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