Outdoor camping and holidaying with your family in the Himalayas doesn’t seem to make a connection with most of us Indians. Whenever I indulged in outdoor camping across India and talked about my experiences with friends and family, they would always think of it as an activity for young singles. However, I always begged to differ as I believe that there is no better family bonding experience than in the raw confines of mother nature. You get to relish nature, it is a great learning curve for your kids, you get quality family time without any new age gadget distractions like mobile phone, television, computers, tablets and the likes, you get intoxicated by the pure air and you simply have a fun filled family holiday.
Those of us who have traveled or lived abroad, know that outdoor camping is one of the most popular activities for families. Till the recent past, outdoor camping would interest young people or die hard adventure enthusiasts. These days, there is a new wave of families who seem to have found that interest in outdoor adventure. Well, if you are a part of one such family, you would definitely be interested in camping with your family at the high altitude snow fed Himalayan lake called the Chandra Taal. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a newbie when it comes to outdoor camping or if you have practised it down to a habit. I think you will simply love the magical experience of camping here.
This crescent shaped lake whose name literally translates into ‘Lake of the moon’ is located at an altitude of 4,300 meters (14,100 feet) in the high Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul and Spiti district. Surrounded by glaciers and mighty Himalayan mountains of the Chandra Bhaga range, this turquoise lake is the starting point of the Chandra river, an important river of Lahaul and Spiti and one that joins the Chenab and the Indus later in Jammu and Kashmir.
This spectacularly beautiful location makes for a great getaway due to its proximity to Manali and leads to the gorgeous Spiti valley. Adventure loving people can trek to this lake from Kunzum pass (a high altitude pass in Lahaul and Spiti area) while beginners can drive till about 1 kilometer from the lake via Batal. This flexibility allows all kinds of families to visit this snow fed Himalayan lake. While the lake and its surroundings are insanely beautiful, the real charm of this Himalayan getaway is its camp ground as it allows you to stay longer in this divine land. The camps are located about 2 kilometers from the lake and are totally surrounded by the Himalayas. With double layered wind proof winter tents, these camps offer the perfect solace in the cold nights, its Western toilets offer you the much needed home/hotel luxury and its camp fire, cosy dinners and group activities offer you that great holiday. What else do we need for an awesome outdoor camping Himalayan experience?
There are 2 ways in which you can reach the lake from the camp. The easier one is to drive to the top of the lake from where you can walk 1 km to the lakeside. The tougher, but more beautiful option is to do a slightly uphill 75 minute hike to the lake. This hike takes you across a small lake, amidst tall mountains and offers you breath-taking views of glaciers enroute.
During the days, you can either explore the many small hikes and the beautiful views that it offers or indulge in some games with your family/friends. Evenings are nippier and hence sitting round a warm campfire and sharing stories is a great past time. And then there is the charm of sleeping in a tent surrounded by the mighty Himalayas. Due to its high altitude, nights are generally cold and sometimes in spite of your blanket and sleeping bag, you might feel cold. This is perfectly normal as most of us Indians are tropical creatures by nature and not used to such low temperatures. But, that doesn’t mean, you can’t sleep warm. And that is where new age innovations like Warmee come in handy. I believe that air activated Warmee is the ultimate body warming solution and one that I always pack on my cold weather treks and camping expeditions. All you have to do is tear open a pack, shake it, put it next to you in your blanket or sleeping bag and drift to a warm sleep. In case you are visiting Chandra Taal during the colder months, you can also use the same Warmee body warmer inside your jacket or sweater. All in all, a perfect camping companion for young and old alike.
Here, amidst the Chandra-Bhaga range, you and your family can indulge in some off-roading, outdoor camping, Himalayan trekking/hiking, campfire dancing and so much more. In case you wish for more, you can explore Kunzum pass that is located close by or head to Kaza that is located deep in the Spiti valley and soak in its rich Buddhist culture. In fact, if you and your family are strong cyclists, I would recommend carrying bicycles with you and doing some dirt mountain biking in this gorgeous terrain. For people with a stronger will to explore and those with more time, I would recommend doing the Manali to Shimla loop via Kunzum pass, Losar, Kaza, Ki, Langza, Komic, Dhemul, Lhalung, Dhankar, Pin Valley, Tabo, Nako, Recong Peo, Sangla, Chitkul and Sarahan. This heavenly loop will take you through some of the highest villages of the world, some of the remotest parts of India, the land of India’s best Apples, the last village on the Hindustan-Tibet trail and the heavenly Kinnaur Kailash, the winter abode of Lord Shiva.
If this place tempts you, you might be interested in reading these titbits of information about getting to this place and more.
Nearest Domestic Airport: Kullu
Nearest International Airport: Chandigarh
Closest cities: Manali, Kaza and Keylong
Closest Train Station: Don’t even bother. This is mountainous country and the rail network is pretty far away from this location
Easiest Route: Manali –> Rohtang Pass –> Gramphoo –> Batal –> Chandra Taal Lake (Keep at least 7 to 9 hours to cover this 160 km stretch from Manali to Chandra Taal Lake as the mountain roads are in poor condition, have many streams passing over it during the summer months and is prone to slow traffic.) Manali to Batal is a designated highway, which has boulders on it. But, from 18 km track from Batal to the camp is a proper dirt track.
Recommended Commute Options: Self driven car (if you are a good driver), a car/jeep on hire from Manali or the Himachal Pradesh state buses if you are on a low budget and have the comfort of time.
Recommended Place to Stay: Tenzin Camp. These guys are locals. The sons manage the Tenzin camp, while the parents manage the dhaba at Batal. I stayed with them and liked their company and the place so much that I would not recommend any place else. If I remember right, they charged 800 rupees per person for food (all meals), tea, western toilets, camp fires and confortable boarding with beds and blankets in tents.
Best Season to Visit: April to October
Important Things to Carry: Warm wear, Warmee, Hiking shoes, Sunglasses, First Aid Kit
Is it possible to visit on a long weekend?: Yes
What other places can I visit during an Extended Holiday?: Spiti Valley, Kinnaur, Keylong and Tandi, Leh, Zanskar Valley