Vidya Deshpande takes us high up into the Himalayas to witness the beauty of two of the largest fresh water high altitude lakes of India.
In the last scene of 3 Idiots, Pia (Kareena Kapoor) hurtles down on a scooter wearing a lehenga and rushes to meet the love of her life, Rancho (Aamir Khan) on the shores of Pangong Tso in Ladakh. The spot where this scene was shot is a small sliver of beach, running into the lake like a sandy finger and is now the most famous spot here, where a selfie is a ‘must’ for all visitors.
Pangong Tso is one of the two largest fresh water high altitude lakes in India, the other being, Tso Moriri. Both are in Ladakh and are supremely beautiful. Most tourists make a mandatory trip to Pangong Tso, but if you are up for something different, then head to the more remote Tso Moriri.
Tso Moriri is the largest high altitude lake fully inside Indian Territory. It is 29 kms long and about 8 kms wide. Pangong Tso on the other hand, is mostlyTibet/China, with a small portion in India.Of the two lakes Pangong is much larger, but we get to see a small portion that is on this side of the border.
Tso Moriri is located in the breath-taking valley of Rupshu, at an altitude of 4000 mts above sea level. It has a range of wildlife, including migratory birds, marmots and rarely the Tibetan wolves and Tibetan wild ass. You can see marmots, wild horses, yak and migratory birds en route to Pangong too, but the Tibetan wild ass and Tibetan wolves are seen more near Tso Moriri.
Tso Moriri is recognized as a protected the wetland reserve under Ramsar Convention and is actually known as Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve. Since, it is very near to the Line of Actual Control, one needs to get Inner Line Permit to visit Tso Moriri. You don’t need a permit to visit Pangong Tso, but the drive there is picturesque, through Kardung La, the world’s highest motorable pass.
The water in both lakes are in multi shades of blue with the surrounded mountains also in shades from brown to a deep purple. Tso Moriri remains frozen from January to March. The lake usually melts in April and remains unfrozen till mid-September. It does not get as many tourists as Pangong Tso and so remains more untouched by civilization.
The driving distance from Leh to Tso Moriri is 240 kms, about 7 hours by road. The drive itself is beautiful, as you cross the Chumathang plateau to reach the lake. The trip cannot be done in a day. An overnight stay is recommended which will add to the beauty of your vacation as you will witness the most amazing sunset and sunrise over the Azure Lake. There are not too many options to stay around Tso Moriri, except for one or two guesthouses.
Most tourists visiting Pangong Tso, do a day trip from Leh. They start off early in the morning, reach the lake by early afternoon, spend an hour by the lakeside and then drive back to Leh. But spending a night here is worth exploring, as it’s something different. Pangong has a few guesthouses near the lake. Most of them offer tented accommodation, as the tents are removed during the harsh winters, when most of the lake is frozen. At night, high-speed winds howling through the tent can keep you awake apart from giving you nightmares, but certainly are worth the experience.
And for the more adventurous, there’s a 10-day trek you can do from Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri, and camp in tents along the way. The best season would be in the summer, when the temperatures won’t be freezing cold.
Vidya Deshpande is a freelance writer based in Delhi.