Trip to Chandratal Lake by Car – An Adventurous Drive

by Harsh Vardhan

trip to chandratal lake

It had been 3 months since we came back from our Ladakh trip. But all the extensive travelogue writing and photograph posting made it seem like just yesterday that we’d been there. Nevertheless, it was time to hit the road again, and the most pertinent question of all lay in front of us – where do we go this time? That is how the plan of a trip to Chandratal lake started to take shape.

The first plan, hatched on our way back to Delhi from Leh, was to do a Sach Pass run crossing Chamba, Udaipur, and Manali in 5 days. However, as the monsoon wore on, it became clear that with lower Lahaul being such a landslide-prone area, the plan was out of the question. Then came the plan to drive till Auli and do a day-hike to Gorson, but that plan too got chucked due to the monsoon again playing spoilsport.

The next option was Chandratal. It wasn’t as if it was the least preferred destination, but we wanted to do something different this time instead of the usual trudge of Delhi – Manali and back. We had done this stretch too many times in the recent past and wanted a change. However, given our constraints, Chandratal seemed to be our best option. And it did not disappoint.

Trip to Chandratal Lake

The trip, which was initially planned for 5 days, had to end a day before. Work, of course, was one of the culprits, but poor camping equipment made us cut down on our camping days to only a single night.

The lake, the magnificent Chandratal, will always remain etched in our memory. Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, this beautiful lake, surrounded on all sides by hills, becomes visible only when one gets really close to it. The water in the lake is often quite still, making it a very good reflector, and thus one of the prettiest lakes in the region. For more details, please take a look at How to Plan a Journey to Chandratal.

The access to the lake too is beautiful, whichever way you want to approach it. One can walk down from Kunzum La till the lake which is about a 12 km trek, or one can climb all the way up till Chandratal from Batal which is again about 14 odd km. We took the easiest option, drove 3.5 km before the lake, and hiked the last bit.

  • The Travelers: Aarti & Harsh
  • The machine: Our very own wild ass – Tata Safari 4×4, we call it Kiyang

Day 1: Delhi to Manali: 590kms – 13.5 hours

As is tradition, we began our day early and had left home by 4:00 am, marking a start to our trip to Chandratal Lake. The drive till Manali was as uneventful, thankfully, as it had been on the past several occasions. Construction on NH1 was going on in full swing, and thus the average speed was not as it used to be.

Chandigarh was about to bustle when we crossed it at 7:30 in the morning, thus thankfully we avoided the early morning traffic within the city. The drive till the cut where Himachal begins is getting increasingly better as the construction on the highway nears completion.

The stretch from Swarghat to Bilaspur was as pathetic as ever, with slow prowling trucks not giving way at turns and bends. What a horror it is to overtake them! All in all, though, it felt as if it was just yesterday when we’d left for our Ladakh trip, driving on the same roads, and it was fun reminiscing about those sweet memories.

Brunch happened at our usual haunt (HPTDC’s Hotel Lake View in Bilaspur) at about 11:00 am or so. The water level in the Gobind Sagar lake was quite high and none of the submerged temples were visible.

The drive to Manali took another 6 hours or so. The sky was mostly clear, and it was only when we reached closer to Kullu that it started drizzling. It cleared up again when we entered Manali.

We checked into’s Aarti’s temple in Manali – The Johnson’s Lodge – and then proceeded to for dinner at our favorite joint in Manali, Il Forno. The pizzas they serve are truly out of this world! The rest of the evening was well spent trying my hands on some macro shots.

Day 2: Manali to Chandratal : 140 + 4kms. 10.5 hours

We got late in leaving the next morning for Rohtang and managed to leave our hotel only by about 7:15 am or so. I think my intention to take some nice shots of Johnson’s lodge only added to the delay in our departure. We just hoped that the traffic further up would not become too much of an issue because of our late departure.

The second day of our trip to Chandratal lake began. The sun was already up by the time we hit the road, and the day was partially cloudy. With the recent rains in the region, the hills were all draped in a lovely shade of green, and the play of sun and clouds added to the charm even more.

Thankfully, we had got some sandwiches packed from the German Bakery (the one on the Circuit House road) the evening before. This meant no stoppages before Gramphoo at all.

Also Read: Delhi to Chandratal Lake – How to Plan your Trip

Rohtang Pass

We were expecting the road till Marhi to be in good condition and knew that beyond Marhi we were bound to have a bumpy ride, as is usually the case. However, we were quite surprised to see the road in poor condition after Kothi itself.

It seemed that the monsoon was particularly harsh this time around on the roads with a lot of landslides. The road beyond Marhi was unimaginable. These were definitely the worst roads we’d seen till Rohtang in all our trips.

The final 17 km were done in 1st gear, sometimes switching to 4WD to ensure proper grip. And then there were stretches that were so bad that we thought it better to switch to 4L mode to ensure no skidding.

Trafficked​

trip to chandratal lake

It took us an hour to do the Manali – Marhi stretch of about 34 km, and another 1.5 hours or so to do the Marhi – Rohtang top stretch of 17 km! Such was the condition of the road. A minor traffic jam, by Rohtang standards, of about 30 minutes also increased our frustration and hopelessness of the stretch.

Also Read: How to Plan Your Trip to Rohtang Pass?

This was the first time ever we had been stuck in any jam while climbing/descending the mighty pass, and our delayed departure was to be blamed for this. Finally, at about 10:30 am or so, we reached the top, stopped, took a U-turn for the shot below, and then immediately took another U-turn to proceed further towards Gramphoo.

At the top​

trip to chandratal lake

Gramphu

Thankfully, the descent till Gramphoo was better than the climb to Rohtang, although only marginally. We managed to do this stretch of 15 km in about an hour. A small break was necessary to stretch our shaken selves. After stocking up supplies for the next two days, and with the assumption that the dhaba at Batal might be closed, we proceeded further.

We had only moved another 2 km when Aarti saw two vultures basking in the sun just a little off the road. This was quite a sight since these creatures have been pushed to the brink of being endangered due to certain chemicals used by humans on a widespread basis.

Thankfully, the usage of the chemical (diclofenac was it?) was banned a few years ago, and this led to a recovery of their population, especially in the region of Lahaul & Spiti. (Please correct me if I was wrong on any count above, starting from them being vultures).

We braked carefully, not to startle them. However, as soon as we disembarked, they flew out of sight somewhere below the hill. Not willing to give up, I started climbing down the hill on a track and after a 15 min walk was treated to a sight of about 20 of them squatting in the sun.

Though focusing on them on my manual focus 70-300mm was difficult, I managed to get some focussed shots. As I inched closer to them, they flew away and were not sighted again during the trip. I ran back to the main road, and thus we had increased the time delay by another 30 min. But it was totally worth it!

vultures

Batal Road

The stretch till Spiti is one of the least inhabited drives I’ve been upon. Even in the Changthang region, one can find Changpas with their tents and flocks. But here, the only people one finds are the locals thriving on running a dhaba on the deserted highway & the HPPWD guys for road maintenance.

Immediately after descending from Gramphoo, the road starts ascending again. The road towards Spiti is less frequented, narrow, and has probably never been tarred, but still is in a better state than the Marhi – Gramphoo stretch.

The drive is quite beautiful and the beauty lies in the barrenness of the stretch, which some might not appreciate. After ascending for a bit, we again started to descend, with the road now hugging the Chandra river.

Also Read: Gramphu Batal Kaza Road – Excitement and Adventure

Our progress on this stretch was slower than we’d expected. The recently concluded monsoon had been harsh and had taken its toll on the road, with it being marred with potholes, forcing us to keep our speed slow.

gramphu batal road

The massive Bara Shigri glacier in the distance​

Bara Shigri glacier

Red, Brown, Blue & White: Colors of nature​

gramphu batal road

Kunzum Pass

A good three and a half hours later, we reached Batal. It was already 2:30 pm, and we had still an hours’ drive left to the parking lot of the lake. And another 1.5 hours of walking till the lake itself. We decided not to take a break for lunch and marched on.

The last time we had pitched our tent was after dusk, and that had been a disaster of a pitch. This time we intended to do it while the sun was still up. After crossing the Batal bridge, the climb towards Kunzum Pass began. However, we were not supposed to climb till the pass at all.

The detour was hardly 3 km ahead, and our heartbeats started to increase. I knew that there were some really tough spots on the road till the parking lot. It had snowed and rained quite heavily a day before. We wondered if reaching the parking lot would be possible at all, and were quite sure that a challenging 12 km were coming up ahead.

And the road did not disappoint, totally living up to its reputation of being really narrow! There were two points on the 12 km stretch where the road was so narrow that Kiyang barely managed to fit on it! This stretch is one of the attractions that people look forward to while planning a trip to Chandratal lake and we were no exception

Actually, the road itself when blasted/made was not supposed to be narrow, but due to landslides there was a big boulder obstructing a part of the road at one point, and another landslide had led to the road giving way and falling into the river at the second narrow point.

Also Read: Chandratal Lake Itinerary – How to Plan a Trip for 4 – 5 Days?

Chandratal Lake Road

The first obstacle was more difficult, as being on the driver’s side, I had no clue as to how much space I had on the passenger side. It might’ve been close to 6 inches maybe. So I kept Kiyang as right as possible, so much so that the footboard grazed against the boulder, but the vehicle made it through.

Aarti helped, by getting down and navigating, shouting whenever I was erring. The second obstacle was where the edge of the road had fallen off, thus one tire needed to be on a make-shift arrangement of rocks. It looked sturdy enough, and Aarti even stood over it to check.

But still just to be on the safe side, we decided that we will pre-determine the angle of approach and just run through. This way the make-shift pile or rocks will not be bearing the load of Kiyang for too long a period. We did that, and voila! managed to ease through the second obstacle as well.

The first really narrow spot​

Chandratal Lake Road

The second really narrow spot​

Chandratal Lake Road

The road throughout was quite narrow, and it would be a nightmare if two jeeps were to pass each other from opposing sides. Reversing would be a dangerous maneuver. However, the road is quite straight and one has a good view of at least 2-3 km up ahead. So we were mentally noting down each corner where two vehicles could theoretically cross each other on the narrow road.

Also Read: Budget Trip to Chandratal – A COMPLETE Travel Guide

Trekking to Chandratal

It was not long before we reached the “parking lot”. We had expected to find a dhaba there but were disappointed to find nothing, as due to monsoon, the dhaba guys had packed up and left a week back or so.

The porter was now getting ready to pack all the stuff to be carried to the camping site, including tent, food, sleeping bags, etc, weighing in all close to 20 kg. The horrible part was that the porter was none other than yours truly!

aarti and harsh

The tent weighed about 9 kg, the sleeping bags 2.5 kg each, sleeping mats maybe half a kilo each. Apart from this, medicines, woolens, food, gas, utensils, water, brandy, and whatnot were in the rucksack. I did not weigh it, but it must’ve been close to 20kg, could’ve been more.

It had been a while since my workout regime had been thrown out of gear, with swimming & squash not happening. Stamina was at an all-time low. Still, I trudged on. Aarti too was carrying a lot of stuff, as much as she could’ve. A 3.5 km level walk which should’ve taken not more than 1 – 1.25 hours took us about a quarter shy of 2 hours!

The last time I was this slow while trekking was when I had to carry a weight of about 12-15 kg on the climb to Tapovan. This was mong the toughest parts of our trip to Chandratal lake.

Also Read: Where to Stay at Chandratal – Accommodation at Chandratal

Chandratal, Finally !!!

The road till Chandratal used to be till the very end. One had to walk down only about half a km to the lake. That was until an uncomfortable number of tourists realized its existence. The relative ease with which it can be reached, the hordes of them starting making it a day trip destination from Manali.

This resulted in a lot of littering and before long, it was turning into another “Rohtang” dustbin. Thankfully, better sense prevailed, and the road was dug up at several places making it impossible even for a bike to go up all the way to the lake.

The trek would be graded as a “very easy” one. The distance of 3.5 km is hardly anything and there’s a moderate ascent from the parking lot, after which one reaches a flat area, but not as flat as a meadow.

After this, it is pretty flat or a very gentle gradient at times. And the final half a km is another moderate descent. The walk itself is quite beautiful. We could not click any snaps as we were getting quite late, and thought of capturing it on the way back.

We reached the lake by 5:30 pm and were expecting to find a couple of tents pitched already. Much to our surprise, we could not find even a single soul around! It was getting darker by the minute, and the sun was just about to set.

The lake was already under the shadow of the adjacent hill, and it was VERY windy. We decided to get rid of the burden ASAP and took out the tripod and the camera to “make hay while the sun shines”.

Setting up Camp

The temperature had plummeted and howling winds had increased the chill factor by at least a factor of 2. Soon after the photo session, it was time to pitch our tent.

The last tent pitch, on the banks of Tso Moriri (a reference to that post), had been a disaster, so I had planned to take my time searching for a good camp spot and take my time to firmly fix the tent. The pitch was good, although the howling winds made the outer fly flutter ferociously against the inner fly.

The sound was exactly like the one we’d experienced at Tso Moriri. We were worried that this would rob us of a good night’s sleep, which we later realized was the least of our worries. It was evident from the sound of our chattering teeth that we’d grossly underestimated the cold.

Even after wearing all our woolens including gloves, mufflers, caps, and jackets inside the tent, we couldn’t stop shivering. A long night loomed ahead of us. We decided not to waste any more time and heated our ready-to-eat meal of dal and rice.

The warmth of the gas cylinder made the inside of the tent quite warm. By the time dinner was ready, the wind too had subsided. In fact, as we finished our meal, it became quite calm; so much so that reflections were partially visible in the lake when we went out for a night shot.

self camping at chandratal

A Cold Night

Venturing out for a night shot was quite difficult, but that was something that had to be done. Having missed the full moon night by just three days, we knew that moonlight would be sufficient for some good photography.

We managed to take as many shots as possible. Finally, we could not take the cold any longer, and then zipped ourselves inside the tent. The next worry was about how we were going to endure the night. Although the wind had subsided, the temperature plummeted to -4 to -8 during the night.

Also Read: Camping at Chandratal Lake Banned

Even with all our woolens plus the sleeping bag, we were still feeling cold. Sleep came to us both in half an hour to one-hour bouts. We had to light up our stove about 6-8 times during the night to increase warmth inside the tent. Thus we waited for dawn to happen, and move out for some more shots. I prayed for the lake to be still.

The night shot, which we had to freeze to take​

trip to chandratal lake

Dinner, concluding the second day of our trip to Chandratal lake.

trip to chandratal lake

Day 3: Chandratal to Manali: 3.5 km (hike) + 140 km (drive) – 11 hours

The night was long and cold. Despite wearing 3 layers of clothing plus the sleeping bags, sleep came in bouts of an hour at max. We woke up at 5 am. I immediately lighted up the stove for some warmth. The realization that the time had come to invest in -20 degree C grade sleeping bags dawned on us.

Finally, tired of trying to force me to get some more sleep, I gave up at about 5:30 am and peered outside to find dawn happening. I could feel that there was no wind whatsoever and hoped to see the lake absolutely still. At this altitude, even the slightest of activity takes its own time to happen. It was only by 6:00 am that I got outside the tent.

Also Read: Bike Trip to Chandratal – Fun & Adventure

A Walk around the Lake

I knew Aarti was not going to venture out till the sun was shining brightly, so I thought to do a circumference walk of the lake all by myself.

The lake looked beautiful and absolutely still. Thus, needless to say, the reflections were spot on. I would not blabber more about the beauty and let the photographs speak for themselves.

The tent, the flags, and the lake​

trip to chandratal lake

More reflections of peaks around the lake​

trip to chandratal lake trip to chandratal lake

Return to Manali

It was a lazy stroll around the lake. I made sure that I stopped at each point where I thought I might get a different angle to shoot the lake. It was only by 8:15 am that I reached back to the campsite.

A couple of locals and some Israelis had reached the lake by that time and had started to take pictures. After saying hello and socializing a bit with all, I returned to the tent to find Aarti wide awake. We both strolled out, lazed out in the sun a bit, and took some more snaps.

The decision to head back towards civilization, and not camp again the next night, was unanimous, cutting our trip to Chandratal lake short by a day. We both agreed that the night had not been comfortable, and it would be best to move towards Manali, though there was absolutely no rush.

So, after idling some more, and devouring a breakfast of toasted bread and cheese, we started our trudge back towards the parking lot. The luggage sadly seemed even heavier this time.

The trudge back towards the parking lot, from the lake, began at approximately 11 am. The lack of a good night’s rest was evident to both Aarti and me. The walk itself, which took us 1:45 hrs while going towards the lake, took 2:15 hrs while coming back. We took breaks every few minutes, and each step required a mammoth will, especially with the load we were carrying.

Finally, the last descent came and we could see a Sumo parked in the distance.

chandratal to manali

A Sign of Trouble

Our valiant steed, Kiyang, awaited our arrival at the “parking lot”. There were other tourists too who were waiting for other team members to come back from the lake so that they could commence their journey towards Manali. The group comprised of a driver, guide, and about 6 odd people from Israel.

After a customary round of introductions and hellos, the rucksacks were dumped quickly and we were soon on our seats to begin our journey.

Crank!  Kiyang refused to start.

Another crank and it refused again.

My heart sank and my mind went numb. The same thing had happened at Tso Moriri a couple of months back but somehow this time it felt worse. The car had been standing in the sun since morning and yet it had refused to start.

We tried a lot of things. I kept the bonnet open for about ten minutes; the Israelis tried to push it down an incline; the driver offered to tow and then kick-start the vehicle with momentum but nothing worked.

My mind was completely blank. A part of it was possibly due to the fact that everyone wanted to put their own theory to test including the “experienced” driver. While towing the front beauty steel tooth also came apart a bit. Some plastic connection broke which was heart-breaking. Thankfully, it was repaired easily when we returned to Delhi.

A Simple Solution

The fear of getting stranded there was mounting since the others had planned to leave soon now. The driver of their taxi was getting quite impatient. Then it was Aarti who came up with the brilliant yet simple idea of heating some water and pouring it over the engine block.

She was quite convinced that the problem here, and at Tso Moriri, was exactly the same. It took a while to boil water in a pan. But once it was poured over the engine block, Kiyang immediately sprang back to life. After a 15 min idling of the engine, we thanked our stars and others profusely and we proceeded towards Batal for lunch.

The drive till Batal was again on a very narrow track upon which we had come. It is indeed awesome to have a great travel partner, if one loses one’s calm, the other one is there to think straight.

The Drive Back

The drive began on the dirt-track back

chandratal to manali

The narrowest point was a tad difficult to maneuver

chandratal to manali

But we did survive

chandratal to manali

Aah! The sight of a dhaba and the possibility of food!

trip to chandratal lake

Batal

Lunch was super at the dhaba, consisted of plain rice, dal, some extremely spicy pahadi aloo, and even spicier chutney. We wolfed down everything in a jiffy and before long were back on our track to Manali by 2:30.

On the way back! Chandra was now on our left.

trip to chandratal lake

The drive is through quite a deserted patch. The average speed is always quite low – about 20 kmph or so. But is beautiful nevertheless.

trip to chandratal lake

Manali

​We crossed Rohtang while there was still some daylight and after a miserable drive till Marhi, smooth roads greeted us. We finally reached our destination for the night – Manali – by 8:30 pm. Had a good dinner served by Roberta at Il Forno and relaxed away to glory at Johnson’s lodge.

Day 4: Manali to Delhi: 590kms – 12.5 hours

This was the last day of our trip to Chandratal lake. After having a hearty brunch at a riverside cafe in Old Manali. We had gone up to Il Forno for brunch but only to find that it opens for lunch at 1:00 pm or so, so we then headed in the direction of Old Manali. There is not much else to write about the last day. We started from Manali a bit late and arrived at home in Delhi late at night.

Trip to Chandratal Lake – Conclusion

That concluded our amazing trip to Chandratal Lake. It was cut short by 1 day but was fun nonetheless. I hope the travelogue, pictures, and information provided above were of help. If you have any questions or need any other details, please feel free to ask in the comments section below, or at our Community Forum, and I will be glad to answer.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment