Chandratal – Blue Lake Of Lahaul Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

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Chandratal Lake Lahual Spiti Himachal PradeshChandratal also called Chandra Taal, Chandra Tal, was almost towards the end of our itinerary in Himachal, before we reached the urban center of Manali. Our bodies were showing signs of tiredness. Mountains were enchanting and we were beginning to get used to them and the pace of life there. We were enjoying our lonely long drives passing through tough terrains. Sometimes barren and sometimes full of flowers, listening to the flow of rivers and meeting people off and on. Chandratal was the highest point we would stay at on this journey. I have always been captivated by the moon. So the name of the lake that literally translates to Moon-Lake kept intriguing me. So did the visuals of it that I had seen before we started the journey.

On way to Chandratal Lake

Drive to Chandratal Lake

We drove from Kaza to Chandratal via Kunzum Pass. Through sprawling meadows with herds of sheep grazing in them along the valleys covered with carpets of yellow and mauve flowers. The last 12 km drive was literally driving on the stones. On a narrow path, that seemed to be tailor-made for the width of our car. Through small streams of water that to me could have swept us with them, if they so desired. There was not a soul to be seen on this path. Only a small board indicated the direction we had to take.

Parasol Tent Camp

It is when we saw the small-tented accommodations from a distance that we knew there are some people. And it is probably the Parasol camp, where we are supposed to stay. It was noontime when we reached the camp and the sun was shining right on top. The tents were so hot that I wanted an air conditioner. Even when I could see the snow capped peaks right in front of my eyes. Our hosts served us simple lunch of Vegetable rice that mind you is a big luxury in that place. By this time we were joined by a big group of bikers from Bangalore. And suddenly the camp was bustling with activity.

Parasol Camp near Chandratal Lake
Parasol Camp near Chandratal Lake

We wanted to relax a bit after the lunch. But our guide recommended that we visit the lake now, as it gets chilly in the evenings. More than that colors of the lake are best seen when the sun is up. So, we bounced back and jumped into the car when our guide looked at us and said – Go wear your socks, cover your head and take your jackets along. In that heat, I did not even want to hear those words. But he insisted almost with a schoolteacher attitude that said – I am not taking you there without these things. I reminded myself of the value of local knowledge and adhered.

Trek to Chandratal lake

After a small but steep drive, we reached a point from where we had to trek about a kilometer or so to reach the lake. Now, I suddenly find myself impatient – not willing to wait for the prized the sight of the lake. The trek was easy though the altitude adds its unease to your breathing. If you keep moving slowly, breathing deeply, it is not at all tough. The valleys leading to Chandratal were filled with flowers. A shepherd was happily sitting in the middle of these flowers as his sheep played in the water below or grazed the grass on the hills.

Chandratal in Spiti valley, Himachal – The Blue Lake.

Chandratal Lake - first sight
First Sight of Chandratal Lake

Chandratal appeared before my eyes like a bowl filled with blue water from a vestibule like opening. Its color was turquoise blue, water was absolutely still – it was difficult to imagine water in that color. As we move closer, we could see the clearer water on its banks and some movement there. Walking to the lake was now an effortless act and I am not sure if I remember the motion of legs as they moved closer to Chandratal. My heart and mind were locked by the visuals in front of me. No matter how many pictures you see of Himalayan lakes, the magic on standing next to them is something no technology can ever replicate for us – at least not as of now.

We climbed the little hill we were walking on. A platform for colorful prayer flags was showing the direction of the wind as the rest of the landscape stood still. A small group of foreigners was camped on the banks. They were entering the lake but thanks to cold water, they could not go much inside the lake. Not a rational thought, but I did not want them to go inside the lake, it felt like a sacrilege. Not sure if this thought came from my religious sensibilities or from the fear of lake losing its purity and pristinely presence.

Chandratal Lake - like a bowl
Does it not look like a bowl – Chandratal Lake

Glacier Rivulets

We walked on the edge of the lake a bit, trying to make out its crescent shape. Quite a few rivulets of glacier water were flowing into the lake. We jumped over some and we walked through some. We sat on a makeshift stone stool to feel the lake. The air was getting chillier. Clouds were moving from one peak to another, casting their shadow on the lake and changing its shades as they moved. At the edges, water was so clear that we could see the layers of smooth stones at its base. It looked liked the lake may be a huge stone layered bowl.

Circumference of Chandratal lake

Out guide told us that the circumference of the lake is about 4 km’s. A lot of people, especially Buddhists take a Parikrama (a clockwise circumambulation) around the lake. Deep inside my heart, I wanted to do the Parikrama of Chandratal but I was not sure of the fitness level of my body. If I can walk 4 km’s at that altitude on a path that would definitely go up and down. Then, something happened and I said, I want to do the Parikrama.

Probably I felt that I might not get this opportunity again to go around this holy lake. I may not come again to this part of Himachal. Or maybe it was the deep ingrained spiritual inclination that pushed me to this decision. But I announced to our guide – Let’s go for Parikrama. My fellow traveler Alka happily joined in. This was not a rational decision. It definitely came from another plane of existence that simply pushed me to get up and move. It was already 4 PM or so and we were told it takes anywhere from 90-120 mins to go around the lake.

Chandratal Lake - Parikrama
Yours truly on Parikrama of Chandratal Lake. Pic courtesy – Alka Kaushik

Chandratal Lake Parikrama.

We started in a clockwise manner, walking on a small Pugdundee around the lake. At places, we met the piles of stones that Buddhist believers put as a way of marking the path for those who follow. Every passerby puts a stone on top, like adding his bit of the good karma. When you pass by these stone, you know you are walking a known trail. And as a mark of your journey add your stone – a very Himalayan way of documenting journeys.

I later learned that these piles of stones are called ‘Ovoos’. The path twisted and turned and we saw the part of Chandratal that was not visible from the edge we began our journey from. We stopped frequently to click pictures but no camera can ever match our eyes. I was drinking that landscape from my eyes, taking it in. I knew it would stay with me forever – as a small part of me, some journeys are meant to be like that. As we reached the other edge of the lake, a vast plain meadow opened before us. As it had rained last night, the ground was wet.

Panorama of Chandratal Lake
Chandratal Lake in Panorama

Shepherds & Sheep’s Herd Mentality.

We again met the shepherd and saw his sheep walking cautiously on the edge of the lake. He told us that he has come all the way from Kangra Valley to feed his sheep. Imagine walking hundreds of kilometers in the Himalayas with 200 odd sheep, just to feed them. It is probably a part of Shepherd’s routine. To roam around in Lahaul & Spiti valley during monsoon months, their way to travel around the Himalayas. Till I met this shepherd, I had never thought they would travel such big distances with their sheep.

Many stories of shepherds from around the world started coming alive in my mind later that evening. I also saw the sheep follow the lead sheep and suddenly the phrase Herd Mentality was there for me to see with my own eyes. In Hindi they call it Bhed Chaal – walk like a sheep, meaning is same as herd mentality. It was a sight to see the see hundreds of sheep follows each other in unison. Without questioning, without applying their mind but happy and peaceful just following the leader.

Piles of Stones or Ovoos near Chandratal lahual apiti himachal pradesh
Piles of Stones or Ovoos near Chandratal

Energy

After this Vista, there was a path with big stones that seem to be arranged by human intervention in a manner that made it easy to walk on that stretch. I had spring in my feet as I walked around Chandratal. My breathing that was definitely not effortless in the whole of Spiti valley was absolutely effortless on this parikrama. Legs just moved in a rhythm feeling no strain whatsoever. My body lost its weight and I moved like a ‘Hawa ka Jhonka’ – a gust of wind – feeling effortless, weightless and detached from the rest of the world. I do not know where that energy came from – an obvious answer is that Chandratal gave me that energy.

Felt no exhaustion, tiredness from that mini 4 km’s trek around the lake. I was amazed at the sudden surge of energy in both my body and my soul. Was I in touch with some higher energies that got channeled through me for those couple of hours. I have no doubt it happened. I am not sure if I would ever be able to find words that describe those hours for me. As soon as we finished the Parikrama and we had to walk back to the car, I felt the same gravitational pull. And I needed all the energy to push myself to reach the car. While walking back, I almost felt that I left my magic wand at Chandratal Lake.

 Chandratal is located at a height of 4300 ft above mean sea level and is surrounded by Moulkila and Chandrabhaga mountain ranges of Himalayas.

Video of Chandratal Lake, Lahaul-Spiti Himachal Pradesh.

Watch this video clip of the Chandratal Lake I captured.

Epic Connections.

No place worth its salt in Indian subcontinent can be without an epic connection, then how can this lake in the lap of Himalayas be devoid of that. It is believed that this lake marks the point where the Indra Dev’s chariot came to pick up Yuddhistra – the eldest Pandava when he was on his way to heaven. Now there are various ranges of the Himalayas that claim that Pandavas climbed them to reach the heaven. Unless I read the Puranas and there is a reference there, it is difficult to ascertain which claim is true. But having said that this place itself is no less than heaven.

Shepherd at Chandratal Lake
Shepherd at Chandratal Lake

Legend of Chandratal Lake.

In the evening, we sat with Bishan Thakur ji, the owner of Parasol Camps over a bowl of garlic soup. And heard stories of Snow Leopards who live in these ranges but are hardly sighted these days. I asked him about the local legend of the Chandratal Lake beside the Mahabharata connection that I cited above. He smiled and began the story – In ancient times there was a Shepherd who came to the Lake with his sheep. And I started listening to the story with the visuals of the shepherd we had met playing in my mind’s eye. His stick fell into the lake and when he was searching for the stick, a fairy came out with it. The fairy was obviously the most beautiful woman shepherd had ever seen.

Fairy Tale

The two fell in love and every year the shepherd would come and stay by the lake. And enjoy his days with the fairy. He eventually wanted to marry her, though he had his wife and kids back home. Fairy agreed to marry him on a condition that he would not mention anything about her or their relationship to anyone ever. If he does so, he would lose her forever. Totally besotted with her, shepherd agreed to her condition and married her. Life went on for few years till one day Shepherd had a fight with his wife back home. And in a fit of anger, he mentioned the fairy and his relationship with her. He regretted it the moment he said it, but the words were out and could not be taken back.

When the season came for him to come to Chandratal, he came but the fairy was nowhere to be seen.

Promise

He pleaded in front of the lake but to no avail. He did not give up though and kept repeating his regret. Finally, the fairy came with a dead child in her arms and she was no fairy. She was an ordinary woman devoid of all her beauty, in tattered clothes almost like a ghost. Shepherd asked her the reason of the change in her body and who the child was. She tells him that she has met this condition because he broke his promise and the dead child was his child. The shepherd cried but by then the fairy had handed over the child to him and disappeared in the lake. It is said that the descendants of that shepherd still come to the lake every season hoping to meet the fairy.

Now the Shepherd we had met made so much more sense to me, even though it may just be a figment of my own imagination.

Sheep, Shepherds & Meadows at Chandratal
Sheep, Shepherds & Meadows at Chandratal

Night Star Gazing.

The tents that were like burning furnaces in the noon, were like ice boxes now. After a simple meal of Daal Chawal with vegetables, we got into our tents with no intention to get out before the sun was up. Thanks to the need to answer the nature’s call we stepped out and we were treated with the most stunning visual. Stars were hanging from the sky like in a well lit Shamiyana and that was all we could see around us. They were not in the sky, they were hanging from it. They were twinkling so brightly that I never felt the absence of moon that night. It was freezing cold, but the sky was in party mode, shining bright and inviting to join in.

Living in plains and cities, we would never be able to see this ‘Taaron ki Baraat’. A procession of stars so close that you feel that you can hold them in your hand if you just jump a bit. They were not just shining brightly, they were just too many in number and the whole sky was densely filled with stars. Were the stars of other galaxies visiting our own ‘Akashganga’ or Milkyway that night? This is another sight from this trip that I would never forget. I did not even think of taking a picture – it was just too special a sight to be bound in a mere picture.

Close up of chandratal
Close Shot of Chandratal

Goodbye

Next morning after a quick breakfast, it was time to leave Chandratal and the valleys of Spiti. And take the route of Rohtang Pass to reunite with the world we came from two weeks ago at Manali. Chandratal gave me those magical moments that are etched on my soul. And the night sky gave me the visual that I still feel is straight out of the dreams.

Recommend you to read following Places to visit in Himachal Pradesh on my travel blog.

  1. Rampur Bushahr & its Padam Palace.
  2. Bhimakali – Unique Temple of Himachal.
  3. Eternity stops to see Kinner Kailash at Kalpa.
  4. Dhankar – Monastery, Fort & a village in Spiti valley.
  5. Chitkul, Himachal Pradesh – Road trip in Sangla valley.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Anuradha,

    Thank you for such a ‘lively’ experience, though I agree no words or pictures can justify what you’ve experienced there – still great pictures and a lovely article. Tried to visualize the Chandratal’s parikrama and Taaron ki Baraat, hope to visit soon. Wish it’ll remain ‘divine’ forever.

    Thanks again,
    Avi

  2. Nice Post! I was waiting to see this as I loved the updates coming for spiti from you an Alka. I liked the journey shared in varied experience. The story of Bishan Thakur ji, the owner of Parasol Camps is also interesting. Nice to share!

  3. Woooooohhoooo….Never been at such amazing places….Would like to got here in Next Summer definitely. Thanks for writing this up…

  4. Oh! this is the wonder of nature, I lose. Snowfall, rains and clouds stopped me to be there. It was late Sep 2015 and route was closed.

  5. After reading your blogs, i can feel the experience you had there. I will surely want to visit the place. Thanx for your lovely experience sharing. keep it up.

  6. @anuradha Mam
    I want some help can you please suggest me is it save to visit chandrataal in the month of August this year . As I and my friends(7-8 person) are planning for this trekking so can you provide some information about it. As I heard that there is a landslide occurs alot in the rothang pass and at the betal.

    1. Is it save for us to visit in month of August 2016.
    2. How would we get the accommodations there.
    3. What are the precautions we have to take for this trip.

    • Niraj, I visited Chandratal in mid-July and I believe August is a good time to visit Chandratal. You can contact Parasol camps, they have tented camps very close to the lake – just about couple of kilometers away.

      It can be very hot during the day and extremely cold during the night – so pack accordingly. Do not miss sky watching at night – it is the most mesmerising experience.

  7. Dear Anuradha,
    Came across your lovely site by chance and loved it! My affair with Chandratalbegan in 1987 when I first saw it. We had spent anight at Batal and asked the driver to drop us at Kunzim Pass from where we trekked to Chandratal,had a dip in the cold waters of the Tal, then trekked back to Batal along side the river as there was no raod of any kind,crossing innumerable nalahs,reached Batal at eight for dinner.Then after dionner we drove back to Manali at 2.30 at night! That was one marathon I doubt many can do! Mind you, there were no raods at all.Dead tired after a long an d most strenuous day.I have done 24 books on photography so far an dthis trip was in connection with my first book on Himachal,did two more later on.

    • Wow, Ashok Ji. That looks like one hell of a trip. Now, doing this trip is far easier. There are no roads even now, but the cars available can negotiate the kuchcha roads. My most memorable moment at Chandratal was when I stepped out at night and it looked like all the stars have come down, and if jump a bit I can catch those stars.

      Please share the names of your books, I will check them out on Amazon.

      Do stay connected, and keep sharing your experiences.

Comments are closed.