Spiti valley is a world within a world: Rudyard Kipling
Route: Chandratal can be reached either via Manali or Via Shimla and Reckong Peo
Number of days: 5
Chandratal: Chandratal is a high altitude glacial lake. The lake is located at an altitude of approximately 14000 feet on Samudra Tapu plateau in Spiti Valley. One can reach Chandratal from Batal or Kunzum La.
Chandratal was the most awaited trip till now. The lake is accessible for only 2-3 months from june to September depending on opening of Rohtang pass and Kunzum La pass. One can reach to the Lake from Delhi via Shimla or Manali. From either route you have to reach Kunzum La or Batal. The trek for Chandratal starts from these two location. Although there is a road from Batal to Chandral. The distance between Kunzum La and Chandratal is approximately 9 kms and the trek is comparatively easier. This time I went to chandratal via Manali route. The basic reason was the paucity of time. The route is bit shorter, easily accessible and can be done in 5-6 days.
This trip was an unplanned trip. I knew nothing except the destination. I left Delhi at 2 PM and reached Chandigarh by 7. My plan was to reach Manali by 5 am so that I don’t miss the Manali Kaza bus. There is only one bus from Manali to Kaza. This bus starts from Kullu. The departure time of the bus at Kullu is 4 am, it reaches Manali by 5-5:30 am and after 5-10 minutes, it departs for Kaza. If you are travelling from Delhi, I would suggest, break your journey at Manali, take some rest preferably for a day. It will help IN acclimatization.
Manali is located at an altitude of approximately 6700-6800 feet which is approximately half of the maximum altitude that you will climb during the trip and that makes Manali a perfect place for acclimatization.
You can cover Old Manali, Hadimba temple, Vashisth and Jogni Mata fall. The morning bus for Kaza will leave Malanli at 5:30 AM and will reach Batal by 2 PM. Bus timings is more of less fixed, but nature has the final say. I would suggest you to get prior information from Himachal tourism office.
My trip was not that easy. Despite of all efforts, I could not reach Manali on time. Chandigarh- Manali bus dropped me at 7 am. The road condition is more or less good except some 30-40 kms stretch near Punjab- Himachal border area and just before Mandi. There will always some road issues because of fragile topography, landslide and construction works. The Kaza bus had left Manali before I reached there. I had no plan for staying in Manali. I was carrying my tent, sleeping bags so I planned to move forward. A bus was going to Keylong, I boarded the bus and reached Gramphu. Gramphu is not a permanent habitation. Although in past there were few shops. When I was travelling, all the shops were removed by authorities. There is just one shade and nothing. Further, Gramphu is the junction point of Manali Leh highway and Manali kaza Road. During normal season there are number of buses from Manali to keylong.
The real trip/adventure started from Gramphu . I wanted to cover as much distance as I can, but again walking alone from Gramphu was not an option. It could have drained my body. I was just looking for some vehicle, public or private that can drop me if not Batal but at least to some place where I can pitch my tent. Camping alone is not impossible but at the same time not desirable too. There were some bikers. I asked for lift, but there was hardly any space on their bikes. At that time I had no option but to wait. I was sitting on the top of the mountain and was watching River Chandra flowing endlessly. One side there is majestic green Himalayas and other side of the valley, there is barren Trans- Himalayan region. After 1 hour or so, I saw two tucks. They also stopped at the junction point. I told the driver my condition and asked him for help. Fortunately, he was going to Kaza and he agreed to drop me at Batal.
Road condition from Gramphu to Batal is back breaking. It took 7 hrs to cover 60 kms. The road provides ample challenge to expert drivers. Road is risky and dangerous. It is just symbolic if we compare it with normal macadamised roads. The road goes through steep slope to river bed. Road is rocky, muddy and at multiple places you will find water streams flowing over roads. But again, difficult roads often lead to beautiful locations. The road runs parallel to river Chandra. On the mid way there is a place called Chhatru. There are 2-3 Dhabas (basic eating place) at this place. There are 1-2 more buildings On the way. There are 1-2 more PWD guest houses on the way. In adverse condition, you can spend night there. We reached Batal at approximately 6-6:30. Batal is very beautiful place which is located at almost the bed of River Chandra. Here you will find the shop of Famous Chacha-Chachi. Sun was about to set and I was no longer in mood to walk another 14 kms to reach the camp area. I was mentally prepared to spend night in the Chacha-Chachi’s shop. His son runs a camp named Tenjing Camp near Chandratal. There were three more travelers waiting at chahcha’s shop. You can try magi, tea or Rajma-Rice at chahcha’s shop.
If you have taken lift from some truck or local Pahadi guy do not directly offer him money. Most of them consider it as insult. They are helping you because you need their help and not because they need money. But whether you should offer money to them or not? I have no answer. But what I follow is simple. Whatever we are eating or drinking on the way. I pay for food and tea/drink and in the end I ask them about charges. I have taken lift in Spiti more than ten times, but no one has accepted a single penny. This is very small but bit sensitive issue.
Chacha somehow arranged a jeep for us (4 people). He will charge you somewhere between 250-350 INR per person. As it was approximately 7 PM, he asked for Rs 350 per person, but once he dropped us near the camp, he told us to pay only 300 per person. 50 Rs is not a big thing, but such gestures are rare.
I stayed at Tenjing Camp. Charges are minimal somewhere between 500-1000 per person per night. It includes tent accommodation and basic food i.e breakfast, lunch dinner, snacks and bonfire. Lahul-spiti is not a region for normal tourists; only traveler can explore these regions. If you are travelling to these regions, you will meet many interesting people. Always keep in mind that you are traveling to these location not only to see the places but to create a memory and you will cherish the memory till last breathe.
Camp is located in the river valley. Wind blows at a high speed. Even if temperature is tolerable, you will feel the bitter cold. At 9 PM we had our dinner. Our initial plan was to do camping near the lake. For that we have to carry the tent to the lake location. After dinner, temperature dropped sharply and then no one was ready to go outside the camp, forget camping at lake side. But I wanted to see the lake early morning. That is the only time when water is stagnant and whole lake looks like a huge majestic mirror. The time window is very small may be 15-20 minutes. If you want to see the true reflection of snowcapped mountains in the lake, reach there before sunrise.
I slept at 10 pm and woke-up at 2:30 am. Asked 2-3 fellow travelers whether they want to trek to the lake right now, but no-one was ready at that time. I was travelling by public transport or truck, but they were on biker. They were tired like hell. They just told me that they would see me at the lake. I left camp at 3 am with my camera, torchlight, polar jacket and walking stick. Trekking at high altitude is not an easy task. After 10 minutes of walk, I was sweating in sub zero temperature. But I kept walking and reached near lake by 4AM. There were different foot-marks in different directions. I was not sure which one to follow. First I took the left path; it was going to River Chandra. Reached up to the river bank and then slope was so steep that it was impossible for me to go to the river bed; then I went to the right side. There is a hillock. Although my friend has warned me not to take the right turn. Once someone crosses the mountain, it is very difficult for him to come back to original position. Keeping that in mind, I went up to the crest of the mountain. My intention was just to go there and see if someone is there. I was lost in the middle of nowhere . It turned out to be wrong decision,I got nothing and by that time I was badly tired. I just sat on the crest and keep flashing my LED headlamp. There were so many small wetlands. Reflections were awesome. The herbs and grasses were colorful and were looking like small LEDs. Once there was some light I came back to the place where there was a sign board mentioning Chandratal and name of hundred of endemic herbs. Now footmarks were more visible. I saw a straight path with pebbles marking the path. Now i was bit confident. After covering 100-200 meters, I saw a big water body and that was Chandratal.
The lake has circumference of 2.5-3 Kms and it is Mesmerising. There is a small and narrow terrain near the circumference of lake. I was just walking aimlessly on the trail. After covering around 1 km, I saw 2 tents. Chandratal is a Ramsar site and camping is not allowed near the lake around the circumference of 1.5 Kms, but at the same time it is difficult for agencies to stop the camping there. Most of the hikers reach there by night, pitch their tent and leave the place early morning. I was the first one to reach the lake that day. The person who was camping there was going to Baralacha La. He made herbal tea for me. I took bath in the lake and once I came out of the lake, my body was in numb state. I was not in a condition to walk. I was shivering like anything. I was not very much interested about taking bath in the cold glacial lake. But he told me about the local ritual and belief. Whenever I travel to such places, I try my best to respect the local custom and traditions. Later during conversation, I came to know that he had high fever. I was carrying sufficient medicine with me but my bag-pack was in camp. From Chandratal, Baralacha la is another 50 Kms and 2-3 days trek. Initially he was thinking to cancel his trek. I asked him to come to our camp so that I can give him some medicines. we both came back to the camp.We had breakfast together and I gave him all my medicines, as I was going back to Manali. After taking paracetamol and antibiotics, he continued his journey. He was able to reach Surajtal and Baralacha la pass in just two days. The trek length of kunzum-Baralacha la is approximately 50 kms.
From Campsite, Chandratal is 1-2 hour walk. But I would suggest you not to bother about time. Just walk with your natural speed. Once you push yourself hard, the pleasure will become pain. Don’t follow others. After taking breakfast at Chandratal, I came back to Batal and I continued my journey to Gramphu. I wanted to go to Keylong and spend one day there. From Gramphu I took another truck to Khoksar. If you are in Khoksar, try mutton rice and Rajma. This is unique and awesome. After lunch at Khoksar, I was waiting for another vehicle which can drop me at keylong. I asked a tempo traveler guy to drop me at Keylog. But he was new to the area and he was unaware of exact location of keylong. So finally we reached Udaipur. Enroute there is a place called Tandi where River Chandra and Bhaga meet and become Chandrabhaga, which is also known as Jhelum in jammu and Kasmir. Tandi is another beautiful place in Lahul region. I could not explore the Udaipur and Killar-Kistwar area because of paucity of time. I will try to cover these areas next season. Lahul Spiti is very economical for traveler. In Udaipur, the tariff of a double room was just 200 INR and food is equally affordable and good quality. Early morning I left Udaipur and came back to Manali.
Things to carry: Good shoes, walking stick, trekking pant, 1 pair of socks for each day, woolen cloths and good jacket, sufficient chocolates and commonly used medicines (paracetamol, citrizine, dimox, ORS ….)
PS: Do not carry jeans. It will be burden only.
Carry a good thermal flask. Drink warm water
Suggestion: Be flexible with your plans. In the end, weather and mountain will have the final say.
Always keep in mind, you are traveling to a place, where the god resides ….
Happy Journey…enjoy the trip