The night we reached Jispa, I took way too long to fall asleep. I realized that it was partly due to the after effects of the long drive, which should ideally have put me to sleep, or probably it was because I slept quite a bit on the drive. But I think one of the main reasons for this was the drive across the Bara lacha la, where the snow was so close and its whiteness probably resulted in an overwhelming after effect. This allowed me to finish writing the previous night itself, giving me time in the morning to sleep a little longer and nurse the third cup of chai in my hand a little longer, and read few more pages of my book, just a little longer. This was exactly what I was doing when hot breakfast was served and the team gathered around the dining table to chat and plan the day ahead. We decide to check out of the hotel and look around Jispa. The plan for the night’s stay was a surprise for us by our tour operators, The Road Less Travelled.


Our first stop was Suraj Taal. Suraj Tal Lake also called Surya taal, is a sacred body of water, literally means the Lake of the Sun God, and lies just below the Bara lacha la pass (4,890m) in the Lahaul and Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh state in India. It is the third highest lake in India, and the 21st-highest in the world. Suraj Tala Lake is the source of the Bhaga River, which joins the Chandra River downstream at Tandi to form the Chandrabhaga River in Himachal Pradesh territory, and as it enters Jammu and Kashmir it is renamed as the Chenab River. The Bhaga River (a tributary of the Chandrabhaga or Chenab) originates from Surya taal (credits: Wikipedia). The Chenab then flows through Jammu, then Punjab and further joins the Indus river in Pakistan. Suraj Taal seemed to appear out of nowhere. All along we saw the brown mountains and suddenly there was an opening that led us to the lake. The moment I saw the deep green lake, it struck me like the colour of the pupil. I wondered how beautiful an eye with brown cornea and iris, and then a dash of green pupil would look. I wished I could fly above this region and look with my naked eye at how the suraj taal looked at that exact moment. During winters, these brown mountains are covered with snow and the pupil looks bluer, which then reminded me of some of the characters in the game of thrones. My smile widened with amusement and amazement. We took several pictures with the suraj taal at the background. While our group had always loved the water and would have given anything to be allowed to jump into this lake as well, we were politely informed of how the suraj taal and chandra taal waters were considered auspicious where prayers and rituals were performed. Moreover, the waters were life giving and for the purpose of drinking and therefore strict rules prevailed against people swimming and bathing in these waters. Since we were quite an extrovert and craved excitement always, we touched the cool water and splashed it on each other. It’s like we had to make a final point wherever we went. Sigh!


We stopped to have lunch at one of the two local dhabas at Chhatru. Chhatru, in the ancient times, was one of the major halts for the nomadic tribes in winters as it was situated by the Chandra river. The route from Suraj Taal to chhatru was via Kelong, the district capital of Lahaul. On this road, we saw a lot of wildflowers and green meadows and at one point in time, we crossed heavy waterfalls called the Rahala waterfalls. There was a major diversion on this route that one could take to go to Manali via Rohtang Pass. We gave that a skip and continued downwards along the path towards Batal, which was at the beginning of the Spiti valley. While we knew that our place of stay for the night was in the Spiti valley, we were yet to discover what that place would be. More about that later. The food at the dhaba was the basic pahadi food comprising of dal, rice, the seasonal saag, potatoes and pahadi roti. I was keen to try one of the local foods named siddu, but we were told that the authentic siddu was something we could taste in Rampur.




We then drove another one and half hours to reach Batal and were already ready for another break for tea. Apparently, everyone talks about the chacha chachi dhabha in this place. So our drivers promised us that they would take us there for tea. I thought it would be some fancy place, what with all the noise around this, but it turned out to be this small house-like dhaba where chacha (Dorje Bodh) and chachi (Hishi Chhomo) served us the typical mountain fare of chai, coffee, hot chocolate, pakodas and of course maggi. They also provided basic accommodation for travelers who wished to stay at Batal. One little known fact about chacha was that he had won the Godfrey Philips Bravery Award for saving tourists stuck in a snow storm. So chacha and chachi certainly deserved all the popularity for being all in one people, like the evergreen actor-director-producer-etc-etc Dev Anand of the Indian cinema.


Batal was at a fork where people could go north to Chandra taal (on non-existent roads) or cross the kundzum la pass to go to Kaza. We had Kaza scheduled for the next day, so today we took the route to Chandra taal. The distance was only 15 kms but it seemed like an eternity because there were absolutely no roads. However, the place was extremely safe for tourists and locals alike, and to add to that, The Road Less Travelled had taken all the necessary care to make sure that we were safe and comfortable.


Chandra Taal lake is situated on the Samudra Tapu plateau, which overlooks the Chandra River. The name of the lake originates from its crescent shape. It is situated at an altitude of about 4,300 metres (14,100 ft) in the Himalayas. Mountains of scree overlook the lake on one side, and a cirque encloses it on the other. Chandra Taal is a tourist destination for trekkers and campers (credits: Wikipedia). We first went to our place of stay, which was around six kms before the actual lake. We kept our luggage in the basic swiss tents, which were comfortable and clean. Since it was quite late in the evening, we decided to go to Chandra taal lake the following morning. It was not only late, it was also quite cold. We layered up, because in the mountains, the moment the sun goes down it could get very chilly, and what Chandra taal was known for was its uninformed snows, anytime during the year. However, we did not face the snows that night, instead, we enjoyed the most marvelous view of the night skies and had an expert, Chintan Joshi, who guided us through star gazing. Chandra taal was popular for its star gazing, especially because the sky was lit up with a million stars and the absence of pollution and presence of the vast mountains and deep lakes, complemented the view of the stars immensely. We also made a bon fire that night, singing and dancing for a very long time. It was a beautiful evening and I almost felt sad when we decided to call it a day. I felt like a grumpy child who did not want to miss a single moment. But the minute my head touched the pillow, I was drifted into deep sleep where the stars and the galaxies formed a milky way in some part of my brain. However, while I thought this was a dream, the reality was that at 2am, Chintan woke us all up to see the ethereal Milky Way, in reality, in the deep sky. I was in shock. Was it a dream come true or an intuition of things to come?



To be continued…




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