Okay, a little background seems quintessential to the topic. Chandrataal lake lies at 4,300 m (above 14,000 ft) from the sea-level in a cold dessert of Spiti valley, India. Our journey began from Majnu ka tila (a Tibetan & Nepali settlement) in Delhi. We had booked a volvo by Raj travels that started it’s journey by 7:30pm.
Delhi to Manali
The greedy operator haulted the bus mid-way near Delhi exit bypass for like half-n-hour and the driver had left so no one knew what was happening. Thankfully, a police patrolling car came by and made the driver start the bus. It was then that I overheard driver’s conversation with the operator that he cannot wait any more as he was charged a bill by police and he was urging the operator to please catch his pace with his customers as he claimed being driving slow for them. The conversation went on for ten more minutes and eventually himself got fed-up and gained speed. This costed us passengers some 40 precious minutes.
Skipping all the other part (including me puking in the bus inside a torn plastic bag that was placed in the front of seat by the bus caretaker as Anti-vomit bag and my miseries) we reached Manali at around 10am marking 14 hours as our travel time.
Hotel Rudra Palace
We booked our stay at Hotel Rudra Palace. A spacious and very clean hotel. A cab driver at the place we aligted (the volvo bus stand) took us to this place in exchange for 50 bucks against what seemed like around 1.5km. He also decided the rate – 500bucks per night stay. We checked-in the hotel room as we found it reasonably good to put up. The hotelier offered a see-around cab for the entire day for sight-seeing at the cost of 600 bucks. Our tour covered Hidimbi Temple, Vashisht temple hot springs, picnic spot at river beas, the mall road (where our hotel was) the forrest park & the monastery. It went comfortably well and the day settled with Charas joints sold by a locale at the mall road. It took all the journey stress away.
The HRTC Kaza bus
The same night we cleared our bills. As we had planned to catch a HRTC bus from the bus stand (12minute walk) in the morning at 5:45am. It was 6:06am in the watch as the kaza bus was still waiting to be filled in (this is quite an unusual sight & could be due to off-season) I got over bread omelet for us and as the engine warmed-up in the beautiful morning we started along with the bus.
The bus halted at kothi for breakfast at around 7:30am. It has a nice little restaurant with an adjoining daily needs shop. We loaded supplies like water bottles and some ready to eat snacks.
Then came Rohtang pass at around 9:15am and it was a pretty sight of snow-capped mountains. Earlier we had planned to get down at the pass. However, owing to the off-season & the fact that there’s just one bus that passess it in the wholeday, it soon began to appear us as a no man’s land than an adventurous spot. So we ditched it and went over till batal.
The bus staff was kind & jolly and they halted at scenic places to smoke their beedis, while passengers who mostly were the locals took toilet breaks to piss or some just drank right from the river Chenab & quenched their thirst.
The bus stops here for lunch. It was roughly around 12pm we reached here. Mind you there are no roads from Rohtang pass till batal or chandrataal. The entire descent is on rough off-roads. Sometimes larger vehicles like busses and SUVs need to back to let vehicle coming in from the opposite end to pass. Its a one-way lane and it gets narrower near the turns. The descent from Rohtang to gramphoo is the roughest as over 50 hairpin bends add to the woe of bouncing bumps.
At batal we ate to our hearts. Thanks to chacha chachi dhabba. They came here some six years ago and are recognized by limca world records for the service they gave to over a hundred trapped souls in a harsh winter.
Chacha is whimsical at playing pranks. When it came to pay for the food and chocolates we had he adds it on his calculator and shows ‘1600 only’ & I am like ‘ohh..’ with loss of words as the food was really essential to us and no matter how it appeared or tasted it did felt like a bliss. So as I laid my hands in the pocket to pull the money out another man quips – ‘just divide by 10’ and my eyes rolled over with a laugh as heart beat came to life again and suddenly a feeling of laying 10 kgs off my shoulder emanated.
I disscussed our plans with chacha. We come to learn that chacha chachi have two sons (I wasn’t aware at that point that they were his sons) who run a campsite near the lake and are going to come to pick us up. Meanwhile, chachi allots us a nice and warm place studded with all the heavy quilts in the world and we sleep wholeheartedly as we were tired and we just had a good meal. It was really windy and hence cold outside.
The Camper Truck
The camper truck arrived. We got into it. And the little energy that was left over in us soon became history. Tenzin (chachi chachi’s son) sat behind the wheels and his friend Bali sat besides him. They lighted what looked like a joint, but later came to know was pure hash. And throttled at 40km/hr where 5km/hr should have been ideal.. And we started jumping wobbling and somersaulting behind in the seat. Somehow that made my brother a little quieter for good as he had started eating their head with stuffs that made them feel a bit different. They played some awesome tracks along the way like – greenday, bryan adams, soulsisters, avril lavigne and the epic om namah shivay by Apache Indian! And the landscape around was jaw-dropping. Valleys seperated by vast dried-up river bed with no trees or grass just plain sky & scattered clouds and all the landscape glowed as if painted in crued gold. Yes, we were in spiti valley by now and we all know that it is a cold dessert. It all looked to me like a Hollywood movie!
Then came the ying-yang campsite. It still took us a good 45 minutes to cross what Google showed as 15km from batal. We asked for a small and warm tent and he gave us a cute little strong white color tent. The moment we went inside we felt a 20C difference. It was nice and warm and had a function to ventilate if required. It was clean and very properly insulated from the ground.. with several layers of blankets stuffed between hard polystyrene (thermocol) and there were four thick quilts inside that was like never seen before..very thick & heavy..like how our ordinary blankets may weigh when soaked for wash.
It was around 3pm in the watch, we decided to set for the trail. Tenzin showed us what appeared as a path leading over a hill and disappearing behind a huge mountain. He said it is a shortcut and may take us 48 minutes. We started and soon realised our breathe was getting heavier with each step & we began gaping for air. So we took breaks. It was like our lungs screamed for oxygen whereas to what it looked we had only walked over a few steps to a hill. And soon we realised that this is not going to be an easy stride. We are 4.3km from sea-level and something is not the same – the air.
My brother took more often haults than me so I send him back to rest and I proceeded with a gait mimicking as if I was walking over ankle-deep water..soon I was gliding past with baby steps more easier than the normal walking. And as it went on my haults became fewer I could acclimatise well and started pulling out some selfies along the way.
All thanks to ‘maps.me’ an offline map app in which I had pre-loaded the maps prior to the journey & was guiding me to the lake. It was one hour past now, sun went behind the mountain and a shadow creeped upon me and soon it was chilling cold with winds gaining speed. The lake was no where near. Then I crossed what seemed like two or three hillocks and the path was undulating all along the way demanding more strength than usual.On the last hill I saw to what appeared like a frozen mouth of river at the horizon between a valley. It was the glacier that feed Chandra river.
Soon I spotted a few cars parked on the downhill side. Later I came to know there is another motorable way some 3 km from our campsite but the way I took was indeed shorter but its difficulty added in terms of time than distance. I speeded my way downhill but very very carefully. Mind youthe vastness of the terrain sets in a dillusion and the land appears less deeper than the actual. It means you can fall into a pit walking over it thinking its just a straight land. I walked for another twenty more minutes. And it paid. The first sight! I yelled Hooo! as I released the breathe.
It was little over 5pm.. But as I took my steps to go near the lake, I felt with each step a fall in a degree Celsius. I got scared. I wasn’t warm enough and my lips had cracked and turned white. Later, I realised I couldn’t talk coherent. I made a tough decision to say chandrataal lake good-bye from the remaining 200meters and i promised it to be back tomorrow morning again with my brother.
After saying my adieu to the chandrataal lake I went near the cars parked. I asked for a lift. I told them frankly that I am lost and my offline map has no marking of the place i came from as it only showed me landmark site like the lake.. I told them about Bali and Tenzin and the ying-yang sign.. They immediately recalled – ‘yes sir you are camped at the moonshine camp, come along.’ I met there a group of five tamilians. As odd as it may seem, I was pleased to meet them at 4.3km high from the sea. They too were incoherent in their speeches and it felt they had returned after strolling on the nearer parts of the lake. Somehow their white frosted lips contrasted their tones and they appeared bit funny. They were friendly and hospitable and offered me their hash. I dragged it. It took my headache away and a slight pull of warmth circulated my veins.
The Cuppa Noodle Talk
On reaching campsite I realised my brother was not keeping well. He had rum to keep him warm which had catalysed the dehydration further. He drank very little water and didn’t look well. We went to the kitchen area and ate cuppa chicken noodles, which I think may either were expired or half-baked as it took longer than usual to digest them. We retired to our camp after a nice warm talk with a couple from Chandigarh and stories from the spiti field shared over with some hash and warm green tea mugs in our hands.
I skipped my dinner. By the time i went inside my camp it was freezing. I had forgot to zipp the tent properly when i had left it. It was warm then as Sun was up and now that the sun was set and breezy outside it was chillin like a freezer chamber. It took us hard shivering for straight three minutes till our bodies gained its senses back under our thick blankets to normalize back inside the tent. That night the temperature fell to -6C.
I woke up at 3am to pee. And the sight above was breath-taking. A virgin sky lit with big bulb like stars..twinkling less frequent and it appeared like as if they were winking and not twinkling. And then I saw a faint shooting star making a quiet arch in the stillness of the night.
In the morning I woke by 7 am. It was already light outside. I went near the burning logs of campfire and sat across with Bali and Suresh (the cab driver). We shared puffs of hash. I was told that the kitchen is dead.. the water in the pipes is now ice and the gas inside cylinder is no more liquid!
We eagerly awaited the sun to rise over from the mountains..it was around 8am the first ray broke off from the mountain and soon all ice melted and the cooking cylinder gas became operational & the Tea was made.
By 9 am it was warm and we were soaking out in the sun. Had an awesome bread-omlett over some more tea. By 10 am it was scorching hot.. We meet an uncle who by profession was working with the Rail Coach Factory (RCF) who was on his driving spree of completing a 2000km circuit loop of shimla kaza-chandrataal-manali-shimla. He agreed to offer us a hitchhike till Manali. He was an experienced driver very cautious with the turns. Another car, a 4×4 SUV, marched along with us in which were the two apprentice physicians from Chandigarh. Uncle use to lay still whenever the other car in the front use to spit a cloud of dust in air and waited till the dust had settled paving a clear view in front and only then we could crouch ahead. And so we crawled untill the ill-fated left tyre on the front got badly bruised (4 inch cut) by two stones that although appeared as lying on ground but we’re deeply burried inside the off-roads. Thankfully it happened after batal where we had recharged ourselves with red bull. So, in a very energetic and skilful manner, we changed the tyre with stepney. Now uncle got more cautious and so did I as we were still to climb to the gramphoo & cross Rohtang pass and descent to Manali..and we were already on a Stepney with no garage on the way. It was a scarry thought of getting another puncture on the way before we could reach Manali. Luckily such didn’t happen. Once gramphoo came, the roads became smooth..to say it the best.. roads started to emerge from the off-roads.
We had a small skirmish with a truck when the truck suddenly stopped and our bumper took the hit, but it was minor and we examined to find the scratch as minor. Uncle laughed and claimed that he will not fix this mark to keep a memory of the ride like his prize. We shared a laugh.
It was 6:30pm, we reached Manali. I took uncle to the same hotel, hotel rudra palace. Because of us he got a good deal else the owner was in a good mood after he eyed upon the fat uncle alighting an EcoSport car. Uncle was happy to find a very good deal for his stay. We greeted each other Good night to see each other back in the morning, but we never saw each other, as he got busy inthe morning with his car inspection & repairs and later in the afternoon we had to stick to our plan as we took a bus for Amritsar to visit Golden Temple.
..and so we pulled it off the most epic journey of chandrataal lake in Spiti valley in the month of October right a week before the closing of roads for the rest of the winters. (winks)
Thank you for your time!
Keep exploring 🙂