On the trail of a true blue lake
Ladakh is a topographer and geologist’s delight. Apart from the soul-stirring ambience of the gompas, Ladakh’s most spiritual part is its three lakes or tsos. All three – Tso Moriri, Pangong Tso and Tso Kar – are very different from each other but form a fantastic group of water bodies in this cold desert. There are two ways of going about exploring the lakes; you can either go to them individually from a common base like Leh. Or, if you are driving to or from Manali you can take a detour and visit Tso Kar and Tso Moriri on the way.
There is a long standing debate about which is the more beautiful of the two – Tso Moriri or Pangong Tso. I must confess that the stunning colours of the waters of Pangong Tso won me over. Tso Moriri has loads of character and is a stunningly beautiful lake, but Pangong Tso’s ever-changing hues of blue, with a stark topography surrounding it, is just too beautiful.
All visitors to the lake, whether Indian or foreign, must obtain an Inner Line permit from the DC’s office. Once the required documentation has been acquired, you can start on the 130 km journey to Pangong Tso. From Leh, you take a turn off the main Manali-Leh highway at Karu, then via Chang La onto Dubruk and finally to Tangtse. From Tangtse it is a 32-km journey to the Lukung, and I must say it was the longest 32 km journey I have ever undertaken. Each time a flash of blue came across one got excited that the hallowed lake was finally at hand, but when it came into view it was well worth the wait and the journey. Once at Lukung, visitors can go a further 9 km to Spangmik beyond which visitors are no longer allowed, but these 9 km allow for some stunning photography. Both Spangmik and Lukung offer visitors Yak rides as well.
Tso Moriri, on the other hand, is in a region that still mirrors the traditional way of life. Located in the Rupshu region of Ladakh, this is the land of the Changpa shepherds for whom the newly drawn political boundaries hold little meaning. Tso Moriri is the only known breeding ground for the bar-headed geese, often mistaken for the Raj Hans in Hindu mythology. Every year they spend the summer here and fly back to less colder parts of the country in winter. If you decide to visit Tso Moriri en route from Manali you would leave the main highway at Debring and first come upon the salt lake called Tso Kar. This lake with its salt caked edges is not as big as the other two but makes up for what it lacks in size with colour and stunning beauty.
The most rewarding part is that while the lakes are so beautiful, the journeys are amazing in themselves. It is truly a magical place!