Tso Moriri Lake in Ladakh is a giant when it comes to natural beauty with its deep blue waters and lush green surroundings. One of the biggest attractions of a trip to Ladakh, it is a must-visit place for anyone planning a trip to the region. It is located at a distance of 220 kilometers from Leh and can be easily be reached by public transport as well.
Tso Moriri is one of the lesser-visited regions of Ladakh. Things out here do not get as crowded as they do in the case of Pangong Lake. Karzok village is located right next to the lake and the choices of accommodation you get are also slightly better.
In this post, I will provide a complete travel guide on visiting the Tso Moriri Lake from Leh. For details on visiting the other areas of Ladakh, please take a look at How to Plan a Trip to Leh Ladakh – A Complete Travel Guide.
About Tso Moriri Lake
Also referred to as “Lake Moriri” or “Mountain Lake”, Tso Moriri and its surrounding area are protected as a wetland reserve. It is located in the Ladakhi part of Changthang Plateau at an altitude of 4,522 m (14,836 ft).
Pangong Tso is bigger in size than Tso Moriri but is divided between India and China; which makes Tso Moriri the largest of the high altitude lakes entirely within India. The lake is about 26 kilometers in length and 3 to 5 kilometers in width.
It is usually referred to as a freshwater lake which is not completely true. Its water is slightly salty but hard to notice while drinking due to which it is perceived as freshwater.
The lake is fed by water from melting snow and springs and currently has no outlet. It is accessible by road only during summer when both the highways leading to Ladakh are open. The internal road from Leh to Karzok however remains open throughout the year. So if you were catching a flight to Leh, you can visit Tso Moriri in all 12 months.
How to Plan a Trip from Leh to Tso Moriri
There are several ways that you can include Tso Moriri in your itinerary. You can either plan to travel to the lake directly from Leh and return the next day. Or you can also travel directly between both Pangong Lake and Tso Moriri via the Chushul route.
A third way is to arrive in Karzok from Leh and then continue straight to Manali from there. No manner how you chose to reach here though, a night stay in Karzok comes highly recommended. You can find accommodation here either in the form of a hotel, guesthouse, homestay or campsite, details of which are provided further in the article.
Permit for Tso Moriri
Tso Moriri is considered a part of the inner line, areas closer to the border. For Indian nationals, an inner line permit is required in order to visit here. It can either be applied online or obtained in person from DM office Leh. Please read How to get an Inner Liner Permit in Ladakh for more details.
For foreign nationals, a Protected Area permit has to be procured before they can travel from Leh to Tso Moriri. This permit also can be obtained online or in-person but requires the involvement of a registered travel agent. Please read How to obtain a protected area permit for Ladakh for more details.
Leh to Tso Moriri Route
The route to the lake will depend on whether you were traveling directly from Leh, or Pangong Lake, or via Tso Kar. I will talk about all three routes in detail further in the article. But for a better understanding, let me first post a map of these routes.
The map below is a comprehensive one and shows every possible road that you can take to reach Tso Moriri from Leh. If you need a map of the entire Ladakh region, you can check out this post A Complete Road Map of Entire Ladakh.
How to reach Tso Moriri from Leh
There are three different routes that you can take to reach Tso Moriri from Leh. The first and the shortest route runs through Chumathang Valley.
The second one goes through More plains and will have you cross Tanglang La. On the way, you can also visit Tso Kar while traveling on this route.
The third and the longest route is via Pangong Tso and Changthang valley.
The common thing about all three routes is that they will all have you exit at Sumdo Village. From there you will travel the last 50 kilometers, most of which is a dirt road, to reach Karzok.
Leh to Tso Moriri via Chumathang
This is the shortest and the most common route to reach Tso Moriri from Leh. The journey will be as mentioned below.
Leh – Shey – Karu – Upshi – Kumdok – Kere – Chumathang – Mahe – Sumdo – Namashang La – Karzok (Tso Moriri)
The total distance covered while traveling this way would be 220 kilometers. Travel time can be anywhere between 6 – 7 hours depending upon your speed and breaks.
If you are traveling by public transport, this is the only route that you can follow. The other two routes that I will mention later do not have public transport services available.
Leh – Upshi – Chumathang – Mahe
It is highly advised that you start from Leh as early as possible. Take the Manali – Leh highway and continue till you reach Upshi. This should not take you more than an hour and a half at most.
Take a break at Upshi If you are hungry. After this, you won’t find anything to eat other than Maggie and biscuits until Karzok. Leave the Manali – Leh highway at Upshi and take the diversion towards Mahe. This road will be pretty hard to miss but ask the locals if you are unsure.
At Upshi market, you will come across a bifurcation. The road on your right goes towards Manali and the cut on your left is for Mahe. Turn on your left and continue driving to the village of Mahe via Chumathang.
The road will be a mix of good, average and bad. At Chumathang, there is a hot water spring that you can visit. Near the spring itself, there is a guesthouse where you can break the journey if you wish to.
Mahe – Sumdo – Namashang La – Karzok
There is a check-post at Mahe where you need to register yourself. Right next to that check-post, there is a bridge. This is the road that you will have to turn on to reach Sumdo. Ask the locals if you are not sure.
Right after Sumdo, the ascent for Namashang La starts. It is not really that steep and the road condition is OK as well. However a few kilometers after you have crossed Namashang La, there will be no road at all and you will travel on dirt tracks until Karzok.
These tracks will get confusing several times and you will have to stop and think which way to go. The best way to travel around here is to either follow a cab (Sumo or Bolero run by locals] or to follow the track which seems to be the most prominent and traveled on. The first lake you will come across to after Namashang La is Kiagar Tso.
Continue on the tracks and 10 km before Karzok you will come across a bifurcation. The dirt track will continue to go straight and you will notice a tarred road going towards your left.
Do not turn on this road as it goes towards Chumur. You may see a few boards reading that the road straight ahead is closed. But keep heading straight on the dirt tracks and it will lead you to Karzok Village.
Also Read: Clothes for Leh Ladakh – What to Pack
Leh to Tso Moriri Bus
The bus service between Leh and Tso Moriri is not really that frequent. A bus from Leh for Karzok leaves only 3 times a month, on 10th, 20th, and 30th, at 6.30 in the morning. The fare per person is Rs. 370.
Leh to Tso Moriri Shared Taxi
However, if this does not match your itinerary, you can easily get a shared taxi from Leh Bus stand going towards Tso Moriri. These start from the Leh bus stand every morning and are the most commonly used mode of transport by tourists.
The fare per person is about Rs. 500 – 600 per person one way (for a drop to the lake). The next day, you can get a shared taxi for Leh from Karzok village.
Leh to Tso Moriri via Tso Kar
This route is slightly longer than the first one in terms of both distance and travel time due to two high altitude passes in between and bad roads. The journey will be as mentioned below.
Leh – Shey – Karu – Upshi – Rumtse – Tanglang La – Debring – Tso Kar – Polo Kongka La – Puga – Sumdo – Namashang La – Karzok
Traveling by this route, the total distance covered will be around 260 kilometers. Travel time will easily be around 7-8 hours.
Leh – Upshi – Tanglang La – Debring – Tso Kar
The first part of this journey until Upshi will be the same that I explained above. However, upon reaching Upshi, continue on Manali Leh highway towards Rumtse rather than taking the turn towards Chumathang.
The ascent for Tanglang La starts after Rumtse. Once you have crossed the pass, you will arrive at an Army establishment called Debring. It is just where More plains start. There are also a few dhabas there that should make it easy for you to spot the road.
Near the Dhabas, you will notice a road going towards your left. Leave the Manali Leh Highway here and turn on this road. The first lake on this route is Tso Kar which will be approximately 22 km from this diversion. Stop at Tso Kar, have something to eat at the Dhabas near the lake, and click some pictures.
Also Read: How Safe Ladakh is for Tourists?
Tso Kar – Polo Kongka La – Sumdo
The second lake on this route is Startspuk Tso, a small lake that can easily be missed or confused as Tso Kar itself. The road too will vanish after Tso Kar and you will be traveling on dirt tracks.
A few kilometers after Startspuk Tso is the ascent for Polo Kongka La. The climb is not very steep and you will barely notice it despite the bad road conditions. On the way is also a hot water spring near Puga village.
Continue on this road till you reach Sumdo. From Sumdo, take the turn towards Karzok. The journey will be the same as I explained previously in the article for Sumdo to Karzok.
Please note that public transport is not available on this route. You can board the Manali Leh Bus to drop you at Debring but will not find another bus or shared cab for the journey ahead.
Leh to Tso Moriri via Pangong Tso and Chushul
The third route that can be taken to reach Tso Moriri is the longest and is ideally a 3 days journey. This to not really the route to take if you just want to visit Tso Moriri Lake. Rather, this is the route you follow in the form of an overall itinerary covering Pangong Lake and Tso Moriri both.
People who want to cover both the lakes without having to come back to Leh can follow this route.
Leh – Sakti – Chang La – Tangtse – Spangmik (Pangong Tso) – Man – Merak – Chushul – Tsaga La – Tsaga Village – Loma – Nyoma – Mahe – Sumdo – Karzok (Tso Moriri)
Following this route, you first arrive at Pangong Lake via Changla Pass. This can be completed in about 6-7 hours depending on your speed and breaks. For that day, you will spend the night at Pangong Lake itself.
On Day 2, take an early start as the journey is very long. You will first travel along Pangong Lake until Chushul. This is a very scenic drive even though it is on a dirt road.
After Chushul, you will drive until you reach Loma village. From there, turn right and follow the road all the way to Mahe, Sumdo, and Karzok. I have explained this entire route in detail at Pangong Tso to Moriri Lake Direct Route Guide that you can take a look at.
There are a few important things you need to know while traveling on this road. First of all, there are no buses or shared taxis available between Pangong, Chushul, and Tso Moriri. You can board a bus from Leh to Pangong but will not find public transport for the journey from there.
The second is that permits for this route are not issued to foreign nationals, only Indian citizens can be allowed here.
The third is that this is a very remote region and you will hardly come by any other travelers. Roads for most of the part will be really bad. Until Chushul as a matter of fact will be no road at all and you will continue to ride on track marks made by other passing vehicles.
Most importantly though, depending on what all places you covered, a round trip to Leh via this route will easily be around 650 to 700 kilometers. It means that you will have to make serious fuel arrangements as there is no other gas station available once you leave Leh.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Hanle Village
Ideally, the stretch between Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri should be done in two days with a night halt at Hanle. If you want to do this, then after Chushul, you will reach the village of Loma. The road will bifurcate into two at Loma
To your left is the road that goes to Hanle and it is 50 km from there. If you went to Hanle, you will have to backtrack 50 km again to Loma and then continue on the road to Nyoma, Mahe, and Sumdo.
This is actually an ideal way to do it to ensure that the journey does not turn out to be too long. But, if must do it in a single day, please ensure that you leave Pangong Tso as early as possible, possibly by the first light of the day.
Accommodation at Tso Moriri
There are several hotels, guest houses, homestays, and campsites in Karzok where you may choose to stay. For names and phone numbers of some of the hotels at Tso Moriri, please read Guest Houses, Camp Sites, and Hotels At Karzok.
In case you are planning to camp on your own, please do not do so anywhere near the lake. Tso Moriri is considered a protected wetland reserve and camping close to the lake is prohibited by Law.
If you want to pitch your tent, please do so near a campsite or a local Dhaba. You may even pay off a little to the existing campsites to give you a spot.
There is a monastery in Karzok that supposedly also allows tourists to stay. I asked once and they said no but a friend of mine claimed that he was able to get a place in the monastery. I cannot confirm it but you can try if you want to experience living in a monastery.
Best Time to Visit Tso Moriri
The best time to visit Tso Moriri is between June and September when the tourist season is at its peak. While the road from Leh to Tso Moriri remains open throughout the year, going there in winter or non-tourist months may result in a fight for accommodation.
Between June till September, all the hotels and guest houses are fully operational and you will easily find a place to stay within any budget.
The second advantage in these months is that the public transport services too are available. So if you are not traveling by your own vehicle, then finding a bus or a shared taxi between June and September is not really that difficult.
In a 1996 survey, it was revealed that Thirty-four species of birds included 14 species of water birds of which 6 are the vulnerable species were found around Tso Moriri. So if bird watching or catching pictures of some rare species of birds is on your mind then Tso Moriri is the perfect place to do so.
For this purpose as well, the months between June to September are the best as the lake freezes completely in winter and there are almost no birds to see around it until it melts completely.
Leh to Tso Moriri Road Conditions
From Leh to Upshi is a smooth tarred road. Between Upshi and Mahe is a mix of good and bad, mostly good. From Mahe to Sumdo is bad and after Sumdo to Karzok is all dirt road.
If you are coming from the Tso Kar side, then you will find a mix of good and average roads until Sumdo; with the exception of Tanglang La and Polo Kongka La where the road usually remains broken.
From Pangong Tso, it is a dirt trail all the way to Chushul. After Chushul till Loma is a good smooth road. From Loma till Sumdo is a mix of good and bad.
Altitude Sickness at Tso Moriri
Due to its high altitude, Tso Moriri is one place in Leh where you are most like to suffer from altitude sickness. Hence, it is strongly advised that you do go to Tso Moriri immediately after reaching Leh; or while on your way to Leh from Manali.
It is always best to reach Leh first, then go to Nubra Valley, thus giving your body time to adjust to the high altitude. After you have spent a few days in Ladakh, then you should plan a visit to Tso Moriri.
For more details on what altitude sickness is, what its symptoms are, and what you can do to avoid it, please read Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh and How to deal with it.
Weather at Tso Moriri
Day temperature during summer remains moderately warm. But there will still be strong and cold wind always. At night, the temperate drops several degrees below 0.
In Winter, the lake freezes completely and the temperature can fall as low as -25 degrees celsius or even more. At this time, even Tso Moriri freezes completely.
There are no hospitals in Karzok and not even a single Doctor is available anywhere in the village. There are no dispensaries either. The nearest hospital is in Leh only. It is highly recommended that you carry some basic medicines like fever, headache, upset stomach, pain relief spray, lip balm, cold cream, and sunscreen lotion, etc with you.
No matter which network you are on, your mobile phone will not work at Tso Moriri at all. This also includes BSNL or MTNL networks. Traveling from Leh, the last place your phone will remain connected is around Karu and Upshi. After that, it will remain dead as long as you are in Karzok.
For more details on mobile reception in Ladakh, please read Mobile Phone Services in Leh and Other Areas of Ladakh.
Bans & ATM
There is no Bank or ATM at Karzok or on the way. Debit or credit cards too are not accepted here. Please ensure that you withdraw and carry enough cash before you leave Leh for Tso Moriri.
Like ATM, there is no fuel station at Karzok or on the way. Please ensure that you make proper fuel arrangements before you leave Leh, depending on your itinerary.
You can however get both Petrol and Diesel from the Dhabas and Chadar tents en route and in Karzok. The price will at least be 50% more than the market price and the quality of the fuel is not guaranteed as well. For more details, please read How to Manage Fuel Availability in Leh Ladakh.
If you are traveling in a hatchback or Sedan, you must travel only via Upshi and Chumathang. The other two routes via Tso Kar and Chushul route are best done if you have an SUV with good ground clearance.
Also read: How to Plan a Trip to Ladakh with Children
Manali to Tso Moriri
A lot of people plan their journey in a way that they want to cover Tso Moriri before reaching Leh. This however cannot and should not be done.
The first reason is that you need the inner line permit to get there for which you will first have to go to Leh.
The second reason is Acute Mountain Sickness that I described above. If you came to Tso Moriri directly from Manali, you are bound to suffer from altitude sickness and it will just ruin the fun. If your situation got worse, there is no medical help available anywhere in the village.
The best way is to first reach Leh, get used to high altitude, arrange your permits and then return to Tso Moriri.
Tso Moriri Altitude
Tso Moriri is located at a staggering altitude of 4,522 meters, 14836 feet.
Let to Tso Moriri Itinerary
Below are a few examples of how a Leh to Tso Moriri itinerary can be planned.
- Leh to Karzok via Upshi & Chumathang – Day 1
- Karzok to Leh / Manali via Tso Kar – Day 2
- Leh to Spangmik – Day 1
- Spangmik to Karzok via Chushul – Day 2
- Karzok to Leh / Manali via Tso Kar / Chumathang – Day 3
- Leh to Spangmik – Day 1
- Spangmik to Hanle Day 2
- Hanle to Karzok via Loma, Nyoma, Mahe – Day 3
- Karzok to Leh / Manali via Tso Kar / Chumathang – Day 4
Including Nubra Valley
- Leh to Diskit – Day 1
- Diskit to Spangmik via Shyok Road – Day 2
- Spangmik to Hanle – Day 3
- Hanle to Karzok via Loma, Nyoma, Mahe – Day 4
- Karzok to Leh / Manali via Tso Kar / Chumathang – Day 5
Leh to Tso Moriri Distane
Tso Moriri is located at a distance of 211 kilometers from Leh via Chumathang and 358 kilometers via Pangong and Chushul. If you include Nubra Valley as well, the distance increases to 430 kilometers.
Leh to Tso Moriri – Conclusion
This I think pretty much covers most of the important factors related to planning a trip from Leh to Tso Moriri. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum, and I will be happy to answer.