No itinerary for Spiti Valley is complete without a rickety drive to Chandratal; you can head off to it from Kaza and then to Manali. Details below.
Kaza to Chandratal/Pin (Mudh)
I had to move to Chandratal from Kaza as the bridge to Pin Valley was broken during my visit, so I will start with that rather than the more common hop to Pin Valley. Kaza to Chandratal is a rather hectic drive, crossing through Batal and taking close to 6 hours via Kunzum Pass. Hectic yet quite stunning for the landscape around Batal, and then Kunzum Pass is straight out of some movie. Worth mentioning (more than that) are the views of the Bara Shigri Glacier from Kunzum Pass; it feeds River Chenab and is also the second longest Himalayan glacier. While it would possibly be the most arduous day in this itinerary for Spiti Valley, first glimpse of Chandratal (also the Moon Lake) will really take your breath away.
Where to stay in Chandratal?
There are a few camping options near the Chandratal base camp. Do note that camping right by the lake is not allowed by law and you should heed it owing to ecological reasons as well. This high-altitude lake and the surrounding region falls under Ramsar Convention, and is deemed the status of “international importance”. Once at this ecologically fragile zone, you really need to be wary of how you are spending time here.
Save yourself exertion and choose one of the camps here; Parasol and Jamaica both have great reviews. I stayed at Jamaica since it was the closest campsite from the lake, and I wanted some night time walk to the lake as well. The kitchen is surprisingly well-stocked, and the cook cum caretaker cum camp manager is more of a delight. After I (out of habit) took an evening dip in the lake, and camp back with chattering teeth that I couldn’t feel, he made an actual 2-minute soup and Maggi for me.
A full day at Chandratal is what you should aim for while fixing up your itinerary for Kinnaur and Spiti. It will do wonders for your rattled bones after the first day’s drive, will prepare you for the next day’s more back-breaking drive, and (of course) let you behold the beauty of Chandratal in all its colours.
Chandratal to Manali
Try leaving early in the morning from Chandratal for Manali as the road (rather the lack of it) to Manali has water streams gushing in full force, and the force only strengthens under the high Sun. These streams are famously named as pagal nallahs and it’s advised that you cross them before the rising temperature makes the snow melt rapidly and lead to more water right on the road. As interesting as it might read here, these are dangerous and I have seen drivers with decades of experience getting stuck mid-stream, their vehicles sputtering to slow death in glacial Himalayan water. Those on motorbikes need to be way more cautious as one might wave and you might just go toppling down the mountain cliffs, have seen that as well.
Chandratal to Manali will take you around 6-7 hours with little breaks in between as you cross over to the more real and material side of this world via the (in)famous Rohtang Pass. Once in Manali, you can soak in the pines and eat good food before looking back at the might Himalayas.