By Rachna Singh Chopra
Yes, it was the night of full moon; when I decided to be by the side of the mythical moon lake, Chandratal in Lahaul, in Jammu and Kashmir.
Yes, it was the night of full moon; when I decided to be by the side of the mythical moon lake, Chandratal in Lahaul, in Jammu and Kashmir. This is known to be the abode of the Moon god. Here, the perfect face of the moon finds its spotless reflection in the clear waters of the lake, while the moonlight weaves its magic around the mystical surroundings of almost purple hills.
Situated at about 14,000 ft above sea level, 9 km from the Kunzum Pass, the lake lies in a broad grassy plain that in ancient times was a glacier. Its circumambulation, 2½ km long, is considered holy. There is a story of a mermaid living in the lake, with whom a shepherd from Hansa village of the Spiti valley once fell in love and spent time with her, under water of course!
As I travelled towards Manali, the moon followed me teasingly, zipping behind electrical wires, trees and the traffic. At midnight, as the city streets were left behind and the mountain lining made its regal appearance, fresh air teased my nostrils and I began to hear my own breath as clearly as a whistle of the hill bird.
Fear mounted at Manali when some fellows warned that the road ahead was tough and unsafe in this weather. But finding my way through doubt and wriggling myself out through trust, I resumed my journey towards Rohtang. I had to keep my date with the lake on the full moon, and catch that bashful moment when beauty admires itself! The whole of the day saw me going up and down circular climbs on rough roads. Mundane daylight activities cleverly threw a veil on the mystery of the night. Cows munched fodder, village folk hung around doing nothing, taps leaked and dhaba kitchens burnt busily. Magic slept. I waited.
As mythology goes, the Sun and the Moon were originally equally bright. But the gods did not think this was a good idea, so they took a hare and threw it at the face of the moon. The hare struck the moon and made a dark blotch that dimmed the Moon’s brightness. But it sure could not take away its mystery!
As I undauntedly continued my journey on almost broken hilly roads, the day finally exhausted and prepared its return to the arms of the eve. Excitement build up. As I saw the last dazzling ray of the dying sun kiss adieu to the peaks, the night reappeared, and with it the enigma. The moon made its spectacular appearance in the skies. It disappeared and reappeared with each swirl of the road. It felt something like losing and regaining faith again and again and again… I have heard of faith moving mountains, but today I felt the mountains moving me to faith!
The night grew thicker, and the way darker and harder. Crossing Batal, a small hut of a guesthouse on the way, as I started the last 4 km trek towards my destination, the chill of the region touched my spine and I knew the place to be inhabited by other beings. The big and small rocks scattered along the way looked possessed. Clouds flung their large shadows onto the peaks. This sure was a terrain where both life and death became one; rather a place where care for both drops! Bereft of all signs of visible life yet pregnant with a Presence, a place for penance or rather an adventure of consciousness, it seemed.
At the last curl of the broken raw road, on the other side of the great mountain, the lake appeared, sitting quietly, as if completely innocent of its spectacular beauty. As I prepared to camp by its side, I could sense the moon prepare to emerge from its hiding from the other side. When it finally slid from beneath the clouds, it was midnight. It gleamed teasingly, fully aware as to how long it had made me wait! As it slid in and out of the clouds, hiding and revealing itself, we had nightlong conversations.
As I rose from my camp in the morning light the beauty sprinkled around me brought moistness to my eye. I saw blue larks glide about freely in the skies, not caring where they reach. Cranes and ducks frolicked around in the lake and the waters clearly revealed the stones sitting underneath that perhaps desired privacy!
The return journey started sooner than I thought as the temperatures dipped more than expected. The river never stops flowing, and the mountain never moved and the sunlight continued to make patterns on anything it fell, nothing changed. Yet the landscape, the leaves and the hills looked different on the return journey. They looked satiated, content and rinsed; as though they had received the same nourishment I had received!
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Getting there: Overnight bus to Manali from Delhi and then a 5 hour jeep drive till the lake through Rohtang Pass. Tented accommodation only; that has to be self-arranged.