This is more of a vlog post. For the ordinary, the road from Manali to Rohtang Pass is quite thrilling, but for all those who seek the heights it is just a prelude of things to come. After all, at an altitude of 13,050 feet, it is quite less (more than 4500 ft) than what one achieves in this jaw-dropping journey from Manali to Leh.
Rohtang is more fun, a sort of picnic spot. But it gives a fair idea of what to expect next while moving to greater heights.
One of the most dangerous but still one of the most beautiful road journeys on the planet takes you through five high altitude mountain passes- Rohtang La (13,050 ft), Baralacha La (16,040 ft), NakeeLa (15,547 ft), Lachung La (16,616 ft) and the highest one of the route Tanglang La (17,582 ft).
Its a challenging but thoroughly entertaining route of around 450 kms undertaken on my favourite Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which you will be able to see at all the passes. Inspiring! Is it!!
I consider the stretch from Bharatpur to Pang to be the most eventful in the entire route from Manali to Leh. Eventful in the sense that it has got most fantastic variations in the landscape than any other stretch. Although Pang to Leh is also again a wonderful stretch but it is more of a leisure part and has less the challenges that Bharatpur-Pang stretch has to offer. That is precisely the reason that although I covered entire stretch from Bharatpur to Leh in a single day, but while writing about it, I have divided into two parts. That was only way to do some justice to it, as one single part would have been either too long or I would have to sacrifice some details.
Bharatpur was an unscheduled halt for me because of the landslide an evening before. But it was always worth as is every inch of this mesmerising terrain.
Way from Bharatpur to Pang was to take me through same spot which was buried under huge landmass the last night. Just three kilometres ahead of that spot was Killing Sarai. One of the more fascinating things of this route is the nomenclature os the places on the way and as I had said earlier, perhaps army or BRO has big role in naming them. Killing Sarai actually has a BRO depot.
After Killing Sarai comes the Sarchu. After Keylong Sarchu and Pang are the biggest transit camps on the way upto Upshi. Road upto Sarchu from Bharatpur is very testing.
But the early morning drive is very magical. You get to see the colours of nature like never before. You see, how the valley transforms, once it gets soaked in sunlight. First ray of light brings life to the region, life worth a gold literally.
Sarchu gets lively on the sunrise and before reaching you get the feeling that you are close to an army transit camp.
Sarchu is popular not just among campers but also among the truckers. You can find here many dhabas offering food as well as bed. Although some old-timers had said to me that Pang is better place for a halt than Sarchu. Although Pang is higher in altitude, but Sarchu is more windy. I was to experience that on my way back.
Sarchu has a small army transit camp. I had come to know that this camp has a satellite phone and one can make calls from there by paying call charges. Fortunately I had been able to make calls every day on this route, it was quite a change from earlier times. I had earlier used BRO satellite phone at Batal as well. I didn’t stop at Sarchu but headed directly to the transit camp to make the call. After that, I moved ahead towards Gata Loops.
After crossing the Sarchu camps, road goes along the river and one has to cross the river and then travel opposite on the other side of the river to move ahead.
Brandy Nallah is at the base of the Gata Loops. Don’t get confused by the photo above as it is perhaps wrongly written by BRO on this board. I don’t know, how they changed the ‘drinks’! BRO perhaps can. I am still not able to comprehend the idea behind these fancy names. Brandy nallah has now got a new bridge, thus robing the adventure of traversing through flowing stream.
Once you cross the Gata Loops, the climb doesn’t stop and actually we have to climb further for almost 10 kms upto the Nakeela Pass at an altitude of 15547 feet. This is the third pass after Rohtang La and Baralacha La en route from Manali to Leh. And these passes are constantly gaining height.
Nakeela and Lachung La are two passes overlooking each other and there is a big valley in between. So after crossing Nakeela we go downhill upto the Whisky Nallah and then climb again upto the Lachung La. Whisky nallah is still very tricky to cross especially in the early part of the season and upto late August. It can be troublesome during rains. But the place is yet tempting enough to have a camp or a restaurant or two.
At an altitude of 16616 feet Lachung La is fairly imposing but ride from Brandy Nallah to Nakeela and then Whisky La and Lachung La is quite decent. But things don’t remain always the same and hence the road changes dramatically after Lachung La.
Road obviously has all imprints of an BRO road including many small memorials for servicemen who lost their lives on this treacherous road either during any operation or while construction of roads. Road conditions might deteriorate but the beauty increases.
Pang is further 1400 feet downhill from Lachung La and hardly 14 kms but even this small stretch has lot to offer and Kangla Jal is indeed top of it. Like Brandy Nallah and Whisky Nallah, Kangla Jal has also go a fancy name with unknown history. But this too is one of the most challenging spots. I have seen images and videos of riders and drivers trying to negotiate the knee-deep waters of Kangla Jal in full flow. This also has got a new bridge now to make the ride smoother.
This place makes a beautiful view on both sides- climb leading upto LachungLa on one side and slope leading upto the Pang on other.
View on other side of Kangla Jal is literally amazing… jaw dropping literally. You can feel amazed about the landscape as well as the engineering marvel of constructing roads and bridges here as in the image above.
View keeps unfolding as you keep moving down towards Pang. Like the one above or like below…
As soon as we end this slope, we cross the bridge and enter the wide valley which houses Pang village.
Pang is another favourite camping site and a transit camp.
Lot of construction is going on at Pang to construct new hotels and Dhabas. Few of them have been there for years like the one where I had my lunch..
At over 15,200 feet Pang is also said to be one of the highest army transit camps in the world.
Valley broadens at Pang. Lower part houses the campsites, restaurants and dhabas while higher one houses the army transit camps. Again, the camp here has the facility of satellite phone, which can be used by adventurers to make emergency calls on payment of call charges, the are usually very nominal.
Pang is a must stop for all readers and drivers for a small break. And as I said earlier, it is also nice place for overnight stay.
It’s September. Seemingly best month to travel to Leh through this treacherous Manali-Leh highway. Best because of weather and the road conditions. Snow has melted around. But roadsides without snow also snatches away some of the thrills of this route, that one can experience in the months of June and July. But reaching here is never a mean task, more so if you have decided to travel all alone.
So, here I am at mighty Baralacha La pass, all alone. How it feels to be here standing lonely with not a living being in sight at an altitude more than half of the Mount Everest, with just your faithful bike to company!
Journey so far has been fascinating to say the least. At every step you keep feeling that how you have been longing to be here, inevitably. I already had a share of adventure on my detour to Chandratal.
Once you cross Keylong town, there is another small village Jispa on the way 20 kms from Keylong. Jispa is actually the last inhabited place before you reach Ladakh on this route. Though there are a few camping settlements and couple of transit camps also on the way. Jispa has also been traditionally popular among campers for first halt after Manali. Adventurers will prefer it over Keylong as Jispa is located along the banks of Bhaga river and is obviously more scenic than Keylong. Jispa also gives a high altitude acclimatisation as it is at an altitude of over 10,800 ft. As one of our fellow writers Ajay Jain from kunzum.com says that Jispa is more of a destination than just a halt on Manali-Leh highway. It Indeed is. You move ahead after crossing Darcha and reach Patsio. Darcha is more of a police check post where every vehicle has to make a entry before moving further ahead.
Patsio is also fast emerging as a camping destination. It is higher at 12,300 ft and there is a small glacial lake named Deepak Tal.
Between Darcha and Patsio are few running streams which have to be crossed. One of them just before Patsio is particularly tricky one to negotiate as the flow of water is forceful and it doesn’t lets you judge the stones and pebbles correctly. So, though it is not deep, but crossing this on stones makes it tricky and as happened with me, I got struck in the middle of the stream. It took me a lot of effort to pull my bike out, and that particular moment I thought… is it foolish to be all alone here!
Further ahead, the next zing of the route is truly Zing Zing Bar. Another of pit stops. Benefit of going in September is also that, you get less number of streams to cross, otherwise Zing zing bar is famous for one of its ferocious nullahs. It is a refuelling depot for BRO vehicles, but also has some shacks, restaurants and a few camps. The name of the place is still a puzzle form me. But mind it, that many places enroute have been named by the army troops in all these years.
And then you reach Suraj Tal, just below the Baralacha La. Suraj Tal is quite below the road and it is not easy to reach there. You need time as you have to trek down upto the lake and then come again to continue with the journey. Not feasible for all those who are on thorough trip to next stop over. But those who stay at either Patsio or Zingzing Bar can afford to go upto Suraj Tal. For some strange reason army has renamed the Suraj Tal as Vishal Taal in memory of an young officer who died in this region.
You can also watch a video of Baralacha La, Suraj Tal and Deepak Tal on my channel on YouTube by clicking the link below-
From Baralacha La the road goes down to a small settlement named Bharatpur. Roads and the weather are so unpredictable here that you never know, what happens next. What certainly is predictable is the beauty of landscape around. As we see in the images below.
Not everything goes as per the plan though. When I had left in the morning from Keylong, target was to reach Sarchu and if possible Pang. As happened with me when all of sudden after Bharatpur and just before Killing Sarai, I encountered a mighty landslide which forced an unscheduled night stopover at Bharatpur. A shack owner coming from the spot stopped me on the way and informed me about the incident. He also offered to come back and stay in his restaurant for the night. I still thought to see for myself and kept moving till the spot which was further one kilometre. Finally I could see it myself. That happened just a short while ago and workers already working on the road were miraculously saved. One of the JCB machine was buried under the rocks. I spent some time talking to the workers and photographing. I was told that there was no chance of clearing of the traffic before night. Bigger JCB machines were yet to arrive from Killing Sarai on the other side.
Turning back from the landslide, I reached back to the four shacks lined up side by side along the road. All of them were almost designed in similar fashion. Beds lined up on both sides in the front portion and then kitchen and store on the back. Makeshift pit toilets were on the back of the shack. River was further 50 metres behind.
Early close to the day gave me some time to roam around, enjoy the beauty, take photographs and also time to read, write and interact. As, soon the number of stranded vehicles had increased. It seemed that all the beds in all four shacks had already been booked up. That tiny camp site has been brought to life because of that landslide.
You can also see the video of this journey from Keylong to Bharatpur on my channel by clicking the link below-
Having completed the Chandratal mission, I had to be back to Leh route. So, it had to be the same route back till Gramphoo. But in place like Himalayas, riding on a same route gives you different feeling every time. Chandratal indeed was an accomplishment, a sort of dream coming true. But still, Leh was my destiny.
Gramphoo to Keylong is a straight forward route. But owing to widening or repair of roads, it has gone tough at many places, sort of dangerous at times.
There are numerous landslide zones on the whole route and, at many places either roads are being widening or repaired to prevent landslides. This is a vicious circle, as widening causes further adverse impact on hills and the ecosystem. Well, for riders and drivers, they are immediate challenge as well.
Clouds were chasing me as soon as I had left Batal. They finally caught me up by the time I reached Khoksar. But since my final destination for the day, Keylong was not far away, hence instead of driving in rains, I decided to take a tea and maggi break.
Roads are largely good after Khoksar till Keylong, except for some rough patches.
Before Keylong there are two another beautiful stopovers- one at Sissu which is now soon to get a water park close to Chandra River on the roadside.
And then there is Tandi, which is actually confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers which convert into Chandrabhaga or Chenab river and flow towards Kashmir. Tandi is 7 kilometres before Keylong and is also the last filling station before Leh. That’s the place where all vehicles will fill their tanks to reach Leh securely.
But overall an enjoyable ride, nevertheless. So lets go on this virtual ride to Keylong enroute Leh. You can watch the video of this ride from Chandratal to Keylong on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Chandratal to Gramphoo: 65 kms, Time taken 4 hours 40 minutes.
Gramphoo to Khoksar: 5 Kms
Khoksar ro Keylong: 47 kms, Time taken just about 2 hours.
Total distance covered: 117 kms.
We will now move to more challenging and more beautiful ride ahead. Keep tuned in!!
Please feel free to share the post, but not so free to copy and paste!!
We are on a virtual ride to Lahaul & Spiti valley. Every rider or driver or adventurer enthusiast going to Leh or Kaza is very much keen to know about the road conditions on these arguably two of the most fascinating road journeys in the world.
Its a journey, everybody would like to embark upon. So, here is a first hand experience of the trip, which I have broken down into different segments, or we may say shorter distances to give a more detailed overview of the trip.
In the earlier parts of the journey, we have travelled from Manali to Gramphoo, then Gramphoo to Chatru and Chatru to Batal. Now after spending some time with Chacha-Chachi of Chandra Dhaba at Batal, we move towards Chandratal. Once we cross river Chandra after Batal, there is an uphill drive.
After a couple of kilometres, there is a diversion. Road uphill goest o Kunzum pass and then to Kaza. While road straight goes to Chandratal. Its is a pretty straight forward route after that along the Chandra river in the vast expanse of the valley.
Its a beautiful journey but road condition is pretty much the same as has been from Chatru to Batal. Its a bumpy ride to say the least with a couple of running streams to cross. Flow of water in the streams will depend on the timing of the journey. Enjoyable journey upto the camping area near Chandratal lake. These streams look quite easy ones but pebbles below the water sometime make it tricky to maintain the balance of the luggage loaded bike. SO one has to be extremely careful.
In my last post on this trip, I had mentioned that how tough the terrain is and how hostile weather can be here. With the interiors of valley difficult to reach, it makes the rescue operations in any event of crisis very challenging. Hence there is also a helipad and control station after Batal on way to Chandratal. But this one is across the Chandra river on other side.
You can watch the video of this road journey on clicking the link below:
Big flat valley provides an ample space for camping. First couple of camps actually are half a kilometre before the main camping site. Main camping site is right on the base of the uphill route towards Chandratal Lake.
Camping at an altitude of around 4200 metres is a fascinating experience.
Till some years back, camping site near Chandratal Lake had just one camp. Now there are many camps and more than 150 tents for adventurers to stay. They are run by different local operators though.
Tents are good, clean, cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfast. Most of the prices of the tents include stay with meals (generally breakfast and dinner).
You can watch the video of this camping site on clicking the link below:
This place is culmination for many treks as well as base camp for many expeditions to nearby peaks. Adventurers mostly come here to see Chandratal Lake. Many bikers will just visit the lake and then move ahead towards Kaza or Manali. I stayed here overnight in Tenzin camp and made two visits to lake- one in the afternoon and another in early next morning. If you stay here overnight, than you can also enjoy beautiful sunrise here in the morning, like this one-
Both these peaks are favourite among mountaineers seeking an experience of 6000 metre climb. These expeditions are also done from the Batal.
Having covered Chandratal Lake, now we will turn back on the same way upto Gramphoo and from there turn towards Keylong on way to Leh.
I was heading towards Chandratal lake. I had no intention to go towards Kaza as I had already travelled to Kaza some time back. From Chatru I had a very tough ride to Batal. As I said earlier, Batal is a very important stopover. Once you cross the river Chandra at Batal and move uphill, there is a diversion. One road further up takes you to Kunzum top and then to Kaza in Spiti valley. Another road takes you deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal. We will travel that distance next time. This time we are just talking about Batal.
Batal is located at farther end of a wide fat valley. Valley narrows at this point and then again widens up towards Chandratal after a few kilometres. It also gets important as there is tough climb upto Kunzum pass after here. Chandratal is also further 14 kilometres from here. Hence it makes a good resting point and have some food and fun. But it is also a good place to stay overnight.
Batal now has a few dhabas. Some time back there was only one- Chandra Dhaba. Actually Batal has now got associated closely with Chandra Dhaba, both of them have acquired a sort of legendary status. Chandra Dhaba, more so because of its owners Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo.
44 years is not a small period and this ever-loved couple fondly called as Chacha-chachi has been running Chandra Dhaba for last 44 years at one of the most difficult terrains in the world in most hostile conditions, weather and poor connectivity. Its not a mean business. They do it for the love of their work and this place. They have been providing adventurers- bikers, drivers, passengers, trekkers, et.al. with food and shelter for all this long in their very humble and jovial way. But not just this, they have also been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.
This extraordinary couple is now part of many adventure folklores for decades and deservingly enough, have also been recognised with many awards, including Godfrey Philips bravery award. You can also a watch a video of a candid chat with Chacha Dorje Bodh by clicking on the link below-
Now few more dhabas have come round, although Chandra Dhaba still retains its premier status. In this region, all dhabas also double up as night shelters for the travellers. They are very handy for all those, who have to make emergency halts because of either getting late or adverse weather conditions. Travellers also make scheduled halts at these dhabas when they don’t want to carry tents with them.
These dhabas are descent place to stay. Mostly there will be beds inside the dhaba on one side, like a dormitory. Dhaba owners will be providing the sleeping bags and blankets. Since the dhaba and the kitchen will also be inside in the same area, therefore it will be cozy and warm in the night, while it would be freezing cold outside. Dhabas provide the breakfast and meals.
For all those, who love extreme adventure, there is plenty of place around to pitch tents and enjoy starry nights. Besides, there is also a PWD rest house in Batal, just opposite the Chandra Dhaba, and also some igloo shaped fibreglass fabricated forest huts.
Buses going from Manali or Keylong to Kaza also stop here for some time. Truckers with essential supplies of the region will always make a halt here. Actually earlier, when there was no road connectivity to Chandratal then, people will make Batal as the base and then trek to Chandratal. Even today, whenever that road is blocked, or just for adventure, people will trek for 14 kms from Batal to Chandratal. There are people who will take a bus from Manali, get down at Batal, trek to Chandratal and come back, and then they will either take another bus to Kaza or back to Manali.
Batal is at an altitude of 3910 metres and it is located in a very hostile terrain. This place remains inhabited for almost six months from April end to October end. Rest of the time it remind inaccessible and even reaching through helicopters might be tough task during winters. Even during so-called summer months of adventure season, occasionally there might be heavy snowfall leading to road blockades. One should always be prepared physically and mentally for any eventuality.
But once you are here the beauty of the nature only steels the resolve to go further.
In the last episode of Himalayan Rides, we (me and my readers) travelled from Gramphoo to Chatru on way to Chandratal. Now we are travelling from Chatru to Batal. Batal is a very important stopover. Once you move ahead of Batal there is a diversion. A road uphill takes you to Kunzum pass and then to Kaza in Spiti valley and another one moves deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal.
Its a very small stretch in terms of the total ride but still I thought to devote a full post to this, as this one was very important in letting me know what to expect on the way ahead and what I need to do to keep myself better prepared.
Batal is just 31 kilometres from Chatru. Chhota Dara is 17 kms from Chatru and Batal is another 14 kms from there. But this 31 kms journey is no pushover, as it tests your riding skills. The route might not be too tough for four wheelers but it is tough one for bikes, specially the stretch from Chatru to Chhota Dara as at many places you have to ride through boulders and stones. This stretch can take a heavy toll on your vehicles, so keep them fit for it. There are few running streams to be crossed and one or two of them can be tricky for the first timers, more so if you don’t want to put your feet into the water.
Chota Dara: On paper this is a village, but there are only stones and stones around. A PWD pesthouse is there. Then there is also a Spiti Valley Dhaba on the way, which can provide you with some tents to stay and also breakfast and meals.
I had a bit of uneasy experience on water crossing on the stretch. Actually, it was the first tricky one of the trip. I had brought a pair of water and snow proof shoes with me. But in the morning when I was packing the things at Chatru, I found that the sole of my both the shoes have not just only ripped off, but broken into pieces beyond any kind of repair. I actually tried to use the puncture solution to fix it but it only worsened. There was no alternative other than to how them. With heavy heart, I discarded them to dustbin. They had come to me all the way from Geneva, Switzerland.
But now there was an immediate problem for me. Till Chatru, I had not required to cross any stream, hence I didn’t fell any requirement for waterproof shoes and I carried on in my sports shoes. Now, if I required them then I can get a new pair only at Keylong. Till then I had to make sure that I don’t let my sports shoes get wet.
And, I had a testing time just immediately. After I crossed Chota Dara, there was a stream flowing down from the mountains, crossing the road over to Chandra River. It was a tricky one as it was spread wide and it was tough for me to gauge the depth. Though, I was sure that it was not too deep but I had to ensure that I cross it smoothly so that I don’t have to touch me feet anywhere in between. Since I was bit weary of the stones and pebbles under the water, I was bit indecisive for more than a minute on which side to cross the stream. Luckily for me, a truck came from the behind and as it crossed the stream, I got an idea of the actual depth and concentration of stones, making it easier for me to follow and cross, that I finally did. Was I going to be equally lucky everytime till Keylong? Only time will tell.
You can also see the video of this journey and my experience of crossing the stream by clicking below-
But it is definitely thoroughly enjoying as we pass through the beautiful Chandra Valley with snow-capped mountains all around from Indrasan, Deo Tibba, Ali Khan Tibba, White Sail, Papsura peaks and ranges. There is also a trek from Manikaran that brings to Chota Dara by crossing the Sara Umga pass. Stunning beauty around was actually reward for the tough ride.
You can cover this stretch of 31 kms in about three hours, depending on your riding skills as well as on time you give yourself to enjoy the surroundings. Early morning departure from Chatru will give you good time at Batal to eat and enjoy.
From Gramphoo one road leads to Keylong and then towards Leh and another one towards Kunzum Pass and then to Kaza. There is also stark difference between roads on the two sides. Keylong-Leh road is the sort of expressway compared to this one. Road from Gramphoo to Chatru passes through narrow valley along the Chandra river. However once you cross the Chatru village, Chandra valley widens up.
While moving towards Chatru there are a couple of water falls on the road. They don’t pose any problems for the four wheelers and these ones are not even tricky for two-wheelers as well. But you never know when it is raining heavily, they might pose some difficulties. It is better to be careful as situations will be different in different months and it can always change very rapidly.
Route from Gramphoo to Chatru is comparatively enjoyable because of roads, landscape and bit of inhabitation. Actually one can also say that because of some what better road, this stretch gives you an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings.
Widening and work on roads is a constant process here. Also the whole area is being connected through OFC network, hence you will always find either BRO or other PWD teams on work at short distances.
Networks: In the above image, you can see bulldozers camped at a distance. This spot is around eight kilometres before from Chatru. It is said that while going from Gramphoo to Chatru, this is the last spot where you might be able to connect to a mobile network (that too just BSNL). As soon as you move ahead of this point, you will not find any networks on your mobiles upto Chandratal or Kunzum pass.
Once we reach Chatru, we cross on the Chandra river to the other side.
Chatru is next village from Gramphoo towards Kunzum Pass. Located at an altitude of 3300 metres, Chatru is 17 kms from Gramphoo and in the perspective this stretch from Gramphoo to Chatru has the better roads in comparison to other stretches towards Batal, Chandratal and Kunzum pass.
Actually it is tough to call Chatru even a village. There had never been a permanent village here. It was a base for nomadic tribes and shepherds. Chatru is also an important base as normally this is where Hampta Pass trek will end, if one does not include Chandratal in it. On the other side of river there is a plenty of grounds for camping. Just along the bridge are two restaurants. They have been here for many decades now. Actually for commuters these two restaurants (another one is coming near by) are what Chatru is all about.
Night Shelter: As with whole of this route in Spiti or Lahaul valley, dhabas also double up for night shelter
In the above image, you can see the Chandra dhaba with a tent. Front portion of the tent works as store and kitchen and on the other end are beds for commuters to stay. They provide bed and blankets.
Another dhaba is the Prem dhaba that you can see in the image above. This has got more space. On the right is the kitchen and the eating area, while what we see right in front (where you can see my bike parked) is a pucca garage with many beds inside. This shelter prevents better from cold of the night. Besides these two (or may be three this year) dhabas, Chatru also has a PWD rest house where tourists can stay subject to availability of rooms. This PWD rest house is around three-quarter of a kilometre further ahead on a uphill diversion from the main road. Rest house has two sets, but doesn’t have a water supply or electricity. Actually, owner of Prem Dhaba is also the caretaker of this PWD rest house. Normally travellers will prefer (even he too will prefer) to stay at Prem Dhaba only, as it has more space, food, running water and some solar light. Secondly PWD rest house is off the route, while these two dhabas are right on the road.
Satellite connect: Since I had no prior information about (non) availability of networks here or the above mentioned spot with last signals of connectivity, I was desperate to get in touch after I reached Chatru. Also, because I had lost half day due to NGT permit issue requirement at Gulaba, my schedule was in haywire. I reached Chatru in evening tired. Originally I had planned to end the day at Chandratal. Hence I asked the owner of Prem Dhaba about any chance of connectivity. It was he who told me about the spot some seven kilometres back. I was in no mood to ride back to make a call and then come back here. It was than he told me about a satellite phone uphill in the village.
There was a agro unit uphill, which actually formed the core of Chatru village. I went to PWD rest house, parked my bike there and jumped a few walls to reach to take a path towards some houses and a shed inside the fields. There was a agro unit which produced different crops here in the valley- peas, potatoes and few others and then packed and transported them to other areas. That unit had a satellite phone in its premises, services of which they also lend to commuters for a charge. I was able to make a call back home from there and actually at such height in these conditions it cost me just negligible to make a comfortable call. I might not be able to recollect precisely, but I made call for less than thirty rupees from there.
My search for the satellite phone also gave me a bit of insight about this place. This valley is said to have one of the best quality of peas and potatoes produced in the entire region. The owner of the agro unit (his is the only private owner of such unit in whole valley) had more than 100 acres of land. He had a fairly descent set-up with a big house for himself (with water and solar lights) as well as place for his staff (of more than 50) to stay, and a power generating unit for his unit to process and pack the agri produce. That was an interesting story in itself.
It has been a long gap from the blog, for almost twenty days owing to a dream trip on my loving bike to some dream destinations of Lahaul & Spiti. Whatever one may say, it is one trip that for most of the travellers will rank quite high above any other in terms of sheer thrill and adventure. And so was it for me. So, basic motive of the trip was to attend the Naropa 2016 but than it was always just a pretext. Biking to Leh was the implicit story. And, first highlight of the journey was indeed the Chandratal Lake. It was a dream fulfilled. Just the image below can tell it why. Isn’t it.
Located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 4270 metres, this is one of the most popular and visited high altitude lake in India. Its captivating beauty has made Chandratal a popular destination for trekkers and campers. This natural lake is about one km in length, half km in breadth at its widest part and has a circumference of 2.5 km. The total area of the wetland is about 49 ha. The lake owes its name either to the fact that it is the source of the river Chandra, or by virtue of its crescent moon like shape. It is surrounded by the mountain ranges of Moulkila and Chandrabhaga. You can images of few of the peaks of Moulkila range below.
The clean water of the lake with small marshy patches around attracts many migratory birds. Important species among them are Snow cock, Chukar, Black winged stilt, Brahmni duck, Golden eagle and Chugh, Hoopoe, Yellow Headed Wagtail, Jungle crow, Blue rock pigeon, Common rose finch, Black Redstart, Short toed Eagle, Common Sandpiper, Teal, Magpie Robin etc. The important wild life species found in the region are Marmota Bobak, Snow leopard, Red fox, Snow wolf, Capra ibex, Blue sheep and Lynx etc. Migratory birds were yet to arrive when I visited the lake and to spot the other wildlife, one has to be extremely lucky.
I paid my first visit to Chandratal, immediately after reaching the camp in the afternoon. Lake is said to look quite differently during different times of day. These are few images from the afternoon-
But then, the real charm of the lake is in the early morning when water is more still and light is just perfect for water to reflect the surroundings. The reflections of peaks and mountains around the lake in the crystal clear water of Chandratal is simply magical. You can see for yourself.
The first set of images are just before the sunlight touches the lake-
And then, see just how the view transforms, as soon as the sunlight is all over there on the lake-
You can just be there for hours or even more… lost in the fascinating atmosphere. But as soon as the day rises and wind starts blowing, the stillness of the water is disturbed and reflections start getting blurred. That is why, you don’t get any reflections post afternoon.
Staying: A lot has changed in the past few years around the Chandratal region. Adventurers now have plenty of staying options and all of them are camps. Until a few years back, there used to be just a few tents at the camping site. But now there are more than 150 tents in all run by different camping operators. Tents are good, clean and cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfasts. Most of the prices of the tents included meals (preferably breakfast and dinner).
Weather: At this altitude, it has to be cold- whatever time of year you go there. In the peak season time, it could be warm in the day when the sun is out, but things change rather quickly as soon as sun sets or even when there is a cloud cover. It can be chilly when the wind blows. At this altitude, there can be a snowfall at anytime of the year. So, never drop your guards… never. See, even in September I had a lot of frost deposited on my bike the next morning and stored water on the campsites had a layer of ice over them.
Chandratal is one of the wetlands in country which have been included in Ramsar Convention, hence there is no activity allowed around the lake. Camping sites are good three kilometres away from the lake. Then there is a parking lot around one and a half kilometre before the lake. From there, one has to trek to lake. Alternatively, one can also trek directly from the camping site to the lake. And probably that’s all for good. We need to save the ecology of the place.
How to reach: Reaching Chandratal is only possible when Rohatng-La or Kunjam-La is open for traffic. Adventurers going to Lahaul or Spiti valley try their best to be at Chandratal, as it is something not to be missed. While going from the Manali side, 16 kilometres from Rohtang Top is Gramphoo. Here roads divide for Lahaul and Spiti valleys. Around 48 kilometres from Gramphoo is Batal. Around two kilometres from Batal after crossing river Chandra, there is another diversion. One of the road takes to the Spiti Valley via Kunzum Pass, which is 14 kilometres from this junction. Another road on the left takes to Chandratal which is 12 kilometres from this junction. Alternatively, one can reach Spiti via Shimla and Kaza and then reach Chandratal after crossing Kunzum pass. Road from Gramphoo to Chandratal via Batal on Manali side and then from Losar to Chandratal via Kunzum pass on the Kaza side are bad and be prepared for some dirt tracks, boulders. It can be quite challenging drive on this route, specially when there are lots of water crossings to negotiate. If you are early in the season, then quite a fair amount of snow will also be there. So be prepared according to the weather and timing of the visit.
Trekking: One can trek to Chandratal from Kunzum pass directly. It is roughly a eight kilometre trek. Then there is also all-famous three day trek from Surajtal (from where river Bhaga originates) to Chandratal (from where river Chandra originates).
When to go: As I said, approaching Chandratal depends completely on the opening of two passes – Rohtang and Kunzum. That happens in early June and lasts till end of October. Actually, closing of roads depends on snowfall. Roads can get closed earlier, if there is an early snowfall. September is probably the best time to go. During August-September you can find the meadows around the lake and camping sites, carpeted with various types of wildflowers.
(You can write to me if you need any further details.)