Chandratal or Chandra Taal (In Hindi Chandra means Moon and Taal means Lake) hence the name ChandraTaal or simply Moon Lake.ChandraTaal is a breathtaking high altitude lake at an altitude of 4270 mtrs in Spiti Valley , Himachal Pradesh , India. An interesting fact about Chandrataal is that there is no visible source of water to the lake, although you can see several outlets. This only means that the water source is from ground itself. Unlike many high altitude lakes (like Pangong Tso in Ladakh) Chandrataal is a sweet water lake, just to confirm this , I actually tasted it (hmm It did not taste like chocolate but yes it was normal). The lake is around 1 km in length and close to 3 kms in circumference. It is also believed to be the source of Chandra River which merges with Bhaga River (coming from Keylong side) to form Chandrabhaga River. Chandrabhaga then continues its journey into Pangi Valley of Himachal Pradesh and enters the state of Jammu and Kashmir where it is called Chenab.
The chandrabhaga mountain range adds beauty to the lake even more. There is no local settlement in its vicinity as the place is very remote and mostly barren. The only people you will find in this region will be local shepherds called Gaddi’s in local dialect. The lake remains mostly cut off from rest of the valley and can only be visited during June to October. Once you are at chandrataal , a walk around the lake is highly recommended. As you walk along the banks of the lake you get different views at every corner. Also, climb the small hill on the left bank to get wonderful view of Samundri Tapu on the other side and from here you can actually get the complete view of Chandrataal.There has been sightings of Snow Leopard and the area around the lake is a refuge for many species like Snow Cock, Chukor, Black Ring Stilt, Kestrel, Golden Eagle, Chough, Red Fox, Himalayan Ibex, and Blue Sheep.The area around ChandraTaal has been declared as a Ramsar Wetland Site and is listed on the list of Wetlands of International Importance.There are 26 Wetland sites in India , you can read about importance of wetlands and Ramsar sites at http://www.ramsar.org/wetland/india
There is a motor able road which will take you to about 1.5 kms short of Chandrataal .You have to take a detour from Batal – Kaza road about 1 kms ahead of Batal (Kaza side) and continue on a small rocky road along with Chandra river on your left for about 12 kms till the road ends. Check road status at the Batal Dhaba before venturing further. There is another route to reach Chandrataal from Kunjum Pass (4550 mtrs) , it’s an 8 km trek route from Kunjum to Chandrataal. During winter season when the road is not open till Chandrataal many adventure seekers take this route to see frozen chandrataal. An important point to note is that there is no mobile connectivity in this region. The last mobile connectivity via Manali route is at Marhi (half way mark to Rohtang pass).The nearest mobile connectivity (BSNL postpaid only) will work in Kaza (aprox 100 kms) away from Chandrataal. The only connectivity is a satellite phone at Chandra Dhaba in Batal (it may not work as well).During my last visit in July 2014 the satellite connectivity was down hence do not rely on it. Make sure your whereabouts are known to near and dear ones and tell them in advance of no phone connectivity for certain dates.
Important: Kindly note that if you are traveling directly from Delhi to ChandraTaal via Manali route , there is high chance of getting hit by AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness). Headache and vomiting are common signs if you are hit by AMS. Kindly take necessary medicines and keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water/juice. Carrying a portable oxygen cylinder is another option which you can consider for emergency. If situation does not improve it is best to get down to a lower altitude.
There is no permanent structure in the vicinity of the lake neither any camping is allowed. During summer season (Mid June to Mid Oct) tented accommodation is available just 2 kms before the lake. The camp is nice and spacious and we stayed here on two occasions during our visit. The advantage of staying near the lake is that you can visit it multiple times.
Another option is to stay at Batal Chandra Dhabha of Mr. & Mrs. Dorje. They have space in their Dhaba and also there is a fiber hut opposite to their Dhaba which can easily accommodate 7-8 people. The accommodation will be very basic though, they will also be able to provide you with quilts etc. Recently a PWD Rest House has also come up in Batal which can also be booked for stay. You can take rooms at PWD and eat at Chandra Dhabha.
Other places of interest around ChandraTaal
Kunzum Pass: The pass is the gateway to enter Spiti valley and stands tall at 4551 mtrs. If you want to complete the circuit , that is you enter via Shimla and exit via Manali both Kujum pass and Rohtang pass should be open for vehicle traffic. Kunjum being at higher altitude then Rohtang and not as important as Rohtang opens quite late in the month of June.
Bara Shigri Glacier:This is perhaps the largest glacier in Himachal Pradesh located in the Chandra valley of Lahaul. Evidently the glacier feeds river Chandra and you can get an amazing view of the glacier from Kunjum pass.
Sissu: Here you can see a beautiful waterfall.
Kaza: Kaza is the main town in Spiti valley and there are number of attractions around Kaza. The famous Kye and Dhankar Monasteries, Sky villages of Langza , Kibber and the highest motor able village of world Komic are nearby Kaza.
During summer season June – July – Aug – temperature will be pleasant and around 15- 20 degrees. September onwards Chandrataal remains very cold during winter and temperature may drop way below Zero and reach up to minus 20 degrees.
Number of Days Delhi to Delhi (via Manali)
4 days minimum
How to reach Chandrataal
By Air: Nearest Airport is at Bhunter near Kullu (168 kms) and Jubbarhattii (534 kms) Airport near Shimla. Once there hire a cab to reach Chandrataal.
By Train: Nearest Railway line is at Shimla (512 kms) connected with Heritage toy train from Kalka. Once there hire a cab to reach Chandrataal.
By Bus:You can get regular and Volvo bus service to Shimla / Manali from ISBT Kasmiri Gate Delhi. From Manali side, there is direct bus service between Kaza and Manali , however it runs for very limited period of time. If coming from Manali , you need to get down at Batal and then hire a taxi to reach Chandrataal.(There is no taxi service as such in Batal and only if you are lucky you will get a ride till Chandrataal).From Shimla Side you will need to catch another bus to first reach Recong Peo and then take a bus from there till Kaza. There also a direct bus from Delhi to Kaza and Delhi to Recong Peo ; keep in mind , this will be a very long and tiring journey (More than 750 kms). Once at Kaza , you can hire a taxi to reach Chandrataal.
By Taxi / Car from Delhi:
Make sure you are using a vehicle with high ground clearance.4 wheel drive is not a necessity but roads in this region are no-existent after Rohtang from Manali side and Recong peo from Shimla side. There are 2 routes to reach ChandraTaal:
Route 1> Delhi – Manali – Rohtang pass– Gramphoo – Chattru – Battal – Chandratal (682 kms)
Route 2> Delhi – Shimla – Narkanda – Karcham – Powari – Puh – Nako – Tabo – Kaza – Losar – Kunzum Pass– ChandraTaal (884 kms)
What we recommend:
Chandrataal is best visited along with rest of the attractions in Spiti valley and you complete the full circuit. You enter via Shimla and exit via Manali, however this would mean you would need at least 10-12 days to cover the entire circuit. For people who have shortage of (not more than 4 days) and would only like to cover ChandraTaal this is what you can probably do.
Take an overnight Volvo from Delhi; there are multiple options, so take the one which start early from Delhi and would reach early at Manali.
Hire a Taxi jeep which will take you to ChandraTaal and back. If you start early you should be able to reach ChandraTaal by nightfall. If going in early season (mid june) or late (after mid Oct) Check at Batal Dhaba if accommodation options are available at Chandrataal, if not you can stay at Batal and proceed to Chandrataal next day. You will get one full day and night (if you get option to stay) at chandrataal.
Kindly not that if you are travelling directly from Delhi to ChandraTaal via Manali route to there is high chance of getting hit by AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness). Headache and vomiting are common signs if you are hit by AMS. Kindly take necessary medicines and keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water/juice. From my personnel experience , It is best not to consume Alcohol while you travel to places with Altitude higher than 3500 mtrs , this may also lead to AMS.