Drive from Sarchu to Tso Moriri Ladakh
With barely any tracks in sight, drive towards Tso Moriri Ladakh lets you imagine you are a path-finding explorer! Look out for plump marmots and wild horses en route.
The route we recommend is a little more arduous, but definitely worthwhile provided you have crossed Pang before noon. Driving at this altitude, through rugged country, along barely discernible tracks, makes this one of the most exciting cross-country drives. Thirty five kilometers after Pang, at the Khampa camping site called Debring, look for a sign on the right indicating the turn-off point for both the lakes. However, in case you spot someone, on or off the road, reconfirm that you are headed in the direction of Tso Kar and the village of Thukse.
The road is a gently undulating dirt track to start with and after a drive of around 30km, you will come across the beautiful Tso Kar, White Lake, famed for the high quality salt that rings its edges. The nomads of yore held this lake in great importance as they would gather salt from here and trade it, along with their pashmina, for other necessities – to a lesser extent, this trade continues even today.
The village of Thukse lies at the head of the lake and from now on the journey gets a little rougher with a roller coaster rocky track passing near the site of old sulphur mines, Sumdo village in the Puga valley comes into view after about an hour’s drive and cuts a striking picture with its mani wall adorned with a collection of yak horns, silhouetted against a fading sky. From here it is a 43km, uphill drive to Tso Moriri but you now drive on a marked, reasonably smooth dirt track since this is the much-used route to Leh. After fording the Puga nullah, you turn right, passing Tso Kiangar, a beautiful small lake that lies between Sumdo and Tso Moriri.
It will take between six hours to finally reach camp at Tso Moriri from the turn off on the Leh road and it is essential that you travel while there is day-light as the route is not marked and back up facilities practically do not exist.
Tso Moriri, Mountain Lake, is at 15,500ft/4725m and is at one end of the 140km long Rupshu valley. The lake is 28km long and 8km across at its widest point. Beautiful snow clad peaks of Mentok and Kharlung surround it on the right side and Kurchu and Langsar on the left. Around the lake one can spot Khampas camping with their herds of cattle and yaks and this area affords the best chance of spotting wild life such as the kiang, foxes, hares and marmots.
The lake itself hosts several species of water birds like the bar-headed geese, pin tails, Brahmany ducks and black-necked cranes. The small village of Karzok lying a quarter of the way along the length of the lake, with its inhabitants, is the only permanent settlement in the Rupshu valley. There is an old Gompa and the barley fields here are among the highest cultivations in the world.
Hopefully you will have arrived by sunset to enjoy this great spectacle over the lake. It gets very cold at night as you are now at a higher altitude from Sarchu. The next day can be spent wandering around the village, visiting the Gompa, or taking in a nature walk. Alternatively, just relax by this exquisite lake which changes colors like moods and is sometimes still enough to reflect the surrounding peaks in an incredible Rorsharch like picture or whipped by the wind to resemble precious jewels, iridescent in this special high altitude light.
photo credit: Michael Scalet Goats migration by Tso Moriri via photopin (license)