Thursday, 16 February 2012

Tsomoriri, Tsokar & Korzok – Nomad’s Land in Ladakh

Korzok Landscape

Changthang plateau located in the South-Eastern portion of Ladakh, encompasses a few large lakes like Tsomoriri and Pangong Tso and smaller ones like Tsokar and Thatsang Karu. The pastures around these lakes supplies the necessary feed for livestock, during summer, owned by nomadic group. This nomadic group known as ‘Changpa’, occupy land which are not hospitable for farming. Their lively hood depends on milk, butter, cheese, the wool from their livestock. The Changthang wild life sanctuary located in the same region, extending from Tsomoriri to Pangong Tso, has natural grass land, having diverse flora and fauna. Our destination on this safari is Korzok village situated on South-West bank of Tsomoriri. 
After landing in Leh on twenty fourth of May 2010, we realized, apart from the Gompa trip around Leh, Tsomoriri – Tsokar jeep safari circuit was not affected by the late snow fall and closure of all the important high altitude passes in Ladakh. Tsomoriri trail does not pass through any of the mountain passes; but we had a plan of taking our return trip via Taglang-la pass, which was blocked. We accepted the fate that we will not be able to view a great mountain pass in Ladakh.  
Hill view on a cloudy day at Leh

Twenty eighth of May began as a cloudy day, somewhat dampening our spirits. We began our journey in hired Innova, with Sonam Dorji as our driver, who had served as a guide for a few years, took up his dual role without much fuss. Passing through Shey and Thiksey villages, our first halt was at Karu, located on south of Leh, at a distance of 30 km.  Karu is a junction point for both Pangong Tso and Tsomoriri. After breakfast at a wayside hotel at Karu, we were on way to Upshi, where we will be filling up our water bottles. On our right side, river Indus, with a lot of willow trees planted on the bank, gives us company for quite some time. The Upshi – Karu stretch of river Indus offers a good rafting expedition experience for tourists, with gentle and easy run of 14 km. Upshi is a road junction which connects, the Leh -Tsomoriri route as well as the Leh – Manali route.
We had a small break at Upshi village, with a lot of Black-billed Magpie birds flocking around which gave us some opportunity to use our cameras. The Black - billed Magpie is actually a bird of crow species, and is very frequently observed in all possible human habitats in Ladakh. They make a pleasant sight, when in flight, with black and white geometrical patterns in motion.

Black-billed Magpie
Our major destination after Upshi is Chumathang at a distance of 88 km. In one of the many small villages we came across, it was interesting to watch the horses and Yaks ploughing the agricultural plots.
Yaks tilling agricultural plots
When we were near Kiari village, for the first time we got a close look of some of the purple colored rocks, on the hills by the road side. The place is scenic, with beautiful cottages on mountain slopes, flowing river, the green vegetation, the cultivation plots and the yellow colored monastery perched on higher elevation.  
Kiari Village Landscape

We come to about 3 km from Kidmang village, and found a beautiful valley, with snow peaks, the water bodies, and brown hills.
Kidmang Landscape
We arrive at Chumathang, which contains hot sulphur water springs, which we thought of having a view on our return trip. For time being, we visit one of those restaurants and have a bite to eat. The place is having a beautiful landscape; the recent snowfall has made it look even better.  The cloudy weather was giving way to occasional sunshine. Our spirits soared, as we proceed to our next destination.
Chumathang Landscape
We continue along the road to Tsomoriri, but take a detour at Mahe bridge, over river Indus. Indus river looks quite deep and broad here. The sloping hill side had different colored stone chips, some violet, some light green, some brown, which was really amazing. We approached the Sumdo Tibetan refugee camp, consisting of single storied cottages. On the mud track, we find a typical Ladakhi family on move. The ladakhi lady with her child was riding a black horse, followed by ladakhi gent in his typical Ladakhi hat riding a white horse. Road to Tsokar lake was very bumpy with scattered stone chips. We reach Kolokonga, which has two cylindrical stone structures one above the other, with a large number of colorful flags tied all around. We had a few minutes break, just to photograph the neighboring hills, with recent snowfall.
Recent snow falls on hills - view from Kolokonga

We sighted Tsokar lake at some distance. The onward road actually going down, we had to halt at a distance of 500 m from the lake. Going further by road, would have taken us at a height lower than the lake height, and losing the view altogether.  Hiking in the cold and windy weather towards the lake, did not appear attractive; also we had to reach Tsomoriri before sundown. With cloudy sky, the lake had a grey look, not much of contrast with the snow peaks and hills in backdrop, with yellowish brown foreground.  At 4,600 m height, the chilly winds blowing, we quickly got a few shots and hurried back to our car.
Tsokar lake amidst clouds
We retreat in our jeep and come to very large meadow, dotted with tented camps, flock of Pashmina sheep (which produces the finest of wools known as Pashmina). The shawls made from Pashmina are famous nationally and internationally.  We retrace to Sumdo, from where we take the Tsomoriri trail. The meadows around are full of sheep, grazing and giving indications that we were at the nomad’s land.  We found ourselves near one of the most beautiful lakes in Ladakh known as Thatsang Karu. This lake is supposed to be a brackish lake, but with so much of snow piled up on the top of frozen water, it must be getting a lot of glacial melted water as well. Can it be called partly brackish and partly sweet water lake? The weather was cloudy, not very conducive to photography. Hopefully in the return trip, we will have better luck.
Thatsang Karu lake in cloudy weather
We came along a lot of tents mostly white and black colored, on mud and stones plateau, with a broad frozen snow laden portion alongside. With weather being very windy and chilly, all the water around seem to be frozen. With jeep stopping occasionally, for photography breaks, small children came running and stood around; as if some kind of a novelty in this bleak country bereft of many visitors, in early summer. 
Mother and child
At last we sight the Tsomoriri lake, a fencing running at some distance from its bank.  We find at a distance, a huge piece of iceberg floating on water.  We come across a sign board reading  Tsomoriri Wetland Protected Area put up by Deptt. Of wild life protection, J & K State. The Changthang sanctuary covers the area across Pangong Tso and Tsomoriri. We did not find any wild life here though. We continued our journey along the lake side, which looked grayish, in the cloudy weather. At some places snow collected along the lake side, hardened later on, making beautiful patterns, enhancing the beauty of the lake.
Tsomoriri lake
Finally we sight the habitation of Korzok. Tsomoriri Resort consisting of a cluster of single storied cottage, looked inviting. Also, visible was some tented camps. But, Sonam, our driver-cum-guide had different ideas. Being a Ladakhi, he wanted us to have an experience of Home Stay, where one stays with a Ladakhi family at nominal rates.  Ahead we reach another settlement, slightly at higher level, consisting of a few double storied structures. One such houses, known as Mentok Guest House, we entered dimly lit passage area, and minding our head in entering through low height doors. We were given a double room with one additional bed, on first floor, overlooking the Tsomoriri lake. The owner has even constructed an English type toilet, for convenience of all types of tourists.  There was no piped water, but that problem is at all the places in lake areas.
Mentok lodge at Tsomoriri
We quickly had some tea and snacks and hurried off, to view the lake front, before the day light faded.  It was a windy, chilly weather and took some effort to walk to about half a kilometer to lakefront. Tsomoriri lake is one of the Brackish lakes in Ladakh. One can easily make out these lakes, with white salt deposition on the lake front. We spent some time there, in windy and cold conditions. With sun light fading, we came back to our
room. Chemat Dorje, Ladakhi owner, meanwhile had started the DG sets, which is available from 7 pm to 11 pm. He inquired whether we would like to have a gas heating arrangement, in the room, for a few hours, at a nominal cost. Although very cold, we decided to do without it. We were provided with extra thick blankets. 

An early dinner consisting of Rice, Chapati, Dal, Potato curry and cabbage curry, was welcomed. The food was kept on a make shift table, a huge trunk covered with a table cloth. After having tasted food at various locations in Ladakh, even at restaurants of Leh, I would rate this food as the BEST, that I have tasted in Ladakh; low on spices, low on oil, yet very tasty.  Our total expenses for room and food for three persons came out to be Rs. 900/-.  

Next morning was a glorious sunlit day. Sid left early in the morning to have a look at Korzok Gompa, Sac and I just lazed around, did not venture out in biting cold weather.  After breakfast, we were back to jeep for the return trip. Blessed with sunny weather, we had a very interesting experience of witnessing the nomadic tribes from close quarters.  The white tents in brown flat land, with a back drop of glacier at slightly lower level looked great. The sheep were kept inside a boundary of stone wall enclosure.
Korzok Nomad tents
We came across more such nomadic habitats, with sheep flocks moving or grazing, and shepherd dogs keeping a keen watch. Some dogs even gave our car a chase, till they became tired.  We dared not open car windows or doors at these locations, and take the risk of being attacked. We sighted the lake Thatsang Karu for second consecutive day. What a contrast! In bright morning sunlight, with clear blue sky, it simply looked awesome. About 80% of the lake water was frozen or covered with snow.  Its height at 4620 m is higher than Tsomoriri and Tsokar lake. The shore had some white patches, indicating brackish nature of the lake.
Thatsang Karu lake on a sunlit day
On way to Chumathang, a bridge over river Indus looked attractive and we spend some time, making to and fro across the Indus river. We reach Chumathang and witness, the hot water springs, water actually gushing out of the earth on the bank of Indus river. The steam and water bubbling out could have boiled potatoes in a few minutes!
Hot water springs at Chumathang
On return trip to Leh, I was thoughtful, 'One can never have enough of Ladakh. I may not have visited enough destinations, I may not have taken enough photographs, I may not have shot as many videos as I should have. I can only experience enough of Ladakh by actually going there, again and again and yet again.'

I would like to share some footages of Tsomoriri tour circuit as per the following captioned link.

Nomads Land - Korzok, Tsomoriri

Important Information:

1. It is better to take the Tsomoriri safari, when the Manali – Leh route is open. That way on the return trip one can have a view of Taglang-la pass.
2. During Tsomoriri safari, one does not have to go through high altitude passes, hence it is less subject to vagaries of weather.
3. Accommodation at Tsomoriri will be very basic. The climate can be very harsh, cold and windy during early summer.


  1. Hi,
    nice post :)
    We are going to Ladakh in few months.
    Do you have any contact number of Mentok Guest house? How to book it in advance?
    Thank you.

    1. Hello Sirisha Deepthi,
      Thanks for liking my post. The contact number of Mentok Guest House is 09419810451. Proprietor is Chemat Dorje. There is no need to book in advance as very few tourists go for the Tsomoriri circuit in early summer.

    2. Thank you so much for the contact :)
      Just as a precaution as i am travelling with my parents.

  2. Thanks, lovely article. I too came across this page looking for Mentok Guest House's contact no. & I got it here. Thanks for the valuable input. We are visiting Tso Moriri in the 2nd half of June 2013 & prefer to pre-book the accomodation.

  3. hi i am planning to travel to tso moriri during 20th june.IS this suitable time to visit the place .after tso moriri i will take a route to manali.
    Also i am tavelling with 3.5 yrs child is it suiatble to travel on this tour of leh ?

    1. what is your view route to manali is open during this time ?

    2. hello, 20th June is good time to travel to Tso Moriri. Route to Manali will be open by that time. Regarding child, you will have to take the call as it will involve a lot of preparation because of extensive road travel involved.