I stood there feeling high, not from pot, although it was readily available in the area, but from from the sheer ecstasy of the profound beauty before me. Or perhaps it was the altitude of 14,100 feet that made me feel high. Whatever the reason, Kirti and I had journeyed by car, then by bus up Rohtang pass (one of the deadliest roads in the world) and finally hiked about 6 kilometers to reach the khajana (Hindi for treasure) of nature known as Chandra Taal Lake. The soaring mountain peaks and lush green fields surrounding the lake made it look like a painting alive with the whims of nature.
We had reached the camp late the previous day after spending seven hours on a crowded bus crawling up the steep narrow roads of the Himalaya Mountains. Our camp was nothing more than a bunch of tents and yurts set up and managed by local guides. We were relieved to find a vacancy as it is nearly impossible to make a reservation. You just have to show up and hope for the best! We paid 1,300 rupees per night for the tent, bed, blankets and food. After unpacking we enjoyed a simple hot meal of rice and dahl while chatting with excited travelers from every corner of the world. Our “neighbors” were a couple of bikers from Argentina. I also met a nice young woman from the Ukraine that was there with her Indian husband.
It was sunny when we arrived at the camp but the weather quickly took a turn for the worse. The clouds rolled in without warning and it started to rain. As night fell the rain stopped but the temperature dropped to below freezing. We weren’t prepared for such cold temperatures. I slept in my gloves, coat and hat but was still miserably cold all through the night.
In the morning the sun came out again and we warmed up inside the kitchen yurt while our guides made us a hot breakfast. Kirti had an omelet and I had buttered toast with jam along with chai tea. Afterward we took pics of the camp yak. I had never before seen a yak. It was huge, hairy and obviously not thrilled that we were following it around. They had released it years ago to wander around freely, a gift to the gods we were told.
Around 9:00 we headed up the trail to trek about 6 kilometers to the lake. On the way we met a goat herder that lived in a house of stacked stones with a tarp over the top. They don’t even use mortar to stick the stones together so they have to piece it together like a puzzle. He told Kirti he had 600 goats and some horses and lived with his brother.
Along the way to the lake we got a little lost but stumbled across the start of one of those stone huts that someone was building. It was so small! I can’t imagine living in such a thing, but I guess they probably felt blessed just to have shelter. We also dicovered a herd of wild horses and befriended a lame dog we called Lucy. She was very sweet and managed to keep up with us in spite of her damaged front paw. Closer to the lake we found a field full of small stacked stone sculptures, ranging from about 8 inches high to a couple feet. They looked like something out of the Blair Witch Project. Kirti said people build them for luck, so we decided to build one of our own.
We finally reached the lake in early afternoon. The beautiful blue water nestled in against the bare mountain peaks took our breath away. Apparently the tradition is to take funny pics of random poses in front of the lake, so we did exactly that. Our intention was to sit by the lake for most of the day, relaxing and basking in its splendor, but again the weather was taking another turn for the worse. A large cloud bank was moving in and the temperature was plummeting. We had a long trek back to camp and I was worried we might get caught in a storm, so we made the responsible choice to head back quickly. We did the right thing because the cold rain started within minutes of our return.
It continued to rain for several days. The pass got very muddy and the streams running over the roads became more like rivers. We said our goodbyes to new friends, both human and four legged, and headed towards home. We were lucky to hitch a ride back to Manali with a kind couple in a robust 4 wheel drive. The bus would never have made it! Perhaps our stack stoned sculpture had brought us some good luck after all! It was an amazing trip and one I will never forget!