Bring out your ‘adventurous’ side to beat the madness that surrounds modern Manali.
The very mention of Manali elicits images of Himalayan cool in the mind of summer-scorched travellers. This is due partly to the raging Beas that thunders past the town like a frothy locomotive out of control and partly to the lofty snow-capped peaks all around. The coolness factor can also be accredited to the evocative charm of the old town and its cafes where Bob Marley has never passed on and ‘Aum’ and other such symbols bring in a sense of ‘spirituality’ that attracts backpackers by the droves.
This was the picture a decade and a half ago though. Currently, Manali is undergoing a bustling makeover curated by day trippers and entrepreneurs running shopping arcades with outlets of fast food chains, changing the face of the quaint town which once attracted shoppers looking for local produce. However, such is the vast nature of Manali’s treasure trove that it still has a few tricks up its sleeve which make it an inviting destination. Sure, there are the perennial favourites such as the Hadimba Temple, the hot springs at Vashisht and the hippy enclave of old Manali. Once that is done, most tourist crowds embark on the ritual drive to Rohtang Pass, come back to the town to recoup, before packing up and going home.
Here’s what you should do instead to maximise your Manali experience. Go for an overnight camping trip at Chandra Tal—the ‘moon lake’ that lies very close to the mighty Kunzum La separating Lahaul and Spiti.
Be advised though—you can’t just wake up one morning in Manali and decide that you are going to head off for Chandra Tal. Some planning is needed. There are plenty of camping outfitters in Manali and most of them will supply the necessary gear including tents, sleeping bags and other camping paraphernalia. You should also ask for a cook cum guide to accompany you. He will shop for provisions and rustle up tasty meals while at camp.
The road to Rohtang will probably be stressful, especially if it’s a weekend and there are a lot of cars. To avoid this, start off at 6am—the views are fantastic and you have Rohtang almost all to yourself. It is a very pretty pass without the hordes of tourists. It gets even prettier after Rohtang towards Keylong. At Gramphu you turn right towards Chandra Tal, Kunzum La and Kaza, and just when you think it can’t get any prettier, it does so! You’ll come to a little dhaba after the girder bridge at Chattru. Spend some time there (two hours would be good) for acclimatizing and then gradually start off towards Batal. After Batal, the road ascends towards the Kunzum La, and just before the summit of the pass is the little ‘road’ to Chandra Tal. Your SUV will be able to handle this road. Just be cautious about the crumbly edges.
When Chandra Tal bursts into view, you’ll thank yourself that you read this and decided to do this trip. The lake is pristine, the surroundings tranquil and the air the purest you can find. Your guide will set up camp for you, cook your food and will even point out walking trails. You can swim in the lake, but the water is very, very cold. Spend two nights here and drive back to Manali. It will be your best Manali experience ever, never mind the allures of the town.