Dhankar Village – Old Capital of Spiti Valley

If you are interested in exploring historical places and have an adventurous bone, Dhankar Village is the right place for you to visit.

Dhankar is a village with around seventy houses, which is big enough by Spitian standards. It is at an altitude of 3,894 metres (12,774 feet) above sea level, between the towns of Tabo and Kaza, Himachal Pradesh. It is connected to the rest of the valley through a motorable road, which is good for small vehicles only.

If peace is what you are seeking, Dhankar is the place to be. Surrounded by nothing but plenty of barren mountains, the true beauty of this place lies in its pure natural surroundings.

History of Dhankar Village

Dhankar was the traditional capital of the Spiti Valley Kingdom during the 17th century. It was the seat of the early rulers of Spiti, the Nonos, who had the right to cultivate the government lands nearby and were required to keep the fort in repair. They also dispensed justice to the people and were noted for their harsh penalties until the British replaced them.

Dhankar was made the capital because of the high altitude that it was situated at. It gave them a clear view of their attackers. Due to its height, no weapons could reach them easily and lack of oxygen made their enemies weaker.

Dhankar Village

Climate in Dhankar Village

Located at a very high altitude, Dhankar freezes with sub-zero temperatures throughout the year. The winter temperature ranges between minus one degree to minus 17-degree celsius.

 

How to reach Dhankar

Schichling is a small village lying on the main road between Kaza and Tabo, it is about 24 kms away from Kaza and 22 kms before Tabo. From here, after a walk of around five minutes you will find a gate saying “Welcome to Dhankar Gompa”,there is a well paved branch road upto Dhankar, which is around 8 kms away. No public transport available on this branch road till Dhankar Village. To reach Dhankar, one has to either hire a taxi from Tabo or Kaza (Return Journey rate approx.2000 INR, 900 INR to drop at Dhankar) or to get a government bus (only two buses in a day from Kaza as well as Tabo) up to Schichling. From Schichilng you can try for a hitchhike, use your own vehicle or you can trek to this 8 kms distance.

Gate towards Dhankar Village

Best time to visit Dhankar

Mid May to mid-October are the best times to visit Dhankar and nearby villages of Spiti Valley. You will find some snow from May to June period nearby Dhankar, and in September you will find beautiful colors in Spiti Valley.

You can experience the magical frozen Dhankar lake in the month of March – April.

These months are what we can say, somewhat safer months to visit Spiti. But if you want to really explore the different shades of Spiti, you should visit it in every season, it depends on what kind of experience you are seeking.

It also depends upon the route you wish to take to Dhankar, between Manali to Kaza or Shimla to Kaza.

Manali to Kaza route is only open from mid-June to October in a year. Hence, it is the only window of time to visit Dhankar from Manali side. In winter months, even if you reach Spiti Valley via Kinnaur, the access roads to Dhankar village remains closed for the entire winter, so you should bring your own 4*4 vehicle for winter Spiti exploration.

 

Places to visit in Dhankar

Mighty Himalayas is a land of wonders, you can walk in any direction in Spiti and you will find views that will take your breath away, you will find something new on every turn that you take.

So, I may not be able to tell you about all the unexplored treasures that Spiti holds, but I can tell you about the three must visit places in Dhankar.

Dhankar Gompa

Dhankar Monastery is one of the oldest in the Spiti Valley, it is built on a 1000-foot (300-metre) high spur overlooking the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers – one of the world’s most spectacular settings for a gompa.

Dhankar was built as a fort monastery. It was reported to have had 90 monks in 1855.

Dhankar Gompa
Confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers

Dhankar Palace

Above the Gompa is Dhankar Palace. The king of the Spiti Valley used to live here. Its condition is deteriorating with time, work to restore it is in progress.

View from a window in King’s Palace

Dhankar Lake

This lake is a high-altitude lake in Spiti. At an elevation of 4,140 meters, it lies above the Dhankar monastery and can be approached by a trek. This is a sacred lake for the locals and it’s prohibited to wash yourself in this lake.

Frozen Dhankar Lake

My Experience in Dhankar Village

We decided to explore Dhankar village by waking up at dawn and trekking to the sacred Dhankar lake.

It all started off with a lot of excitement and happy faces, which all faded away within the first five minutes of the hike, I was completely out of breath due to the cold weather and high altitude (or because I am just so out of shape :D).

I stopped, took a few deep breathes, was admiring the beauty around me, mustering my strength to walk again when I heard a voice. “Why are you sitting like a panda so early?  Get up you, I am dragging you to the top this time. This time I may not be the first to be on the peak, but I will make sure that you get to the top.” A smile of gratitude spread my face, this is all that I needed at that moment. Passion to reach the top was already high, all I needed in that moment was a nudge from a friend that I can do anything that I set my mind to.

So, I got up again and started to climb. I won’t say that I got supernatural powers and ran to the top after that. The procedure was the same, walk for ten minutes, then wait, catch my breath, enjoy the occasional tiny showers of snowfall, click some pictures of my beautiful surroundings, play with my fellow trekkers, feel my lungs burning but my heart filling with so much warmth. But in the end, I made it, and that sense of accomplishment was worth a million dollars for me. Beauty of that place and of that moment cannot be explained in words, it can just be felt. Maybe you will climb your own mountain one day, then you will understand how I felt that day.

Dhankar lake hike

After the lake we went straight back to our home-stay, packed our stuff, had breakfast and decided to explore the famous monastery and palace before leaving.

We hiked till the old monastery, the atmosphere there was just amazing. It was so peaceful, that it took my breath away. There is a sheep skin chair in this monastery, it is said that His holiness Dalai Lama always sits in this chair when he visits Dhankar.

Sad to say it, but this place is slowly losing its charm as a new monastery is being made in Dhankar and all the prayers are held there now.

Five minutes hike above the monastery and we were in the Royal Palace.

View from the window of the king’s palace was to die for. It is slowly deteriorating but still gives you goosebumps.

Mysterious structures of mud found in Dhankar Village

Where we stayed

We stayed in Tashi home-stay in Dhankar. It is a newly made homestay. The owners here were very welcoming and lodging and food here was top notch. The home-stay was spotless and has a very positive environment all together. Best part of this home-stay was the view of the whole village from the window.

Price: 600 INR per person for one day stay, including dinner and breakfast.

View of the Dhankar Village from Tashi home-stay

 

Places to Explore near Dhankar

Pin Valley National Park

Pin Valley National Park, which is one of the Best National Parks in India, is located in the desert habitat of the Spiti Valley. Spreading south of Dhankar Gompa near the Tibetan border, the park marks the border between the formerly separate districts of Lahaul and Spiti. The elevation of the park ranges from about 3,500 metres (11,500 ft) near Ka Dogri to more than 6,000 metres (20,000 ft) at its highest point.

Gue Village

Gue Village is situated in the Lahaul and Spiti district of the state of Himachal Pradesh. In this little village lays the perfectly well-preserved 500-year-old mummy of Sangha Tenzing. It was a Buddhist Monk from Tibet. 

Kaza

The town of Kaza is the subdivisional headquarters of the remote Spiti Valley. It is the largest township and commercial center of the Spiti valley.

Tabo

Tabo is a small town in the Spiti Valley. The town lies on the road between Rekong Peo and Kaza. The town surrounds a Buddhist monastery which, according to legend, is said to be over a thousand years old.

Dhankar is basically just another village in Spiti valley, but what sets it apart is the history associated with this place, the beautiful architecture and the breathtaking sacred Dhankar lake.

If you ever visit this place try and live in homestays, eat local food, interact with the locals. This way you will help the locals in improving their lives, and you will have a more personal, spiritual experience with a deeper knowledge of this place.

I hope, this travel guide to Dhankar will help you to plan your journey better and make it a memorable one.

I have tried to cover all the aspects related to Dhankar village. If you have anything else to ask or share, kindly drop your valuable feedback in the comment section.

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10 Replies to “Dhankar Village – Old Capital of Spiti Valley”

  1. It is indeed a lovely place to explore, Such great captures I must say that and your description is lovely. Will love to visit Dhankar Village in future

    1. This is one of the informative posts about Spiti which I was looking for. I had a plan to visit Spiti in this year but due to Corona it got postponed. Next year I’m going there and will surely consider this one as my Dhankar guide.

  2. It is such a serene place….one where you can find peace! Its one of the best places we visited in Spiti and every time we go back, Dhankar will be on our list

  3. Dhankar has such an aura of mystique and looks so beautiful. The Dhankar Gompa and Palace have so much history surrounding them. The place looks straight out of a fairy tale. Hope that the deteriorating condition of these legacies of history is arrested and they are restored soon.

  4. First of all, I want to appreciate you for this detailed post. You mentioned everything so crisp and perfect. All the pictures are actually enhancing the serenity and the beauty of the Dhankar Village.

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