Tso Moriri is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Indian Himalayas. Though it is less popular than Pangong lake, it is a must-visit place in Ladakh. This spectacular lake lies at an altitude of 4,530m in the lap of the mountains of the Changthang plateau and it is home to some rare and endangered species of animals and birds.
The questions that arise in every traveller’s mind when planning a trip to Tso Moriri are: when should we visit the lake? On the way to Leh or on the way back from Leh? What should the itinerary look like or how much time should we spend there?
This article is to answer these questions.
Of course, Tso Moriri is far located from Leh and it would not be logical and wise to just go, touch, and come back. Driving to Tso Moriri is a long and quite tiring journey and to enjoy the beauty and quality of the place you will have to make it at least a two days trip.
However, if travellers driving from Manali side refer to a map of Ladakh, it is likely that they will choose to take up Tso Moriri directly on their way from Manali to Leh. Even though it looks doable on a map, in reality it is practically impossible and not wise to do it. The reasons being:
Let’s see each reason in detail.
A lot of tourists tend to think that it is feasible to travel to Tso Moriri on their way from Manali to Leh. Indeed, when checking the itinerary on a map, it looks possible. What the map doesn’t show clearly is the sudden increase of altitude. Manali is at an altitude of 2,050m whereas Tso Moriri lake is situated at 4,530m. This means that there is almost 2,500m elevation gain when travelling from Manali to Tso Moriri. To take such elevation your body needs to be properly acclimatized.
In order to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) when you reach above 3,000m altitude, it is recommended to increase your sleeping altitude by maximum 500 metres per day. This means that the trip from Manali to Tso Moriri lake should be done over at least 4 days with the first night at 3,000m, the second night at 3,500m and the third night at 4,000m. The problem is that you won’t find places on the way to sleep at each required altitude for each night.
If you are travelling from Manali and are planning to visit Tso Moriri directly, it will be impossible. There will be no time in between for your body to adapt to the lack of oxygen and you will suffer from altitude sickness. Even if you sleep at Sarchu, it won’t help because Sarchu is only 230m lower than Tso Moriri and you will not be able to sleep at such height straight. Even sleeping at Jispa will also be of no help in this case. This route may seem logical if you see the map, but it’s highly not recommended because of altitude.
If your body is not properly acclimatized to the altitude, there is a high probability that you will suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness. You could have a strong headache or feel nauseous in the best case. But in the worst-case scenario, more severe forms of AMS can lead to High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) which can be fatal. Some young people tend to think that they are strong enough to adapt to the altitude straight away without any acclimatization, which is totally wrong. Indeed, it doesn’t matter how fit or young you are, AMS can affect anyone and everybody needs acclimatization.
A cautionary point to be kept in mind is that there are no medical facilities near Tso Moriri in case of emergency. If you go straight from Manali to Tso Moriri and if you suffer from AMS, the nearest medical facility with a hyperbaric chamber is in Leh, 7 hours drive from Tso Moriri lake.
Tso Moriri lake is located near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and you need an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to get into the area. ILP is an official stamped travel document issued by the Indian authorities to visit restricted areas. ILP can only be obtained from the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Leh. A travel agent or your hotel in Leh can also apply for the permit on your behalf but you will need to provide your original passport / identity proof. Tourists irrespective of their nationality need ILP to visit Tso Moriri. The same document when issued to foreigners is called Protected Area Permit.
Sometime around 2014, Indians were exempted from ILP. But from 2017 and until now, everyone including domestic tourists needs to apply for ILP to visit the beautiful Tso Moriri lake. Even though you can apply for the permit online on the official website of Leh administration, you will still need to get it stamped in Leh from the office of the Deputy Commissioner or Tourist Reception Centre. To get your permit stamped, you will need to show your original passport or identity proof.
Since all of these procedures for the Inner Line Permit are done in Leh, it is not possible to travel to Tso Moriri directly from Manali. You will need to go to Leh first.
According to the rules of the Ladakh Taxi Union, only taxis registered with Ladakh Taxi Union are allowed to go to Tso Moriri. Manali taxis can only drive from Manali to Leh but they must stay on the Leh-Manali highway. Manali taxis are not allowed to do side trips to other places in Ladakh and hence, you won’t be able to go to Tso Moriri in such a case.
When coming from Manali you will have a Manali based taxi in most cases and such taxis are only allowed to drive on the main Leh-Manali highway. Therefore you will not be able to go to Tso Moriri unless you call a Leh based taxi to pick you up from Manali or make arrangements on the Leh-Manali highway.
The same case is with bikes. According to the Ladakh Bike Rental Union, you will only be allowed to go to Tso Moriri on bikes rented from Leh, unless you have your own personal bike. Bikes rented from outside Ladakh will not be allowed to go to Tso Moriri. Such bikes will be confronted at various checkpoints installed by the union.
The most convenient option is to visit Tso Moriri lake at the end of your trip in Ladakh, the best would be to keep this as a side trip on your way from Leh to Manali.
After travelling for several days in Ladakh (visiting Leh, Sham, Nubra…) at a height of 3,500m-4,000m your body will be well acclimatized to the altitude. Then, you will be able to travel to Tso Moriri and spend a peaceful night at Korzok without any risk of suffering from AMS.
It is very important to take altitude into account when planning a trip to Ladakh. Usually, it’s recommended to spend the first 2-3 days in Leh and in the Indus valley. Then, one can visit the Nubra valley. Finally, once properly acclimatized, one can go to higher alttitude to Pangong lake and Tso Moriri lake. You can check the itinerary of this tour package which includes Tso Moriri and ends in Manali for reference.
By now, you must have understood that Inner Line Permit (ILP) can only be obtained from Leh. Keeping this in mind you will need to reach Leh first before visiting any other place in Ladakh. While in Leh you can apply for ILP, before heading to Tso Moriri. It will only take one working day to get the permit. If you are visiting other corners of Ladakh, like Dha-Hanu, Nubra valley or Pangong lake, you will also need an ILP. The same ILP can be used to go to Tso Moriri. You do not need to get a separate permit to visit Tso Moriri.
If you start your Ladakh trip from Leh, you will have a taxi registered with the Ladakh Taxi Union. Such taxis will be allowed to go anywhere in Ladakh unlike taxis based in Manali or elsewhere that can only stay on the Leh-Manali and Leh-Srinagar highways. You can visit Tso Moriri in that Ladakhi taxi and then head towards Manali in the same taxi.
For more information about this road trip, check-out the Leh to Manali sightseeing tour.