The Tsomoriri Trip.. A troubled trip that couldn't have gone any better..

By @Saravana |
It was a trip where Murphy's law was in full force. Everything that could go wrong did, and some. I drove around in circles trying to find fuel for my motorbike, got lost in the dark on the shores of the Tsomoriri lake, camped out in the wild, got bike's tires punctured and was rescued by the unlikeliest folks possible.. the Changpa nomads living high up in the mountains around the Tsomoriri lake. Needless to say, this was one of my best trips in Ladakh and i thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Read on to hear the story of my Tsomoriri trip..

pit lane poker.. how to do a 450km trip on a bike with a range of only 390km ?

The Tsomoriri lake is at a distance of about 225km from Leh, making it a 450km round trip from Leh to Tsomoriri and back. The motorbike i hired (a Royal Enfield Thunderbird) had a mileage of about 30kmpl and could hold about 13 litres of petrol in its tanks. That gives it a range of about 390km, not enough to do the trip on one tank of gas. On this route there are only 2 fuel stations, one in Leh and another at Karu (Karoo), 35km down the road from Leh. Theoretically from Karu a round trip to Tsomoriri lake (~380km) is possible on one tank of gas, but i was not prepared to take that chance and decided to additional fuel in a can.

On the day of my ride there was a long queue at the Leh petrol pump, so i decided to give it a miss and fill up at Karu. I arrived at Karu only to find its petrol pump shut and had to make it all the way back to Leh, wait in the long queues and fill up on fuel. All this meant that i was delayed by a couple of hours and it was almost midday by the time i set off from Leh (for the 2nd time).

The stunning ride that slowed me down..

As far as mountain roads go.. the stretch between Leh and Tsomoriri has to be one of the best there is, taking you through the entire gamut of mountain landscapes. The road starts at Leh and climbs gently upstream along the Indus river with the Ladakh range to the left and the Zanskar range towards the right. Initially it passes through the heart of Central Ladakh with its villages rich in luxuriant vegetation and cultural heritage.

After Karu the vegetation thins out and gets more desolate with long straight empty stretches of road. But just when you start to get bored with the landscape, the valley narrows and the mountains put on their most fascinating show yet. First you'll gaze in wonder at the copper mountains surrounding Hymia, the dusty rubbly mountains are replaced with smooth walls of gigantic boulders. Look up these copper walls and you'll see incredible displays of piety by the local Ladakhis. Here and there you'll see rock paintings and prayer stone piles high up on the mountain side and wonder how someone climbed up the steep rock face to create them.

From then on a every few kilometers the mountains take on a different but equally interesting characteristic. The purple mountains near the Kiara army base (you'll have to see it to believe it), the tiger mountains with stripes of yellow and black and as you venture further, mountains of shale in various colors (green, red, purple, brown, blue you name it).

Finally at the Mahe bridge the road veers off the Indus river and climbs up towards the Namshang La pass (4950m) passing the (Puga) Sumdo village. The most incredible scenery on this route opens up just after crossing the pass. A high altitude (~4800m) grassy plateau ringed by snowcapped mountains and a small emerald blue lake (Tso Kiagar) in the middle. The place is so beautiful that you'll be forgiven for thinking that it is the actual Tso Moriri lake and turn back after spending a few hours there. Fortunately i was warned about the beauty of this lake by the guards at the Mahe bridge checkpost and i continued on towards the Tsomoriri lake.

All this stunning beauty around me meant that i had to drive slow taking it all in and by the time i reached the north shores of the Tsomoriri lake the sun was already setting and it was getting dark fast.

Lost in the wilderness.. or was I ?

I was told that i would find the Korzok village right on the shores of the Tsomoriri lake. With the light fading fast, i climbed down a small hill to reach the northern shores of the Lake. All the while in awe of the shimmering blue lake ringed by snow capped peaks. Here the road, a loose bumpy gravel track, forked going in both directions around the lake. With only a few minutes of daylight left, it was a 50-50 chance that the road i take would lead me to the village. Not liking my odds i decided that the best course of action would be to camp right where i was. 

At nearly 4600m this would be one of the highest places that i had camped at. The last time i camped at a similar altitude was in Sikkim during the GoChela trek. Strong winds threatened to collapse my lightweight 3-season tent that night and i was worried about the prospect of facing similar winds here at Tsomoriri.

The sandy shores of the lake stretched out in front of me and numerous shrubby sand mounds were scattered about the shores. I pitched my tent right in the midst of a few of these mounds hoping that they'll give me good protection from the winds. It had become completely dark by the time i pitched my tent and settled in. And once it became dark, the lights came on in the village revealing its location to me.

The night was pleasant without it being neither too cold nor too windy. The next morning i woke up to a beautiful sunny day and spent the morning basking in the warm sunlight. There was nobody around for miles and i felt that i had the lake all to myself. And if that wasn't enough, i spotted the mountains putting on a small welcome show for me with this beautiful subtle little rainbow.

Its days like this that make you feel as if you are the luckiest person alive and i definitely felt it that morning.

Korzok village and the final twist...

So, after lingering around the camp for a long time i finally set off towards the Korzok village. The village is located beside a wide grassland on the shores of the Tsomoriri lake. The houses all clustered together on the lower slopes of a small hill leading to the grasslands. This way the villagers can utilize all the available flat land for grazing and cultivation. There are numerous homestays available around the village and i found one for 150Rs/night including food.

I spent the evening wandering around the grasslands and watched the sunset from a small hill above the lake. It was a little unremarkable compared to the excitement of the morning and the previous evening. But i needn't have worried coz more excitement was in store for me.

The next morning i was in for a little shock. The rear tire of my motorbike had picked up a puncture and i had no tools to fix it, and neither did anyone in the village. The situation was looking quite hopeless as the only option that seemed available to me was to hire a pickup truck to transport my motorbike all the way to Leh. Even that option, as expensive as it is, would be difficult as there were no such vehicles in the village capable of carrying my heavy motorbike.

Then someone suggested that the nomads up in the mountains near Tso Kiagar might have the tools to repair a puncture. I was skeptical at first, but it seemed to be my best bet and i agreed to pay the 600Rs he was charging to take me there. We removed the rear wheel, waited an hour for the jeep to start, and set off towards the nomad camp.

The first thing i noticed on reaching the nomad's camp was spanking new Maruti Gypsy parked neatly under protective covers. We were invited into their living quarters, a tattered looking black tent weaved out of yak hair. It was windy and cold outside but few minutes inside the tent and i was taking warm clothes off one by one. It turns out that they did have the tools to fix the puncture (a lightweight Chinese handpump and a few puncture repair patches) and charged 100Rs to fix the puncture, to which i readily and thankfully agreed.

The rest of the trip went without any incident. The fix held up nicely, i left Korzok and spent the night at the Hot Spring resort (its just a basic hotel by the hot springs) in Chumathang and carried on towards Leh the next day.

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