Tso Moriri – The Road Less Travelled

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tso Moriri
As I climbed the struts of the bridge and traversed horizontally over the Indus river, I looked back to see my other companions still inside the car - least interested in the bridge. Only Arjun had stepped out with me, who was now zooming his camera to capture the yellow writing on the rock across the river. It said “3 Idiots Shooting Point”. After crossing Upshi, we were taking a break at the Mahe bridge – of 3 Idiots fame – which cuts across the Indus river. If you remember the bridge where Farhan and Raju turn the car to head to Manali, you would know which bridge I am talking about. 

There is absolutely nothing special about the bridge, but if appearing in a superhit movie can cause people to stop and click pictures of an ordinary structure as this; it is expected what commercialization can do to spectacular places like Pangong Tso. While Pangong is now fighting the war of conservation and commercialization (thanks to 3 Idiots), Tso Moriri still lies untouched, unperturbed … Virgin! Tso Moriri is not thronged by even half the number of tourists that Pangong gets every year. And that’s where we were heading – off the beaten track!

Day 11, 9th July 2014, Wednesday : After spending the previous day lazing out and shopping, it was finally time to say good bye to our base - Leh. We drove through the Leh-Manali highway till  we reached Upshi, and from the roundabout at Upshi, we took the left turn. For most part of the journey, we had the Indus river as company. At one point we passed the town of Chumathang. Sonam ji, our driver, told us there is a monastery in this town. But by now we have had Gompa Overdose, so we treated the town as pit stop and then drove ahead. 

And then came the Mahe bridge. I had to get off the bridge once I started getting threats from the boys that they would drive off without me or even worse - throw me into the Indus and then drive off.

The Mahe bridge leads to the Changthang region of Ladakh. Changthang is a high altitude plateau, only a small part of which extends to Ladakh, the rest being in northern Tibet. 

Somewhere at Changthang Plateau
The drive through Changthang was one of the most delighful drive we had had in Ladakh. There are meadows on both sides of the road with wild horses grazing here and there. Till Sumdo, the tarmac is in very good condition. We stopped at a dhaba at Sumdo for tea and maggi. There we met a pair of lovely mountain dogs, a pair of marmots and a handsome biker (no pair thankfully winking).

No pictures of Mr. Biker unfortunately :(
The dogs were so furry that they could have given competition to any good breed dog. They were also the first dogs I had met who preferred being fed momos and not biscuits. 

An hour or so before reaching Tso Moriri, we crossed another small yet beautiful lake called Tso Kiagar. The sparkling turquoise color of Tso Kiagar is just 'Wow'-inspiring! 

Tso Kiagar
At one point, we left the road and off-roaded through a vast plateau, making our own track - a mix of sand and dirt trails. Changthang region is home to both Pangong Tso and Tso Moriri. Situated in the secluded Rupshu valley, Tso Moriri is situated at a higher altitude than Pangong Tso. A brackish lake like Pangong, Tso Moriri is the largest high altitude lake in India that is entirely in India.

In 2002, Tso Moriri was declared a Ramsar Site and as claimed, it is the highest Ramsar site in the world. What is a Ramsar site?
Ramsar is a city in Iran, where the Ramsar Convention was signed - an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. These protected wetlands are called Ramsar sites. Why protect wetlands? A wetland is the most biologically diverse ecosystem serving as home to wide range of flora and fauna. Presently there are 168 contracting nations. India has 26 Ramsar sites, some of the well known ones being Chandrataal (HP), Chilika Lake (Odissa) , Loktak Lake (Manipur), Sambhar Lake(Rajasthan) and Vembanad Lake (Kerala).
Top : Off-roading on a plateau; Bottom: Fence around Tso Moriri wildlife reserve
Though inner line permits are no longer required, the Army at the check post demanded to meet the group leader. From a car that had male majority, a woman walking ahead and shaking his hand, attracted quite a lot of attention from his comrades. He was very friendly (wonder if the reaction would have stayed the same for male group leaders :D ) and let us enter after checking our passports. As I sat back in my shotgun position, I turned around and gave the boys the ‘Who’s your daddy’ look winking

We took the right turn from the main entrance of Tso Moriri wild life reserve and continued for few kilometers to reach Korzok. Unlike Pangong, settlement or pitching of camps/tents are not allowed on the shores of Tso Moriri. Why? Because it is a Ramsar site, of course!

Top left : Tso Moriri camp & resort ; Top right : Korzok village
We checked into Tso Moriri camp and resort for the night. We have already had an amazing experience of staying beside a high altitude lake at Pangong. The difference was we had to walk from Korzok to the lake this time. The distance which initially seemed short felt like never ending as we kept walking towards it. Or may be we were getting breathless faster at such high altitude.

When we finally reached the shores, we tried to spot the major differences between Tso Moriri and Pangong, apart from the obvious geographical statistics. Tso Moriri is beautiful in its own way due to the fact that it is flanked by way more lofty mountains and is bordered by the Tso Moriri wild life reserve where you can see Tibetan wild ass, marmots and many migratory birds. Whereas Pangong keeps changing its shade of blue, Tso Moriri stayed a brilliant shade of ink blue all the time. 

Standing at the shore of either Tso Moriri or Pangong Tso, it is easy to lose yourself to their spectacular beauty and forget the humanized world you have left behind. For me Pangong Tso was like a love story. It holds a special place in my heart. But it would yet be unfair to compare it with Tso Moriri as both are unique in their beauty. 

It was tough to believe that it was our last night at Ladakh. We were heading out of Ladakh the next day, through the Leh Manali highway.

Tips for fellow travelers - 
  1. Permits are no longer required for Tso Moriri for Indian tourists. However, you do need to carry a National ID proof.
  2. Nights can be extremely cold, hence be prepared.
  3. Bring a torch as electricity is shut down after 10 p.m. at the camps.
  4. Do not expect 5-star luxury at the camps. The basic facilities that they are providing at such a remote location is worth appreciation.
  5. Last but not the least - Littering is a serious offence. Do not litter! If you can't find a place for disposal, bring back the garbage with you for proper disposal.
This is the 6th in a series of 7 posts documenting 14 days of our travel to Ladakh. You can also read:

Day 1 to Day 3: NH 1D - From Srinagar to Leh

Day 4: How I Got Leh'd
Day 5 & 6: On the Silk Route to Heaven - To Nubra Valley, via Khardung La - a part of the ancient Silk Route.
Day 7 & 8: Speechless at Pangong - A love story...
Day 9: 3 Reasons You Should Skip Hemis Festival 
Day 10: 
'Dolce Far Niente'... A Buffer day spent in Leh.

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  1. Stunning pictures ...... have been dying to visit the place

    1. Thanks :) I am glad that I decided to include Tso Moriri in the plan. Most people chuck it out, thinking Pangong is the 'In' thing.

  2. Wow... awesome shots and inspiring post... I am planning to be there during winters :) ... let's see how it goes.

    1. Probably the lake would be frozen during winters... All the best for your trip :)