As we lay down that night without a wink of sleep, the events of the day seemed to be someone else’s story. From disappointment to joy to deep contentment and awe, we had gone through a circle of contrasting emotions. Thinking back, maybe the Chandratal Lake didn’t change its color and all we saw was our emotions reflected in it.
“Bhaiyya Chai Piyoge?” Care for some tea? This would’ve sounded natural at our urban hometowns but at a tea stall 14,000 feet up in the Spiti valley and about 2 mountains from the nearest human settlement, not so much. Chacha, provides tents, woollens and meals to the 100 odd weary, unprepared travellers visiting here every season. He sits about half a Km from the parking lot near Chandratal Lake, which is called so because of its access to a motorable road. His goods, though not the pashminas which the region is home to, serve their purpose well.
Tip: Spiti and Leh Ladakh Tourism have similar terrains and both offer stunning views and opportunities for trekking. However Ladakh is better for families and new adventurers given its infrastructure and accessibility while spiti works out better for backpackers / independent travellers.
After a fairly breezy 20 minute trek from the stall, even with our backpacks on, our first glimpse of the lake was disappointing. The muddy green colour of Chandratal lake, although beautiful, was different to the much vivid sea green we’d seen in pictures. Much later as we lay down near the edge of the lake after exploring its circumference, we realized that the colors which kept changing from aquamarine blue to muddy green to a sea green hue throughout the day was an effect of the sun’s position and not our tired eyes.
Approaching the lake however, the still clear water and the reflection on it gave it a feeling of a looking glass to a whole different world and we decided to pitch our tent there. A quick dip in the inviting water soon after, reminded us of its proximity to the snow peaked mountains as the freezing water sent jolts of numbness with our every movement. The sun overhead seemed to be laughing at us with its contrasting warmth which only seemed to increase during our walk around the lake.
We spotted the other end of the Chandratal lake, a few hours into our walk and stumbled across a group of middle aged females who should’ve travelled quite a distance to fill their pots. They greeted us with wide smiles and hummed some local songs while they got back to their task. A few unsuccessful tries at mimicking the tune, we found them teaching it to us. The local legends talk of the fairies of the lake who we might’ve mistaken them to be were it not for a chance video taken at the scene. After all fairies cannot be captured on camera, or can they? The tunes remain as elusive to grasp but the vivid memories remain.
If you like the mountains you will like our Darjeeling Guide as well.
On our way back as we approached our tents, a shepherd and his three dogs greeted us. Passing on a warning of leopard attacks nearby, just the night before, he recommended moving our tent and invited us to pitch our tent near his home. Deciding that a location with a hot meal seemed a much better option, we politely declined. Wrapping up, we huffed and puffed as we carried our tents to the camp near the parking lot and informed Chacha that we would be having dinner with him and hurried off to the sanctuary of our tents to shield us from the increasingly chilly winds. After a few sips for warmth when we headed out, we found ourselves in complete darkness and biting cold with only our torchlight for support. Our resolution of never being too far from a food source sure came handy.
The meal at the tent was simple potato curry with rice and lentils but after a long day out with next to no food in us, we gulped it down hungrily. Our host was a great storyteller who told us about the nomadic Gaddi Shepherds, to which he belonged. His stories about his family and his day to day survival in this cold desert were simple but as with the meal, it was perfect for the situation given how alone we felt even with each other for company. The real battle was heading back to the tent with the almost alien blackness surrounding us. The entire journey back, we silently thanked the kind shop keeper in Kaza, who had recommended buying the torch, a must if you’re contemplating spending the night at the pitch dark Chandratal Lake.
Suddenly someone shouted, “Upar dekho!” Look up! After the few moments it took for our searching eyes to adjust, we were completely entranced. The blanket of countless stars covering the entire sky, swirling into each other along an invisible path seemed ethereal. We’re told that the Milky Way has that kind of effect on first timers, especially for city dwellers. This rare sight brought with it feelings of awe and wonder of how insignificant our worldly problems are and how lucky we were to be here seeing this.
The luxuries we take for granted at home were nowhere to be found in this cold desert but we still felt as refreshed as after a day at a spa. The day highlighted the contrast between the life back home and the chance encounters at this peaceful haven; if we could just live this day for the rest of our lives, maybe our epitaphs would read a life well spent.
Rishabh: This was a guy’s only trip taken with Shantanu, Yajant & Karan. A life changing trip indeed
Nirali: Considering that he took a couple of MAJOR – read life changing decisions (including marrying me) right after this trip, there is definitely some magic at play here!
Via Car/Bike: Hire a vehicle from Manali or Kaza. Alternatively, drive till Kunzum-La, for a shorter downhill trail to Chandratal Lake.
Public Transport: Take the Kaza-bound State Transport bus from Manali and get off at Batal, a fairly level 14km trek to Chandratal Lake on a clear track.
Staying there: You can carry your own tents or rent it from camp owner at Chandratal Lake. He generally sets shop from May to October. There is no options for food except the camp so carry some cooked/dry snacks for emergencies.
Read: our guide to a mind blowing Rajasthan Roadtrip in Monsoons