Chandratal Lake or the Moon Lake is as magical as it sounds. A hidden high altitude lake sitting between Manali and Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, this is not an easy place to reach, but one that is worth the long and bumpy ride.
Famed for its bright blue colour, similar to more popular Pangong Lake in Ladakh, Chandratal is an incredible sight. With no public transport options, and a rough detour off the Manali-Kaza Road, it’s usually only visited by those with their own vehicle.
However, if you’re willing to splurge a bit, it’s possible to reach this spectacular lake at the base of snow-capped peaks and spend the night in a glamping tent not too far away. If you’re heading to Spiti Valley this year, then here’s an essential guide to visiting Chandratal Lake, including how to get there.
What is Chandratal Lake?
It’s often written several different ways including: Chandratal Lake, Chandrataal Lake or Chandra Taal and it means the lake of the moon, due to its unique crescent shape. It sits at an altitude of around 4,250m near the source of the Chandra River, making it one of the highest lakes in India.
With a circumference of about 5km, the lake sits at the base of snow-capped mountains tucked away from the Manali-Kaza Road in Himachal Pradesh state. Considered to be a sacred lake, with roaming wild Himalayan animals around, the closest accommodation is a few kilometres back in glamping tents.
While it hasn’t been as popular to visit in the past as Pangong Lake in Ladakh, it’s certainly emerging as a must see on any trip to Spiti Valley. However, due to the rough nature of the road and lack of public transport, it’s still quieter than other places in the region.
How to Reach Chandratal Lake
It’s not the easiest place to reach, but with your own transport, you can brave the rough roads deep into the mountains of Spiti Valley. Chandratal Lake is reached via a single track dirt road that diverts off from the Manali-Kaza Road near Batal.
There are no direct public transport links to Chandratal Lake. However, you can utilise the buses and shared transport options running along the Manali-Kaza Road. But the easiest option is to either have your own transport or go with a vehicle and driver from Kaza or Manali. Here’s how you can do it:
Kaza to Chandratal Lake: 95km or 4-5 hour drive
Coming from Kaza you can take a shared bus or taxi heading for Manali. After crossing Kunzum Pass and heading down to Batal (a small cluster teahouses that is a popular lunch stop for vehicles), you can get off there and try your luck at hitchhiking or walking the 13km to the lake (I wouldn’t recommend walking). Be aware that they’ll most likely charge you for the whole journey from Kaza to Manali, which is 1,500INR (AU$28).
The other option is to hire a driver and taxi (ideally in a 4×4 or Sumo, pictured above) from Kaza Taxi Union to take you to Chandratal and back. This journey will take 2 days, with a night spent at the lake. This costs around 10,000INR (AU$190) and can be split amongst all passengers.
Read next: A Travel Guide to Spiti Valley
Manali to Chandratal Lake: 110km or 4 hour drive
Similar to the above, you can pay for a seat on a shared taxi or bus from Manali to Spiti Valley. Get down in Batal, and either hitchhike or walk to Chandratal.
You could also try bargaining with a taxi driver at one of the agencies around the Main Bus Station (Government Bus Stand or ISBT) in Manali. You could probably arrange a similar price for an overnight return trip to Chandratal Lake from Manali as above, for 10,000INR (AU$190).
Tip: If coming from Manali and heading straight to Chandratal Lake for the night, you’ll be at a high risk of altitude sickness because of the sudden rise from 2000m to over 4000m. Keep yourself hydrated and take Diamox if you’re concerned. Otherwise, coming from Kaza is much easier, as you will have adjusted to the 3,800m elevation of Kaza first.
From Kaza to Chandratal to Manali (Another Option If You Get Lucky Like Me!)
I was very lucky on my visit to Chandratal Lake. I had met a lady in Kaza from Mumbai, Pooja, and we were both interested in going to the lake but were a little apprehensive about paying 10,000INR for a return overnight trip. Pooja left her phone number at the office of the Taxi Union in Kaza and told him to call if there were other people going to Chandratal that we could join.
A couple of days later, he rang. There was a family from Delhi and a guy from Chennai, Nirmal, who also wanted to go. So, the group of us shared a Sumo (4×4 vehicle) from Kaza to Chandratal Lake and we stayed at the same camp at the lake for the night.
The following day, the family returned to Kaza with the driver and they dropped Pooja, Nirmal and I at Batal on the Manali-Kaza Road. Before leaving Kaza, we had pre-arranged tickets for three seats on a shared minivan going from Kaza to Manali for that day. While we ended up waiting a while at the teahouse in Batal, it worked out quite well and we got our bus back to Manali (we had to pay for the whole journey from Kaza to Manali which was 1,500 INR (AU$28). Success!
Best Time to Visit Chandratal Lake
Just like most of the Spiti Valley and Ladakh regions, the best time to visit Chandratal Lake is in the summer from start of May until end of September. Outside of these months, the Manali-Kaza Road is usually closed due to snowfall, ice and landslides.
However, even in summer, the temperature will be cold. Expect very low temperatures overnight of close to 0 degrees. During the day, if the sun is out, it can be relatively warm between 15-20 degrees.
Note: Check road conditions before leaving Manali or Kaza, as sometimes the road to Chandratal can be closed due to landslides in summer too.
Exploring Chandratal Lake and Surrounds
After passing by the last cluster of tents at Chandratal, we drive the final 3km to the lake parking area. There is only a small parking area, which was almost empty when we arrived at 1.30pm (but was absolutely overflowing when we left the lake at 4pm).
From there it’s only a 1km walk along a dirt track to the lake’s edge. As you come up and over the crest, the lake will lay out before you at the base of snow-capped mountains. If you’re blessed with a blue sky day, then the colour of the lake will be at its brightest, reflecting the fluorescent blue of the sky back. When we were there it was quite overcast, so the lake was a little dull, but still extraordinarily beautiful.
Things to Do at Chandratal Lake
There’s not necessarily a whole lot of things to do, but take your time to explore around the area for a few hours and you’ll really get to soak in the beauty. Here’s what we did:
Snap a Photo at the Lake’s Shore
Once you reach the edge of the lake from the carpark, there are some prayer flags and signs. This is where most people stop to take a photo with the backdrop of the lake behind them. If you’re a little unfit or immobile then this is likely where you’ll spend your visit just admiring the view of the lake. However, I highly recommend walking further!
Walk Around the Lake
There is a trail that circumnavigates around Chandratal Lake. It’s about 5km all the way around and is completely flat on an easy-to-navigate trail. You should be able to walk a lap of the lake in about 1.5 hours at a moderate pace with some photo stops.
By walking around the lake, you’ll be able to see it from different angles and admire the incredible mountains in the distance beyond the lake. It’s also a good way to avoid the crowds and enjoy some peace. Pooja and I hardly saw anyone on our walk around.
Hike Up to a Viewpoint
If you’re standing on the lake’s edge facing the water after coming from the carpark, look up to your left and you’ll see a series of goat trails leading up to small hilltops. These are only small hills, so the walk up should take around 5-10 minutes.
But it offers an incredible panoramic view of the lake, as well as glaciers and mountains in the distance. This is probably the most impressive part of a visit to Chandratal Lake, so I definitely recommend it!
Where to Stay at Chandratal Lake
The only accommodation available at Chandratal are the large camps that you’ll see as you drive closer to the lake. They begin to appear almost like a huge base camp area, with tents spread out along the road.
These glamping tents are basic but comfortable and offer the only option to stay the night. With very little alternatives, the prices are rather high, but it always includes dinner and breakfast and an ensuite tent with a bed and bedding included. The accommodation is only seasonal, as there are no permanent settlements near the lake.
I’d recommend booking something in advance. In high season from June to August, these camps can be fully booked out, meaning some people are disappointed when they arrive after a long drive. I recommend looking on Google Maps and then contacting the camps in advance.
MoonLake Camps or Samsong Camp are two decent options, but honestly they all offer much the same!
Things to Know Before Visiting Chandratal Lake
- Visiting Chandratal Lake is free and no permit is required but carry your passport or ID for police checking
- Wear comfortable walking shoes when visiting the lake, especially if you plan on walking around it
- There is no phone signal at Chandratal Lake and no WiFi available at the glamping tents
- There were no charging points for phones or any electronics at the camp I was staying, so bring a full power bank
- Electricity is limited to a few hours at night, so bring a head torch for getting around after dark
- You’ll find a couple of small tea and snack tents at Chandratal, before the road climbs up to the lake. If you arrive around midday like we did, you can get lunch or afternoon tea there
Exploring More of North India?
- A Travel Guide to Spiti Valley
- How to Explore Zanskar Valley
- Comprehensive Travel Guide to Ladakh
- 25 Best Things to Do in Leh, Ladakh
- Best Places to Stay in Leh For All Budgets