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Published: September 22nd 2008
As summer approaches, and the plains heat up, the season for Himalayan treks begin. Usually most of the well-known treks in the Garhwal, Kumaon, Himachal regions are accessible between the months of May to September. Since May we were ready to hit the trail as soon as any of them become accessible. The information from the Himachal tourism office in Manali confirmed that Rohtang pass, gateway to the Lahaul-Spiti region, would be opened up around May 15. This date usually varies depending on the severity of the last winter. We were advised to plan any trip not before June first week. So it was - we planned our trek to Chandratal lake on the first weekend of June. Bharat flew in from Bangalore, and from Delhi four of us were there - Nilanjan, Dipanjan, Himanshu and me.
Planning the trip turned out to be quite a breeze, thanks to this website www.indiamike.com. I got the name of the guy who rents out all trekking equipment at dirt cheap rates. The equipments may not be of premium quality, but given the choices one has, I would recommend him. You can call him up at his rental shop at Chirag Dilli (in
South Delhi) - Bhagwan Singh (09350225713 ). There was nothing more critical to procure from Delhi other than the tents, sleeping bags, mats and rucksacks. The rest can be easily arranged at Manali. In fact, as we found out later that it is possible to arrange the equipments also at Manali, but in the peak trekking season it is advisable to check beforehand and confirm the rentals, and save trouble and time. In Manali, we met Yugraj Mahant who arranged everything for us, starting from porter, guide to rations, and cooking requirements. He runs the “World of Adventure” and send him a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 098160-83448 to work things out a priori.
Reaching Manali from Delhi is a grueling journey. There are no easy train routes to reach Manali. The best affordable option are the buses that run daily in large numbers in the evening, and after 14 to 16 hours drops you at Manali. There used to be some sleeper class buses, but I recommend taking the Volvo semi-sleeper buses. To my knowledge they have now stopped the sleeper buses, leaving only one option for traveling to Manali. Manali to Chandratal
Chandratal is deep inside
the Spiti valley at an altitude of 4300 meters. There are two routes to reach Chandratal. One is a 13 km, relatively gentle trek, from Batal, which is the trail head. The other one is from Kunzum-La, from where it is a shorter trail to Chandratal and all downhill. The road to Kunzum-La crosses Batal allowing one to start from Kunzum-La, where the car can drop you off, and finish at Batal, where the car can pick you up.
We reached Manali around 10 in the morning. It was a tiring ride, but according to our plan we had to head for Batal as soon as possible. Batal is around 100 km from Manali, crosses the Rohtang pass en route, and continues till Grampo on the famed Manali-Leh highway. Despite our best efforts, and all the help from Yugraj-ji, we could not manage to start from Manali before 2 pm. Our guide Gupatram-ji and porter Premlal told us that it might be difficult to reach Batal before sunset, and we were ready to pitch tents for the night somewhere in between. There are quite a few camping grounds on the way to Batal.
The camping grounds are nothing more
than green fields by the river, and what more do you want when you are equipped to stay in the midst of nature.
Our first exciting moment was when we reached Rohtang pass. This is one of the highest motorable passes in India, and remains closed during winter due to snow. The border roads organization (BRO) carves out the road beginning of summer by cutting through the feet of snow that collects there. Our car drove through walls of ice on either side and over little streams that were formed from the melting ice. The view Rohtand is gorgeous as on one side are high ranges and on the other side one can catch sight of the green Spiti valley stretched for miles till the horizon. The Lahaul-Spiti region is in a rain shadow region. Hence you can expect to catch picture-book blue sky often with patches of white clouds - scenes right out of photography magazines ready to be shot. After a few customary shots of each one at Rohtang, we headed into the Spiti valley. From here the road goes down towards Grampo, from where one road continues towards Leh, and we turned towards the road leading
to Kazaa. On the way is Batal.
By the time we reached Chhatru, it was getting dark, and we saw a fairly big campsite with quite a few tents already pitched over there. A dhaba was also there which meant that we wont need to do our cooking for that night. Till now I have said little about Premlal, our porter. He gets paid only 300 rupess per night, but when you have someone as efficient as him with you on any, it feels like divine blessing. He was on his toes all through the trip without any show of fatigue whatsoever. He would always be 100 paces ahead of us, and was carrying double the load on any of us. As soon as we reached Chhatru, Premlal took care of pitching the tents, even before we had finished our tea at the dhaba. There was nothing much left to do but crash early after the typical rajma-chawal dinner that these dhabas specialize in.
Our guide Gupta-ji took care to wake us up quite early. For a few in the team it was a first to use the natures toilet, and it did create quite a bit of
dilly-dallying before they could reconcile with the reality. But we were quick to start off for Batal. On the way to Batal, one crosses Chhota Dara, which is another spot to pitch tents. All the while the Chandra river flows alongside. There are green meadows and swamps with sheep and horses grazing. It is a treat for ones eyes. Batal was not far from Chhatru. A short stop at Batal, and then the car takes you another 1-km from where the trail starts. Although we found out that cars do go on this trail till Chandratal, I would any day prefer the idea of walking; a look at the road would convince you that it is better to trust your legs more than the wheels, and you would never want to watch this grandeur in a fast forward mode sitting in a car. The car headed towards Kunzum-La from where we planned to catch it back the next day. Chandratal
The Chandratal trek is rated moderate by most people. It truly is. Along with it when you can feast your eyes with the unparalleled beauty of this landscape, unique in many respect compared to the other Himalayan treks, the
walk becomes a pleasure. The clear blue sky and the rugged brown rolling mountains, almost treeless, form a picture perfect image. This landscape goes on for miles interspersed with lush green meadows, and the sparkling Chandra river down below. Along the trail there are several tiny streams, mostly from the melting snow. Some of them are little bigger than the others, and we had to sometimes wade through the ankle deep icy cold water. There were two such little crossings, and it somewhat added to the adventure quotient. Otherwise there was not much in terms of the trek. On the way there is one stretch called the Samudra Tapu, which is a expansive stretch of dry grassland. After crossing this, Chandratal is not far. But we did not know how far it was, and our guide kept the suspense alive. Finally, we reached a little summit-like point; as we reached it the gorgeous emerald colored lake emerged nestled between the hills. All of us were first speechless in wonder at the sight of this beautiful lake, which we had seen so many times in picture before. I would never have believed that it could really be as beautiful and out-of-the-world
Memorial at Batal
This was where a woman trekking team had died due to flash flood
if I had not seen it with my own eyes.
Premlal as always was hundred steps ahead of us. Pitching tent, putting the cooking arrangements in place happened without us even noticing; we were too engrossed in soaking in the beauty of the place. Not all of us. Some of us had started getting a bad headache. First we feared that it could be AMS, although later it turned out to be a result of bad parathas we had for lunch. One lesson gathered from this was try avoiding stale parathas for meals. Dinner was much better with gupta-ji showing us his culinary skills, and making warm dal-chawal for us.
The lake is about 2-3 km in circumference. In the evening light it had caught on beautiful shades of blue and green. I went alone on a walk around the lake. Halfway down the track, the snow-capped peaks at a distance start to show up. In the fading lights it sparkles like crowns. The Prussian blue shade of the lake with a backdrop of these peaks is a photograher’s delight. Do not miss the walk around the lake. A fellow camper told me that if there is snow
on the hills adjacent to the lake, then it adds another dimension to this scenery. I have to come back later to enjoy that. As you reach the other side of the lake (from where people pitch their tents), there is a marshy stretch. Here number of small streams flow into the Chandratal Lake. Take caution while you cross this stretch. I was stuck at one point while crossing one of the streams, and had to take look for a suitable crossing. But nothing should prevail on you from enjoying this lake from all around. The only regret I have is I did not get the typical picture of the lake with the reflections on its crystal clear water, since next morning turned out cloudy.
The camping by the lake was yet another lifetime experience. It was a full-moon night and the reflections on the ripples is beyond words to describe. In the entire valley there were only the 10 of us - 7 from our group and 3 from another group. It was quite chilly, specially because of an icy wind that had started blowing since sundown. We sat huddled for quite a while inside the kitchen tent
cars can follow the same route, but it is too scary
listening to stories from Gupta-ji - his adventures of Pin-Parvati, and other treks.
Next day began with all sorts of change in our plan. We had heard from a local who came from the Kunzum-La route that there is ice on the track, and we will have to brave some ice crossing. Gupta-ji was upbeat that no ice crossing is tough enough. Well, for a person who had done the Pin-parvati trek Kunzum-La is a walk in the neighborhood park, but we failed to muster the courage to brave it. So back we went towards Batal. But Gupta-ji is a person as he confessed is a person who hate to take the same route back. So we were on a different trail, less comfortable than the one we had taken earlier, but equally beautiful. The trail was strewn with pebbles and rocks. Nilanjan twisted his ankle badly on this stretch, but he managed to hobble back to Batal after some first-aid.
More surprises were waiting for us. Our car, if you remember was waiting for us at Kunzum-La. Our good Samaritan Premlal had started ahead of us, and went up to Kunzum-la to get the car back. But it
was really long and there was no sign of car or Premlal. Anxiety levels were at the brim when finally the car came. It had fallen into a ditch along the roadside, and without Premlal the driver would not have rescued the situation.
Little adventures were over. Although late, we headed straight for Manali. Late in the night, around 10 pm we came back to Manali and settled into a hotel. The usual ritual after any trek followed -- reminiscing the moments, taking care of the sore legs, gorging on food, and finally losing oneself into a satisfied slumber. I wish Manali was a bit closer to Delhi. We would be coming down every weekend for a trek into this magnificient wilderness.
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