When I was planning a trip to Spiti, I was wondering whether to include Chandratal (Chandra Taal). I was quite convinced that I would trek there someday on my way to Kanamo Peak or to Hampta Pass. After some deliberation, I decided to include it in my itinerary but the challenge was to visit Chandratal Lake in a Day.
Most travelers stay overnight in the camps located a mile away from the lake but I decided otherwise since I was traveling solo and did not want to spend the night alone in a tent. It was not about safety or luxury but just that feeling, that instinct of keeping it as a day trip. I searched all over the net in search of inspiration and almost everyone said not possible barring one person who did it with his aging parents. I was inspired and determined. I did find my moments of bliss by the lake after a 14 hour bumpy ride across high mountain passes. The snowy peaks, gurgling rivers and the sight of the turquoise blue left me yearning for more.
Chandratal Lake in a Day – Itinerary
After spending about 5 days in Kaza and other breath taking locations within Spiti it was time to return to the plains. I had Chandratal on my mind and it would not be possible using Public Transport so it had to be a hired car. It was turning out to be nearly Rs 9,000 to Rs 10,000 and I could not find anyone to share with. An Alto would do it for Rs 7000 but it would be a bumpy ride leaving me with little choice.
Kaza to Losar (58 kms in 2 hours)
We started from Kaza at around 5.30 am and the 58 km journey to Losar was done in 2 hours. Losar is just like any other village in Spiti, a little bit greener than the rest since it is on a slightly lower altitude. There are a few dhabas that were already readying breakfast and I feasted on Aloo Paratha. I was warned by the driver to eat well since the next eatery would be in Batal.
Losar to Kunzum Pass (17 kms in 45 mins)
Losar to Kunzum Pass is about 17 kms but an uphill journey to the hill pass. It took about 45 mins to reach this spot which is a mandatory stop for all vehicles. No one proceeds without taking the blessings of the revered Knzum Mata.
It was very windy when I stepped out of the car; but the first warm rays of the sun had begun to appear. I was awestruck by the beauty of the pass, the sun rays lighting up the snow capped peaks and the melted snow trickling down to the many streams. I made a quick round of the Chorten and the Stupa, paid my respects to Kunzum Mata and we were all set to go ahead.
Kumzum Pass to Chandratal (19 kms in 1.5 hours)
There is a steep trek route from Kunzum Pass to Chandratal which takes about 3 hours. I saw a bunch of trekkers go that way and their vehicle followed us. I was extremely tempted but they had plans to camp in the night since it was a part of their Hampta Pass itinerary and I had a tight schedule. After about 20 mins (9 kms) we reached the point where there is a turn to the right for Chandratal and the main highway led towards Manali via Batal. After the turn, the 10 kms to Chandratal along the gurgling Chandra River took about 45 minutes. The road worsened progressively, at times it was just stones in the name of a road and sometimes just enough space for the wheels of the car.
We drove past the camping grounds which were an assortment of tents of different colors. The rates and facilities for these tents vary from budget to luxury; the latter having attached toilets and spring beds. The parking lot is about 2 kms towards the lake on a winding mud road that looks like a spiral from top. Chandratal lake is about 15 minutes leisurely walk from this point on a near flat path. When I reached the lake, It was nearly 5 hours since we started.
Around Chandra Taal (4300 metres)
The first glimpse of the turquoise blue patch soothed the eye. In the midst of different shades of brown the crescent shaped Moon Lake or Chandratal Lake was a beautiful shade of blue. As I walked closer the shade of blue turned out to be an amalgamation of different shades of blue. The flags were fluttering in the air and the whistling wind whispered “Om Mane Padme Hum” in my ears. I quickly took off my shoes, dipped my feet in water and splashed cold water over my eyes. I remained that way for a while, numbed with happiness and cold. I decided to do the Parikrama around the lake.
Like all Parikramas that are done in a clockwise direction to reinforce positive energy, I walked the 2.5 km trail around Chandratal. Little birds were hopping in and out of water in musical rhythm and flying away into the horizon. The color of water changed between turguoise to indigo to a deep shade of blue by the time I reached the other side. The lush green meadows was inviting and I gave in to my urge of rolling on the grass since my feet and back both needed rest after a bumpy ride. The meadows lead to Suraj Tal about 30 kms away which is a 3 day trek from this point. Located on the Samudra Tapu plateau, Chandratal lake is fed by the Chandra Glacier which lies within the Chandrabhaga range that overlook the lake. It is believed that Yudishthira the eldest Pandav brother boarded Indra’s chariot from this point and proceeded to heaven in his mortal form. The moon like crescent shape of the lake can be clearly seen from this point. I completed the remaining Parikrama lost in nature occasionally stopping by to soak in nature at its pristine best. The entire Parikrama took me around 1.5 hours. I tried to click as many pictures as possible that day to capture the beauty of the lake but what has been stored and framed in my minds lens is eternal.
Chandratal to Batal (14 kms in 1 hour)
After spending about 2.5 hours around the lake it was time for lunch. We decided to stop at the iconic Chandra Dhaba in Batal run by Chacha Chachi for nearly 4 decades. The simple Rajma Chawal served with some home made spicy chutney was washed down with glasses of cold water. They have simple beds, blankets and sleeping bags were travelers who want to stay over at night if they are delayed and cannot make it to Manali or Keylong. There are no other places to stay on the way. There is no mobile connectivity here and the only way out is the Satellite Phone in the army camp next door or the Solar Powered Phone with Chacha which does not work most of the time.
Batal to Manali via Rohtang Pass ( 114 kms in 5 hours)
Manali was nearly 114 kms away and it would take anywhere between 5-6 hours as predicted by the driver. Our aim was to get past Rohtang Pass 63 kms away before dark
Batal to Gramphoo was about 50 kms with Chhotadara and Chhatru as the distinct points in between. The road The road is nothing but stones and rocks and oven covered in water post noon from the melting snow. The car moved extremely slowly and I kept myself busy with the views of BaraShringi hoping that someday I would be able to climb that glacier. Somewhere near Chhatru a group of sheep slowed us down and we had to give them the right of passage since it is their land. The stones give way to a patch of grassy meadow here with 2 dhabas around catering to the bikers and the trekkers who come down the Hampta Pass. Gramphoo is the diversion point for going towards Leh or Manali. The straight road led to Leh and we turned left for Manali.
Gramphoo to Rohtang Pass was an upward climb of 14 kms and it was beginning to get dark. It looked beautiful and I had the urge to ask the driver to stop but with the road ahead and having driven since morning I recollected my onward journey a week ago. We passed by Beas Kund and drove through the narrow road between the peaks. The onward journey to Manali via Marhi was a gradual descent of 50 kms on smooth roads with barely any traffic and was covered in about 2 hours with a brief stop for tea. This road is heavily congested during the peak summer months when permits have to be procured in advance as limited vehicles are allowed. The driver pointed out to the cliff sides and indicated the level of snow which is cleared in months of May-June.
Queries on Every Travelers Mind
These are some queries that I had so I thought of putting it together for other travel seekers like me who think of visiting Chandratal.
Is it worth visiting Chandratal in a Day?
Absolutely unless you want to experience camping in high altitude The camps are more than 2 kms away from the lake for rightful ecological reasons. I spent almost 2.5 hours by the lake, walking around and I dont think an overnight stay would have increased that time since it gets very chilly and windy by afternoon. Its a long day and the drive is not easy.
Who should visit Chandratal in a Day?
It is expensive to do Chandratal in a Day but if you are a group who are traveling in an exclusive hired vehicle then a detour to Chandratal will not be expensive. Also for travelers who have issues with high altitude, a short visit and descending to Manali may be better than camping overnight at 4300 metres.
Is it better done while returning from Kaza to Manali or the other way around?
It is better done while traveling from Kaza to Manali since the body is acclimatized to high altitude and walking or sitting around the lake will not cause much issues. However visiting Chandratal on the way to Kaza from Manali will be a sudden increase in altitude and may cause dizziness or nausea.
Is it possible to visit Chandratal as a Day Trip from Manali?
This is not possible due to distance and altitude. Even if traveling as an overnight trip on this route, it is better to take adequate protection from altitude sickness since the sudden gain in height does impact most travelers.