Tsomoriri and Pangongso lakes are the jewels of Ladakh. These two lakes were created when the Himalayas rose. Salt water got trapped between the rocks and these two brackish lakes came into existence. Even after so many centuries you can still taste the salinity in the water. There is no pollution here and you can see through the water and find the stones at the bottom. The altitude brings you that mush closer to the sky and the crystal clear water reflects the azure blue sky. You never knew blue had so many shades.
The lake remains frozen till about April. The best time to visit is from May to September. That is, in fact, the best time to visit Leh. After September all shops and hotels start shutting down and by October this place becomes a ghost town. Only a few shops catering to the local population remains open.However, all the mountain passes allowing passage to Leh become inaccessible and no fresh supply of food and groceries come. People survive on bare necessities for the next six months.
I had gone to Pangongso in September. So I decided to visit the Tsomoriri in March and enjoy the winter landscape. The journey from Leh to Tsomoriri is about 240 kms long which in this hilly area translates to about 7 hours. Add 2 more hours for clicking pictures(even that will seem less).
From Leh you drive towards Upshi. From there the road forks, one going towards Manali and the other in the general direction of Tsomoriri. A few kilometers after Upshi the road quality deteriorates. The road is being broadened and the whole stretch is dug up. It is a painful journey. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is the beauty all around. The hills, the valleys and the Indus flowing beside you.
Crossing Kumkok and Chumathang you reach Mahe. From here one road goes towards Nyoma and the other towards Tsomoriri. However you will not find any milestones along the road reading Tsomoriri because that area is known as Korzok. The Korzok village and monastery are nestled on the banks of the lake.
As we drove though the valleys towards the Tsomoriri we were amazed by the colors of the mountains. It is impossible to describe such beauty. The browns, purples, magentas were a perfect contrast to the white of the snow.
The Tsomoriri is at an altitude of 14, 836 feet and in March most of the hills were still snow clad. The river had overflown onto the road and the ice had still not melted. We crunched over the slippery ice. The roots of the trees were entombed in the snow.
The river had started thawing and we could make out how thick the layer of ice was.
We crossed a small village nestled in the mountains. People actually lived in such places. There were schools and stupas. Bright colored prayer flags adorned the area.
As we drove higher we could see snow clad mountains looming in front of us.
We were leaving the brown dusty landscape and moving towards a white one. What a juxtaposition of colors!!
If there is snow there has to be some fun. We stopped and had snowball fights. Bad idea!! Because then the cold seeped inside our shoes and our feet went numb. We had to take off our socks and dry them in front of the car’s heater.
The world was white all around with speckles of brown. I could have spent an eternity there.
Driving on a roadless terrain(yes there was no road for quite some time) we came to another fork. One road goes towards Korzok village and the other towards Chumar. The road to Chumar had been newly laid and we chose to travel down that one. However most tourists go towards Korzok village because that is where the hotels and restaurants are.
The Tsomoriri was frozen solid. There were a few patches that had started thawing indicating the arrival of summer. It is a wide wide expanse nestled between high mountains.
The lake is 19km x 3 km. In summers the area is surrounded by lush green grass as the wetlands come to life. However now the area was deserted of any flora and fauna although the land held the promise of life. The lake surface was speckled white and blue.
We spent about an hour there. We had maggi and hot coffee. And then we started feeling the effects of the altitude. If you are brave enough to face that then you can plan to stay the night in Korzok village. Sunset and sunrise on the lake are said to be amazing. We.however, decided to fall back.
P.S. Make a trip towards Nyoma to have a look at the wild asses. These are indigenous to this area.