Spitting image of bliss

Spitting image of bliss

Trekking the challenging yet beautiful Spiti Valley offers a real high, writes Arti Das

Chandratal Lake at Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. PHOTOS BY OM PRABHUGAONKAR

It was 3.30 am and the temperature outside our tent was around minus five degrees Celsius at an altitude of 14,000 feet. But, surprisingly, we did not feel the biting cold as we were busy watching the Milky Way Galaxy amidst crystal clear skies. That sight remains etched in my memory as it is something we don’t get to see every day but when that moment comes, we just want to embrace it.

Attempting the high altitude trek to Chandratal Lake in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh recently, was indeed a high point in my life. This cold desert, which is known for its rugged mountains and blue skies, has a lake that is no less than an oasis. But, getting here has its own challenges and if you are adventurous enough, one can even do a five-hour trek to reach the campsite of this lake.

The trek route towards the campsite
The trek route towards the campsite

Trekking at high altitude

Himalayas enthuse one to indulge in trekking activities as the pristine beauty of these mountains gets heightened when you explore it on foot and what better way than trekking? It should, however, never be considered as an easy or a last minute option. It requires planning and some amount of fitness as the altitudes are high.

The trek to Chandratal Lake was probably the shortest Himalayan trek (barely three days) I had ever taken up. But each day was filled with adventure and unknown terrain. It was all worth it. Before starting the trek, it is mandatory to get acclimatised. So, we spent a few days in Kaza, the main town of Spiti. The monasteries here, like Key and Dhankar, are worth visiting. One can also visit the highest post office at the Hikkim village or the highest inhabited village in India, Komic. Visiting these sites gave us an idea of the terrain, the culture, and also made us aware of the extreme conditions at high altitudes.

After sightseeing, we headed to Kunzum Pass as from here, the trek to the campsite of the Lake began. The journey to this Pass from Kaza town takes around four hours with a halt at Lossar village for breakfast. It is advisable to start early in the morning as the trek lasts for five hours.

Kunzum Pass is at an altitude of 15,060 feet and connects the Kullu Valley and Lahaul Valley with Spiti Valley. There’s a small shrine here dedicated to the Kunzum Mata and many travellers seek blessings here before moving ahead.

It was almost noon when we actually started to walk. We were advised to carry lots of water, some dry fruits and energy bars to get instant energy while trekking.

Kunzum Mata Temple at Kunzum Pass.
Kunzum Mata Temple at Kunzum Pass

Rugged terrain

We were led by our guide as they are well aware of the terrain. It is important to listen to their instructions as they know these routeths like the back of their hands.

The trek along this route is quite tough but doable if you are used to trekking. One has to climb up, down and also walk on snow which starts to melt as the day progresses. Also, strong winds start in the afternoon and thus it is advisable to stay warm all the time.

We trekked at our own pace as there’s no need to be in a hurry. Enjoying the pristine mountains, the meandering river and the quiet that surrounded us.

The trek ended on a high note when we actually had to cross a stream of ice cold water. The initial steps were challenging but also enjoyable.

The next day we started our trek to Chandratal Lake which is around five km from the campsite. The authorities do not allow camping near the lake as it is an ecologically sensitive place. This helps in maintaining the sanctity of the place. For non-trekkers, there’s also an option of coming to this tent site by a four-wheeler. These vehicles also drop passengers to the lake site. Still, one has to walk a little distance to get to the actual site of the lake.

Chandratal Lake is at an altitude of 14,100 feet and is one of the high altitude lakes of the Himalayas. The lake gets its name from its crescent shape and it overlooks the Chandra river, which is one of the tributaries of the Chenab river. The crystal clear water and the high mountains make it a perfect picture setting. Many trekkers also trek up here before sunrise to get a majestic view of the lake when the sun is rising. The water changes its colour from reddish orange to blue to green as the day proceeds.

The road to Manali from Batla.
The road to Manali from Batla

Time well spent

It also has religious significance as there are many Buddhist prayer flags tied along the banks of this lake. Even Hindus consider it sacred due to its association with Mahabharata. One can also circumnavigate the lake to get an overview of these beauties. But, set aside an hour for it.

One can spend hours here sitting and just admiring nature’s creation. But we had to head back to our campsite for lunch.

After spending quality time at the campsite and absorbing the beauty of the Himalayas, we started our return journey on the third day.

However, this time, we didn’t take the same trek route but took a road that led us to Batla where our taxi driver was waiting for us. It is a long walk of around 12 km. But, it is not boring as the Great Himalayas make good company.

This cold desert doesn’t cease to surprise you and you get engulfed in its beauty, wishing that this trip wouldn’t end. But, then all good things must end.

So, in the same way, our trip also ended as we headed to Manali, with a promise to ourselves that we will come back again just to get lost in these mountains.