Tso Moriri lake is a brackish lake fed by springs and snow-melt from the mountains. It is situated at an altitude of 4,530m on the Changthang plateau of Union Territory of Ladakh. The lake also known as Lake Moriri or Mountain Lake is the largest high altitude lake that lies entirely within the boundaries of India. It is 26 kilometres in length and 5 kilometres in width at its maximum. The lake is part of the Ramsar Wetland sites and hence it is also known as Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve.
Geographically, Tso Moriri is located in one of the remotest area of India which is inhabited by the Changpa nomads of Ladakh. The rough terrain and the dirt road do not allow visitors to have a very comfortable ride. You can drive at an average speed of only 40 km/h or even less depending on your driving skills.
Tso Moriri lake is located at a distance of 213 km from Leh town, the capital of Ladakh. There are 3 routes that lead to Tso Moriri:
Since Tso Moriri lake is located near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), you need to obtain an Inner Line Permit from the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Leh to get into the area. This is mandatory for both domestic as well as international tourists. Remember to keep a few copies of the permit as you will need to submit one copy at every check point on the route.
Tso Moriri lake is located at very high altitude (4,530 metres above sea level) and you need to be very well acclimatized to the altitude before travelling to the lake. It is recommended that you spend at least 4 days at lower altitude, in Leh area at 3,500m, before travelling to Tso Moriri. If you are not well acclimatized, you could face Acute Mountain Sickness and you may suffer from headache, dizziness and nausea.
Let's see each route in detail.
This is the easiest, fastest and most preferred route leading to Tso Moriri. If you take this route, there is a total distance of 213 km to reach Tso Moriri. Via this route, the lake is accessible throughout the year.
During the first part of the drive until Upshi, the road is pretty smooth and you'll experience a comfortable ride. From Upshi to Chumathang, it is an unpaved road and after that it is just a dirt track. Depending upon the number of breaks you take and your driving skills, this route is more or less 7 hours drive. A good vehicle such as Tata Aria, Toyota Innova, Mahindra Xylo or Scorpio would be a more comfortable option for this road trip but otherwise people also cover this route with smaller cars.
Take the Leh-Manali highway, the distance from Leh to Kharu is 35 km. On this route you can stop at Shey, Thiksey, Stakna and Hemis monasteries. Along the Indus river bank near Shey, you can also enjoy bird watching. This is a pretty comfortable and smooth road. From Kharu, you will follow the Leh-Manali for another 14 km until Upshi.
Upshi market is a good place to stop for snacks and refreshment. At Upshi, your Inner Line Permit will be checked at the traffic check post and you will have to submit one copy of the permit.
From Upshi, you will leave the Leh-Manali highway and take the small road on the left that leads towards the village of Kyere. You will gradually gain altitude, from 3,400m at Upshi to 3,850m at Kyere and 4,050m at Chumathang. As you drive deeper into the Changthang region, you will discover the vast open landscapes that are typical of this high-altitude Himalayan plateau.
The road between Upshi and Chumathang is a mix of smooth and bad roads. At Chumathang you can stop by the hot springs. These hot springs are said to have medicinal benefits.
The route after Chumathang is all dirt track. On this route you will cross Mahe Bridge where you will have to submit a copy of your permit at the police checkpoint. After Mahe Bridge, you will go via Sumdho and cross Namshang La pass (4,960m). Right after the pass, you will come across a small and beautiful lake with an impressive blue turquoise colour known as Kyagar Tso where you can rest for a while. After another 20 km on a bumpy road, you will finally reach the Tso Moriri lake.
Since the Tso Moriri area is part of a nature reserve, you cannot camp near the shore of the lake. All the accommodation facilities like guest houses, homestays and camping sites are in Korzok village. At Korzok, you can also visit the beautiful and sacred monastery.
This is a comparatively longer route with a total distance of 233 km between Leh and Tso Moriri and it is almost 8 hours drive. This route goes through the Taglang La pass which is closed in winter from November to April.
The road condition between Leh and Tso Kar lake is a mix of smooth and rough roads. Between Tso Kar and Tso Moriri, it is a bumpy unpaved road.
Upon reaching Upshi, you will have to continue on the Leh-Manali highway. At a distance of 31 km from Upshi, you will reach the village of Rumtse from where you will ascend towards the Taglang La, one of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world at an altitude of 5,328m. After crossing this pass, you will reach the plain of Skyangchu Thang. 23 km from the pass, you will leave the Leh-Manali highway and take the small dirt road that leads to the east.
After 16 km on that small road, you will reach the small village of Thukje on the bank of Tso Kar lake. Located at an elevation of 4,530m, Tso Kar lake is much smaller lake than Tso Moriri but is worth visiting. This is a great spot for bird watching and you might be able to see the rare black-necked crane if you are lucky. In the same area, above the village, there is a small monastery known as the Thukje gompa which is interesting and offers a nice panorama of the lake.
Half way between Tso Kar and Sumdho, you will cross the Polokongka pass (4,940m) from where you can enjoy the great view of the Changthang plateau. The dirt road to the pass is not very steep but the road condition is pretty bad.
Once you cross this pass, you will reach the hamlet of Puga. Here you can take a break and visit the hot spring of Puga which is well known amongst the locals. After Puga, you will reach the small village of Sumdho where you will join the road that leads to Tso Moriri lake.
This direct road between Pangong lake and Tso Moriri lake is one of the most adventurous road trips in India. The total distance is 291 km and it is mostly rough dirt tracks far from everything. It is essential to have a good car and an experienced driver for this off-the-beaten-path route. Travel time is between 8 and 10 hours. This route is the best options for those who want to visit both Pangong lake and Tso Moriri lake.
This is a long road trip so you should start early. First, you will head to Chushul via Tangtse and Shashukul. An alternative is to go via Man-Merak. At Chushul, you will have to submit a copy of your Inner Line Permit at the police checkpoint.
At a distance of almost 35 km after Chushul, the Rezang La War Memorial commemorates the 114 Indian soldiers led by Major Shaitan Singh who died during the battle of Rezang La, during the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
Then, you will ascend towards Tsaga La pass (4,660m) where you will have to submit another copy of you permit at the ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) check post.
Once you cross Tsaga pass you will reach Tsaga village. Upon crossing Tsaga, you will reach Loma where your permit will be checked at the ITBP check post. After Loma you will reach the beautiful Mudh area which is inhabited by the Changpa nomads. This place has a rich fauna like Tibetan wild ass, black-necked cranes and other mountain animals.
Then, you will reach Nyoma village from where you will proceed towards Mahe Bridge. Here, your permit will be checked at the police checkpoint. From Mahe Bridge, you will follow the usual road to Tso Moriri lake.
Since it is a long 7-hour drive to Tso Moriri, you do not want to go to take just a glimpse of the beautiful picturesque land and come back. To explore the enchanting and sacred beauty of the lake you need to stay at least one night at Korzok village on the bank of the lake. Generally a 2-day trip would be like this:
If you have more time to spare, you can make it a 3-day trip with 2 nights at Tso Moriri lake or the first night at Tso Moriri lake and the second night at Tso Kar lake.
This is a combined tour that many tourists like to take up. You will be covering Nubra valley, Pangong lake and Tso Moriri lake in this trip. You will be starting from Leh and drive to the Nubra valley via the Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable pass. In the Nubra valley, you will visit Diskit, Hunder sand dunes and Sumur. With an extra day, you could also go to Turtuk and Panamik. Then, you will drive to the beautiful Panong lake via the scenic Shayok road. Next day, you will head to Tso Moriri lake via Tsaga La. On the last day, you will go back to Leh via Tso Kar lake and Taglang La pass. You will need minimum 4 days to complete this loop.
You can also visit Tso Moriri as a side trip on your journey from Leh to Manali. It usually takes 2 days to reach Manali from Leh but, with one extra day, you can include the visit to Tso Moriri lake and Tso Kar Lake.
Important note: you can visit Tso Moriri lake when you travel from Leh to Manali. However, you should not plan a trip to Tso Moriri if you are coming directly from Manali because of the high risk of altitude sickness if you are not well acclimatized and because the Inner Line Permit has to be obtained from Leh. See more details here.