A trip to Spiti Valley, to be or not to be. That was the question. Amidst reports of landslides, and rain creating havoc in Himachal, what worried me was that Chandratal had not yet opened up. Driving from Manali to Chandratal Lake was one of my main reasons for this trip. I was scheduled to camp at Chandratal on the 14th of July.
Spiti had been on my radar for a long time. The family had to be persuaded a little for the trip though. Finally, after a bit of convincing, I was on my way to Manali, this time opting to drive in the night.
The itinerary to be followed is as mentioned below.
- 13th of July – Assemble at Manali
- 14th of July – Camping at Chandratal
- 15th of July – Stay at Kaza
- 16th of July – Stay at Langza
- 17th of July – Stay at Mud in Pin Valley
- 18th of July – Stay at Kaza
- 19th of July – Return to Manali
The route to Manali was perfect and the journey was uneventful. Once again it was proved that media frenzy is an avoidable thing.
How to Reach Chandratal Lake from Manali
Before I move on with my travel story, let me provide a few details on how the journey from Manali to Chandratal lake can be completed. If you were planning this trip anytime soon, hopefully, the information below can be of help.
Manali to Chandratal Lake Route
There are two routes that you can take to travel from Manali to Chandratal Lake.
Manali – Rohtang Pass – Gramphoo – Batal – Chandratal Lake
Manali – Burwa – Atal Tunnel – Koksar – Gramphoo – Batal – Chandratal
The difference between both the routes is Rohtang Pass. The first route will have you climb up the pass and then get down on its other side near Gramphoo.
The other route will have you avoid the pass altogether. You will travel by Rohtang Tunnel, exit into Lahaul Valley, drive back to Gramphoo via Kokhsar and then continue to Chandratal Lake.
Manali to Chandratal Lake Distance & Time
The distance from Manali to Chandratal is about 115 kilometers. The journey however will easily take you anywhere between 6 to 8 hours due to the extremely bad condition of the road.
Between Gramphoo and Batal, the 60 kilometers long stretch is possibly the worst you have ever driven on. It is simply a nightmare of a road and your speed will remain restricted between 10 to 15 kilometers per hour.
From Batal to Chandratal, the road is not only bad but also very narrow, barely wide enough for a car. This stretch will have your heart jumping into your mouth at several places and the overall speed will remain very slow.
Read on to see the pictures of the route and to know what I am talking about.
Manali to Chandratal Lake distance via Atal Tunnel
The distance between Manali and Chandratal Lake via the Atal tunnel is 110 kilometers. The travel time will still remain between 6 to 8 hours.
That is right. Even though you avoid crossing Rohtang Pass, it does very little to help in terms of the overall distance and time.
By the tunnel, you will exit near Kokhsar and then will have to travel all the way back to Gramphoo, where the road to Chandratal Lake bifurcates. So the difference in the distance is merely 5 kilometers and the travel time remains the same.
Manali to Chandratal Lake Bus
There is no direct bus between Manali and Chandratal Lake. You will have to board the daily Manali to Kaza bus in the morning and get down at either Batal or Chandratal diversion.
From there, you will either have to walk the remaining 10 odd kilometers to the lake or hitchhike. You may also find a shared cab from Batal to Chandratal but the chances of that happening are not that high.
HRTC did start a bus from Kaza to Chandratal in 2021 but the availability of this bus is not guaranteed. It is just one bus in a day, and only for about 2-3 months a year.
Whether or not this bus will travel for the season also depends on the condition of the road and if it was safe enough for it to go.
Manali to Chandratal Lake Taxi
Private taxis are available from Manali for Chandratal Lake for anywhere between Rs. 10000 to Rs. 15000 for a round trip.
This also depends on the tourist season. If there were a lot of tourists in Manali and high demand, the taxi driver may even ask you as much as Rs. 20000 for a trip in an Alto. That is how crazy the taxi rates in Manali can get.
Shared taxis are available as well but they travel quite in the same manner as the bus. The shared cabs do not actually go to Chandratal but to Kaza instead.
So if you boarded a shared cab from Manali, you will have to get down at either Batal or Chandratal diversion. From there, you can either walk or hitchhike.
The fare per person for a shared cab will be anywhere between Rs. 500 to Rs. 800 per person for Kaza.
Johnsons Lodge, Manali
Coming back to the travelogue, I reached Manali late in the evening and drove into Johnsons Lodge. The weather was amazing – overcast and cold, a perfect chai Pakoda weather.
After a scrumptious breakfast and catching up on the sleep, I proceeded to the Hadimba Temple to get a whiff of the cold air. Manali was deprived of any tourists and the loneliness was beautiful.
Not much happened in the evening. We just relaxed and retired to our rooms. The next day was going to bring an adventurous drive from Manali to Chandratal Lake.
Manali to Chandratal Lake
The traffic jam at Rohtang is a legend. So we packed our bags early in the morning and started for Rohtang at 5 A.M. The weather was perfect, cold and cloudy with almost no rain.
There was hardly any tourist traffic on the road and we hit Kothi, Gulaba in no time. Immediately after Gulaba, we faced our first roadblock but we were lucky. BRO had already started work and the road cleared in half an hour.
The drive beyond Rohtang cannot be described in words. The weather was perfect and the huge mountains and the greenery were charming. The road too was very well laid out and we reached Gramphoo – that was to be our halt for the breakfast.
The aloo parathas of Sonam Dhaba were awesome, even better than the parathas of AIIMS & Moolchand. After a hearty meal, we took the right turn to Spiti, while the straight road goes to Keylong.
The road condition deteriorated immediately and the tarmac disappeared not very later we found our first water crossing.
The water crossing was fantastic. It was actually a huge glacier that was cut across for the vehicles to pass.
I was delighted to cross this. Took lots of snaps of the place. I have not seen such a big water crossing before – even the one before Chitkul was a minnow as compared to this one.
The driver just smiled at my enthusiasm. I could not understand it at that moment but it took not more than a couple of hours as to why he was smiling at my excitement.
Gramphoo Batal Road
The surroundings were as delightful as ever. We reached a place that was a typical Yash Chopra locale – lots of sheep, fancy-looking Gaddi Shepherds, a deep valley, and a beautiful river flowing. The setting warranted another photoshoot – and that we did.
The greater Himalayas of Lahaul were massive, rugged, and daunting but the wildflowers and the river made it so beautiful. The road was a no tarmac one with rocks and boulders on them.
And then this is what was in front of us
The road from Gramphoo to Batal was treacherous. The 1st water crossing was thrilling, the second one was even better but what took the cake was the one at Chhota Darra.
Our Xylo got stuck in that and all of us had to get down and wade through the super chilled water. In the meanwhile, the driver took the help of some other drivers, put some stones underneath, and managed to cross this stretch.
Batal to Chandratal Lake
Huffing and puffing we reached Batal which was to be our stop for lunch. In the meantime, the mood of the team was lifted by the news that our guide at Kaza had managed to get the Chandratal road opened.
Not only Chandratal was back on the plans, to top it all, but we would also be its first visitor of the season.
The lunch of Rajma Chaawal was ok but the mint tea was outstanding. The Nepalese couple running the dhaba was doing an excellent job. I wonder how they managed to survive by selling stuff at their MRP as the cost of transporting these things to this place would be enormous.
Just after Batal we took the left turn going to Chandratal and bid farewell to the road that carried on to Kaza. The road to Chandratal was in a bad condition, all dusty and bumpy but the fact that there was a road was enough for all of us.
However, we also got the news that since the regular canvas tents have not been put up yet we would have to manage in a make-shift tent. All the grouses disappeared once we reached the campsite, around 3 kms before the lake.
The campsite was located in a beautiful meadow, with mountains all around.
The sky has never been bluer and prettier. The drive from Manali to Chandratal camp had taken around 8 hours with umpteen photo breaks.
Since there was time, we decided to go to Chandratal immediately. It was the start of the season and cars were allowed up to 700 meters of the lake.
The drive from the camp to the parking was steep and thrilling. Upon reaching the parking and commencing the walk to the lake, what immediately struck me was the effort that it was taking to walk.
There was a nagging headache due to the altitude but yet there was a sprint in the step. The walk to the lake was charming and strenuous but we know that the reward would be worth the effort.
And then there it was. Was it the altitude or was it the first look that just took our breath away
We were enchanted by Chandratal. It was bewitching. It was just like a child has got hold of his favorite toy.
Chandratal has been on my list of 30 things to do before you die and here I was. I remembered the day, around 18 years back, when I was fresh in my college and my people were going to Chandratal. I could not make it then and had this regret all these years.
Camping at Chandratal
It was now time to go back. The walk back was easy. While walking back we saw 2 couples with tents and other stuff set up their camp right at the banks of Chandratal. It was not allowed but then since this was the start of the season, the authorities were not expected to check on them.
The dinner at the campsite was bad. The rice, dal, and Maggi were all uncooked but we realized the temperature water would require to boil at this altitude and so food was gulped down with water.
I decided to have an omelet and soon after that realized that this was a mistake. The night descended as we tried to squeeze into our itsy bitsy teeny weeny tent. The sleeping bag had to be used as a blanket as my frame simply did not allow me to get into it.
I woke up around 2 in the night with an uneasy feeling. The tent was claustrophobic, had a severe headache and the omelet in my stomach was dying to come out, ready to vomit anytime.
I requested my tent mate to come out with me. It was pitch dark and extremely cold. The omelet almost immediately came out and it felt so better after that. We decided to defer sleeping and started listening to the songs on my iPhone.
My UBL Bluetooth speaker was put to use and the sounds of GNR had never sounded better. This continued till 4 in the morning after which we went off to sleep again.
Chandratal Lake to Kaza
The morning was dull. It was decided to go to Chandratal again in the morning. The classic pictures of the mountains reflecting in the waters could not be clicked the evening before as it was windy and there were a lot of ripples in the water.
However the light today was dull and against people’s advice I again set off for Chandratal.
The sky cleared just for a moment and we could see the lake again in all its glory. Bliss redefined at Chandratal.
After spending a couple of hours at Chandratal we decided to proceed on our onward journey to Kaza. The couple who had camped at the lake were not to be seen however the remains of the dinner were all over the place. They had boiled eggs and Maggi.
My headache had increased in the meantime and so I had to pop paracetamol for comfort. The drive back from Chandratal to the Kaza road was uneventful.
- Journey Ahead: Chandratal Lake to Kaza
We did not have any problem as we did not encounter any vehicle from the opposite side or else giving a pass would have been so much of a problem on the narrow road. Please click on the link above to continue reading the next part of the travelogue.
I hope the travelogue, pictures, and information on traveling from Manali to Chandratal Lake were of help. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. You can also follow me on Instagram and chat with me live there or subscribe to my YouTube channel and ask a question there.
How much cost to chandrataal lake