Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ladakh - Visiting Tso Moriri (a photo essay)

Ladakh – the moonland of Monasteries
(Visiting Tso Moriri)
Panoramic view of Tso Moriri
The weather was inclement since the last few days and after arrival, we have had to tweak our original itinerary.  Except for the first day, when we had visited places around Leh, the weather had been bad especially during our outing to Lamayuru etc. and as we had not been able to obtain the inner line permits and 16th June, 2013 being a Sunday, we had lazed around at Leh itself, as our plan to visit Tso Moriri had not materialized.  We started early at around 6.30 A.M. on 17th June, 2013, as we had received a hand written permission from a senior Police Officer and our first choice was to visit Pangong Lake, weather permitting, alternatively to visit Tso Moriri and after overnight stay, return the next day, after visiting Tso Kar and returning via Tanglangla & Sarchu to Leh.  However, as soon as we reached Karu, bad news awaited us.  The snowfall on 16th June & ensuing night of 17th June, 2013 had blocked Changla pass completely and there was little chance of its opening during the first half of the day.  Thus, we had no other alternative, but to proceed towards Tso Moriri.  However, after crossing Karu and having traveled only a few kilometers further ahead, a huge traffic jam awaited us at Upshi and we found out that the overnight snowfall had blocked the Tanglangla Pass and other passes on the Manali-Leh highway as well and no vehicles proceeding towards Manali, were being allowed to proceed any further beyond Upshi.  The little jotting of the Police Officer, in our custody, did the trick for us and we were cleared in no time to proceed ahead.
Early morning - view from road near Choglamsar
At Karu - the road from here bi-furcates towards Manali/Tso Moriri & Pangong Tso
Headed towards Tso Moriri - the weather is inclement
         There are a few variations to the above listed circuit, one can either go to Tso Moriri or do the entire Tso Moriri – Tso Kar circuit and come back to Leh via the same route or via the Manali – Leh highway.  As we traveled, the sky which was already overcast started assuming darker hues, with occasional short spurts of showers.  The total distance from Leh to Tso Moriri via Mahe is about 215 Kms.  Upshi is about 55 Kms. from Leh, a small village with a checkpost, where the inner line permits are checked, but as stated above, the little note did the trick for us.  Further ahead lies Chumathang, about 95 kms from Leh and for the better part of this stretch of journey beyond Upshi, we had the Sindhu/Indus River for company.   En-route one crosses Kumdok which is a military establishment and I did not photograph the place.  Chumathang itself has little to offer to a visitor apart from a few restaurants, a Gompa and hot water springs. A quick lunch stop would suffice for most, but I found many of the travelers heading for the hot springs, around which a lot of artificial structures have come up and was least appealing to me and thus, I preferred to press ahead, rather than waste my valuable time there.  The distance from Chumathang to Tso Moriri (Korzok) is about 60 kms. At a distance of about 22 Kms. from Chumathang is Mahe, which is another checkpoint and we had to present our magic chit to get past.  The road bifurcates from Mahe, to head for Tso Moriri one has to cross the bridge across the Sindhu/Indus River and the road straight down heads towards Nayoma, Loma to Hanle.  From Mahe it is a relatively easy drive till Puga Sumdo village, wherefrom the road towards Tso Kar & Manali bifurcates.  After traveling a few kilometers further ahead, you cross across a small metal bridge, laid across a narrow stream and reach a small remote settlement known as Polo Kongkha La, where we saw some nomadic tents and a few houses with Yaks grazing nearby.  After crossing this point, it is best not to use the road any longer, as no bitumen is left on the road surface and the rocky base is exposed and it is too bumpy, instead either make your own track by driving/riding off road or use one of the numerous tracks left by passing vehicles.  On way to Tso Moriri we came across a small but beautiful lake known as ‘Tso Kiagar’, but we did not venture out, as the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it had started snowing, albeit in the month of June !!!
Spot the Chukor - a local bird perfectly camouflaged in the background
The Sindhu/Indus River valley - panoramic view on way to Tso Moriri
The meandering Sindh/Indus River - another panoramic view of the river valley on way to Tso Moriri
The racing Marmot - wildlife galore on way to Tso Moriri
Güldenstädt's Redstart - shot on way to Tso Moriri
Yellow billed Chough
Pika - it is not a rodent but a mammal
            Tso Moriri, ‘Tso’ means ‘Lake’ and ‘moriri’ means ‘mountain’, which literally translates to ‘Lake of the mountains’ and is officially called ‘Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve’.  It is a alpine lake in the Changthang, which literally means ‘northern plains’, is an area in Ladakh. The lake is at an altitude of 4,595 m (15,075 ft) and it is the largest amongst the high altitude lakes in the Trans-Himalayan region, entirely within India.  The lake is fed by springs and snow-melt from mountains on the Changthang plateau. Water enters the lake in two major stream systems, one entering the lake from the north, the other from the southwest.  Both stream systems create extensive marshes where they enter the lake. It formerly had an outlet to the south, but this has become blocked and the lake has become land locked. As a result, the water is now becoming saline. The other smaller lake i.e. Tso Kar lake was a source of salt for local people until late fifties, this is reflected in the lake's name, ‘Tso Kar’ literally means ‘salty lake’ in local language.  Both the lakes are ‘Oligotrophic’ in nature, and its waters are alkaline.
View of Sindhu/Indus River from Mahe Bridge
Puga Sudoh village - Road bifurcates towards Tso Kar/Manali from this village
It has started snowing - upper hills already covered with snow on way to Tso Moriri
Tso Kiagar - another lake just before reaching Tso Moriri
Yaks in the snow - on way to Tso Moriri
A snow bouquet for you - near Tso Moriri 
         Even though Tso Moriri is smaller than Pangong Tso and fewer people come here, it is more beautiful in some ways due to the fact that area surrounding Tso Moriri is a wild life reserve and one can see Tibetan wild ass (Kiang), marmots, red foxes and quite a few migratory birds. I had also planned this destination for photographing some of these in the wilderness.  But as we proceeded further, heading for Korzok the snowfall kept on increasing in its intensity.  Before reaching Tso Moriri there is another small lake known as Tso Kiagar, which is also quite a big lake with aquatic birds in it, but as we were getting late coupled with the fact that the weather had taken a turn for the worse, we decided to take a break at the lake during our return journey, next day.  Just before one enters Korzok, another check-post manned by ITBP personnel is to be crossed.  The personnel on Sentry duty here refused to honor the so called ‘magic chit’ that had cleared all the barricades so far.  I gave him my introduction and showed him my official card and honoring his commitment towards duty, asked him for only leverage to allow the kids some food at Korzok, by keeping my Government Identity Card as guarantee, to redeem the same on my return, as the kids had nothing since morning.  I further added that in case it was beyond his competency, he should take me to the office of his ‘Commanding Officer’ and if granted an audience and permission, I would proceed or else return back,  but his attitude was outright dirty and unbecoming of a Government servant.  Apparently, in such remote places, the Sentry duty sepoy holds the rights of visitations/schedules of his Officers and such apathy for an Officer, visiting part of his own country!!!  It is really sad state of affairs so far as ITBP is concerned.  I had to return back from gates of Tso Moriri.  For accommodation and eateries, one has to take the right turn from the main entrance of Tso Moriri wild life sanctuary and continue for few kilometers to reach the village of Korzok a.k.a. Karzok.
Panoramic view of Tso Moriri from the other side
Bar-headed Geese in Tso Moriri 
Snow flakes all around - a Tern in Tso Moriri
Another of the famed Bar-headed geese in Tso Moriri
Our taxi driver in Ladakh - a fine fellow - Tashi in snow in Tso Moriri
On the return leg - the landscape is now completely covered in snow - a lone yak grazing 
Difficult living conditions - hut to a nomad at Tso Moriri almost covered in snow
A few brave men - foreign cyclists headed for Tso Moriri in snowfall- as we head back to Leh
Famished - having noodles in far flung Mahe in a small shop
        On the hind sight, I believe that it was all God’s providence that we had to turn back from Tso Moriri, as within a span of an hour, during our return leg, we found that the snowfall had intensified into a blizzard and the dirt tracks were all but being gradually covered up by snow and in case of overnight halt, it could have turned calamitous.  As I have already pointed out that there are very few visitors to this destination and coupled with this, in case of heavy snow, all the tracks would have disappeared and it would have become very difficult to drive back.  However, despite the drawback, I did not lose heart and made most of the situation by taking shots of rare Bar headed geese and terns etc.  The distance from Tso Moriri (Korzok) to Tso Kar is about 80 kms. and the area surrounding Tso Kar is protected and forms the Tso Kar wild life sanctuary.  We retraced our steps back till Mahe and had our lunch of Noodles & tea there, perfectly cooked by the petite lady shopkeeper, before returning back to Leh late in the evening and thus, ended our trip to Tso Moriri.

Here is the link to my video for the destination -

1 comment:

  1. Just I can say about Leh trip is, Great. I wish to visit Manali and Leh from the Bhopal here.