Spiti valley: the many shades of paradise

Part 4- A sojourn away from the hustle and bustle of city life


December 13, 2019

/ By and / Himachal Pradesh

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spiti valley - Kunzum Mata temple

Kunzum Mata temple

Even a drive along the winding roads of Spiti valley presents the travellers with a canvas of nature where the water changes colour as the day progresses. A break from the hustle and bustle of the daily city life, it helps one rejuvenate amidst nature. We are back with the last installment of our episodic account of a trip to Spiti valley.

After visiting Langza village and the several important Buddhist monasteries in and around Kaza like the Key Gompa monastery, we begin our journey towards our next destination.

Adventurous sojourn

It was only the next day we realised that the drive to the Chandra Taal lake was going to be the most adventurous sojourn of this trip. After an hour’s drive from Kaza, the roads became even more rugged and the stretch was one of the hardest any driver could ever take.

What was more intriguing to see was that despite the hard drive, bikers were most keen to drive regardless of the tremendous struggle and skills that were needed to keep the vehicle on the road.

Situated at an altitude of almost 4,600 m, the Kunzum La Pass is approximately 122 km from Manali and is the main pass that connects the Kullu valley to Lahaul and Spiti valley. The road to the pass has 15 sharp hairpin bends that thoroughly test the driving skills of even the most experienced drivers.

Locals believe that the Kunzum Mata (Goddess Kunzum) keeps guard over the pass and wards off the evil power.  It is thus considered vital to seek her blessings when you reach the top of the pass. Having sought the blessings, we headed down to our campsite which was located on the banks of Chandra Taal Lake.

The lake, about 15 km downhill from Kunzum temple, is considered a camper and trekker’s paradise due to the sheer beauty of the area.

The name Chandra Taal (Moon Lake) comes from its crescent shape. The lake itself is one kilometre in length and is 500 m wide. Due to its sweet water, it served as a halting point for traders, travelling from Tibet towards Spiti and the Kullu valley.

Chandra Taal lake

Chandra Taal lake

The lake’s crystal clear water keeps on changing colour as the day progresses, turning deep blue in early mornings to emerald green to golden orange post sunrise. From our campsite, the lake was about a two km long trek, though with the cars, one can drive up to 500 m from the shore. A small note of caution- at that altitude, even that two km walk or for that matter even that half kilometre trek is not an easy one.

Even people in their 20s struggle while trekking in the area and it becomes even more hard for people who smoke or have breathing issues. But once you reach the lake, the whole journey seems worth it as you are greeted by Buddhist prayer flags waving in the winds with a picturesque view of spellbinding mountains and majestic blue waters in front of you.

One can spend hours just admiring the beauty and peace around and the ever-changing colour of the water acts as an icing on the cake. The campsites provide a good shield from the chill as even in early autumn, the temperatures drop down to sub-zero levels in the nights and one cannot even light a bonfire, due to lack of oxygen.

After a night admiring one of the clearest views of the Milky Way galaxy and millions of stars, one heads out early in the morning as the rising temperatures start melting the ice and raise the water level of nearby glaciers. The increased water levels makes it much harder to journey ahead especially for the bikers.

The high speed of the water at this height can be lethal for many as their force can at times even push cars down the road. It is thus advised that you journey ahead early morning and take rest in Losar village if you are heading towards Kaza or Chhatru village if you are heading out to Manali.

The small villages, which have a population of just a few hundred, have very helpful stop points for travellers that even at this height provide delicious snacks such as Momos, dim sums, noodles and soups.

Our drive down to Chhatru village was the hardest one of this trip with no roads, shifting silts and many melting glaciers to cross. Despite the hardship, we were left awe-struck by the most stunning view of the uncharted mountains that we had ever seen. The mountains itself seemed to change colour as we moved ahead and at one point, we even saw mountains that looked shiny black and red in the morning sun.

The literal glow of the mountains was matched by hundreds of water streams that we saw on the way, all of them heading down to merge into the Spiti river which continued to run parallel to us. After nearly three hours of very hard driving, we finally reached highway that led to the Kullu Valley.

Back in communication

Roads leading to Kunzum Mata temple

Roads leading to Kunzum Mata temple

Our next stop on the highway was Rohtang Pass, at an altitude of nearly 4,000 m and 51 km from Manali, our final destination. The pass was covered by a dense fog when we reached. The pass is an important gathering point for travellers on the route, headed either to Lahaul or Manali.

Rohtang, which means “The heap of skeletons” in Tibetan language, has many stories associated with its name. While many believe that the pass was named as such due to the high number of people who died there trying to cross the difficult pass, there are many local theories that attribute the name to Lord Shiva in Kullu and the Tibetan Gyapo (king) Gyasar in Lahaul.

After Rohtang, rest of the journey through scenic mountains, seemed noisy in comparison. As we headed down the pass, we soon began to get signals on our mobile phones and we were back in communication with the rest of the world, something that had been missing for many days. As soon as the network was available, our phones began buzzing with hundreds of messages that had piled up over the days.

These messages seemed like a rude interruption that brought us back to reality and made us realise how we have forgotten to live away from our phones and hordes of people who always surround us. While we slowly set back to our daily rhythm as we reached Manali, the few days break in the Spiti Valley had made us realise how we need to take a break away from technology and seek earth at its natural best, which Spiti in raw form truly provided.

The End

The Tribal Monastic Drive was organised by Aamod Nomads. Aamod Nomads offers adventure travel through self-drive and glamping expeditions. To know more about the company and their trips, please visit www.aamodnomads.com and/or write to info@aamodnomads.com. You can also call at +91 9899074083, 9899241743

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