The entire Manali-Lahaul area offers plenty of scope for trekking, whether you start off at Manali itself or strike base camp at Keylong and then go hiking through the surrounding area. Among the most popular treks in the region are:
1.Manali-Chandratal-Keylong: A 120 km trek which takes you to the pristine blue lake of Chandratal, possibly the loveliest in all of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by mountains and glaciers, Chandratal- `Moon Lake’ is situated at a height of about 15,000 ft, and is aptly named; it’s actually crescent shaped.
From Manali, take the road up to the Rohtang Pass, and from there onto Gramphu, where you can then walk beside the foaming waters of the Chandra River, travelling eastwards to Chandratal. The river takes you to Dorni (which can be the first halt; you’ll have to pitch a tent here); then comes Chhatru. From Chhatru, continue to Chota Dara, the latter a major tourist centre as far as Lahaul is concerned- it has a PWD rest house, where you can actually get a hot meal and a room.
From Chota Dara, take the trail past the Bara Shigri glacier to Batal, at the base of the Kunzum Pass. Batal is the final halt- a windy and chilly campsite which has a PWD resthouse- before the final lap to Chandratal. Once you’ve ogled and taken all the photographs you want, head back- past Gramphu, to Keylong.
The trek from Manali to Chandratal and then on to Keylong should take about 10 days; it’s high altitude and an arduous trek, so take it easy.
2.Manali-Bara Shigri Glacier-Keylong: A slightly shorter version of the Manali-Chandratal-Keylong trek, this one passes through Rohtang, Gramphu, Dorni, Chhatru, and Chota Dara, and up to the Bara Shigri glacier. The glacier’s the longest in Himachal- all of 55 km long- and its mouth is 4 km from Batal. Bara Shigri’s melting waters eventually feed the Chenab river.
3.Manali-Keylong-Suraj Tal-Baralacha La: 65 km from Keylong, the beautiful Suraj Tal lake is the source of the Bhaga river. It lies, hemmed in by soaring mountains, below the Baralacha La, the pass which connects Lahaul to Ladakh. Baralacha La, at a height of 16,400 ft, stretches for 8 km and lies on the road from Manali to Leh.
From Manali, take the road to Gramphu, then walk along the Chandra river till you get to Tandi. At Tandi, leave the Chandra and switch to its tributary, the Bhaga, which will take you onwards, 8 km to Keylong. Going along the Bhaga, travel north, pitching camp at either Jispa (which offers some accommodation) or Darcha, a campsite where there are a few tent restaurants. If you have the time to spare, do a short trek to the lovely Deepak Tal lake, 16 km from Darcha, before heading on north to Surajtal and Baralacha La. Once you reach the pass, you can either trek back or take one of the many buses which travel along this route between Leh (in Ladakh) and Manali.
Other possible trekking routes can be from Keylong to Udaipur and the Mrikula Devi Temple (a westward trek along the Chandra River and into the Pattan Valley); or from Manali to Koksar, the coldest place in Lahaul. Koksar, 21 km beyond the Rohtang Pass, is at an altitude of about 11,000 ft and is subject to sub-zero temperatures through much of the year; in summer it’s a little bearable.
Lahaul is still pretty undeveloped, at least as far as tourism is concerned. Keylong has an HPTDC tourist bungalow, and a few hotels, but there’s nothing in the way of luxury. Elsewhere, in Chhatru, Chota Dara and Batal, are PWD resthouses which offer very basic boarding and lodging facilities. The rest of the way you’ll have to pitch a tent- out in the open, as there are almost no designated campsites as such.
Treks through Lahaul require some preparation; a rucksack and a stout pair of shoes is not enough. Heavy equipment- such as tents and sleeping bags- will necessarily have to be carried, along with basic cooking equipment and food. Heavy woollens, waterproof jackets and spare clothing must be packed as well, because even during summer much of this area’s bitterly cold, wet and windy. Other essentials include a good sunscreen and sun glasses- the air’s so rarefied that the sun can really burn when it’s bright and shining. In all cases, hire a qualified guide to lead your trek; it’s mandatory for foreigners, and highly advisable for Indians.
Further information on trekking routes, weather conditions, and other details may be obtained from the HPTDC Tourist Information Office at Manali. Another good source for help on trekking and climbing is the Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali, which organises regular courses in activities ranging from mountaineering and climbing to white-water rafting and trekking. The Institute also organises regular treks, and equipment may be hired from them for hiking.
There are, in addition to the Institute, a number of private tour operators and travel agents who organise treks. Besides providing information, they also provide trained guides for groups interested in going on a trek.