Lakes of Ladakh

Pangong Lake

Pangong  Lake in Kashmir is the world’s highest brackish lake at 14,256 feet above sea level.  A few years back the government decided to open it to tourists though the lake and its surrounding is under army surveillance.  The tourism department intends to develop the infrastructure and facilitate the route leading to the lake.

A place too easily arrived at is scarcely worth traveling to at all.  Consider the ‘tired tourist’ who simply seeks solace in much talked about destinations, where he tends to relax and stroll the evenings away, buy a few souvenirs and sample the cuisine from the endless menu.  And there’s the ‘tireless traveler’ - the learning by living person who opts for a destination in order to explore and experience the unknown.

The 160 km trip to Pangong Lake from Leh is one such experience.  It begins with Thiksey village famous for its huge monasteries covering an entire mountain ridge.  Beyond this remote village there is nothing but the extreme mountain ridge.  Beyond this remote village there is nothing but the extreme mountain ranges for company.

The topography throughout the journey shoots up so abruptly that they throw off all calculations of distance - what looked to be a ten-minute crossing easily required an hour or more.  At times, it appeared as if so many of nature’s forces were warning us away at the steep slopes and uneasy bends and not to forget the great chunks of ice appearing static and frozen in time.  At Darbuk village near Tangste Valley stood a chain of war memorials with Regimental Insignias in commemoration of the soldiers who lost their lives during the Indo-Chinese war of 1962.  Some of the army bunkers and trenches are still in use.  Villagers can be seen here along with their large herds of Pashmina sheep and long tailed yaks.

The placid Pangong Lake is not just a tourists paradise but a geologist’s domain too and if one is to brush up with political history, the place is a melting pot of confusion and for sure it in no fun for the army in the biting cold to take care of the strategic landscape.

Travelers enjoy the solitude for a day or two, zoom their cameras to shoot the black necked Siberian  crane around the Mahe marshes which are the only breeding ground for these migratory birds.  At times they are seen swarming in the cool colourful water of the lake.  If one has boating in mind, one is heading for disappointment.  Very few boats are available and they belong to the army who may consider your request but won’t allow you to go beyond half a kilometer though one third of the 150 km lake belongs to India.  The remaining 100 km stretch of water belongs to China.  The lake was once divided between Ladakh and Tibet as early as 1684 under the Treaty of Tingmosgang signed between the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal, and the Regent of Tibet.  As of today it is shared by India and China. This lake came into prominence after the cult movie Three Idiots.

Tsomoriri Lake

Also Known as ‘Mountain Lake’, Tso Moriri is a spectacular site amidst mountain ranges in Leh and thanks to its serenity, is a good place to relax. The Lake measures about 28 km in length from north to south and about 4-6 km in breadth and about 100 feet average in depth. Maximum depth of Tso Moriri Lake is 248 feet. Tso Moriri Lake is surrounded by barren hills, with the backdrop of snow-covered mountains.
The water is crystal clear and of a deep blue color. However, since the Tso Moriri Lake has no outlet, its waters are consequently brackish, although not very detectable to the taste. In fact, the Tso Moriri Lake was once a popular source of salt.

Tso Moriri Lake is situated in the middle of the elevated district of Rupshu. The Ropsu valley lies south east of Ladakh on the road from Manali to Leh at altitude ranging from 16,500 feet. The 137 km drive from Leh to Rupshu can be covered in 7 to 9 hours. This pretty valley is inhabited by a small population of ‘Changpas’, who are nomadic shepherds. The area is rich in wildlife including the wild ass, black necked cranes and geese flock to the lake side for breeding during the summer months.

Reaching Tso Moriri and obtaining permits: Tso Moriri is inaccessible by public transport; you should contact a tour operator at Leh who will arrange and include your permit to the package. You will need two photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport and visa. Permits are required to travel to this lake. Once you have your permit, usually only valid for a maximum period of seven days, make at least 5 copies before setting off, as checkpoints like to keep a copy when you log in.

There are two routes to Tso Moriri from Leh:
Leh- Upshi- Debring- Puga- Tso Moriri
Leh- Upshi- Chumathang- Mahe- Puga- Tso Moriri.