The enigmatic Chandratal, the origin of Chandra river that ultimately forms the Indus river, the majestic glaciers melting into ice, the greenish blue colour of the lake all these thoughts come to my mind as I try to recollect the adventurous trek to the Chandratal. The thought of the trek with UV burning the uncovered skin, the sound of the wind like aeroplanes flying overhead, the dried vegetation, the colourful stones and the icy cold wind caressing the cheek still send goosebumps on my skin. Yes, it has been one year and still I can feel the excitement, the loneliness, the howling wind, the beautiful surrounding and the lack of oxygen making you breath harder drying your mouth.
Even the most daring drivers are afraid to take you there and I do not blame them. That we could finish the journey safely was due to our driver Prakah Thakur. We may blame him for many a things but not the least his driving skills. He was a cautious driver, and believe me, all his caution were required on that day. It was 7th October 2016. We woke up early before five in the morning, and believe me it was difficult. Hotel Spiti was the most comfortable place at Kaza and at 3800 m in the Spiti valley this comfort was necessary to keep one fresh. The less oxygen makes sleeping difficult, especially for people from the plains, like us. We started from the hotel at six in the morning. I think I caught a glimpse of a red mountain fox before we crossed the Spiti river. We wanted to have a cup of tea as we crossed Rangrik, but it turned out that we were too early. The road through the Spiti plains was good as we crossed Khurik. We brought out some of the packed breakfast we were carrying as food was essential to fight the cold. The sun was out and we were enjoying the morning adventure.
Soon we crossed a bridge and then crossed a village called Hull.
There were some snow clad mountains to the left of the road and the Spiti river was flowing at a distance on the right. The Himachal Roadways bus from Losar to Kaza was the only vehicle we saw until we reached Losar. We reached Losar in just after eight and stopped for a plate of paratha and hot tea. There we met other tourists who encouraged us for the trip to Chandratal. As we started from Losar the road security cautioned us against the treacherous road conditions which have damaged many a vehicles on the road. As we were on a new Innova, and our driver Prakash ji being a cautious driver, we thought this will not be a problem for us.
As we left the grazing cattle of Losar we started our assent for the Kunzum la. We reached Kunzum Pass (4590 m) by 9:30, 78 km from Kaza. It was all surrounded by snow clad peaks.
After a brief photo-session we started for Chandratal.
The Chandratal or Chandertal Lake situated at a height of 4290 m can be reached by treking from Kunzum pass by covering 8 km. However we chose a motorable road which is 2 km from Chandratal.
After leaving Kunzum la our driver Prakash Thakur took a route to reach Batal instead of Chandratal at a diversion at approximately 8 km from Kunzum La. This was in spite of the fact we had repeatedly told him that we wanted to go to Chandratal. As we were very keenly looking at the road, we asked where did the other road lead to, to which he answered to Chandratal. We said then stop and take that road. He reluctantly backtracked. After returning to the diversion to Chandratal we saw that the road was very narrow. So if we saw a car coming from the other way we had to stop and wait sometime as much as three four minutes, at slightly wider places. The poor road condition and this process of stopping to make way for other vehicles made the progress very slow. We reached the (official) car parking around eleven o clock. We started our slow walking (at this elevation, geographical location and also the time of the year it is advisable to walk slowly for lack of oxygen). The gusts of wind made sounds like a moving plane, and then died down as suddenly as it had started. The green grass of the spring had turned yellow. It appeared we were the only souls in this part of the planet.
After trekking for about two kilometers, we stopped for sometime. We shared an apple that a Kinnauri lady had gifted to my son near Kamru fort at Sangla. Then we saw a car coming from the other side. We stopped the car and asked how far are we from Chandratal. The driver said we need to walk another two to three km to to reach our destination. Seeing that cars ply on this route, we requested him to send our driver along this way giving him our car number. We thought we will wait until he arrives.
Suddenly I felt a burning sensation on my hand. I soon realized it was the UV burning my skin. I asked my son and wife to cover themselves as much as possible. There was no shade and time was passing slowly since the car has gone carrying our SOS message. Another car came from Chandratal and we requested this car also to send our driver. I started walking downhill to see whether our car was coming and then I saw our car. The car was tiring its way up and I instantly knew that due to lack of oxygen the car engine was having trouble at this altitude.
The car stopped at a place about 1 km from Chandratal. We covered this distance in 15 minutes and were overwhelmed at the first site of the lake.
To the left of this lake is a glacier which is melting into a stream that is joining the Chandra river and to the right is this beautiful greenish blue lake. The backdrop to this lake is a mountain that is so colourful that I could not stop clicking my camera focused on it.
While I was busy clicking the panorama, my wife and son made a cairn with stones as a post of our success. We were glued to this place for some time and the strong icy winds reminded us that we had a long journey ahead of us and so we took our steps towards Batal.
The journey to Batal and beyond is a story in itself and demands a separate post. But one thing has been a puzzle to me. The green stones of Chandratal were so attractive my son picked up a few pieces. By the time we reached Batal, the stones had given up its green colour and appeared ordinary grey. We initially thought it was due to the UV radiation which made the ordinary rocks appear grey, but it was not so. When we returned I illuminated the stones with lot of UV light in the lab but it appeared ordinary. Any idea?