Chandra Taal was one place that made me put Spiti on my travel map for Himachal. Just a picture of it was enough for me to go there. I knew nothing more.
Early morning from Manali at 6, we left for Rohtang. We three, along with a couple we met in the Volvo had hired a Sumo Gold for Spiti. One cannot take anything lesser than an SUV on these treacherous roads. It was already very cold and windy when we started climbing up to Marhi.The roads were not really in a great shape..seemed like this year’s monsoon hadn’t been kind to them.
We started moving up, and my eyes followed the disappearing Beas down the valley. I let my heart take over me and wander into nothingness, watching the sky become clearer, the trees growing upright on the sloping mountains…my heart sort of danced inside with happiness, for it felt free, and it was soaking in the beauty around.
We stopped at Marhi for some hot coffee. The temperature was plummeting, i realised it when i stepped out of the warmth of our car and removed a glove to take a picture of a small temple perched against the backdrop of the majestic mountains, and i FROZE. So did my Nexus, captured half a shot and got stuck for the first time.(had to reboot, it was fine again). Living in Bombay since last two years, i had forgotten what winters were like, and here i was freezing,using a hot cup of coffee to first unfreeze my hand and then warm my throat. it was VERY windy, and chilling. We hopped to our gaddi to leave for Rohtang from there, not stopping for a few hours from there.
There was something about this bumpy ride that was dissolving knots in my heart. By the time i crossed Rohtang, i had forgotten what Bombay, or any other city looked like.There is a magical quality in the naked slopes of the harrowing mountains that brings out our inchoate souls, a feeling that no pretence is required ,sinks in and one feels liberated in a way that only his soul recognizes.
After a few hours, we stopped for breakfast around 11,at the last dhaba available for hours to go before one reaches Kunzum La. We decided to have hot aloo paranthas to fill ourselves for the hours to come. Surprisingly, these paranthas had grated aloo inside and they were deep fried in the kadhai. apparently, there wasn’t enough heat available to boil the potaoes and then cook the paranthas.
We ate them with gratitude and moved towards Chandra Taal.
The road towards Spiti is less frequented, narrow and has probably never been tarred. Its one of the most deserted roads i have been to.One gets back to their raw forms on these roads.. no networks, no internet….one is absolutely disconnected from the everyday toys that we hold to keep ourselves away from us.Plus, there are no toilets! and with the pressure rolling inside your body with the ascending elevation, one is forced to get down the narrow rocky road, and find a rock to free the dancing fluids in your bladder behind it. And trust me, you feel frozen and naked, then too.
The drive to Spiti is extremely 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.The stark landscape changing with every hairpin bend we took while traversing the harrowing mountains.Nature gives you a stellar performance with every frame that your eyes see. We took hundreds of pictures, exhausting the device’s memory cards, but trust me..no number of photographs can ever do justice to the actual beauty of the place that slithers in your memory, etching indelible visual idylls in your mind.
Although Manali to chandra taal is only 130 kms, the treacherous roads don’t allow you to travel on a speed more than 15-20kms an hour. We were heading upto a height of 4,300 metres (14,100 ft) and we could feel the oxygen levels dropping and the roads were extremely dusty, we somehow were praying for the road to become better, but the small detour you take for Chandra Taal before arriving at Kunzum La was worse than we had imagined. Dangerous Hairpin bends all the way to the meadows, where tents were set literally scared us. We had to get down every now and then to remove big stones brought down by the landslides from the extremely narrow road we had set foot upon.After some forty minutes of the extremely bad ride we reached the camping site at around 4:30. from here we had to climb up and then down to go to the lake. The mountains offered no view of the lake yet.
We started walking up , against the chilly winds.I couldn’t walk for more than 5 mins at a stretch, had to wait to catch some oxygen and and rub my frozen nose to a breathable warmth. My brother offered some Sikkim rum to me to help me warm my body, and it did work. We started having the rum to warm ourselves, and walked down till we spotted the Lake.
It was beauty more than my eyes could see..the painstaking ride seemed more than worth it. On the front were barren beautiful peaks and a meadow on the other side of the crescent shaped Moon lake (that’s where it gets its name from). My feet stopped at the lake and my eyes and my soul toured all around, encapsulating a certain tranquility around me. The royal blue sky, the mountains acting as a benevolent protector to the pristine aquamarine waters…all of it was gripping my senses, making me never want to leave such a beautiful place. I opened my shoes, and stepped into the freezing cold water. even if this meant falling sick, i wanted to do it. The feeling was so tranquil, that nothing mattered at that time. My naked soul was dancing with a joy never experienced before, the sight my eyes were soaking in were magically healing all recent wounds.
It is the vastness and majesty of nature that makes you feel so inevitably small that every pain, every worry vanishes…one is left with a surreal feeling and mesmerizing.This was one view i will carry to my grave, a sight of beauty unparalleled.
It was starting to get dark by the time we put our shoes back, and headed towards our white safari , waiting to drives us ahead to Kaza.But as soon as we started and went a few metres ahead, one of our tires burst while taking a turn.The guys got down to help Driver uncle change the wheel., while the other two vehicles behind us waited patiently.My stomach was churning with hunger.It was almost twelve hours of not having anything but one aloo parantha. While driving back, and then towards Kunzum La, we realised at 4500m, that we all were struck by AMS.We had traveled too much in one day, from Manali at 2000 metres to Kunzum La at 4500m. We didn’t get the time to get acclimatized…backs were hurting, heads were bursting and stomachs growling like demons, while the altitude played its own cards of breathlessness and cold. All we wanted to do was reach Losar, a village 60 kms before Kaza and have something to eat.When we finally reached Losar, i got down immediately to find a loo while the others were inquiring at homestays if we could get something to eat.
Feeling extremely sick the moment i got down, i felt like i would faint if i didn’t pee somewhere immediately. After relieving myself, i walked back to the white safari, when a storm was approaching the village, ferocious winds blowing towards us…i fastened my pace and moved towards the place where we had stopped for Lunch or dinner, whatever you want to call the first meal of the day at 6pm in the evening.
It was a small cottage, made of wood and thick limestone plastered walls that spread warmth in our bodies the very moment we entered in. We were served rice and kaali daal with cauliflower and a super hot and spicy red chatni( it literally put our mouths on fire), and all of it seemed like heaven. We gobbled it down our throats in minutes, when we heard someone talk of snow.I immediately ran outside with my friend…i had never seen snow in my life, and there it was…snowing outside, against the backdrop of those majestic mountains. The day was fruitful…the approaching storm stopped at the village in the form of snow. It was freezing when we left, but the view outside was breathtaking. A million stars studded in the sky against the dark mountains..It was a sight to behold…like watching the subject of Salvador Dali’s Starry Night .I can’t tell you how many stars were there, it was like many galaxies out there. Living in the mountains is a different life all together. I was envious of the people there.
“And if these mountains had eyes, they would wake to find two strangers in their fences, standing in admiration as a breathing red pours its tinge upon earth’s shore. These mountains, which have seen untold sunrises, long to thunder praise but stand reverent, silent so that man’s weak praise should be given God’s attention.”
― Donald Miller