All through the journey to Batal, the sky was overcast. It left me quite heartbroken. Since last June this has been the fate of all my trips to the Himalayas whether in India or Nepal. I was cribbing to everyone who would care to listen to me.

And then as the day progressed, Batal suddenly showed its majesty for a few hours. Just above my campsite was a small hillock. I picked it up as my perch to indulge in the evening’s photography. I had the big valley all to myself. There was a group of British trekkers camping nearby but due to some reason none of them were out clicking.

I am usually one happy person in the mountains. I suspect it is because of a much simpler lifestyle that we follow for a few days. No bath is available unless you wish to take a dip in ice cold water, you brush your teeth using stream water. In fact, finding a good water source and not polluting it is essential to camping. Food has to be carried from the plains and cooked on a stove. That is why we needed Ramakantji, our master organizer.

Beautiful Batal, Spiti

Beautiful Batal, Spiti

So, it was a very happy me sitting on the top of a small hillock in the wide open valley. The Dhauladhar Ranges reluctantly showed their face to me, as if grudging the fact. Batal which is at an altitude of 3950 meters was treating me kindly I had no symptoms of any altitude related discomfort. Then I saw those three dots moving on the road. I could recognize them from a distance because of their clothes. They were my nephew Dilip, Vishal and Bobby, all of them over 6 feet tall. And yet in the larger scheme of things dots is all they resemble. I am sure you will have to strain your eyes to see them at this resolution of the image.

An Evening at Batal, Spiti

An Evening at Batal, Spiti

Here is an version of the same picture that I like more as the dots are more like small lines. I wonder what it is with such landscapes and me being happy. Not even happiness, for those few days I was content. Needless to say, I feel my stay was way too short and I am sorely missing the mountains.

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After walking for 14 kilometers or so, I was happy to crawl into my tent which others had kindly pitched. Dilip and I were sharing the tent. What I didn’t like though, was the rain. It had been falling incessantly since we started trekking. Only rain in  Spiti means light tip tip drops. You will not get really wet but it can be mighty annoying. It is also annoying because the clouds cover all the view. I mean here I was so close to Chandratal Lake and yet I was not running down to it because of the weather! I told Vishal, “Chandratal is a myth!”

After walking for such a long time, I didn’t take much time to doze off. I was snug in my sleeping bag, I was out of the rain and wind and I was so tired. Thankfully my ankle and knee were not giving any major trouble after the fall. I woke up only when Ramakant ji gave us some tea in the tent! I was even more annoyed that the rain was still falling without a break. After the tea, I managed to doze off once again.

This time I woke up when it was trying to get dark. Vishal gave us soup and pop corns to eat. They were the best pop corns I ever had. Dilip and I were on a cribbing spree about the weather. I mean here I was after walking 14 kilometers, only to get cooped in my tent and listen to rain, rain and some more rain! I was telling Dilip that I spent more time looking at the roof of the tent that I did at the Chandratal Lake!

Our Tent at Chandratal, Spiti

Our Tent at Chandratal, Spiti #Canon550D

Before the pop corns arrived I was also telling Dilip that the only thing that remained now was to spill over the small quantity of tea left at the bottom of the glasses inside the tent. He offered to take the glasses out, stumbled near the outer flap of the tent but thankfully spilled the leftover tea on the grass. He is 6 foot plus and then it was his turn to cribb out the height of the tent. I agreed it felt like murgi ka darba (hen’s coop) with nowhere to run and only the tent to hide from the rains outside.

Darkness fell and the weather was such that no one went to the lake. Sometime later we had dinner and turned in for the night. I was hoping for better weather in the morning.

The Chandratal Lake, Spiti

The Chandratal Lake, Spiti #Canon550D

The next morning was not too great weather wise. It was a short walk to the lake after drinking a cup of tea. But even in that cloudy grey weather the Chandratal Lake looked majestic. I really truly want to go back the next year later in the season praying for clear skies! As I said, I spent more time inside the tent than by the lake but even then it was worth walking all those kilometers. I would do it again without thinking twice, if the road is closed.

At the Chandratal Lake, Spiti

Me at the Chandratal Lake, Spiti #Sony

I feel truly blessed to be able to walk up to the lake and a glimpse of it. I visited Spiti in 2007 but I could not go to the Chandratal Lake then. I went back to the region after 7 long years. It would be 10 years since I have not been to Ladakh. I have to set the other count right and soon! And I hope I would never wait for another 7 years to go back to Spiti. Being back in the plains gives me low altitude sickness.

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Ranvir dropped us all on the Batal Chandratal Road all the way till the jeep would go. The road ended suddenly in an abyss which no jeep could bridge. We all got out and happily started walking. We had approximately 14 kilometers to walk before we reached Chandratal. I was the most suspect candidate in the entire group. I was walking without carrying any weight. Everyone else carried weight and were fit as well.

I started first as they were adjusting the loads to be carried. After walking for a short distance I met a group coming from the opposite direction. I asked them how did they find the trip! And they started, “they say it is 14 km but it is much more and there are waterfalls on the road, it rained all the time …” I said, “aab tou okhli mein sar de diya hai …” (I don’t know how to translate this one, I was trying to say now that I have committed I have to keep going, in spite of the difficulties, but the Hindi idiom is much more flavorful) and I kept on walking. One of the group members warned me there was a waterfall right around the corner and he was right. There were two waterfalls on the road in all when I trekked.

A Waterfall on the Road, Batal-Chandratal Road

A Waterfall on the Road, Batal-Chandratal Road canon#550D

I stood for a while, admiring the waterfall but then I had to cross it on foot. Now I have nice waterproof trekking shoes but as I thought there was a road to Chandratal I did not carry them. How could I guess that the road would not be open? Anyway those shoes are also only ankle high and the water was certanily more than ankle deep. Staring at it and giggling served no purpose. Soon Ramakantji (our ace trekking guide) also came alongside and I asked him the question, to which he nodded yes.

Crossing a Stream on the Batal-Chandratal Road

Crossing a Stream on the Batal-Chandratal Road #Canon550D

The question was, “should I remove my shoes and wade in?” to which he said yes! Now there are some advantages and some disadvantages of this strategy. The advantage is that your shoes remain dry and you can wear them after crossing the stream. The disadvantage is that you put your bare feet in freezing water. If you try to run through because your feet are trying to kill you, it is almost certain that you would slip and fall and get soaked as well.

So, you have to take measured steps in that icy cold water and get through. I managed fine. Only for a few seconds afterwards I could barely feel my feet. But once I put my shoes and walked for a while, I was totally fine. If I waded with my shoes, I would have to live with wet shoes for the rest of the trek! This picture was taken while I was coming back from Chandratal but you still get the idea, how to cross the waterfall or nala the first time you encounter it!

Chandra River

Chandra River #canon550D

In every trek there comes a time when you are happy. The scenery is fabulous, you are not too tired yet and everything seems to be in harmony in the world. While I was walking next to the Chandra River, I was in that happy mood.

I even asked a man how many sheep he had in his herd, to which he told me- 600. He could manage 600 sheep alone with the help of two sheep dogs! Thinking happy thoughts, I marched on.

Taking a Break

Taking a Break #Sony

That happy phase is followed by an urge to take a break, eat a few chocolates and drink some water/juice. You still feel invincible, only you are human, you need a little nourishment. I was given a boiled egg, a chocolate, a banana and a juice to drink. I refused an apple and I saved the chocolate for later. And then I started walking again. This is all you get for lunch by the way, because everything is packed and is walking on someone’s back!

I was still in the happy phase but I was also curious as to how long it would take me to reach the lake eventually. It was 11.00 am and I was walking since 8.15 am.

Fixed Camps at Chandratal

Fixed Camps at Chandratal #Lumia1020

The way thankfully was not too steep, but after one more hour I was no longer in my happy phase. I now wanted to reach somewhere. Ramakant ji had told me that just before the lake there was a steep patch to be climbed. Along the way I found 3 fixed campsites, where you can rent a tent. We had our own tents though. Gradually I reached the incline as well. By then I had crossed two fixed campsites already.

After struggling through those steep patches I was truly tired. There have been treks where I have been completely broke and miserable when I finally reached the destination. Chandratal was not that bad, but it was almost there. When we reached the third campsite we were not far off from our own camping ground. We stopped for a cup of tea and some Maggi at the tea shop within this last camp- which is called the Jamaica’s Camp, don’t ask me why.

Trudging along the Final Slope

Trudging along the Final Slope #Canon550D

The stick figure you see in the picture is me, trudging along the final slope to my campsite. The campsite was by the stream that flows out of Chandratal. I knew I was almost there. The stream was downhill and while climbing down, I tried to step over a big rock, landed unevenly on my left ankle, twisted it mildly, grazed my left knee and fell. I sat down on a rock in rude shock.

No one saw me falling but my ego was still dented. The injury was not bad at all. After a few minutes, I was feeling alright. I silently went down to my tent and crawled in, it was almost 3.00 pm. I decided that I would go to the lake a little later.

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I was taking the Manali-Kaza Road after seven long years. In 2007 my husband, my elder nephew Dilip and I trekked in the Spiti region. This time Dilip and I were going back to visit Chandratal. In 2007 I so wanted to visit Chnadratal but neither Dilip nor Seshadri were willing to give me company. I was not much of a solo traveler then. This time the original plan was to visit Chandratal and then trek in the region. But I had to let go of trekking so that I can go to Thailand (yet again!) later this week.

There is a road which goes quite close to Chandratal but I was told by my guide Ramakant ji that it was not open. That did not deter us one single bit! All of us were willing to walk for 14 kilometers to reach the lake. But before we could head to Chandratal, we were pitching tent for a night at Batal.

Batal, Spiti

Batal, Spiti

All through the way, the sky was overcast. I was really lucky that the weather at Batal cleared for a few hours, for it refused to clear again in the entire trip! The boy standing on the stones is my nephew Dilip. He is not the same who goes on with me to the foreign trips like Sri Lanka and Maldives. That is his younger brother Sunil. Both are excellent traveling companions, mischievous and always ready for an adventure.  I remembered Batal as a big flat valley that was incredibly beautiful and I was right. It is still a big flat valley that is incredibly beautiful. It is famous as a pit stop for lunch on the way to Kaza.

Dhabas at Batal, Spiti

Dhabas at Batal, Spiti

These are the dhabas at Batal. Seven years ago there was only one, Chandra Dhaba. It is always good to get inside Chandra Dhaba as you immediately get out of the wind. In June 2010 the owners, known as Chacha and Chachi (uncle and auntie) gave shelter at Chandra Dhaba to stranded tourists. They have the cuttings of the news paper stories even now. Always happy to feed you Chacha and Chachi are quite popular with the tourists on that route. Chacha always says it costs 1000 rupees for anything you ask! The warmth they generate in that cold place is really amazing.

The Bridge at Batal

The Bridge at Batal

Dilip and I were standing at the bridge across the Chandra river when he asked for my precious, my camera. He pointed out to a small staircase and said he was going down. He assured me that he would be careful. It was only later that I saw this wonderful shot he took on the bridge. Next time, when I go to Batal, I am going to be a copycat, dirty rat. I am going to take the same shot with my feet dangling from there.

Chandra River, Batal

Chandra River, Batal

As the day was beautiful we walked along the river for quite sometime. And no, we don’t have any false bravado, we know we city slickers can’t even dream of being reckless with a fast flowing river. Heck, we can’t even be reckless with a slow flowing river, any kind of river, period. We maintained a safe distance and went to the shore with utmost caution. Dilip could throw flat stones and make them skip on the river. We had a nice time. We were told to come back to the camp before sundown and we kept that promise.

Camping at Batal, Spiti

Camping at Batal, Spiti

The blue tent that you see was home for me for two nights, one of the best accommodations that I can ever dream of staying in. I know I have posted starry pictures from Batal before, but I could not resist posting one more. Dilip and I also promised that we would not let another seven years lapse before we head out on that road again. I have all intentions to keep this promise.

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After hot rice and daal at Chhatru for lunch, I managed to doze off in the jeep. Ranvir our amicable driver gave a shout after sometime, “Rama dekh jam laga hai” (wake up Rama, there is a traffic jam ahead). Ramakant ji was the head of our trip! His cry woke us all; there were 7 of us going to Batal from the Manali- Kaza route. At least 20 Sumos and other vehicles were piled ahead of us. One of the Tata Sumos was stuck in the Pagal Nala (mad stream) that comes after Chhatru.

Piled Up Traffic near Pagal Nala after Chhatru, Spiti

Piled Up Traffic near Pagal Nala after Chhatru, Spiti

Gradually, everyone got out of the jeep, it was only Ranvir and me who stayed inside to be out of cold and the mild drizzle. Ranvir confided in me, “Mein aata nahin Spiti, per rama ko mana nahin kar paya.” (I would have not come to Spiti but I could not say no to Rama). Ranvir was the guy who drove my husband last year to Chandratal as well. At the end of this trip we were making plans for visiting the region next year again and Ranvir readily agreed to drive again, but then I am running ahead of the narrative.

After a few minutes Ranvir also walked out. The some 20 minutes later I too was bored. I decided to venture out as well. A few kilometers before this jam there was a waterfall flowing on the road (which is a common feature on the Manali Kaza road) and a Qualis was stuck in it. But that one did not take much time to come unstuck.

Manali Spiti Road

Manali Spiti Road

You might have noticed that on these roads jeeps coming from the opposite directions often stop and drivers engage in a chit-chat. That is the only way to get information on the road as there is no mobile signal after Rohtang Pass till Kaza. When Ranvir asked a driver coming from the opposite direction, “road kaisa hai” (how is the road ahead) the other fellow replied, “takatak” (first class). Now standing at the Pagal Nala I was wondering if this was takatak then what would be bad in his definition!

Many vehicles that ply on the route have JK or HP numbers. They are the locals, they are the pros. You will find occasional HR, CH, GJ or other numbers and they are usually the rookies, cause of all jams. But this time the Sumo that got stuck had HP number and was named Spiti Express. Most of these vehicles do not have 4WD.
There was a small crowd around the immobile vehicle. A rope materialized out of one of the jeeps. The Sumo behind the stuck vehicle tried to pull it out by tying the rope to both the vehicles. The trouble was that the rope would break.

In the meanwhile we spotted 3 city slickers who seemed to be in a hurry. Apparently their vehicles were stuck downstream because of this jam. And all they cared was to get out and drive away using their walkie-talkies for coordination. Why they needed walkie-talkies for coordinating at a distance of 10 meters is beyond me. I always find brashness difficult to take in my stride but it was infinitely more jarring among the gentle people of the hills. Everyone knew that nothing could move till the stuck vehicle came out, other than these three city slickers.

Pulling the Sumo Out

Giving a Hand!

However, getting back to the stuck vehicle, a new rope was found and two set of people tugged at the beast. Women joined in the fray. I was so amazed to see them wading in the ice cold water without a second thought or a glance at anyone. All I was good for was clicking pictures and making videos. With the combined effort of these people the vehicle with infinite reluctance, lurched out.

Pulling the Sumo Out

Pulling the Sumo Out

Finally we were free to move. It was expected that vehicles going upstream would go first. But our city slickers had other thoughts. They started moving their Fortunners and two other big vehicles downstream first. This agitated people a lot, but the hill folks managed to get them out of the way without creating any other traffic jams.

Soon, it was the turn of our jeep to cross the Pagal Nala. Other than Ranvir and me, everyone got out to reduce the load. That meant Ramakant ji, his brother Vishal, my nephew Dilip, our cook for the trip Hemraj ji and Bobby all had to cross the stream on foot. That was not too difficult, only it would leave your feet and shoes wet and cold. It is recommended to take the shoes off as they would remain dry and be a comfort later on.
On the first try we got stalled mid way in the nala. I managed to keep the camera on and my eyes closed for most of the time. On the second try we did manage to clear the nala. You can see the entire adventure in the video which was made as I said, with eyes tightly shut most of the time!

This was the start to our trip to Chandratal. I should have read the omens correctly but then I was too busy being happy that we didn’t end up spending the night by the road or worse still by turning back before even the trip had begin!

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I was star struck, no literally, this time at Batal in Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh. You might have noticed that I vanished for a week, the plan was to visit Chandratal, the stunningly beautiful lake close to Batal. I managed to reach the lake this time though the blue skies eluded me. However, at Batal, for a brief period the weather gods were kind to me. They lit the sky with a million stars! I was so thrilled that I did not leave my tripod behind!

Night Sky at Batal, Spiti

Night Sky at Batal, Spiti

This is what I could capture and I have to say for novice at night photography, I am happy with it. Also it was not so cold that I would freeze to death when I stayed out. I do not enjoy freezing to death on cold nights at all. A good down jacket and I was fine outdoors. In fact, I actually enjoyed staying out and turned in only when clouds covered the sky.

tent batal

A Tent and the Night Sky at Batal, Spiti

No accommodation can beat staying in a tent under a starry sky, at least for me. There would have been a moon rise at some point but then the clouds obscured it! Though, I am not complaining at all.

We went in a jeep up to Batal. There is actually a jeep route all the way to Chandratal but on the day we were going the road was closed. I am probably happier that we walked about 14 km in the stunningly beautiful region. The very next day while coming back, the jeep could come in 9 km ahead as they were repairing the road.

I am really happy that I managed to sneak out to the mountains in the end. It always leaves me a much happier person. So, tomorrow while driving if I demonstrate more patience you know why!

I trekked with Rama Kant Sharma who is a responsible trekking guide and family friend as well. I will leave you today with the pictures but of course the tales will follow.

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