes a climb up from the riverbed towards the top of the cliff.
Tibetan prayer flags decorate the entrance to the temple that is built in the ancient wooden-pagoda style. It is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists when they celebrate the three-day Pauri Festival in August.
Tower Fort of Gondhla
Gondhla village is located at a distance of 18 km from Keylong. Gondhla is a big community and enjoys lush greenness with plenty of waterfalls around. Also, there is a dense growth of poplars too. This village is worth exploring thanks to the local ‘castle’ – locally known as Char, built over 300 years ago. The famous Gondhla fair is held here in July each year. The char is a seven-storey house with staircases made of wood and has a veranda running around the top in true Himachali fashion. The remainder of the building is made of stone and the construction is such that it prevents collapse even in bad earthquakes.
Though neglected and not cared for, there is still a bunch to explore here – from old weapons and statues, to yesteryear costumes and furniture. Pay particular importance to the fifth storey, which consists of a personal prayer chamber from where the ruler used to listen to the public and then pass on the judgement from the verandah.
Another beautiful sightseeing place in Lahaul is the Gemus monastery. The monastery lies just above the hamlet of Gemur, which is situated between Keylong and Jispa on the Manali – Leh highway. The monastery is one of the most easily accessible monasteries in Lahaul. It is very famous locally for the masked dances that are held every July.
Believed to be established in the 13th century, Gemus is one of the richest monasteries of Lahaul. With the stunning views all around – the brightly-coloured red and black windows on its white walls is a pleasing sight for the eyes as the views of the monastery come closer. There is a huge chorten before the monastery and a road is also being built to make access easier to the monastery.
Lahaul & Spiti Tribal Museum
Near the market in Keylong is the very interesting Lahaul & Spiti Tribal Museum, with old photographs of tourist sites in Lahaul and Spiti, a fantastic collection of traditional attires, instruments, prayer lamps. The massive museum provides a deep insight into the culture of the region and is a very artistic thing to indulge in. The many rooms of the museum depict the various regions of Himachal Pradesh displaying tribal art and other local curios, the Museum also displays thangka paintings and ancient manuscripts. One room is designed like the prayer hall of a monastery and contains replicas of old masks which are used in the Cham dance.
The timings are from 10 AM to 5 AM and it is closed once every week. It is good to contact the locals if you find it closed, they can help call the officer with the key. The collection of artefacts and antiques is stunning and names of the original givers of items have been denoted and also the use of each item has been described. It is a fascinating place to experience culture of this tribal yet cultural district of Lahaul & Spiti.
Lahaul has a bunch of beautiful things you should explore before heading on towards Spiti or Leh on your excursions. The history of the region is unique and amalgamated between pure Himachali customs and Ladakhi culture – giving it a huge blend of ways of life. Though similar, the added value of how Hinduism and Buddhism merged here is worth exploring as well. Hope this list helps you in planning your trip to the region – if I can answer any questions for you – please do not hesitate to reach out to me by leaving your comments below! Happy journey!