Day 1 : Night ride to Tsomoriri Lake
We hitchhiked our way to Tsomoriri lake on an army vehicle.
The going was slow. There was a lot of snow as we neared a pass enroute to the lake and the truck slid off the road more than a few times. To make matters worse, It even broke down twice. Luckily there were mechanics on board and they took care of the repairs.
All these delays meant that was was dark when we reached the lake. I couldn’t spot the camping spot where we had planned to spend the next few days. To make matters worse, the truck was going towards the restricted Chumur area and we had to find a camping spot soon before they kicked us off the truck.
Luckily we spotted a few sheep pens by the side of the road and got off there.
Water is the main problem while camping in Ladakh. You need to be near a clear stream or a hand pump and we had neither. But there was snow all around and we can melt it for water.
It was dark and cloudy when we arrived. But soon the clouds cleared and the bright moon shone through. The lake was fully covered by snow but still we could see it glow in the moonlight. It had a distinctly different color and glow from everything that surrounded it.
It was a perfect night. Hopefully the first of many.
Day 2 : Beautiful day exploring the lake
We woke to a beautiful morning. It was bright and sunny with just a few streaks of clouds in the sky to make it interesting.
The lake was a sea of white. Ringed by ice'bergs' all along the shoreline. They came in all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes. From perfect triangular pyramids to 6 foot walls stretching along the shore. The ice blocks were not exactly at the shoreline but a couple of meters in toward the lake.
My theory is that they mark the line where the deep waters of the lake meet the shallow waters of the shore. It is the place where waves form in a sea of water, but this being a sea of ice, naturally the waves were made of ice.
It was so beautiful that i decided to camp right next to these ‘icebergs’ to shoot my timelapse videos.
My friend though did not want to leave the safety of our camping spot. He could not pitch his tent in an exposed area, whereas my Bibler Tripod bivy could handle exposed windy places with ease. We were sharing a single stove (my MSR Dragonfly) for our cooking and melting snow for water. Since it was my decision to move, I decided to leave the stove with my friend and move down to the camp below.
The evening was unspectacular though, with muddy grey light. But i hoped that the next morning would be bright and sunny.
Day 3 : Get out while you can!
The next morning, as you can guess, was not bright and sunny!
It was snowing. A constant drizzle just light enough to give you hope that it would stop soon. I decided to wait it out inside my bivy.
A hour passed. And then another. But the snow did not stop.
My friend came to check up on me. With his help, I shifted my tent back up to our original camping spot.
The snow continued falling through the day. And we whiled away the day in his tent, cooking, melting snow and playing cards.
Early in the day we saw a couple of vehicles pass us . First was the army vehicle which gave us the lift. And then there was a pickup truck full of Ladakhi's going from Chumur to Leh.
Around noon we saw the Chumur truck returning. Painfully inching its way back home. There was so much snow on the road that the vehicle stopped frequently and they had to dig it out with shovels
"Get out while you still can!"
They advised us to leave immediately. But with the Korzok village some 10km away, we decided to brave the storm and wait it out.
The day went on. The wind picked up a bit. We were engrossed playing the 'shithead' card game when we heard someone shouting outside the tent.
It was the army guys. They had ditched their truck near the pass and were walking back to their camp. The snowfall had turned into a full blown blizzard. They insisted that we break camp immediately and go stay in a shelter some 1kilometer down the road.
We had to decide. Quickly.
Day 3 & 4: Seeking Shelter
I was confident that my Black Diamond tripod bivy would survive the blizzard with ease. But my friend was not so confident about his Quechua T2 Pro tent. So we decided to abandon our tents and make for shelter.
We packed only the essentials. The stove with some food and our cameras. I left most of my timelapse gear inside my tent where it would be safe from the elements.
It was dark when we set out. The blizzard was in full force by then. The light from our head torches could not pierce the thick curtain of snow that was all around us. All my instincts told me to turn back.
For starters the shelter could be further away than the 1km they told us. And there was a good chance that even if we reached the shelter we might miss seeing it in the blizzard. These are the kind of conditions that people get lost and die. My friend wanted to walk for some 30 minutes and turn back, but I wanted to turn back immediately and we did.
I did not want to leave my friend alone in his Quechua tent. If it gets ripped apart by the wind, then we wanted to be together to handle it. The wind was brutal that night. I spent most of the night, supporting the windward side of the tent with my knees to keep it from collapsing. It was a long night. I managed to get some sleep during the brief spells when the wind reduced. But when it picked up again, I was ready with my knees propping up the side walls of the tent.
The tent survived the night and so did we.
The next morning, we set out to find the shelter. It was tough going through the snowdrifts that were all along the road. We walked almost 4 kilometers without finding the shelter and in the end we gave up and went back to the familiar safety of our camp.
Day 5 - 11 : Enjoying Korzok Hospitality.
Day 5 was a lazy day. We just lazed around in our camp and made plans to walk to the Korzok village the next day. Our best option seemed to be to walk along the lake shore and then cut across over frozen the lake towards the Korzok village.
It would have been quite an adventure walking over the frozen lake. But later that evening a couple of ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) vehicles came our way, trying to clear a path to Chumur. They couldn't go much further beyond our camp and soon we were riding with them back to the Korzok village.
We spent 3 nights in the ITBP camp and then spent another 4 nights at a local homestay in the Korzok village.
We stayed at the Goose Homestay in the Korzok village. This is the place I stay at whenever i visit Korzok. The lady who owns the place, took excellent care of us.
The Kitchen is the only room that is heated in the house. So we spent most of our time there. Sipping on endless cups of tea and spending with the owners nieces and nephews. If you want to experience village life in Ladakh, then winter would be the best time to do it. In summers the kids would be away in schools and most of the adults would be busy with the tourists.
In winters you feel that you have both the place and its people all to yourselves.
Day 12 : The final flight
Everyday we would go down to the ITBP camp to check if the road was open. They had a tractor which they used to clear the road bit by bit. The army had also sent a bulldozer from Leh which was clearing the snow on the top of the pass. It was only a matter of time before the road was cleared.
There were a lot of soldiers at the ITBP camp who were more eager than us to get to Leh. Some were getting married, some had deaths and marriages in their family.
Finally on the 5'th of March, 11 days after we arrived at Tsomoriri, we were told that the road was open. The first batch of soldiers would leave for Leh the next day and we were offered a ride with them.
The ride out of Tsomoriri was every bit as exciting as the time we spent there.
We left Korzok on one of the big army trucks. When the snow got deeper we transferred to the tractor. Some 15 of us and all our luggage hanging from every little space available on the tractor. The tractor which its huge wheels was able to go over the deeper snow tracks with each. Soon we reached the section of the road where the know wasn't cleared. We had to get down and walk about 1kilometer where the bulldozer from Leh had cleared the road and another truck was waiting for us.
Soon we were on the truck racing towards Leh. The weather was so beautiful that i did not want to waste it in Leh. So i got down at the first village that we came across. Sumdo. And made my way towards the Puga hot spring.
My first winter trip to Tsomoriri turned out to be more exciting than i imagined. I will sure to be back again for more.