Chandrataal – the Moon Lake

First of all, apologies for writing after so long (almost a year) to write on Ghumakkar.

Ever since I visited the beautiful Spiti Valley in Aug’12 with my parents, I considered myself to be one of luckiest to have visited the heaven on earth. And even more so, the bigger achievement was that I was able to show my parents, what Himachal is all about – not limited to Shimla, Manali and Kullu. In the next 2 years, I lived with a knot in my heart… of not being able to visit the best part of Spiti: Chandratal Lake, also known as the moon lake. It took me 2 years to finally plan for a trip, through a route which is short but not taken normally because of being dangerous with high chance of getting stuck. But thanks to my friends Sushil Chauhan, Sourabh Gandhi and a young Naveen who showed great courage and will to cover the place, the same driver Lekhram, whom I hired the last time, and who agreed to my terms in considering our official leave restrictions and helped us cover the most in a limited time, I was able to fulfill the dream.

I always prefer to drive to the destination, although many people criticize stating that it wastes a lot of time and energy and the same time one can utilize in taking some rests in buses and trains. But for me the consideration is different. However long a route is, I believe you can see your country when you see it on your own. Self-driving to places gives more flexibility. And as I found out, my friends also equally dynamic and we made such random decisions that really made our short journey a grand success and full of enjoyment. I had the option of driving all the way to Chandratal lake, but then, considering the dangerous waterfalls and nallahs enroute, I thought it’s better to take a cab from Manali or Mandi.
I spent 2013 and early 2014 finding out the appropriate time to visit the moon lake. Spiti is normally open from Shimla side throughout the year but from Manali side (Rohtang Pass) it remains closed almost for 6 months from November to May. While the route to Chandratal lake from Manali starts opening from June first week, it almost takes upto July mid, for the snow to get cleared from Rohtang pass and route to Chandratal from Gramphu or Kunzum Pass to open. So the option to trek to Chandratal anyways remain open from either Shimla side or from Manali side anytime from May to October.

Suggested routes to Chandratal lake:
1) Delhi -> Shimla (stay) -> Sarahan (stay) -> Kalpa (stay) -> Nako/Tabo –> Kaza (stay) -> Kunzum pass -> trek/drive to chandratal (stay) -> back to Delhi via a faster schedule. Need minimum 6-7 days to start from Shimla and get back to Shimla and complete.
2) Delhi->Mandi->Manali (stay) -> Batal -> Trek/drive to chandratal (stay) ->Back to Manali -> next destination.
Considering the number of days we had, with 3 days’ leave and 2 days for Saturday and Sunday, making it a total of 5 days, we decided to go via Manali.

Problem: During July the road from Manali to Batal via Rohtang pass and Gramphu is very dangerous because of melting ice and waterfalls passing through the roads. As a result no one prefers taking this route to Chandratal, not only during this time, but till October end. But thanks to my old driver cum friend Lekhram, who understood our limitations and agreed to make it happen even though it was a debut ride to this destination.

The plan was chalked out. Now the most important things – to find company. So I started calling my friends, who also did not have much idea about Chandratal Lake, but once they read about it, they did not take a moment to say Yes.

Journey to God’s own place towards Chandratal Lake: 24th of July 2014: The day we will remember for our entire life.

After leaving Delhi early morning on July 23, we reached Manali via Chandigarh by 6 p.m. After the hectic drive, we spent the evening in Manali and called it the night.

With excitement, we got up early morning around 3:45 AM, even though it was a tiresome day before. We missed the deadline of starting at 5:00 AM and started by 5:30 AM for our journey from Manali. It’s around 52 KMs to Rohtang Pass and from Rohtang Pass another 80 KM to Batal. From Batal and drive of around 14 KM up and then 1 KM walk to see the lake. The first hurdle was to cross the most troublesome road to Rohtang. It’s beautiful as always, the drive from Manali to Rohtang Pass, but it took almost 2 hours to reach the Rohtang Pass valley. The dense fog at the top, made the drive a bit difficult, but once we reached the top, the lush green view of the valley around was a real beauty, with horses grazing and the valley behind. We made our first stop. And it’s amazing that this same Rohtang Pass has a completely different look during October, when it’s totally covered with snow.

Rohtang-Pass

Rohtang-Pass

Rohtang-Pass

Rohtang-Pass

Together at Rohtang Pass

Together at Rohtang Pass

Horse-Grazing-At-Rohtang-Pass

Horse-Grazing-At-Rohtang-Pass

Horse-Grazing

Horse-Grazing

Our driver

Lekhram-our-driver

Lekhram, our driver

The fog was slowly clearing and we crossed Rohtang Pass by 9:30 AM. The junction for taking the route to Ladakh and Spiti Valley came around 9:45 AM. We took the route to Spiti and then the first stopping point is Gramphu. You can have snacks and your early morning tea there, but we did not stop and continued and planned to have our breakfast at Chatru rather. Slowly the sun was rising and resulting in melting of the ice. Which means the waterfalls (nallahs) on way become more fierce. After crossing a few, we finally got stuck in one. We four had to get down, barefoot in the chilly water, to push the car out of the water. For almost for 5 minutes we had a feeling we do not have legs. But it was fun. And then Lekhram told us this is only the beginning, Paagal Nallah is about to come. We were just thinking if a small waterfall is this, what will happen in the paagal nallah, which came soon after. The flow of the water was considerably less but it was a huge wide waterfall. Slowly Lekhram drove the car watching the boulders and we were surprised to see, we were able to pass through the paagal nallah without getting stuck. We thought trouble was over, but it was not. Soon we found ourselves stuck in another one. This one was even bigger. Water flow was huge. It was even more chilled water this time. Our cab got stuck and the problem was severe. The tyre got free in between two huge boulders. We four tried our best to push the cab, but failed. Soon there was a huge queue behind us. Although traffic is very minimal in Spiti, but we considered ourselves lucky that traffic was there and people available for help.

Soon few local road workers joined, we tried removing the boulders and failed again. Then someone came up with a huge iron rod and removed one of the big boulders and finally with huge effort we managed to push the cab ahead. The greater risk with these blockages is to the tank, which can get damaged in manouvering. We continued and were lucky that it was the final blockage. By around 11:00 AM, we reached Chhatru and it was time for some food and tea. For a high altitude destination, it was necessary to eat a proper diet. So we took paranthas, tea and milk and packed some chips for way through. Done with the brunch and then started again and the next destination was Batal, the entrance to Chandratal Lake from Manali side.

Chandrabhaga at Chhatru

Chandrabhaga at Chhatru

Chhatru 2

Chhatru 2

Chhatru 3

Chhatru 3

Chhatru Bridge

Chhatru Bridge

And again few more sets of huge nallahs. Oh man I just started loving these. Well well well, in the wake of these huge waterfalls, how can I stop describe the amazing beauty that we were continuously witnessing of Spiti Valley. There is so much of variation all around. We also met few trekkers in Chatru who were actually trekking for days from Humpty. I can’t believe people trek across those huge mountains in Spiti too. Wowww.

The 2nd day was going to be a looong day for us and any day the most interesting part of our journey. In another 1 and half hour, by 1 PM we reached Batal. And we again filled up our appetite slightly.

Batal To Chandrartal-Chandrabhaga

Batal To Chandrartal-Chandrabhaga

Batal

Batal

Batal is another beauty of a place with lovely surroundings. A small setup of tents for food for the passerby. We spent around 30 minutes there, capturing the beauty of the valley in our cameras and then finally it was time to start for the destination. It was going to be the final leg of the journey to reach Chandratal Lake. From Batal another 14 KM of treacherous road and almost at a height of 14000 ft., we will be reaching the Moon Lake.

Started by around 1:30 PM, with an aim to reach the camp location by around 2:30 PM. And believe me, this is just another leg to remember. The treacherous road to the Moon Lake, so narrow and so bad in shape. We started to believe why the route remains closed for 8 months of year. By this time we were very tired but the beautiful view of the valley around just keeps your tiredness away. You just cannot keep your eyes away from the valley for even a moment. We just had one thing in mind, had the road to the Lake been closed, would we have been able to trek? For this 14KM. It’s sometimes go uphill, sometimes downhill. Slowly and slowly we moved forward, the roads got even tougher for driving, but Lekhram was an expert. It was the first time for him also from Batal and first time, he is also going to stay for a night there. On way through, at considerable gaps, you quite often see tents of trekkers. Many trekking groups do their expeditions and set up their tents on way.

Chandratal Entry

Chandratal Entry

Roads less traveled  - Batal to Chandratal

Roads less traveled – Batal to Chandratal

After 45-50 minutes of drive and finally there we see the famous Jamaica tents. And we knew we are there. Our final drive destination: Jamaica tents at Chandratal. The moment we reached, Jamaica himself came out and welcomed us. There is couple of other tent groups also, but only Jamaica is of good quality and worth staying. We had slight reviews about that, and it proved correct when we saw the tents and their quality along with the sleeping bags quality and blankets etc.

All about the Moon Lake: The awesome place of god himself: The Chandratal
Soon after a slight talk with Jamaica, he took us in his own tent and asked us to relax a bit after such a long journey. He asked his co-workers to prepare Maggie and tea for us. The weather all around was so pleasant and after such a long journey at that altitude, nothing was more refreshing than Tea.

The first view of Chandratal was around 20 minutes’ walk from there. We all were already feeling altitude effects. But we decided to go to the lake directly without any further rest. That turned out to be a bad decision. We should have taken 2 hours of sleep and then continued. After having the refreshment, Jamaica showed us the tent @ 1000 Rs per person, that will include lunch, evening snacks, dinner, morning tea, breakfast.

At Jamaica Tents pics:

Camps

Camps

Jamaica

Jamaica

Pulled out our bags, arranged them inside the tent, pulled out the stuff to take to the lake, and then started. We all were just so excited to see the first view of the lake, which not many visit.
We started walking, the route track is naturally built and we followed on it. Not only was the lake, the entire surrounding so beautiful. Another 15 minutes of walk and there it was, the first view of the lake. Oh man, that was as if we reached heaven. The total bluish water of the lake from so far, surrounded by the panoramic mountains, it was something as if we were in dreams. We reached near the lake, had our first touch of the pure, serene water of the lake, it was so cold and chilling and so clean. Wonder how it was so blue.

Chandratal First View

Chandratal First View

Just after reaching the lake, the first thing we wanted to do, was to take a walk across the entire circumference of the lake. Oh man, it was big. Almost 5-8KM circumference, 2.5 KM diameter. But we had to do it. As we started, I and Sushil started having a tremendous headache. Naveen was also feeling sick. So we took internal rests. Even sometimes finding a space, spread our legs in the grass for a quick nap. The interesting part was to see the fitness of Lekhram. How easily he covered the entire circumference almost half an hour before us. We were of course slowly moving forward and continued capturing the beautiful lake from all different possible angles, the beautiful valley around the lake.

The serene beauty of the lake is something which attracts people to stay there forever:

Lake Pano

Lake Panorama

Lake Pano 2

Lake Panorama

Together at Chandratal Lake:

Together at Chandratal

Together at Chandratal

In the evening though there was no reflection in the lake. While we reached the other side of the lake, we saw the waves in the lakes as if, it’s a sea.

Pics of waves in the lakes:

pics-of-waves-at-chandratal

Waves on Chandratal

On the other side of the lake, again the valley was ground was lush green with beautiful snowcapped mountains at the back. There were lots of horses around in the area though grazing.

Chandratal Valley

Chandratal Valley

Horse-Grazing-at-chandratal

Horse Grazing @ Chandratal

And we continued to cover the lake and finally it took almost 1 hour and 15 minutes to cover the entire lake. At that moment we decided to come back to the camp and then visit the lake again the next morning to capture reflection. Jamaica told us, reflection at Chandratal lake is at its best early in the morning.

The walk from the lake to the camp was so tiring, that 20 minutes were almost looking 2 days. We continued and reached the camp by 6 PM. Naveen was almost sick and very tired. We all went to sleep immediately. Around 8 PM, the tent’s staff came and offered soup. We were so tired, we could not get up. Still I was having pain in my head. We got up and had our soup, but Naveen could not. He vomited couple of times. We gave him glucose, so that he feels well. Naveen again immediately went to sleep, but we took out our tripods and started capturing the galaxy.

Galaxy

Galaxy

After taking pics for almost half an hour, we got back to the tents and went to sleep. Lekhram suggested that we get up early, take another round of the lake and start early around 9:30 AM, so that with rise of the sun, the water flow enroute does not become more, that can bring tough times for driving again. By this time we had already dropped the plans to move ahead towards Kaza and thought of experiencing the Manali and Shimla during the rest of the tour rather. That’s because we were tired and we had to reach back Delhi by Sunday.

Day3: 25th of July 2014: Way back to Manali
We got up early, as early as 7 AM. Naveen was still feeling sick, so we three decided to fresh up a bit and move towards the lake. Around 7:30 AM, we started for the lake. This time the target was to capture the reflection. Because in the morning is the time, when one actually finds the reflection in the water.
As we walked for 20 minutes, this time the view of the lake was entirely different. Unlike day 2 evening when the water was totally blue, this time the water was colorless, with amazing reflections of the mountains all around.

Few pics of reflection and around:

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

Reflection in the lake

We moved around for couple of hours and reached back the tent around 9:30 AM, packed things and shifted the bags to the cab, had our tea and breakfast. We cleared off the dues of Jamaica, bid adieu and left at 10:00 AM on the same gorgeous route. Most of the route while going back is downhill, so we thought we will not face any issues and will reach easily. But as it turned out we were wrong.

We reached our first destination for tea and snacks, Chattru again around 11:30 AM. Took a break of 15 minutes and started for Batal. Reached Batal by around 12:30 AM and we took another break for 10 minutes. When one sees the awesome panaroma around, you just want to stay there for and do not go anywhere. All is so beautiful. Again and again as I describe, Spiti Valley is no doubt one of the hidden and most unexplored paradise on earth.

As we moved ahead, we crossed more and more nallahs. To our surprise they were even more dangerous now. The water flow was huge, it was so violent, we thought as if we were going to flow away with the water down to the Spiti river. As we moved forward, we saw huge traffic jam with almost 5-6 vehicles stranded. The tyre of a car was jammed between the boulders. We also joined the people in rescuing and moving the cab out, with a thought in back of our mind that once this cab moves out, what if ours get stuck. Few people used the jack to raise the wheel and used a rod to remove the huge boulder, but no use. We continuously tried pushing the cab, but of no avail. It was stuck for almost 30 minutes now. More people now started gathering. The water below was ice chilling with heavy flow.

Finally after around 40 minutes, with much effort, we managed to pull out the cab. Once the cab moved out, other cabs started to pass by one by one. And then came the moment, the turn of our cab. Lekhram ji tried hard to move it right through, but much to our misfortune, our cab got stuck. Naveen who was sick, also came out by this time. We had to start a second round of effort, now to move our cab out. The boulder was huge. Slowly more and more people gathered to pull out the cab. Our cab was even worse stuck. We were out of minds and the chilling water was adding to our woes. We kept on removing the boulders, by inserting our hands in that chilling water. The traffic kept on accumulating at the back. And then the final push by a huge number of people and thank god we were out.

The good thing was after this effort all our altitude sickness, headache, tired ness was gone. The environment was so fresh. And believe me that was true. Even Naveen started feeling better. This was one of the fiercest waterfalls we had seen till now. We moved ahead after 10-15 minutes of break and crossed the paagal nallah and then after around 10 minutes, another one which looked to be the worst of all. Lekhram was very carefully maneuvering the vehicle looking very closely at the boulders in front. He himself stopped the vehicle by looking into one of the big boulders, asked us to get out of the vehicle and remove the boulder. Sabby, Sushil and Naveen moved out of the vehicle and removed the boulder, while I stood inside taking snaps of the waterfall.

waterfall

waterfall

waterfall

waterfall

Removed the boulders and then Lekhram gave the final push and yayy, the cab was through the waterfall too. All this had been too adventurous. We were having the experience of our life time in this trip. Even though having already done a trip to Spiti early, this has been a unique experience to me. Sabby, Naveen and Sushil of course could not believe that places like this can actually exist on earth. ZWe continued on and by 3 PM we were almost nearing Gramphu. On excursions like these, you never get an idea of how time passes. Near Gramphu, suddenly Lekhram while driving told us to look into the valley on the right hand side. As we saw on our right, we could not believe in our eyes. We were seeing a rainbow right at our eye level. We asked him to immediately stop the cab and we started capturing the rainbow. Rohtang Pass was right on top and we could see a heavy mist covering the Rohtang Pass because of rains on the other side of the mountain. It is the mist at that level, that was coming, because of which a rainbow got created in there. And we were so lucky to have the rainbow right at our eye level. We captured the pics with as much clarity as we can and then moved forward.

Rainbow in the Valley

Rainbow in the Valley

Rainbow in the Valley

Rainbow in the Valley

Around 4 PM, we reached the top of the Rohtang Pass. Climate changed quite drastically as we reached Rohtang Top. It was raining in there, cloudy and very dark. Almost 13000 ft height. Slowly we crossed the Rohtang Pass and then reached Manali around 6 PM.

Manali to Rohtang Pass

Manali to Rohtang Pass

We checked-in to the same hotel around 7PM. We were tired, so we thought of having couple of glasses of drink, before dinner. Around 9PM we had our dinner and alongside dinner we planned that early morning next day, we start and go ahead for Shimla. Enjoy the awesome Manali Shimla Highway and then in the evening have a walk down at the Mall Road. We went ahead for sleep around 11 PM.

Note: All images in the write-up are copyrighted and belong to fellow photographers in the trip. So request all not to use them for commercial purpose. All photographs, courtesy myself, Sourabh Gandhi, Naveen and Sushil Chauhan.

Bad patch pic

Bad patch pic

Bad patch pic

Bad patch pic

Dhaba

Dhaba

Dhaba 2

Dhaba 2

Hanging-stone

Hanging-stone

Chandigarh-Manali

Chandigarh-Manali

chandigarh-manali2

chandigarh-manali3

chandigarh-manali4

chandigarh-manali5

18 Comments

  • So beautifully written…its a good read! Very useful information, will be helpful for the visitors. You may consider of sharing Phone No of Lekhram and the car rental. It will help further to the Ghumakkars like me. I am yet to visit the place…but before my visit, whenever it happens, I will read your this post Again.

    Pics are fabulous! Thanks for sharing, Anupam!

  • Naturebuff says:

    Nice read Anupam.

    We too visited Chandratal on 18 Jul 2014 and were the first vehicles in in this season. Therefore I can understand your descriptions quite graphically! Bad, bad roads but heavenly environs and nothing is too much trouble to reach the ‘Lake of the Moon’!

    Very beautiful pics…!

  • SilentSoul says:

    Beautiful place and mind blowing pictures

  • MUNESH MISHRA says:

    Very nice post Anupam ji!

    First of all congratulation to reach your long waited dream destinationCHANDRATAAL. With beautiful pictures related to the destination, enjoyed your writing.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and describe the real beauty of Himachal Pradesh.

  • Amazing journey and breathtaking pictures…

  • Pamela says:

    Hii Anupam,

    Great post & awesome photography. :)

  • Naresh Sehgal says:

    Awesome post. Well narrated with beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing..

  • Simply Awesome Post . MIND BOGGLING CAPTURES . Kudos ….

  • Really awesome pics….pics are looking like Poster.

  • Anupam says:

    Thanks everyone.
    Anupam, Lekhram’s mobile number is: 09816384850

  • Tarun Talwar says:

    Anupam,

    The pictures in this one are breathtaking. I can only imagine what it would have felt like to experience this journey. Thanks for sharing.

  • tony says:

    hi..
    fantastic pic and narration.. planning to get there next year.. thanks..

  • Kishore says:

    Mind blowing photography along with detailed explanation. After seeing all those pictures, I would love to visit the place someday :-). Thanks for sharing Anupam.

  • om prakash laddha says:

    Anupam ji
    Thanks for nice post . some pics are so beautiful we can use them as wallpaper.

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Anupam,

    A classy post after a long time, I am highly impressed with the detailed description and amazing, captivating, stunning, mesmerizing, mind blowing, mind boggling, charismatic etc…etc…pictures. The pictures of reflections in Chandrataal are beyond imagination. You saw us today the real heaven. Thanks a ton for this priceless post.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    And I could read the final published copy only now. A lot of work happened from the editing crew to present the best of the trip and I can not thank you enough, Anupam, for giving us all the freedom.

    A 5 day tour to Chandratal is like being crazy. What a log and what a ride. Enough has been said about the pictures and the log.

    It would be good to get comments from your fellow riders and Lekhram rocks. Wishes for more such trip and more such logs. If you choose to meet Lekhram again then a Ghumakkar car sticker is on the way :-)

  • Jim says:

    Greetings Anupam!

    I finally managed to finished reading your trip log and looking at all the pictures. Wow! What an adventure. I dont think I would have tried that in anything less than a big Land Rover. How you all managed to get through those roads is really amazing. From the photos though, it was very worthwhile.

    That one of the rainbow in the valley is really tremendous. Just completely unworldly.

    Thanks very much for sending this along and sorry it took so long for me to get to reading it! Ill look forward to experiencing your next road trip vicariously.

    –Jim

  • jaydeb mandal says:

    Hi Anupam,
    request you to provide the contact of Lekhram Driver as we intend to visit kalpa in his Tavera; also shall be great if you provide your contact/email as well

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