History and Geography of the Spiti Valley India

Spiti, originally pronounced “Piti”, means “The Middle Land”, reflective of its position between Tibet and India.  The Spiti Valley is a desert mountain valley nestled in the Indian Himalayas. It borders Tibet, Nepal and Pakistan and constitutes the north-eastern part of the Himachal Pradesh Indian state. The capital, Kaza, is situated along the Spiti River at an elevation of about 12,500 feet (3,800 m) above mean sea level.

Spiti Valley


The diversity of this area can be seen in the dialects spoken; moving from one valley to another can bring an entirely new language, and sometimes multiple dialects are spoken in the same valley. Spiti is historically linked with the region of Lahaul. Historically, Spiti was part of Western Tibet (Nariss Korssum).  Nariss Korssum was divided in the 11th century by the king, Nimagon, amongst his three sons.  Therefore, Spiti and Zankar were formed into a separate kingdom. However they often paid tribute to Ladakh, Chamba and Kullu. In later times, Spiti and Zanskar were incorporated into Ladakh, governed by a hereditary wazir, known as a Nono. The Nono was assisted by five Gyatpos who were elected by the people of their Kothi. Spiti was independent after the Ladakh-Tibet war of 1681-83; however, Man Singh, the Raja of Kullu, invaded and took control of this region.

In the 18th century, control was regained by Ladakh. amd administration continued to be primarily presided over by the Nono and locals. In 1846, the East India Company took control of Spiti after the defeat of the Sikhs in 1846. From 1846 to 1940, Lahaul formed part of the Kulu sub-division of Kangra district, but the Nono was still entrusted with local administration. In the late thirties, kuth brought unprecedented prosperity to the people, and their consequent awakening created a formidable challenge to the power and influence of the Nono. Accordingly, the government considered implementing the standard administrative system. In 1941, Lahaul and SPiti were formed into a sub-tehsil, and a naib-tehsildar was posted at Keylong to take over. This system remained in effect until June of 1960, when the Lahaul and Spiti district was formed with Kaza being the center of government.

Lahaul and Spiti are surrounded by high mountain ranges. The lowest point is 11,000 ft, and villages are found as high as 14,000 ft. The region is sparsely populated and poor in cultivatable lands and natural resources. Rainfall is limited by the high mountains, and the monsoon season has little effect.  The Rohtang Pass, at 13,054 feet (3,979 m), separates Lahul and Spiti from the Kullu ValleyLahaul and Spiti are cut off from each other by the higher Kunzum Pass, at 15,059 feet (4,590 m). A road connects the two divisions, but is often inaccessible during winter and spring because of heavy snow. The valley is likewise cut off from the north for up to eight months of the year by heavy snowfalls and thick icing conditions. A southern route to India proper is periodically closed for brief periods in the winter storms of November through June, but road access is usually restored a few days after storms end, via Shimla and the Sutlej valley in the Kinnaur district. This region is one of the least populated in India for a reason.



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