8. Tso Moriri - A Blue Pearl In Highland (Ladakh)
Trip Start Jun 12, 2009
11Trip End Jun 28, 2009
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Changthang is a vast high altitude plateau situated in the north-east of the region, bordering Tibet. The altitude varies between 14 to 15000 feet. It is the home of Changpa nomad tribes, a pastoral community who eke out living from their flock of pashmina goats and sheep. Temperature during winter falls below - 50 degrees C. It is a desolate wilderness, a haven of tranquility. No soul is seen for miles and miles. Occasionally tents of the nomads and their herd only are met with in these astounding landscapes.
In such absolute wilderness and an ocean of silence, at an altitude of 4572 m, 240 km from Leh lies a serene sapphire-blue lake, Tso Moriri, alive with variety of water birds during summer months. The region has many hot water springs and.abundance of wildlife enjoying their undisturbed habitat.
There are three different routes to reach the plateau and Tso Moriri. Route that follows upstream of Indus River is the easiest, shortest and without any high altitude pass. We follow this route. It is a lonely and long way to the Lake.
On a beautiful tuesday morning, cool and pleasant with clear blue sky, we are all set for the night out and camping in the farthest land in Ladakh. We have just finished our early breakfast and have packed lunch of aloo-paratha and now are on Leh-Manali highway, past Karoo we reach Upashi. Here we leave the Manali highway and continue along picturesque Indus valley, past Himya and Kere we reach hot water spring at Chumathank on the bank of Indus. It is past two o'clock and we are at an ideal spot to have our lunch. There are few shops near the spring providing snacks and tea. Steaming hot water oozes out at several places from the spring. From one of the locations it is piped to the bathrooms for bathing. The water of the spring has therapeutic value.
After a drive of five kilometers we leave Indus valley, cross Indus River and turn east. We now follow a small singing brook passing through a narrow valley at times widening but mostly narrow with bare rocky hills staring from above. There is rich green vegetation on the valley floor and around villages. The rose-bush - the omnipresent flowering plant of Ladakh, is in bloom and shows its presence everywhere; in sheltered pockets and in bare rocks devoid of soil and the air is filled with their pleasant aroma. This is a captivating sight in the valley of severe yet serene scenario. We are on a lonely road. There is no one in sight. These are terrifying lonely places; the land of pastoral community, living a hard but most satishfying and contended life.
The valley opens up at Kiari, becomes broad for some distance then closes into a narrow terrain. We reach a picturesque spot of Namshang on the edge of a stream carpeted with green grass on which stands a small parachute tent restaurant, providing snacks and hot cup of tea. This is a lone shop in a lonely place. Few pasmina sheep are grazing nearby in a green patch. About a kilometer of drive onward we suddenly sight a herd of four wild blue sheep peacefully grazing near the water point only five meters away. It is a thrilling sight. We know that this area abounds in wild animals and we need permission from wildlife authorities to visit this area but in my wildest dream did I ever imagine sighting them face to face in the wilderness. It is indeed a pleasant surprise and an extraordinary experience. I pursue them to have a closer view but they shy away and trot into the steep ascent and disappear. It is always rewarding and romantic to be on a least travelled road for there is a chance of sudden encounter with wild animals grazing by a lively little stream, like the one we just had.
We are passing through most fascinating landscape. It's all quiet; silence caresses me, it surrounds and gives me a tranquil feel. The stark mountains silently watch us pass by. After a drive of about 20 km from Kiari the road turns rough. We drive steadily on a gradual ascent. At the top of the climb suddenly a captivating landscape opens before us; a beautiful small lake in the wilderness with amazing sapphire-blue water in a big bowl, simmering and sparkling in the sun, under the shadow of snow capped mountains. We enter through a winding dirt road within its inner periphery of exquisitely pretty-bowl-like depression with rolling sandy slopes and descend in the vicinity of the lake. It is indeed a wonderful feeling to be within such a magic bowl. I get out from the confines of the vehicle we are traveling in and walk down to be in close proximity of the lake and touch its waters. It's amazing that Nature preserves such beautiful secret spots far away in the wilderness in this fragile ecosystem and keeps open the gates for all who seek adventure.
Here we are in Changthang Plateau, the high altitude bald pastures between 14 to 15000 feet elevation. This is an expansive empty space in the tranquil wilderness, where wild animals move about freely with the time and space entirely to themselves or to the animals of the nomadic herders. The terrain is rolling with gentle rise and fall. On far side of the nameless-lake are the tents of the nomadic Changpa herdsmen camping and tending their herd. We climb up a gentle ascent and enter beautiful rolling sunny bald-tops where the cattle mainly yak and pashmina goats are grazing, and then descend through dusty gentle slopes and enter into a small but fairly wide valley where a wild stream flows covered with alpine vegetation. Large herd of sheep and yak of the nomad glaziers are there grazing on either side of the stream.
We resume our journey on the dirt road and after a short drive suddenly we see a vast beautiful lake with clear blue waters surrounded by hills. The pretty lake dominates the landscape in which brahmini ducks and geese are wading in the shallow waters. A small village Korzok with its hilltop monastery is the only habitation in the area. We walk along the periphery of the lake beyond Korzok Village to watch the amber-pink glow of the dying day. The sun is about to set. The long rays of setting sun turn the lake shimmer with golden hue. The low hills in the surround get lit up with faint glow. It’s a beautiful end of the day. Soon after night falls and it's all quiet.
We settle for the tent colony called the Nomadic Life Camp (Tsomo riri), Korzok for our night sojourn. The double flapped, double bed tents with comfortable mattresses and comforters tents look brand new and are lined in two rows. It is a neat campus with hygienic toilets with flowing water taps and flushes. A water channel passes in between two rows of tents which makes the site more romantic. It is a nice tent colony with friendly and hospitable owner and workers. The food served was rich and tasty; organic as is claimed by the owner.
It is glorious to be out here far away from home at an altitude of 14500 ft on the bank of Tso Moriri to spend the night in the Korzok village of Changthang plateau. I like the brisk biting air stinging my ears and cheeks. The night sky is full of stars. A musical stream flows near by.
It was a long and dreary night; extremely cold; temperature falling below zero degree. The comforters were inadequate to warm and calm down shivering body. We felt breathing problem too in the night. For me it was very disturbing night, so was for other members. The hysterically howling wind emanating mysterious sounds was all the way whistling its happiness persistently all through the night. I was startled and awakened many times, staring in the darkness to ascertain whether it is wind or wild animal or ghost or angels inviting to play games in the darkness of the freezing night. My tent partner has come to my close proximity either to seek warmth or to alleviate fear. I called him in loud whispers but did not receive any response. I thought my voice has solidified into ice and did not reach him. There was continuous thumping on tent flaps and its rise and fall was fanning icy cold air inside. In the silence of the dark night, pounding resonates into a terrifying din. It seemed as if some hungry demon shivering in the extreme cold outside was at work to uproot the tent from its anchors, make dinner of us and take away the tent for his shelter. Many a times, I concentrated in the darkness to check if any creature got entry inside the tent but only darkness stared at me. I was in commune with God all through the night and prayed for the sun to come fast and bring early dawn, warmth and happiness.
It was an unforgettable experience. And I can not thank god enough for this great experience. I am amazed how the Changpa herdmen live in these high altitude cold and absolute wilderness and love it! I believe they have Angels for company and are in commune with God all the time. I feel that here the earth is very close to heaven and divide is so thin that you can feel His presence and hear Him talk to you.