Drive from Sarchu to Leh
On our drive from Delhi to Leh, we have covered through Manali, Rohtang Pass, Keylong and Sarchu till now. On day 6, we are now heading from Sarchu to Leh or Tso Moriri depending your travel schedule and plans.
Regardless of your destination, the route is common for 114 km. The first habitation and dhaba you will come across is 79km away at Pang. This journey can take four to five hours, depending on the number of photo halts you make, and believe me, it is difficult to be disciplined about this in such an enthralling environment!
Immediately after Sarchu, is a checkpoint that marks the Himachal Pradesh state border. The road then leads on past ‘Brandy nullah’, along the Tsarap River, before arriving at the base of the climb up to Naki La pass (16,250ft/4950m). The pass is approximately 40km from Sarchu and the ascent to the top is along twenty-one hairpin bends called the Gata Loops. The adventurous, in a powerful four-wheel drive can take the dirt track short cuts that bisect the loops-however, this is more advisable while descending rather than struggling uphill!
From here it is a short drive to the slightly higher Lachung La pass (16,600ft/5060m). The 23km descent to Pang is quite spectacular, particularly for the last 5km or so when the road passes through a series of dramatic gorges – definitely gorge-ous! Pang has a few dhabas, and after a quick, albeit early, lunch you should hit the road again. A short climb of around 5km, through another set of gorges, and you unexpectadely find yourself on a flat grassy plateau ringed by distant snowcapped mountains, with gentle undulating hills of many hues in the fore ground. The region is known as the More (pronounced Moray) Plains is an extension of the Great Tibetan Chamathang plateau that is 40km wide and stretches almost 60km to the base of the Tanglang La. This is home to the Tibetan wild ass, wild horses, hares and marmots and a popular grazing ground of the nomadic Khampa tribe.
If you are going to Leh, the road travelled on now is flat and has a good tarmac surface for most of the way. A drive of 75km (around 1.5 hours), brings you to the highest pass on the Leh-Manali road, the Tanglang La at 17,500ft/5328m. From here you descend 60km to the police checkpoint at Upshi, which lies by the Indus River and is just 49km short of Leh. The total time taken from Pang should be between five and six hours and you should be in Leh well before sunset.
Drive from Pang to Tso Kar & Tso Moriri Lakes
35 kms 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, famed for the high quality salt that rings its edges. 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. 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.
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.
photo credit: ManoharD Gata Loops via photopin (license)