It takes a long time to get to The Hermitage. The guesthouse is tucked away in a village called Phukchung, in an isolated corner of the Spiti region in Himachal Pradesh. Its remoteness is a large part of the establishment’s allure. It’s truly in the middle of a very beautiful nowhere.
The village of Phukchung serves a very specific purpose—offering meditative silence to its residents, especially Buddhist monks and nuns who spend their retreats here. Some have lived in their mud houses for as long as nine years, rarely stepping out. The Hermitage is a guesthouse started by Chimmet Dorje and his family, who live in this village all year round.
The two-storeyed guesthouse has been built in typical Spiti style, with simple rooms, mud walls, and wooden windows. There is no mobile reception. Also missing are mirrors and all sounds, except for the pounding of the Parahio River in the valley below. What Phukchung does have is the immense beauty of towering mountains, vast stretches of riverbank ideal for long walks, and acres of quiet. You can watch women harvesting peas in the fields below (visitors can volunteer to help), or sit in the wide veranda reading, sketching, or staring at the shepherds looking like tiny toys in the distance.
At night, layer on the woollies and brave the cold to watch the spectacular sky. You’ll never tire of counting the shooting stars.
It’s possible to spend all day on the verandah at The Hermitage—reading a book, sketching, or over endless cups of tea. Photo: Shikha Tripathi
The Hermitage has two floors and the balcony upstairs is as wide as the porch below. The purples and browns of the mountains change dramatically depending on your viewing point. There are seven rooms (doubles ₹3,000, including meals) that are bare but warm and cosy, with carpeted floors. The furnishings are frugal but each room has two brightly painted walls and an attached bathroom, a rarity (and luxury) in Spiti. The Hermitage also has a prayer hall that visitors on a silent retreat may use. The room is insulated by double glass panels and mud walls, and was constructed for the monks who spent the winter here. Meals are served on the veranda during the day and in the cosy dining room at night.
Mrs. Dorje’s home-cooked meals include delicious dal, vegetables, and unexpected accompaniments, such as mashed chilli and tomato or cucumber raita. Local dishes like gyathuk (flattened dough pellets in a thick gravy) and other foods that Spitian families eat at home are available on request.
The best time to visit Spiti is summer (July-Sept), when it is briefly accessible via Manali and Rohtang Pass. Temperatures range between 12°C to 28°C at this time. However, Spiti is also accessible around the year via Kinnaur. During winter, temperatures range between -20°C and 5°C. Account for a couple of spare days in your travel plans. The roads of Spiti are legendary for landslides, and there are chances that you might face a roadblock or two, whether summer or winter.
Appeared in the November 2013 issue as “Indulge Your Inner Recluse”.
The Hermitage is located in Phukchung village, about 36 km from Kaza, the main town of Spiti. Being a remote place, walk-ins are rare and not encouraged. Since it is off the main Pin Valley road, there’s usually someone to escort visitors to The Hermitage from Kungri monastery, a landmark close by. The closest telephone facility is at the village of Mudh, 15 km away. There is an electricity connection, but power is mostly unavailable. The evenings are illuminated by lamps and candles. The guesthouse is supported by Ecosphere, an enterprise that works to provide Spiti’s residents sustainable livelihoods through tourism and other initiatives (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, 94188 60099, 94182 07750; doubles from Rs 3,000; www.spitiecosphere.com).
is an adventurer, wildlife lover and mountain explorer, born and brought up in the Himalayas. Travel writing is her profession and her passion, second only to travel itself.
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