Kaza is the capital and regional headquarters of Spiti valley in the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. Situated in the Trans-Himalayan region of India at an elevation of 3,800 metres (12,500 ft) above average sea level, Kaza is the biggest and most developed town in Spiti valley.
Kaza is the district headquarters of Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. It is accessible from Manali and Shimla. The road from Shimla (via Rekong Peo) is in theory an all-season one, while the Manali road via Rohtang and Kunzum passes is passable only in summer. There is only one Government bus service from Manali to Kaza but the road is pretty inaccessible with frequent landslides along the way. Due to lack of proper roads in this section of the Himalayas, it is advisable to hire a private MUV (Tata Sumos) from Manali to reach Kaza.
Himachal Road Transport Corporation buses link Kaza with Manali and Rekong Peo. The Rekong Peo connection passes through landslide area at Malling Nullah, with transhipment (crossing on foot and being picked up by a bus on another side) being frequently the only way of passing the landslide.
The route from Manali via Losar crossing Kunzum La and Rohtang La along the Chandrataal river is perhaps the most beautiful. The road surfaces are very poor - the entire stretch has never been metalled/tarred. But on asking a local person about the road quality, he'd say that the road is a "good road". You will have to cross about a score of streams flowing across this State Highway No. 30 which could be about a couple of feet deep.The HP Road Transport bus from Kulu to Kaza via Manali reaches Manali around 4.45AM and leaves at 5.00AM to reach Kaza any time in the afternoon or in the evening on the same day depending upon the road conditions,and it costs you only INR228 oneway per person (as of AUG 2012).
In summer, state transport runs buses through both routes i.e. Manali - kunzum pass- Kaza and Shimla-Reckongpeo-Sumdo- Kaza. In winters only one bus runs between Reckongpeo and kaza which leaves in early morning to kaza and one bus from Kaza to reckongpeo. Roads are dangerous to drive so if you don't have experience of driving on himalyan roads, don't do it. In winters there are no buses to villages , so only option is to hire a taxi, which is not cheap: every k.m. may cost you 25-40 INR or more ,though it is cheaper than tourist season of summers. The taxi stand has jeeps for hire for fixed rates (listed at the booth).
It is also possible to arrange for a trek, jeep safari, yak safari or mountain biking via the office of Ecosphere, which conducts responsible and volunteer travel trips and tours in the region (email@example.com). It is also common for people to hitch-hike in this mountain terrain, where the locals are extremely friendly and willing to help.
There are a host of activities that can be done in the areas surrounding Kaza. Mountain biking from Manali to Kaza is a popular activity - also popular are numerous trek routes through virgin regions. If you are not in a big group and don't have a pre-arranged tour to Spiti, taxis can be an expensive proposition, especially since no other means of transport is plausible in order to visit the nearby Ki and Komik Gompas. In such a case, a very helpful person who goes by the name of Dorje and who works as a mechanic at the Himachal Pradesh State Bus Shelter, should be called upon. Dorje charges Rs. 150 per person (in 2010) to Komik Gompa as opposed to Rs. 600 that is charged by local cabs for to and fro journeys. Since Dorje is a well loved local, he also provides good information about Spiti and its traditions which can be quite quirky. The only drawback of his cab service to Komik is that you have to spend the night at the Gompa at their guest house which costs Rs. 150. If you have time, it can be a great experience and can get to know quite a few local people who also hitch rides with Dorje since he is reasonably priced. The same cab comes back the next morning with the people back to Kaza.
There is a village called Mud that can be accessed from Kaza. This village lies in the Pin Valley region. In the months of June - September, villagers cultivate green peas on the mountain slopes. It is really worth your money to get down from your vehicle and get a few kilograms of fresh peas fresh from the fields. Additionally, there is a special brand of tea called Spiti Tea that can be bought from the local markets - it is made from seeds from a local fruit and locals claim it slows down ageing.
Food is not at a premium in this region. Chicken is brought from Manali, no beef is available. Some restaurants offer mutton dishes. Eggs, rice, dal and a mixed vegetable are the usual options that one can look at in this cold desert. Needless to mention, the tastiest of the lot would be a curry made from fresh peas and potatoes. Thukpa is another popular dish available in Kaza, which is noodle soup with steamed vegetables, usually accompanied with a hot sauce for seasoning. Another popular offering of the Himachal mountain towns are momos (steamed dumplings). They are commonly available in almost all eateries and are available in mutton, chicken and pork even though the mutton dumplings are probably the only ones made from locally procured meat in Spiti. The portions are quite generous in most places. Another local offering (which you can probably ask for at one of the hotels if they don't have it listed as such on their menu) is a bread called Tibetan bread or roti. Unlike the usual rotis in India, which are made from wheat flour, Spitian rotis are made from barley or other millet flours and some baking powder is added to the dough while it is roasted on a hot pan. It is very soft and fluffy in texture and a well-made "roti" can puff fully like a ball while on the pan. It is eaten with butter, jam or an omlette. It is surely one of the things to eat while in Spiti or around. An astonishing number of restaurants in Kaza also claim to offer Israeli, Mexican and Italian food. Most of these places however, are open and fully functional only after the arrival of summer, during peak tourist season between mid-June to August. The most popular beverage is boiling-hot, overly sweetened lemon tea made without milk, which is quite good after sunset, once the chill sets in.
In an attempt to encourage responsible travel and conservation in the region, an organization called Ecosphere has set up an office shop near the Kaza market, where you can refill clean and safe drinking water, instead of buying multiple plastic mineral water bottles. Here you can also buy seabuckthorne juice and concentrate. Grown in Spiti valley, seabuckthorne is a "magical" berry with a combination of nutrients not found in any plants, and its commercialization has created sustainable incomes for women in the region.
There is an 'English Wine & Beer Shop' on the main street in Kaza, selling a typical stock of beer, Indian whisky and 'Old Monk' rum. The local alcohol is made of barley and has two varieties - Chang, the local barley beer and Arakh, the local barley whiskey. These are not freely available in shops, but most locals will be able to arrange a bottle for a nominal price. Another option is to go to Zangchuk guest house and ask the owner to arrange for it.
There is a Himachal Tourism Guest House at Kaza. One can stay in government rest houses (PWD / Forest / Irrigation departments) at various pother places, but advance booking is a must.It is hard to find room in summers due to tourist rush. Booking information is available on Himachal tourism (government) web-site. In winter all hotels are closed , so only option is PWD rest house,which is usually without any guest in winters. PWD rest house is cheap but chances are slim to none of getting a room there in summers, unless you are some bureaucrat.
There are several private hotels in Kaza. One of the more comfortable places is Mandala Hotel behind the taxi stand, charging 500 Rs for a large double with ensuite bathroom (summer 2008 price). There is also one guest houses in Kibber village (4200 mtr from sea level) named Tashi Zom )
The State owned road transport bus to Kulu via Manali which plys for 4 to 5 months in summer leaves Kaza bus station at 05.00AM in the morning to reach Manali in the afternoon.Being the only bus in a day to Kulu via Manali it is generaly crowded and therefore advisable to have advance reservation for your seat which can be made at the Kaza Bus Station(AUG'2012). By the same bus you can reach to Gramphoo en-route from where the bus to Keylong can be caught.