Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spiti diary: Chandratal Lake

14 August 2014

The weather which was good so far in our travel went bad. It was cloudy and ready to rain at any time. Rains in Himalayas are bad these days and we did not like it.

Chandratal Lake was our final destination in Spiti. From Kaza, we started back towards Manali, climbed Kunzum La and 3 km before Batal took the deviation to Chandratal. The road then passes next to Chandra River. The road was narrow though it was not steep. After travelling about 10 km, we saw the landscape widening out and tents appeared at the far end of the valley.

Road towards Chandratal
It seemed like a busy day in Chandratal and hence we first booked a tent. Before our travel, we had talked to a person who was famous in internet domain and had tents in Chandratal. But his tents were not seen at all. Apparently forest department had removed his tents for flouting the rules!! Anyway we had a tent to sleep now and had not paid money to internet guy. Nothing to worry!!

Chandratal lake
No one is allowed to stay at Chandratal. The tents I mentioned are all set up about 2 km before the lake. A good decision by the authorities, I would say.

Lake and cloudy day
We had a quick lunch and then set out to lake. Vehicles have to stop about a km before the lake. Remaining distance has to be covered by walk. Since we had to get down to the lake, the lake makes a dramatic appearance!! We were mesmerized.

First view of the lake
The lake was pristine and clear. Here I met Arun Bhat, an ardent traveler and blogger. I knew him from his blogs from long time but now I was seeing him face to face!! That was great!!

Clear water
We wanted to circle around lake but the weather turned bad during our walk. So, we returned back only to see clear sky again!! With weather turning good, I did something that I do not do often. Jump with joy and get a photograph of it.

We stayed at the lake till sunset and returned back to the tents. After dinner, we spent some time in star grazing. Slowly clouds started hovering around and we quickly got into out tents. It was followed by heavy rains.

We woke up next day with overcast conditions. Still we returned back to the lake to get lake photos with some nice reflections. The trip was coming to an end.

I had lot of questions before I planned the trip to Chandratal. I will try to answer a few of them.

Is it worth staying at Chandratal?
It depends on your interest. I felt it was a good idea as we could spend a lot of time in lake. The lake looks different in morning and evening. If we have travelled for thousands of km to see this lake, it makes no sense to hit and run.

Chandratal in morning
Where can we stay at Chandratal?
Staying next to lake is not permitted. We can either stay at tents 2 km before the lake. It costs about Rs 1000 – 1500 (with food). A cheaper option can be to stay in Dhaba at Batal. There is also a small dhaba near the tents but I do not know the price.

Is it good to stay in Chandratal during onward journey?
If you are travelling from Manali, it is not a good idea. Manali is at 7,000 feet and Chandratal at 14,200 feet is not good for acclimatization. Day trip is ok but not the stay. Even Batal is at a higher altitude for acclimatization. Few people in the tents had bad time as they suffered from AMS. They could not enjoy their trip. So, take it easy.

Any other things to do?

Trekking from Kunzum La to Chandratal Lake can be done in about 3-4 hours. Another popular trekking route is from Chandratal to Suraj Tal near Bharalacha Pass in Lahual. It takes about three days and involves serious stream crossings.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spiti diary: Sopona lake

13th August 2013

Sopona Lake was not in our list of “things to do” in Spiti. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of its name till then!! I happen to see a water body of significant size in google maps and was surprised to that very less information was available. Our driver Sumit recognized it and mentioned that he could take us to the place!! Great guy!! The plans were changed to fit this Lake in our schedule.

On Kaza-Tabo road, a small road deviates and crosses Spiti River to climb up the valley. Look at the Spiti River and the valley as we climb up.

Here is a wider view of the valley. The highway connecting Spiti and Tabo can be seen below.

Three km from main road is the village of Mane. The trek starts from this village. Villagers told that there is a clear path till the lake and would take about 3 hours to reach. We were in a dilemma whether to hire a guide or not but finally decided to walk on our own.

We were lost in the beginning of the trek itself. The labyrinth of streets in the village confused us. A woman then helped us to reach the correct trail. After the village, the trail continuously climbed the hill. After about 45 minutes, we had reached the top of the hill. The village and valley appeared much below us. Thanks to acclimatization, I was feeling much better and had fewer struggles in climbing.

Here was a deviation which confused us for a while. But considering the direction is the lake shown by the villagers we took the path going straight. A right turn here would have taken us back to the village in a different route!!

The climb was continuous though the trail widened at many places. Again, it was Krishna who was always ahead of me.

After about two hours of walking, we reached the lake. We had done it in a very good time. We had known that it was a periodical lake formed by the melting snow. It will be at its full during the start of summer and then gradually shrinks.

Some cows were grazing on the other side of the lake.

Some snow mountains nearby.

We walked along the banks of the lake to reach a waterfall coming out of it. It seemed very far and we gave up the effort.

Return was hard on our knees but few stretches while climbing down the hill gave us challenges. Due to landslides, the path had becomes very narrow and steep at some places. We had not felt it while going up. But now climbing down gave some anxious moments. But nevertheless we crossed it without much issue.

It was a satisfying day for us as we went to a place where 99% of the Spiti travellers do not visit. The place had also turned out to be great!!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Spiti diary: Dhankar Lake

12th August 2014

At Tabo, two Israeli girls joined us. They were heading to Dhankar and somehow they came to know that our destination and they decided to hitchhike.

Road towards Dhankar
A detour from Kaza-Tabo road takes to Dhankar village. At the end of the village is Dhankar monastery precariously perched on a hill overlooking the confluence of Spiti and Pin Valley rivers.

Confluence of Spiti and Pin Valley river
It was late noon and we were hungry. We gulped down chow mein which was the only item that was available. After a quick visit to monastery, we directed our attention towards Dhankar Lake. That was the main reason for our Dhankar visit. We had made some theoretical calculations of sun direction near the lake and found that afternoon was the best time to take photos of the lake!!

Dhankar village
Locals mentioned that the lake was at the other side of the hill. It was hard to climb directly due to the steepness but walk a roundabout way to reach the lake. “An hour of walk should take you to the lake” was the words from local people. We promptly followed their direction started to climb up.

Near the lake
We gained altitude very soon and Dhankar and its monastery were way down below. The entire valley opened up as we climbed up. My speed was slower than usual. May be I was not acclimatized. For about 25 minutes we were walking completely away from the lake. That was to avoid the steep climb. Then the track turned towards the lake. After walking about 40 minutes, we reached a plain area and within few minutes Dhankar Lake was visible. We had made it in pretty good time!!

Almost near Dhankar lake. Krishna walking ahead
It is a small but pristine lake. A small gompa was constructed next to the Lake. The water was kind of greenish. Apart from a herdsman there was no one around the lake. And we spent good amount of time enjoying the beauty and taking snaps.

Dhankar lake

Dhankar lake photo taken from the top

Here is the snapshot of our trek. I tracked using my GPS device.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Spiti diary: Tabo

12th August 2014

A word (Om mani padme hum) was written on top of hill which was clearly seen from our Kaza hotel. I was wondering how one could reach there and paint!!

Our first place of visit in Spiti was Tabo, 48 km from Kaza on Kaza-Shimla highway. The name Tabo was catchy and hence I decided to visit!! Sounds strange but it was true.

Road near Kaza
It took more than two hours to cover this distance thanks to bad roads. Good roads are hard to find in Spiti and one should be prepared for bumpy and dusty ride. We had no complaints as the scenery all along the way was breathtaking.

 The valley after Kaza is very wide. The road goes along Spiti River. In between brown hills were patches of green where people grew vegetables.

Unstable hills and roads
Spiti is a rain shadow region but is seeing rains in recent years. This creates havoc in the area as the soil is loose causing landslides.

A small stream joining Spiti river
As we neared Tabo, the valley narrowed down. This part was scary as it was prone to landslides. Even winds were bringing down soil from the hills.

Tabo is famous for its monastery. Unlike other monasteries situated on hills, Tabo monastery lies on plain land. It was founded in 996 CE.

Tabo monastery
Another place to visit in Tabo is the caves. Situated on a hill overlooking Tabo town are several caves.  These are artificially excavated caves. These caves might have been used for meditation though there is no clear evidence for this.  Some caves are also used as houses but most of them are not in good condition.

View of Tabo town from caves