Magnificent, clearly is an understated adjective for a place like Lahaul-Spiti. Embraced by the lush rocks and gigantic mountains, it offers a glimpse of virgin Indian hill terrain, a sight that is bound to leave you gaping in awe.
With limited time at hand, we decided to commence our journey, the very day we reached Manali. Amidst heavy downpour and marshes, our journey began at around 2 pm.Loaded with goodies to gobble and anticipation we made a quick pit stop to foggy and cloud laden Rohtang Pass. Blurred by the rains, it barely had a soul in sight and giving the usual selfie routine a miss, we decided to tread ahead.
Post reaching the Gramfu area, the road splits into two, one of which leads to the Manali-Leh highway and the other one to the road less traveled, ie. Lahaul-Spiti valley. Of course we took the latter and kept bracing the fun on the offing.The gravity defying curves of the route are every brave heart's dream journey. The route is devoid of any proper roads and continues on a muddy trail which gets slippery and dangerous during rains.
Undermining the tricky route, our eyes were captured by the majestic rock mountains on either sides, barren at times, and lush green at others. After a back wrenching journey of around 6 hours, we took another pit stop at Chatru, which is a small camp base with a couple of dhabas in place.Subsided rains had given way to a decrease in the temperature, leaving us craving for a hot cup of tea and munchies to satiate our tired souls. 10 minutes of back stretching and quick gulps of steaming hot masala chai had us all geared up for the road ahead and we got back on track. During the journey our driver suggested we take a night halt at Batal area as it was past 8 and dark. Abiding the proficient local's decision, we concluded the same and thus stopped at Batal at around half past 9.
Getting out of the car seemed like a challenge on reaching Batal, the aftermaths of travelling on a pebbled road combined with some cold blooded weather were enough to scare us, but a look outside the misty window pane and we were all smiles. Batal is a quaint little camp site with barely 5-6 camps laden with basic amenities for a night stay, however the sight outside the car was surreal. A beautiful lonely valley in the lap of the grand himalayas, a sparkling river Chandra flowing along side, illuminated with the twilight. Ah! An imagery one can only dream of. We jumped off the cars and decided to take a small stroll along the river and bask in the moon's impeccable glory.
Around 10.25pm, the owners of the dhaba assigned us a camp to stay in and asked us to join for dinner at the dhaba (included in the stay), Chachi-Chacha, as the travelers affectionately address them, are an elderly couple with enthusiasm for life and love for travelers. The kind of hospitality at over 12000 sq feet above sea level, left us touched and grateful to them. Dinner was a warm, spicy treat of rajma chawal followed by a relaxing masala chai. Post the meal time, we retreated to the camp in hope of a clearer sky and more adventure.
The next morning was as beautiful as it could get, with a little snowfall atop the mountains and a bright sun that gave a peek-a-boo every now and then. At around 6 pm we all left the bed to indulge in some photography, posing to our heart's delight, holding the cameras with almost frozen hands. Without wasting the day any further, the next step was to freshen up, pack, grab a quick egg and toast breakfast served by Chachiji and get on the road.
Our next stop to be was the beautiful Chandrataal lake that is the source of the river Chandra (also known as Chenab across Pakistan). A 14 km ride, cutting through the rocks, and braving the decreasing temperature led us to the Chandrataal camp site where we parked the car to trek till the lake. A small 10 minute hike on the hilltop was fun and relaxing with the merciful sun smiling bright from the sky. The dreamlike lake is crystal clear with green and blue hued water, a pristine sight to behold. On the bank were a few monks, setting up the stage for a religious chant. After the customary selfies, we did a parikrama of the lake and sat aside to unwind for a while With hunger pangs and smiles we left the lake to get back to the Batal camp as the weather was too harsh to spend the night at Chandrataal. Post the quick dal chawal and parantha lunch our next journey began to the popular Kunzum Pass which is known to be one of the highest passes in India and is the pit stop for every traveler heading towards the village of Kaza. Kunzum pass is a smooth 12 km ride away from Batal and houses an old temple for Kunzum Mata. Glorious in every way, it was truly worth the uphill travel and we were lucky to witness a sudden snowfall too. After having paid our tributes at the temple and rejoicing like teenagers in the snow, it was time to get back to the camp before it got too dark. Batal was bone chilling cold with all the snow and rain, and our hosts decided to let us sit around the angeethi in the kitchen area and warm ourselves until dinner was served. Devoid of the city's hustle bustle, a warm meal and some ginger honey concoction was enough for us to recapitulate the day and cozy up in the bed.
Waking up to a snow covered site wasn't really in our minds the last night, but alas, such a pleasant surprise it was. Gradually the sun began to shine and we hushed up with quick cutting chais and bid goodbyes to the valley. Retreating back to Manali was easier and smoother with no rain and a lot of sun en route. It took us 5 pit stops, a big box of chocolates and an overwhelmed heart to get back to the city.