Spiti valley was easily my favorite route in all of the Himalayas; I loved the feeling of immense solitude that came from going hours without seeing anything or anyone, and I had two wonderful homestays with various women which showed me a small window into what life above 4,000m looks like. The road through Spiti valley is notoriously rocky, but it’s worth every ounce of energy dispensed to be isolated in these high beautiful mountains.
Distance: 950km (Manali to Shimla).
Time needed: Three weeks.
Highlights: Dhaba tea stalls and small villages, isolated cycling, beautiful camping.
Road surface: Very rough (rocky) in parts.
Traffic: Very little.
Best season: June – October; Completed late October 2013.
Water/food availability: No problem, carry a few days of food at a time.
Solo female: Safe – for me, this was where I felt safest in all of India, and because I was alone, I got two amazing homestays I never would have had if I was with a boy. Like in most places, they are still very confused by the fact that you are alone so don’t flaunt it and be smart about where you camp, though out here, it was easy to camp without a soul in sight.
Overall difficulty: Difficult due to horrible rocky road, though never steep like in the Andes.
Camping throughout this region is very easy as most of it is uninhabited. It’s also possible to sleep in the stone tea dhabas for a dollar or two which is a good option if it’s snowing or raining.
As with most of India, it was easy to travel throughout this region on 5$-10$ a day. A plate of rice and dal is one to two dollars, as is a night in one of the makeshift stone tea stalls.
I did the side trip (15km?) to Chantetal lake which I really enjoyed. Right before the cut off there is a “famous” stone tea stall run by an older Tibetan couple who are extremely friendly and have been setting up their shop seasonally for over thirty years.
Many cyclists have the book (or copies/photos of the book) Himalaya By Bike which is a great resource. I used the web site the author of the book created which also has great information, and can be found through this link.
Just before and after hitting Manali, in the foothill of the Himalayas once I had left the great snowy peaks, I had two of the best homestays on my whole trip. I stayed for one night in a small slum community at the side of the road when I was caught out without a place to sleep as the sun was setting (there was no flat ground around as it was so hilly), and then I stayed for over a week with an absolutely lovely family who really adopted me as their daughter and friend after I bought fruit them on the side of the road.
Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, corrections, or updates in order to help others looking to complete this route too.