Kibber: Visiting the Cold Desert of Little Tibet
I gulped down the last bite of the piping hot buttery ‘aloo paratha’ with a sip of thick creamy milk tea. The weather was clear and sunny but the chill in the wind occasionally whipped inside the warm restaurant below my hotel in Kaza and freaked out the hair strands beneath layers of woollens. All set to visit Kibber village about 18 kilometres away from the town of Kaza, I came out of the restaurant to bask in the sun for a while.
By 8 am, the car was ready to go. I took my small backpack and packed in some packets of biscuits, nuts, chocolates and a few bottles of mineral water. My dear driver Deepram Singh, a middle aged man whom I called ‘Deepram uncle’, has been with me since the beginning of the trip from Shimla. Soft spoken and gracious, he’s absolutely fuss free. While he had his breakfast, I chatted with the kid of the restaurant owner.
Finally around 8.30, we started our journey towards Kibber. The small town of Kaza is itself breathtakingly beautiful. As we moved ahead, more natural wonders begun to unveil leaving me completely awe-struck! The barren rugged mountains made way to mightier views against a dark blue sky, sometimes invaded by fragments of white clouds. The turquoise river Spiti accompanied in narrow and broad channels across the valley surrounded by serrated mountains. Producing a sharp visual contrast, patches of grasslands and willow trees appear at places where herds of cattle could be seen, grazing calmly.
On the way, about 6 kilometres from Kibber, lies the Kye Monastery which is worth visiting. However, my driver uncle suggested visiting Kibber first and then dropping in to the monastery on the return journey. So, we moved ahead towards the village leaving the monastery on the right. Situated at a height of 4,205 metres or 14,200 feet above the sea level, Kibber is the second highest altitude village in the world situated in the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, near the Indo-Tibetan border. The astounding beauty of the place resembles the landscapes of Ladakh and Tibet and hence, Spiti Valley is also known as the Little Tibet. As the car approached towards the destination, the stark silence – only interrupted by the sound of the engine, wheels and the rushing wind – the rugged and terrific beauty of the barren landscape engulfed the senses, feeding the brain with the excitement of exploring this otherworldly concoction.
The car was parked just at the entrance of the village. All the houses are built in Tibetan style and almost identical. As I walked into the village, the 360 degree view of the entire cold desert ornamented with these beautiful looking houses gave a cherishable visual treat. It was dusty and walking just a few steps enveloped the shoes and the bottom of the jeans with thin layers of dust. However, the beauty of the place was too overwhelming to notice such triviality.
A number of kids were playing and seeing a visitor, they gathered around. Amicable and warm, I had some great conversations with them and some of them even posed for the camera without having to ask. Their pretty expressions made my day.
Two boys were riding a mule and going up to the monastery. I had a chat with them and followed them up to the monastery. It was a steep walk as the monastery is located at the highest point of the village. Contrary to the popular appearances of monasteries, the small Kibber Monastery looked like a simple dwelling house. Only a few strings of prayer flags outside distinguish it from the other buildings. This monastery was founded by Serkang Rinpoche of Tabo. Located at the highest point of the village, the view of the cold desert from the monastery is bewitching.
The main occupation of the people of Kibber is agriculture, animal husbandry and weaving. Though with the percentage of educated youths on the rise, some are also involved in government services and business. There is a school, hospital, post office and with the number of tourists increasing every year, hotels and restaurants are developing fast. The culture is predominantly that of Tibetan Buddhism and this is reflected throughout the region.
It is extremely pleasing that in spite of its odd location, the village is well connected with electricity and every house has a satellite disc fitted on the terrace. The shape and colours of the houses against the barren and snow-capped mountains and the arid cold desert produces a steady picturesque frame.
While some elderly women peeped through the window camouflaging oneself in the light and shadow to see the visitor (me), some were friendly enough to exchange a smile and speak some kind words. Treading more inside the village, I spotted these twins sitting under a lamp post in identical clothes. “Hello! How are you”, I asked them, offering a handshake. One of the sisters shied away while the other one accepted and shook hands. I gave them some chocolates and they instantly opened up.
Spending about two hours in Kibber village, it was time to move on. The local folks are very simple and warm. It was a privilege that I got to visit this place and study the rural life here. I walked back to my car with a lot of memories. As I walked towards my car, the children playing there came to bid goodbye with lovely smiles on their faces. It is amazing how easily and quickly they can accept strangers – an attribute of the divine innocence that is missing in today’s world. There’s so much we can learn from them. I gave them chocolates and biscuits and waved at them as the car rolled on, as long as I could see them. Kye and Dhangkar Monastery (24 km from Kaza) were my next destinations before returning back to Kaza for the day.
Other Places to See Around Kibber
Apart from Key Monastery and Dhangkar Monastery, Gette village – the world’s highest altitude inhabited village – located about 7 km east of Kibber is worth visiting. About 5 km from Dhangkar, the Pin Valley National Park is a must visit for spotting the rare ibex and snow leopard.
How to Reach
Kibber is 18 km from Kaza (201 km from Manali, 188 km from Keylong). The best way to travel is to hire a car from the starting point of your Himachal Pradesh journey. Or you can also reach Kaza by taking a bus either from Manali or Keylong, which takes approx. 10 -12 hours and then hire a car from Kaza to visit Kibber and for other sightseeing.
What to Do if You Stay Back in Kibber
You won’t regret if you stay in Kibber for a day. There are hotels and homestays available. You can explore the rural life and local culture by the day and spend the night time sky gazing which is absolutely stunning over here.
Best Time to Visit
Kibber can be visited any time between April-June and September-October. The winters are extreme here and roads are often closed.