Though popular and equally beautiful, Tso Moriri in my opinion is still one of the lesser visited areas of Ladakh because it lies a little off the route. Most people get confused on how to include it in their itinerary, whether to visit it on the way, to dedicate two days just for Moriri or try to complete it in one day from Leh. Let me first clarify that it is not at all a single day journey. You must cover Tso Moriri in 2 days otherwise you are just rushing through a long and tiring journey and will get hardly half an hour to spend at the lake. This brings us to the question of how to include Tso Moriri in the itinerary or can you cover Tso Moriri from Manali while you are on your way to Leh?
The most common itinerary that gets followed during a trip to Ladakh is to reach Leh from Manali, visit Nubra and Pangong, and take the Srinagar Leh highway for the journey back. Including Moriri in the itinerary would mean that you will have to travel back on Manali Leh highway until Pang once again due to which people avoid it. For people who reached Leh via Srinagar and are returning home via Manali, they have pretty much exhausted their leaves already and cannot afford to add one more day for Moriri on their return journey. These are just a couple of reasons that I get told the most but due to this, lot of people wonder if they can or should visit Tso Moriri while on their way to Leh from Manali. That is to take the deviation from Pang to Karzok, stay at Moriri, return to Pang and then continue to Leh the next day. Question that arises however is, how feasible is it? Does it make sense to visit Tso Moriri from Manali while going to Leh?
Answer to this question is that even though you can, but it is highly advisable that you do not go to Tso Moriri from Manali directly. The biggest reason behind this is AMS (acute mountain sickness), also known as high altitude sickness. Consider this, one day you are in plains when you start your journey, next day you are at Manali which is at 2,050 m (6,726 ft) and then in a couple of days more, you take your body to a height of 4,522 m (14,836 ft) that Tso Moriri is located at. There is absolutely no time in between for acclimatization. For anyone visiting Ladakh and especially for people visiting it for the very first time, you are bound to feel symptoms of AMS at Sarchu and Pang. For some people, these symptoms are very less while others suffer more. The fact however is that after AMS hits you at these places, you descend down to Leh the very next day and your body gets some time to adjust itself to high altitude. However, if you continue towards Tso Moriri from Pang, you are not allowing your body any time at all as Karzok is pretty much at the same height as Sarchu or Pang.
One thing that you must know during a trip to Ladakh is that travel time does not depend on distance at all but on the road conditions. Some of the stretches, even though just a few kilometers, can take you hours to complete, thanks to the terrible conditions of the road. Route from Pang to Karzok is full of such stretches. From Sumdo to Karzok, the entire 50 kilometers is pretty much a dirt trail. What this means is that a journey from Sarchu or Pang to Moriri can take you an entire day easily. Even the journey back from Karzok to Leh will be very long and rushed. You will have to start early and then you will be able to make it back to Leh by late evening the same day. While staying on Manali Leh highway means that in case of severe symptoms of AMS you can rush directly towards Leh, going to Moriri will deprive you of this option even. Karzok is a small town with almost no medical facilities so if AMS symptoms gets severe, you will be in trouble as the journey back to Leh will take you several long hours.
Fuel comes next in line. The last petrol pump on Manali Leh highway is at Tandi and then there is no gas station for next 360 odd kilometers until Leh. From Pang to Tso Moriri and return journey would add another 250 kilometers to the travel plan. Taking a detour towards Karzok would mean that you will have to add more Jerry cans and carry double the fuel that you else would if you went straight to Manali. There is no gas station on the route towards Moriri and no mechanic or puncture repair shop as well so chances of getting some fuel from others means too are next to none.
Up until 2014, an Inner line permit was required for Indian citizens to visit Tso Moriri so it was almost a mandate for everyone to go to Leh first, obtain ILP and then go towards Karzok. Foreign tourists had to obtain a protected area permit for the same purpose. Effective 2014, ILP is no longer required and Indians are free to visit the region without any permits however, foreign tourists still need to obtain PAP. So if you are not an Indian citizen, visiting Tso Moriri from Manali is not really an option for you.
Another limitation comes into place if you are travelling on a rented vehicle. Only Ladakh rented motorcycles and cabs are allowed to ply on the route towards Karzok. So if you are in a cab or on a motorcycle that you hired from Manali, please do not take the risk of taking it towards Karzok. There are several places where you may get stopped by locals and get sent back. Worse, they may stop and ask you during your stay at Karzok in which case you will get in trouble and may have to pay a hefty fine to get out of the situation. For rented vehicles, you are required to reach Leh first, rent another cab or motorcycle from there and then visit Tso Moriri.
Another point to consider here is of time. If you want to visit Moriri while on your way to Leh because you are short on time, you will just end up travelling for long hours and torturing your body. The only you can save time here is that you travel from Manali to Sarchu on Day 1, Sarchu to Karzok on Day 2, and Karzok to Leh on Day 3. On all these 3 days, you will end up travelling for long hours, journey will be rushed and your body will continue to get beaten up by altitude sickness. You will neither enjoy the beauty of the lake, nor of the region that you will be travelling through.
A better way to include Tso Moriri in your itinerary is to reach Leh from Srinagar and return via Manali while visiting Moriri. For your return journey, reach Karzok from Leh on day 1, Karzok to Pang on day 2 and Pang to Manali on Day 3. I know that it sounds pretty much the same in terms of travel time but because you would have gotten used to high altitude by now, you will be able to take the journey in a much better way. The only long travel will actually be on day 3. If you started early from Leh on day 1, you can comfortably make it to Karzok by evening. On day 2 as well, you can start from Karzok easily by 9-10 AM and make it to Pang by 4-5 PM. Take day 2 at a slow and easy pace and travel while enjoying the beauty of not only Moriri but also of Tso Kar on the way. It is only on day 3 that you will have to start by early morning from Pang to make it to Manali by 4-5 PM.
So to answer the question, is covering Tso Moriri from Manali doable? The answer is. But should you do it? The answer is a definite No. Either add a couple of days to your travel plan for Moriri or reach Leh from Srinagar and return via Manali.
I hope this information was helpful. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below and I will be glad to answer.