Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh : A Travelogue

When you happen to visit a place multiple times, in different seasons; all the various memories and anecdotes start coming together. After two days of deliberation, I have finally decided to let go and and start this post. This has brought about a flood of nostalgia, those were the days when Tso Moriri was pure wilderness and reaching this lake required quite an adventurous streak. Most people would visit the more famous Pangong Tso, after all how different can two lakes be?

Check : Lessons of Life at Pangong in Winter

I had done extensive research about Ladakh for the trip. It was to stand me in good stead because the friends I was supposed to travel with all disappeared as the time of the journey neared and unknowingly I was on my first ‘solo’ trip. Check my Romance of the Manali-Leh Road for getting into the groove of this post.

A pee stop somewhere on the road to Tso Moriri.

We had procured the necessary permits in advance and left from Leh at 7-730 am. Aloo paranthas and chai at the dhaba in Upshi were great for breakfast. The road was excellent till Chumathang as we followed the Indus river for the journey. Small villages passed us every few kilometres.

Crossing the Indus on rickety bridges… The sound of these wooden planks feels like music.

The landscapes were unreal, and green and yellow barley / mustard fields pleased the eyes no end. Progress was slow but there was no hurry either, after all Ladakh is the ultimate place to practise the ‘Journey is more important than the destination’ quote!

Read : Srinagar – Leh Highway, in Pictures

Purple mountains on the way to Chumathang, which is also a hot spring town on the banks of the Indus.

There were very few tourist vehicles on the road to Tso Moriri (I think I saw less than 5 during the entire day), and I was really really excited at the check post in Mahe. In those days we were not allowed left of Mahe – the road that goes to Nyoma and Loma and onward to Hanle and other parts of the Changthang. I don’t remember if there was a metalled road from Mahe bridge to Sumdo village, from where Tso Moriri Lake is around 43 kms away via a left turn.

Read : Failures on the Road – Stupidity in Changthang, Ladakh

Wish the camera had not chosen to shake at the last moment…
Where are you going!!! Cant believe this is real.

What I do remember is that there were no roads hardly a few kilometres after the left turn. This was the land of the Changpa nomads and my brain couldn’t even think as to how they made a living in this wilderness, rearing their sheep and pashmina goats. It was well past noon and we were driving on a plain, the clouds seemed within touching distance and our driver kept looking at me for assurance that we were indeed on the right track!

I love this board! At the check post of Mahe from where one crosses the Indus over a bridge.

The ‘road’ ascended and reached a 4800m pass (now I know its called Namshang La), a melangé of colourful prayer flags and ibex horns etc. We were in the region of Rupshu in the Changthang, Ladakh and I could barely let my eyelids drop for even a millisecond. The plateau like landscape felt akin to Morey plains of the Manali – Leh road.

Can you help me ‘do’ Ladakh in 6 days?

First glimpse of Kiagar Tso (Also spelt as Kyagar). Tso means lake in Ladakhi.
Clicked from a moving vehicle, remains one of my best photographs of this place even after having visited it many times after this.

A chance spotting of some Himalayan marmots brought some life to the proceedings. The clock showed 230 and there was still no sign of Tso Moriri. Suddenly, a metalled road reappeared and a small lake was visible at the far end of the road.

Cute furry marmots…

It was a greenish water body and was moderate in size; the lake was called Kiagar Tso and I ‘ve been told by Ladakhis that few first timers are actually shown it as Tso Moriri (HAHHA). That fact makes me laugh every time, to realise that some tourists are getting duped in Ladakh too!

7 roadtrips for adventure junkies in India

This is the highway of Changthang, are we going to the right place?

Tso Moriri was not too far away from here and after more off roading and gawking at surreal landscapes, we were on the banks of this brackish lake that spanned over 100 km. A brilliant blue in the desert like scenery of the Changthang.

To reach the village of Korzok, one has to drive on the banks of Tso Moriri Lake for around 4-5 kms.

After another hour or so, a board indicated that were were close to Korzok Army Camp (4575m). Korzok is the village on the banks of Tso Moriri. We were in search of a homestay or a guest house to spend the night. As we climbed the village, Tso Moriri Lake appeared to be even more beautiful from top.

A landscape view of Tso Moriri, adorned with snow capped peaks with the fields and cultivations in the background.
I walked uphill to a vantage point from where the colours of Tso Moriri Lake appeared even more pronounced.

We quickly found 2 ramshackle rooms and set about enjoying the delightful sights. I jumped and hopped and ran to the Korzok Monastery and saw the monks in action. Korzok Monastery is one of the biggest monasteries in the Changthang and was founded in the 17th Century.

Read : Temple of ‘Divine Madman’ in Bhutan : Chimi Lhakhang

A sacred chorten inside the 17th Century Korzok Monastery. I’ve heard the Korzok Festival is epic with wild horse races. Woah, what a sight that would be!

Views from the monastery’s rooftop were surreal. The barley fields of Korzok village are said to be some of the highest in the world. A thundering wind blew at all times in Tso Moriri and threatened to blow me away.

Strange looking angle for a photograph!

Sunset colours brought dark clouds and altogether they provided an epic blue to the colour of the water of Tso Moriri. The prayer flags fluttered and I kept clicking with my point and shoot sony camera. The bare mud homes of Korzok village made a pretty subject for the photographs. Its funny how every photograph in Ladakh turned out to be quite spectacular due to the stark colours in this high altitude desert.

A panorama of Tso Moriri and Korzok village.

Later in the evening we had visitors from Armenia and enjoyed dinner in the form of chapatis, dall and sabzi made by a Himachali cook. Food is an important part of my travel memories and I was literally on cloud nine after a tasty end to the day. The stars were out in their full splendour that night and I felt that the thin line between dreaming and arriving in heaven was crossed that day.

Check : Autumn Colours in the Himalayas

At the guest house… it was quite inexplicable when I saw this scribbled on one of the few concrete walls in Korzok.
Sunset brought with it some epic colours and everlasting memories.

It was a breezy time and morning brought with it a freshness that made me fall in love with the idea of Ladakh. Some kids played in the streets while a essential goods truck was being unloaded. The sound of bells and prayers emanated from the Dukhang of the Korzok monastery. The murmur of happiness in my heart dissolved in these emotions. I felt a strange affinity toward Ladakh, as if I had always belonged here.

As dusk descended on Tso Moriri.

In the present scenario : Many years hence, Tso Moriri still retains a distinct flavour even though many accommodation options have sprung up now.

Wow wow wow! I’m pleased to go back in time and notice the flair for photography was always there for me.

Important Facts :

Distance from Leh to Tso Moriri is around 240 kms and takes roughly 7 hours to cover. Check the requirement of a permit beforehand.

Tso Moriri is at an altitude of 4500-4600m increasing the chances of AMS if one is not properly acclimatised. It is nestled in a valley of nomads – the lake is a summer migration stop for bar headed geese (also called nangpa). It is inhabited by the Changpa nomads (Khampa tribe), among the original people of Ladakh who rear sheep, goats and yaks for a living.

Tso Moriri is also the highest Ramsar site in the world, and the wetlands harbour a rich and endangered variety of birds making it a site of international importance. I was lucky to spot the black necked crane and brahmini duck at Tso Moriri.

Also check : Practical tips for winter travel in Ladakh

First sight of the morning from my window … It was a dirty little room, yet felt like bliss. It was the only place to stay in Tso Moriri at that time.
Time to say goodbye to Tso Moriri… Clicked from the window of the car as we made our way back to Leh.

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15 thoughts on “Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh : A Travelogue”

  1. This was amazing, worth read, fabulous article and such a magnificent scenery. Really Incredible India.

    1. So glad you like it Johann. This one is from my first trip to Ladakh and the memories feel so fresh, as if I was there yesterday! Hope I’ll be able to pen down day wise experiences from my last winter trip 6-7 months ago! Thanks for checking mate.

      1. Haha, surprised that you remember me 😀

        Have been off blogging for a while. Graduated from college, got a job – maaajor changes happening around!

        But yes, good things are coming up on the blog. Secretly hope to see your
        comment and appreciation on them! 😛

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