Kaza, the capital of Lahaul and Spiti District, is the commercial hub of the valley. Snow-capped mountains surround this beautiful hamlet, which makes for the most picturesque of views. Kaza lies at an altitude of 3800 meters. With rivers and streams, stark, barren mountains, and the thick patches of greenery, with monasteries splattered across the region – the old village has a unique charm!
If you’re planning on hitting Spiti, you’ll be stopping here! But, with everyone who’s heading to Spiti, Kaza is only a stopping point – their “I am in Spiti Valley” moment. No one is exploring the hamlet as it should
Some people say their experience here isn’t anything to write home about. The surrounding villages of Hikkim, Kibber, Dhankar, etc. make for far more awe-worthy memories. Especially if you’re traveling in the summer months, you might think that this is just THE pit-stop when in Spiti.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Old Kaza (Kaza Khas) and the New Kaza (Kaza Soma)
Old Kaza is the main region of Kaza. This place is where the bus-stand is, and the main bazaar is situated. There are a bunch of shops, restaurants, hotels, homestays in the region. Since tourism started picking up, the place has become a haven for a crowd of tourists. Thus, it tends to be congested.
Old Kaza, on the other hand, is less congested. With lots of new homes near the Spiti river, you’ll have better views and tonnes of peace and tranquility one usually associates with the hills. The roadside also situates the Kaza monastery on the way to New Kaza from Old Kaza.
Ideally, I would suggest staying in new Kaza and venturing into old Kaza as the need may be,
Everything to do in Kaza
Kaza, even though most folks don’t explore much, has a lot to offer!
Food in Kaza
Of course, as you may expect, there are a bunch of cafes in a touristy place – which, in Spiti, is Kaza. As is synonymous with Indian Tourist destinations, you will find a German Bakery (not run by a German evidently) here. But, there’s so much more to what meets the eye! The rates are decent, and the food is usually delicious.
You’ll find mainstream Indian, Tibetan, and some international cuisines on your hunt for restaurants here. Sol café enjoys a lot of popularity amongst the tourists and honestly serves good pancakes for your breakfast needs. The Himalayan Café, Hotel Deyzor, and Taste of Spiti are other good recommendations from the area. The Raangyul café is also a sleepy little restaurant which has some lip-smacking, value-for-money thalis!
But, honestly, the best way to enjoy local cuisine is to ask your local homestay to make something for you!
The central market is especially popular amongst foreign tourists. However, if you visit during the pre-season period, you’ll enjoy exploring through the alleys of the main market. Pure wool shawls, woolen clothes, carpets, and local ready-made outfits are some of the things you’ll get to browse through and purchase when you’re here.
Because of its significance as the commercial hub of the valley, Kaza attracts a lot of artisans. These artists venture into the village for selling their artifacts. State government handloom center would be your best bet for getting authentic stuff at reasonable prices.
In terms of production, the Spiti Sea Buck Thorn Society is the cutest little place for products made of Sea buckthorn – the wonder-plant of Spiti! They sell amazing things like Sea buckthorn tea, jam along with local barley, etc. The shop lies in the main market area. What’s better is that the shop supports women entrepreneurs, and everything you purchase here is organic.
Monasteries around Kaza
Let us look at some of the popular monasteries around Kaza town.
Sakya Tangyud Gompa
Inaugurated in 2009, the colorful Gompa stands just about the main road of the New Kaza area. From across the road, you’ll spot eight stupas standing firm in a row and a line of prayer wheels just below. This stupa is essentially a celebration of eight major, even in Buddha’s life.
There is another monastery and a Nono (ruler from medieval times) palace on the other side of the road.
Key Monastery (Kye)
Situated 7 km from Kaza, this is a must-visit place. It would be a shame if you made it to Kaza and weren’t able to discover the stories that Key is waiting to tell. Built-in the 11th century, Key is the largest monastery of Spiti. And, its historical significance and experience of several generations are beautifully depicted through the murals and the art preserved in the monastery.
It is well worth the effort to spend a major chunk of a day going through the many rooms and halls of this monastery houses. The monastery is home to around 100 monks, who are always happy to engage with the interested souls and answer any burning questions that one might have!
Aerial view of the town – Hikkim
Hikkim makes for a nice day adventure, especially if you’re into having a vantage point. The view from here is insanely gorgeous (as if you could go any higher!).
If you plan your trip right, you can experience the ever-famous, highly anticipated festival of Ladarcha. While I have shared extensive details about this before – here’s a brief to get your imagination flowing:
The most awaited festival of the year, Ladarcha (also La Darch) Fair essentially helps in reinforcing bonds of trades between Tibet and India. The central focus for the travelers stays firm with the Melody and Move exhibitions by performers of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Art, Bhutan, Ladakh, Sikkim, Kinnaur, and Nepal. Other highlights of the fair showcased include the Chaam and Bhushan dance along with Buddhist sermons as well as archery competitions.
Interacting with the Locals
As the commercial hub of the region, the villagers are entrepreneurs and truly know how to run the grind to make some moolah. This skill gives them a unique edge of running hard and intensive businesses, along with living in exceptionally tough terrain. Extreme isolation, extreme weather, limited population, and yet, getting to survive and thrive is a tough ask.
Spitians do this with charm and smile! Getting to learn the go-with-the-flow, make-your-life-happen is such a learning experience. Do talk to the villagers and understand their way of life, and you might as well take a lot back with you then you’d have imagined!
Venturing out to nearby places
Of course, Kaza is famous for its proximity to the nearby wonders of the region. Almost all your favorite vacation points in the valley will begin from here and for a good reason. The road connectivity is decent, and there is a lot to cover nearby. From witnessing a Buddhist Mummy in Giu to heading out to check out Komic village – Kaza will provide you everything!
Kaza is a genuine gem that everyone often overlooks without sound reason. I truly believe that while it may not hold enough glamour for when you enter Spiti to explore – Kaza can become the break from isolation after a long period in other settlements. Kaza will provide you with that easy reconnect to civilization.
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It is essential to return to your daily routine after being alone, and one with nature will be a tough transition. Kaza can be the perfect reconnect – isolated and with stunning views but with (relatively) more people to transition back to the reality of living in a society
Have you stayed in Kaza and truly explored it? What are some of the things I might have missed here – do let me know! If there are other such towns that you’ll like to explore and can’t find enough gyaan on – comment below, and we can get digging for you!
Happy Traveling, travelers! See you out there.