Chandra Taal, commonly referred to as Chandratal and literally meaning as the “Moon Lake”; is a high altitude lake located in Lahaul & Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh. At an altitude of 4,300 meters, this lake is the source of Chandra River and its name “Chandra” is believed to be derived from its moon like shape. Though smaller than some of the famous high altitude lakes like Pangong and Moriri, Chandratal is no less beautiful and a night in the camps at its banks is one of the key highlights of a journey to Spiti valley. I visited Spiti for the first time a couple of years ago and was completely enthralled by the natural beauty of Chandratal. Mostly this lake becomes a part of Spiti valley itinerary however a lot of people travel to just visit Chandratal and camp here. In this article, I will provide information on how you can plan a trip to Chandratal; from the aspects of both including it in your Spiti travel plan and just visiting Chandratal.
First of all, why should you visit Chandratal and what do you see there? Answer to this question is the natural beauty of the place and adventurous nature of the road leading there. Sitting in between high rising snowcapped peaks, this place is heaven for anyone who has even the slightest of interest in photography or nature. During night, the sky lights up with countless starts and is perfect for some excellent night captures, or just siting ideal looking at the sky and getting wooed by it. For anyone who is into sky gazing, this is a perfect spot to do so.
Primary attraction of a trip to Chandratal lake is of course its natural beauty. Some other tourist attractions en route are Manali, Rohtang Pass and Kunzum Pass. On the way between Batal and Chhota Dhara, you get to see the end of Bara Shigri Glacier, the largest glacier in Himachal Pradesh and second largest in Himalayas after Gangotri.
How to plan a trip to Chandratal lake
In order to explain this better, I will first post a map of the region. This map includes the entire Spiti circuit, showing how to access Chandratal from both Manali and Shimla. Due to the large size of the map, I am posting a thumbnail here. Click on it to view in full size or save to your hard disk.
- Manali to Chandratal Distance: 124 Kilometers
- Shimla to Chandratal Distance: 530 Kilometers via Reckong Peo, Puh, Kaza and Batal
- Keylong to Chandratal Distance: 120 kilometers
- Gramphoo to Chandratal Distance: 70 kilometers
The fastest way to reach Chandratal is via Manali, unless you are traveling from Shimla or coming from Ladakh via Keylong. How you can plan a trip to Chandratal from either of these places is explained further below.
How to Reach Chandratal Lake From Manali
The distance from Manali to Chandratal is not really that great, just 124 kilometers which leads some people to believe that they can make this a quick trip. Make no mistake however, this small distance can easily take you 7-8 hours to complete. You need to consider in the fact that these 124 kilometers include first a steep ascent to Rohtang Pass, then the slush and traffic towards Rohtang top, then a nightmarish journey on Gramphoo Batal stretch, then another ascent towards Kunzum Pass top and finally a 14 kilometers drive on a dirt road that is barely wide enough for one car.
In order to reach Chandratal, I would strongly suggest that you take an early start from Manali. This would be beneficial primarily in the way that you will reach Chandratal in time and would have some daylight still left to trek to the lake. Secondly, if you started early, you will be able to avoid the possibility of getting stuck in a traffic jam towards Rohtang top.
From Manali, take the Manali Leh highway and cross Rohtang Pass. Road conditions will be good until you get closer to Rohtang top post which it will be a mix of good and bad until Gramphoo. At Gramphoo, you will notice a dirt road towards your right with a “Welcome to Spiti valley” board put up. Turn on this road and continue until Batal. This entire stretch is a dirt road filled with numerous water crossings, lose stones and is really bad. Once you reach Batal, continue towards Kunzum Pass top. Slightly before Kunzum top, you will notice another narrow dirt road towards your left. There is also a board there naming it as Chandratal road. Turn on this road, drive carefully and 14 kilometers later, you will be at Chandratal.
If traveling by your own car, you need to ensure that you first obtain Rohtang permits either from SDM office Manali or online. If traveling by motorcycle, you will have to get an undertaking certificate from SDM office Manali in order to be allowed to cross Rohtang Pass. Click on the links below for details on Rohtang Pass Permits.
If travelling by Bus, you will need to catch the early morning Bus to Kaza that leaves Manali at around 5 AM. Board this bus and get off near the Chandratal diversion at Kunzum Pass. From here, you have two choices, either to walk all the way to the lake or hitchhike. A lot of people travel on this road in peak tourist season and you will have no trouble finding someone to give you a ride. You can also go to Batal and find out there if there is a shared taxi available or any PWD workers going towards Chandratal that you can tag along with.
How to reach Chandratal lake from Kaza
Chandratal to Kaza is about 6-7 hours of journey and you will also be crossing Kunzum Pass on the way. From Kaza, take the road towards Losar and from there, continue towards Kunzum Pass top. A couple of kilometers after Kunzum top, as you start descending towards Batal, you will notice the narrow road going towards Chandratal that you will need to turn on.
In order to reach by Bus, you will need to catch the early morning 7 AM bus from Kaza to Manali. You will need to get off at Chandratal diversion after you cross Kunzum Pass and from there, either trek or hitchhike.
How to reach Chandratal Lake from Shimla
If a visit to only Chandratal is on your mind, then you must journey from Manali because reaching Chandratal from Shimla would mean a 3 days of journey. The only reason why you would want to take the Shimla route is if you are on a Spiti valley trip. That way, you can start from Shimla, cover entire Spiti circuit and exit at Manali covering Chandratal. Depending on your itinerary and places you wish to cover, this journey can be broken in several days. Read at the link below for example of an itinerary.
If however you are staring from Manali and want to cover the entire Spiti circuit, you can refer to the article below.
At the least, it would take you 3 days to reach Chandratal from Shimla. First day you can travel until Reckong Peo and stay there for the night, second day you can do Peo to Kaza and on the third day, you can go to Chandratal from Kaza.
For traveling on this route by Bus, take a look at the following article.
How to reach Chandratal from Keylong
If you are coming back towards Manali from Ladakh and have an additional day, adding Chandratal to your itinerary would be a good option. You can reach Chandratal from Jispa or Keylong and go to Manali on the next day. Keylong to Chandratal is a good 8-9 hours of journey, most of the time being spent on Gramphoo to Chandratal stretch. Start early from Keylong towards Rohtang Pass and then from Gramphoo, take the road towards Spiti to reach Chandratal.
If traveling by Bus, catch the early morning Manali bound Bus from Keylong. It will drop you at Gramphoo between 8-9 AM. The Kaza bound Bus from Manali reaches Gramphoo sometime after 9 AM so you can board this one to reach Chandratal diversion. If for some reason, you are not able to match timings with these buses at any point, the only other option would be to wait for a shared taxi, especially from Gramphoo to Kunzum Pass.
How to reach Chandratal from Delhi
If you are traveling from Delhi, best way to travel to Chandratal is via Manali. Delhi to Manali is a good 12-14 hours journey depending on your speed. On Day 1, reach Manali from Delhi and on Day 2, reach Chandratal from Manali as I described above in the article.
There are several HRTC buses to Manali from ISBT Delhi that you can board. Most of these buses start by evening and reach Manali early in the morning.
Accommodation at Chandratal
There are no hotels at Chandratal. The only option available is of camp sites. Charges of these camp sites can be Rs. 1500 and above (different for each camp site) per person including meals. Please refer to the below articles for more details on the camp sites at Chandratal.
If you are on a budget trip and do not wish to stay at these camps, the only other choice are the Chadar tents at Batal. You can come back to these Chadar tents after visiting Chandratal and stay here for the night. It is basically a Dhaba under a huge tent with a few beds laid out. Charges for staying here will be anywhere between Rs. 100 – Rs. 200
The only concrete hotel available nearby is the PWD guest house at Batal. If you are able to find the caretaker and get him to agree in letting you stay, you can stay at the guest house and eat at the Dhabas which are right next to it. Batal has the facility of a satellite phone, number of which is 08991722020. If you want to call in advance and inquire about booking the PWD guest house, you can do so at this number. It belongs to the Dhaba owner at Batal but he is a very helpful person and will help you if he can.
Camping on the banks of Chandratal is restricted by the law. The nearest campsite is at least 3 kilometers away from the lake and even if camping on your own, you are not allowed to pitch your tents anywhere near the lake. Please take this seriously and do not attempt to camp close to Chandratal or you may get in trouble. Also consider the fact that it is a sweet water lake with lot of wildlife around. You may get attacked by some wild animal coming to the lake for drinking water.
Best time to visit Chandratal
By road, Chandratal is open only from June 1st week till September. Some people do trek here in May and October as well but then you will have to make arrangements for accommodation as well. All the camp sites become operational from June 2nd week onward and wrap up by September end. So the only time you can visit Chandratal by road is from June 2nd week to September. Out of this, best time for a trip to Chandratal would be June 3rd and 4th week, early July and first two weeks of September. If you go in early June as soon as the road opens up, you will be traveling on really bad roads. Monsoon hits the Manali region by late July and August so if you go at this time, you will encounter rain with a possibility of landslides. Water streams too during monsoon will be at full flow and there will also be a lot of slush around. By late September, it will start to get extremely cold during nights. So if you can, plan your trip in second half of June or first half of July and September.
Chandratal is at a height of 4,300 meters which means that you may suffer altitude sickness while spending a night here. If you start to feel any symptoms of acute mountain sickness while at Rohtang Pass, Kunzum Pass, on the way to Chandratal, it is best to avoid staying at the lake altogether. Continue straight to Kaza before it gets dark, stay there for a day at least and then come back to Chandratal, thus allowing your body some time to acclimatize. If you still suffer the symptoms, cancel your plans of camping at the lake or the night. Refer to the article below for more details on Altitude sickness in Spiti and how to deal with it.
Do not take a hatchback or Sedan on this route. The stretch between Batal to Gramphoo may cause some serious damage to your car. An SUV with good ground clearance will be best for this journey.
I hope this information on how to plan a trip to Chandratal was helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and I would be glad to answer.