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Visitor Information

Pick up information from the tourism office in Shimla (or Manali if you're doing the trip in reverse), and make detailed inquiries regarding accessibility and weather developments. Ajay Sud, an ex-army captain and adventurer who together with Rajesh Ojha founded Banjara Camps, is one of the best sources of information, tips, and assistance in the Kinnaur region. He's also a very experienced trekker and can give great advice and suggestions for treks throughout the Himalayas. He and the equally helpful Rajesh take turns manning the Sangla camp; best to reach either through the head office (1A Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi 110 016; tel. 011/2686-1397; fax 011/2685-5152; www.banjaracamps.com).

If you'd like to have a more interactive vacation, staying with (and getting to know) local folk, contact Ecosphere (Ishita Khanna; tel. 98-99492417 or 01906/22-2724; www.spitiecosphere.com). Ecosphere has pioneered homestays and grassroots community participation in the Spiti region and can help put together a really memorable trip. If you're a hiker, Aquaterra Adventures (www.aquaterra.in), one of India's leading adventure travel specialists, runs "homestay trails" -- fantastic hiking holidays through the rugged terrain with accommodations arranged in local village homes rather than tented camps -- thereby providing a glimpse into the lifestyle and culture of this region. Aquaterra also organizes a yearly descent of the Spiti-Pin rivers from Kiato to Sumdo.

You Can't Eat Plastic -- Obtaining cash against credit cards can be problematic in more remote parts of Himachal Pradesh (such as Kinnaur and Spiti) and anywhere in Ladakh outside Leh. Make sure you draw cash (easiest at ATMs) in the tourist hubs of Shimla, Dharamsala, and Manali before heading into the mountains.

Getting Around

Ultra-budget-conscious travelers undertake the journey on what seems like a wing and a prayer in state buses that rely on luck as much as faith to reach their destination, while born-to-be-wild adventurers do it on the back of a motorbike -- sign up with Capt. Raaj Kumar of Shepherds Realms. For the rest, we highly recommend renting a jeep and driver -- the heftier the jeep (a Toyota Qualis or a Mahindra Scorpio), the better your chances of actually enjoying the adventure. Most of the villages can be explored on foot, and the region lends itself to trekking. For one-stop shopping, we recommend you utilize the services of Banjara Camps, which offers most of the best lodging options in the area and can arrange your entire jeep safari. Based in Tabo, Phuntsok Dhuondup (tel. 94-1857-6181 or 01906/22-3452; www.spitivalley.com) is a reliable driver -- a former Buddhist monk, he has many interesting stories to tell along the way.

Inner Line Permits -- Foreigners may not travel through the zone closest to the Tibetan border without first obtaining an Inner Line Permit from one of several government offices in Himachal. It's a fairly easy, if laborious and potentially frustrating, process (taking anywhere from 3 hr. to a whole day); although you can have a travel agent in Shimla handle this for you (you will need your passport, three passport-size photographs, and two copies of both the main page of your passport and your visa), we strongly recommend that you apply in Reckong Peo, where one agent at the so-called Tourist Information Centre (Mr. Bhagwan Negi; tel. 94-1811-9617) handles all applications and does so with the least possible amount of fuss. The permit, arranged here, will cost Rs 150 and does not require any photos; permits are usually issued at 11am and 3pm (Mon-Sat only). Fill in your application and you'll be asked to report back before being led to the Deputy Commissioner's Building for a personal appearance and photograph which will be printed directly onto the permit. It takes a few hours, but use the time to check out the views from the village of Kalpa, a few miles above Reckong Peo. Another way of dealing with the slow pace is to apply and then collect your papers the following day after overnighting in beautiful Kalpa nearby. It's a good idea to phone ahead to ensure that the SDM office (tel. 01786/222-253; Mon-Sat 10am-5pm) is definitely open on the day you plan to apply.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.