Day 14: 22 August 2013: Samudri Tapu cancelled, Chandratal to Batal

We wake up in the morning to be greeted by the Gold in the sky…


That's Jamaica's camps in the foreground

That’s Jamaica’s camps in the foreground

Up, close and personal - White Gold and Golden Rays :)

Up, close and personal – White Gold and Golden Rays πŸ™‚


The weather is cold and the first thing we do is to ask for Tea before we freshen up…

Jamaica in the kitchen tent

Jamaica in the kitchen tent



We freshen up easing out the bowel pressure and feel happy to contribute something for the local fauna πŸ˜‰ Some visitors come calling…



And then I notice the indigenous mannequin I was searching for yesterday – trademark of Jamaica



We decide to take bath in Chandratal so that we get rid of our sins and so we trek.



A wonderful fact about Chandratal is that there is no visible source to it’s water, whereas several outlets can be seen which have relatively good flow. This invariably means that Chandratal derives it’s water from the ground itself – at an altitude of 4300 Meters!!! Chandratal is also one of the two high altitude wetlands of India which have been designated as Ramsar sites, the another one being Tso Moriri. One fact to be clarified though – Chandratal is not the source of Chandra river. At the most, a tiny stream from Chandratal meets the Chandra river which originates from the Samudri Tapu – the glaciers of the Chandrabhaga ranges.

There are many folklore around Chandratal including that of a mermaid who married a Gaddi Shepherd on condition of not disclosing the fact to anyone. People say that they still sense the presence of the mermaid. Locals also believe that Chandratal was frequented by Lord Dattatreya and several sages. Some say that this is the place from where Yudhisthir was taken to the Heaven in a golden chariot (though disputed by another claim of Swargarohini in Uttarakhand). Nevertheless, all folklore state that taking a dip in Chandratal washes your sins away. Though I believe I’m not a sinner, but the idea of bathing in ice cold water is something I can’t resist. Now why didn’t I bathe in Pangong if this is the case? Simple! Pangong is saline water and would require another water source to clean up the body.

The water is calm today and so we jump into the lake…



And yes, it is freezing cold too!



I have come prepared for some underwater photography with my Canon P&S camera and so we click some underwater pictures too…



Yours Truly!

Yours Truly!



My legs - underwater!

My legs – underwater!


Tony felt very cold and came out immediately, hence no underwater pic for him. Next was Cheena. And then there was a competition between me and Avi..



Overall, I took 8 dips, Avi 5, Cheena 3 and Tony 1! πŸ˜€

We then get out and think of what to do…



In the meantime, the forest guard arrives…



Faith is everywhere…



And are signs of love! πŸ™‚



Our clothes are wet and we need to dry them, so we spread them on some rocks nearby, and then we decide to walk through the entire circumference of the lake as we want to experience it in it’s entirety. Tony decides to read an e-book as he’s not interested to walk.


That tiny black spec is Tony reading his e-book!


The reflection is great! Chandratal has also numerous chortens around…



There is a track around the circumference, and so we take that…



Every step we take, Chandratal presents itself in new way. Amazing clarity of water coupled with amazing colours and equally amazing reflections.. we just keep on clicking, and clicking, and clicking…


Ever seen this clarity?

Ever seen this clarity?



And we keep on marching….



… and clicking…



Until we decide to create some entropy.. and so we splash together.. and click it too! πŸ˜€


3 people, 3 splashes, 1 click to capture all!


… and we pose and click, and we click and pose…




We click the sky…



…and we click the lake bottom…

Water so pristine!

Water so pristine!


Turning around the crescent shape, we suddenly find ourselves in vast meadows, with a glacier for the backdrop…



These meadows on the banks of Chandratal are filled with wild flowers during the summers. These meadows and it’s surroundings are favourite for the Gaddi Shepherds, however, now they are returning as they have couple of weeks to reach their homes and lower Himachal before snowfall starts here and they have to cover all the distance on foot along with their herd.

We look back, and the reflections are equally spell-bounding…



To add to the charm, some birds also meet us, so we click the birds…



.. and then click ourselves πŸ˜€



Every angle gives a different perspective…

reflections at chandratal


After spending sometime in the meadows, we start back as Tony would be waiting. This side of the track is marked and rocks have been used to create a pavement.



The reflections from this side are coming great…



We look at the glaciers across the lake…



..pose for pics, rest a bit and then walk again…



Being in awe of the Green and Blue water and some amazing reflections, we reach back to Tony…

Ahh the green...

Ahh the green…

Oh the blue...

Oh the blue…

Aha the reflections...

Aha the reflections…


… and return to our tents in the camp.



Jamaica had intimated in the morning that he will be going to Batal to make a phone call and then will return by 1000 hrs. It is already 1000 and he is nowhere to be seen. We do our breakfast and go to rest a bit. During the rest, a discussion point comes on whether we should leave today itself and reach Delhi on 23rd so that Tony can reach Bareilly early. Coupled with that Cheena also says that he had plans to visit Bareilly and it would be good if they can reach early so that he can come back to Delhi by Sunday. This is not what I want! We already have some buffer days in hand since we would not be taking the Kaza-Nako-Shimla route owing to the major landslide at Malling, and I am keen to explore Samudri Tapu too. Further, we had agreed last night to spend another day to explore Samudri Tapu. However, Cheena says that Jamaica is nowhere to be seen and if he’s late, we would not be able to explore Samudri Tapu either, and so it is better that we leave today itself.

I get furious, ask them to wait for Jamaica and go to my tent to sleep – I’m not budging!!!



Around 1230 hrs, Cheena wakes me up to say that everyone has decided to go back and that I should get ready. Damn!! Anyways, I can’t have my thoughts imposed on everyone and I’ll have to go by consensus. Still, in hope that Jamaica comes back, I ask Avi to climb up the hill and at least click the pics of Samudri Tapu – the glaciar which is source of Chandra River.


That's the Samudri Tapu - See the tail of the glacier and the resulting lake?

That’s the Samudri Tapu – See the tail of the glacier and the resulting lake?


Jamaica's camp from the hill

Jamaica’s camp from the hill


In the meantime, Tony and the forest guard fold my tent and sleeping bags. I ask for the lunch to be prepared, which is vetoed by everyone – we’ll have lunch at the Batal dhaba. Fine!

We start back towards Batal at around 1300 hrs – needless to say, Jamaica hasn’t arrived. πŸ™

Clicking pics en-route, we cross the water crossing…



Ahead, I see some headlights blinking at distance and as read at various forums, I ask Cheena to stop aside the first place where I feel we can give a pass. However, being a Delhi driver, he keeps driving ahead, thinking of giving a pass as and when they approach, for there must be space. There are three Sumos and just after a bend, we encounter them. There is no space and one driver of a Sumo cribs that he was flashing his lights. So we have to back up. Cheena reverses the car and climbs on the rocks on the left side of the road, and the Sumos cross – easy it was!



However, disaster has struck again and this time it would be deadly!!!

Barely do we hop on and Cheena drives 5 meters, Tony asks the car to be stopped saying that he suspects very less air in one of the tyre as he can hear clinking sound. Avi gets down to inspect and reports a flat tyre. Tony even reprimands Cheena as to what kind of driver he is if he can’t make out air losses in the tyres of vehicle he’d driving. May not be Cheena’s fault though, the tyretronics have been playing games since we crossed Nimmu and so he would have easily ignored the alert! We all get down to inspect the tyre – it’s a 2.5-3 inch sidewall cut.

No problemo! We came prepared – we came prepared with two spare tyres! And what about the spanner? No problemo sire! We have the tools of the trade – we bought the long elbow rod at Leh learning from our previous experience! This would be done in a jiffy!!



Or would it be??

We try the OEM spanner, which we knew won’t work and as expected, it doesn’t. We ask Avi to pull out the square drive sockets and the elbow rod from the toolbox and he takes it out quickly. It won’t take more than 5 minutes.. no? So we put the square drive socket on the wheel nut, put the elbow rod and press it down.. WTF?? The socket slips too!! We take it out and inspect, it has cracked on one of the sides and has opened up. Cheena says that it’s not branded, but has been with him for ages and so he thought it would be dependable.

Now what?

We try everything that we could, trying to press the square drive socket, using the OEM spanner, putting some sand in the OEM spanner so that it provides some grip, but everytime the spanner slips. Now we know we don’t have any tools that would work.

We are in big problem!!!

But no issues. Some passing vehicles would definitely have spanners and that would work. Manali is not too far and we shall be able to reach by evening. Three vehicles have gone towards the Chandratal so definitely they’d be coming back. Jamaica also hasn’t yet passed by. So there is lots of hope.

Indeed the three vehicles are coming back. We wave them to stop and ask for the spanner. They ask which number. Oh! we didn’t realised that it has to be specific too. Yes, we require 21 number spanner. What?? Sumo has got 19 numbered nuts and it won’t fit. You’d need to ask the GREF/BRO guys, they generally keep all the tools – and they pass by. Now we know that not all the vehicles passing through Batal come to Chandratal, most of them go towards Kunzum and the best place to seek help would be the tri-junction, which is around 4kms away. Myself and Tony decide to trek to the tri-junction and see if we can get any help, while Cheena and Avi would remain here and seek help from passing by vehicles. We see a GREF vehicle and ask them if they’d be able to help. The person in-charge is a South Indian and we barely manage to convey him the message. He tells us that he has tools only to fit bigger vehicles like trucks, cranes and dumpers and won’t be able to help.

So we trek further and reach the tri-junction. Jamaica is also there with one helper. They’re carrying some tents as he’s expecting additional guests tonight. He asks us what are we doing here and then I tell him all the story of how people decided to give a pass to Samudri Tapu and reach home early and how we’re stuck now. Jamaica advises us to go further to the Chandra Dhaba at Batal (further 1 km away) as that is the place where we can get help most likely. He says that he’s standing there since two hours trying to find a vehicle going towards Chandratal and if he gets any, he’d try to provide all possible help. While we’re standing there, a Gaddi comes from the Chandratal side. We ask if he has seen the vehicle getting any help and he replies that they haven’t got any help yet and have asked to convey this to us. The time reads 1500 hrs…

Meanwhile near the vehicle...

Meanwhile near the vehicle…



So me and Tony trek further to Chandra Dhaba at Batal. We’re hungry too.. so while we narrate the story and need for help, we gulp down a bowl of maggi and tea. Fortunately, Batal Chacha’s son – Dawa Tashi too is at Dhaba today. The care-taker of the PWD guest house is also there, and so is two army jawans. Everyone advises us to look for any Mahindra pickup as they generally have all the tools and that they would charge couple of hundred rupees, but the job would be done. So we keep looking for the pickup…

Meanwhile, Jamaica got a Sumo towards Chandratal (of course the Sumo tools weren’t of any help), met Avi and Cheena at the spot who were very hungry (having skipped the lunch at the camp) and were eating raw maggi mixed with the masala (spices) – they had all the equipments – Gas, stove, utensils, water.. but they couldn’t find a matchbox!!! So Jamaica gave them some peas to eat and said that he’ll try to send any help from the camp, if available.

Maggi preparation sans water and heat!

Maggi preparation sans water and heat!



At dhaba, around 1700 hrs, we got hold of a Mahindra Pickup. After Batal chacha talks to the driver, he agrees to help us, however, puts a condition – whether the tools fit or not, whether he’s able to take out the tyre or not, he’d charge Rs 300 just to be on the spot. We don’t have any choice, so we agree. Then he says that only one person can go with him and so Tony goes with him to the spot, while I remain at the Chandra Dhaba.

An hour later, everyone turns up at the dhaba, without the vehicle, trekking and carrying the backpacks and cameras. Apparently, the 21 numbered spanner were not with the pickup and anything else won’t fit. It was getting dark and so they decided to come back carrying valuables (read camera, cash) and whatever could be carried, leaving the vehicle there. We again have a bowl of maggi and a round of tea and contemplate what to do next. Batal Chacha and Chachi are full of hope and assure us that something will definitely be arranged tomorrow and we should be assured and rest tonight at the dhaba. They gave us the keys to the igloo type structure, opposite the dhaba for our stay.

Trekking down to Batal Dhaba

Trekking down to Batal Dhaba



We have nothing to do now and so we are having rounds of tea at the Chandra Dhaba and everyone is discussing our issue. The PWD guest house is occupied by a battalion of army mountaineers who are on a discovery mission to fish out the bodies of soldiers buried in heavy snowfall and glaciers during a Leh bound AN 12 plane carrying 120 soldiers which crashed at CB 16 (6230 meters) which happend on 7th Feb 1968 and first body was found in 2007. They had recently discovered a fully preserved body (later published here).

Around 2000 hrs, a Gentleman with his son in a hired Innova enter the Chandra Dhaba. They were all ears and both the father-son duo proposed to help. Best was the driver, who was a local Himachali and said “aap hamaare mehmaan ho aur hum aapko aise pareshaan nahin hone denge. Hum poori koshish karenge aur bilkul gaadi theek kare ke aayenge” (You people are guests here and we won’t let you face any problems. We’ll do everything it takes to change the tyre and bring back the car). That was some angel speaking. Unfortunately, I didn’t asked his name for the record. So the driver, father-son duo, and Cheena go to the vehicle. They try everything, they had a 20 numbered spanner which they tried and even were successful in untying one of the nuts. However, the rest won’t budge as they had already slipped by our endeavours and their grooves were cut by then. The driver then advised that it wasn’t worth leaving the vehicle there as the way to Kunzum pass was uphill and the trucks that would be passing during the night, if they happen to see any rock/boulder on the road, they’d just throw it downwards without knowing that there was a vehicle down the road. And one rock tumbling down would take further rocks with it and may cause severe damage to the car. The tyre had sidewall cut and was unusable anyways so it would be good to drive down the car on rims and bring it to the dhaba which is around 5 kms from the spot. At least it would be safe there. He then also advised that if Cheena was to drive on the rim, he was sure to fall in the gorge and thereby in the Chandra river as the car would wobble and skid too much and then he offered to drive the car himself to the dhaba while Cheena can drive his Innova. At around 2200 hours, they came back to the dhaba. They assured that since many trucks passed Batal, this being the season for pea harvest, we are sure to find some help tomorrow.

We have our dinner.. delicious mutton, chapatis, rice and then we go to sleep in the room… in the expectation that we’d get some help tomorrow…

Next: The Jinx of 21 Numbered Nut


Total Distance covered: Approx 14 kms + 2.5 kms Chandratal circumference

Driving Directions from Chandratal to Batal: Follow the directions given the the linked post, in reverse order.

Google Map directions for Chandratal to Batal travel: