It may not be as high as the moon, but sitting pretty at a height of 4300m, the crescent-shaped Chandra Tal (Moon Lake) takes quite an excursion to get to. Located in the Lahaul region of Himachal Pradesh in India, the nearest town is Manali, about 140km away, but because there are few roads to speak of after the Rohtang Pass, it takes about eight to 10 hours to reach. But as these pictures hopefully prove, the effort is worth it.
The magic begins after Rohtang Pass
If you have been to Rohtang Pass before the National Green Tribunal's (NGT) cap on tourist vehicles came into effect, you'll know how crowded it used to get! Now, the place looks serene but, if you ask me, the real magic starts after you cross the Rohtang Pass en route to Lahaul and Spiti or Ladakh.
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They call it a road
The road to Lahaul and Spiti has more stone and water than tar. It makes for a back-breaking, neck-spraining journey, but I will gladly take it once every year!
The only kind of traffic jam you'll encounter
There are few other vehicles to contend with, but herds of goats and sheep can do a good job of stalling your progress. As it was getting colder in the higher regions, large groups were migrating to villages below for the coming winter.
The bridge at Batal
Chandra Tal is a detour from Batal. If you go straight you will eventually reach Kaza, the headquarters of the Spiti region. But take the 14km detour and you will reach the beautiful lake. There are two dhabas at Batal. The older one, Chandra Dhaba, is run by a legendary couple known only as Chacha and Chachi, who've helped countless souls caught on the wrong side of winter in these high hills.
Hitchhiking to Chandra Tal
It's possible to reach Chandra Tal in your vehicle but a sturdy pair of legs can come in handy too. Last year, we had no choice but to trek up because the road was broken due to a landslide. This year, fortunately, the road was open and we even gave a rooftop ride to a gentleman.
The camping ground at Batal
This year, the camping grounds have been pushed further away from the lake. And it is a good thing. I want the lake to stay intact for the next generation in all its glory. You can hire a tent (there is no other kind of accommodation nearby) and they'll provide food as well.
Chandra Tal is still some distance away
This year, the tents were at least 3km away from Chandra Tal. Most visitors take their vehicles to the "parking lot", from where it's an easy (and gorgeous) 10-minute walk to the lake.
Look behind as you walk
As you walk onwards to Chandra Tal, don't forget to glance backwards. The view is equally beautiful. Do also remember that it gets really cold at night in August and September too. Our vehicle's windscreen was covered with frost on a cold August morning. We had to pour water over it so that it would thaw. Pack heavy woollens.
The majestic Chandra Tal
There were blue skies on my fifth trip to the lake. There was a lone gentleman roaming around without a camera when I went there on that lovely morning. It was his first trip and he asked me to click his pictures too. Some people have all the luck in the world!
A smaller lake above Chandra Tal
There are at least three other water bodies above Chandra Tal, although I explored only one this time. They are worth visiting even if they aren't as impressive as Chandra Tal.
If you plan to go, you can hire a vehicle from Manali. Otherwise, in-season there is a bus from Manali to Kaza. Get down at Batal and trek. If walking for 14km doesn't appeal to you, be prepared to hitchhike.
Mridula Dwivedi is an ex-professor with a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur. She quit her job in May 2015, though she is not sure that she did it to travel. She blogs at Travel Tales from India. She can be found at Twitter and Instagram too.