Chandratal 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.
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.
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 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.
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 bench 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.