Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How I got Leh'ed: Day 8-9 Leh - Tso Moriri - Tso Kar

God took rest on the 7th day, and we on the 8th. At least it was rest day for my father and daughter. We stayed in Leh for that day. Woke up late, had late breakfast, and relaxed the entire morning. Few of us went on a half day sight-seeing after lunch. 

After staying in Ladakh for so many days I realised one thing. This place is so high up in the mountains and still it was not shielded from the influence of Indian culture and Tantric Buddhism. At the same time the difficult geography acted, not as a barrier, but a filter to the influence of Turks, Mughals, British and modernisation. Only recently has tourism began to put some holes in the filter.

The first spot in our short list was Stok palace. This palace is known for antique Thankas - handmade painting of gods and religious bodies on cloth using natural rock colour, including gold. Some of them are the oldest paintings in the region. Apart from that there is a royal palanquin, kings armoury (which was very primitive, like wooden bow and arrow), king and queen’s crown, wooden royal throne and jewelries.  Some of the jewelries are studded with turquoises- a precious stone from Tibet. Turquoises are more expensive than gold, and as per Ladakhi custom it is given by bride's family to the bride during marriage. There is a Chorten or stupa, made in the memory of someone from the royal family. The museum also has 500 year old measuring instruments, locks etc. Apart from the museum there is a temple containing lots of idols - Hayagriva, White Tara, Green Tara and Amitavus. Hiyagriva literally means 'having neck of a horse'. He is the yaksha attendant of Avalokiteshvara . His special ability is to cure skin diseases. Tara is born from the tears of Avalokiteshvara as he saw the sufferings of the universe . Green Tara protects devotees from danger while White Tara gives longevity, merit and wisdom. There are other small sections as well, like the royal kitchen, etc. The Royal family still stays here. In case you wonder, they are in no mood to meet you.

Stok Palace

View from Stok Palace

One can see the fusion of Buddhism with the local sacrificial cult. Bonism was the religion that predated Buddhism in Ladakh and Tibet. It originated from ancient shamanastic rituals and beliefs. Buddhism and Bonism fused into this exciting culture of Tibet and Ladakh. An amazing filtered blend.

Outside Stok Palace

After Stok we went to the Spituk monastery, a 11th century monastery that overlooks the Spituk village. It is the first Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat, Monastery (as opposed to the more traditional red hats from the red cap that the Buddhists of Nalanda used to wear). There is a chapel devoted to Tara and has 21 images of her in different manifestations. The upper temple is the older one. It has big idols of Vajra Bhairava, Begtse, Vaishravana, White Chintamani, Upasika, Chamundi and Shri-devi. This gompa specifically mentions that alcohol cannot be offered. If I was the god I would be offended by such restrictions!

The next stop was Leh Palace. An eager dog greeted us at the doors. It is a nine-storeyed, 17th century palace, built by King Sengge Namgyal. This imposing palace, inspired by the Poatala palace of Tibet, was destroyed by the invading Dogra forces in 1936. The royal family took shelter in nearby Stok village. There are idols of Guru lhatin deh-gyed, Sitata Patra Bodhisartva-one who protects from harm, Shakyamani Buddha and Guru Padma Sambawa. The palace is a bhool bhulayia having small dark corridors. You will get a good view of Leh from the top. There is also a museum. Next to the Leh Palace is the Tsemo castle and gompa. It was built in 1430. The monastery has statues of Maitreya Buddha, Avalokiteshvara and Manjushree. We had some snacks at Castle Cuisine. Good thing is that they serve non-veg dishes, fresh juices, shakes and even mutton biryani. We had chilli chicken dry and tea.

In the evening we went to Shanti Stupa. This recent construction is a good place to sit and mediate. It was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985.

In the main market of Leh there is a Jama Masjid built in 1666-67. It was built by Raja Deldan Namgail after an agreement of protection with Emperor Aurangzeb.

We had our dinner at Budshah Inn restaurant. Because of puja it was dry day everywhere. No meat was available in Leh. But after some desparate requests we got boneless chicken butter masala and mutton kebab. After the good meal we went back to our rooms and slept early.

It was an early start the next morning. Our long drive started at 8:30 am. We picked up a crate of water at less than 20 per bottle. It is going to be expensive in Tso Moriri. At Upshi we submitted the ILP form. Road conditions are poor. At places Indus river have taken over the roads. You could see the electric lines drowned in the river bed. New temporary road was constructed by the army. Despite the road conditions the drive is less hilly and the roads are straight. Most of the road is along the northern bank of Indus river. There are green trees on the banks that is contrasting with the naked rugged mountains that surrounds it. The river cut section exposes the conglomerate beds. 

Green Patches

Indus Taking over the roads


We were south of the Indus Suture Zone when we hit a purple patch - literally. Never thought in my wildest dream that there are purple mountains. Yes you heard me right. Mountains made of purple slates are not uncommon. They can be found in North Wales. But I have never seen those. Another different rock that you might see near Tso Moriri are the eclogites (once part of mantle).
Purple patch

At 12:30 we reached Chumathang hot spring. We had our lunch - Maggie with separate egg fry - in the only restaurant there. Then we went to see the sulphur rich hot-springs bubbling out near the river bed. 
Chumathang Hot Spring

The next stop was at Tso chu or Kyagar Tso. You could see a lot of Changpa nomads have camped on the shores of the small lake. They moved here way back in 8th century BC from Tibet in search of income. Income came from the flourishing trade along the famous route that is now known as the Silk Route. The Changpa nomads once traded salt along the silk route. some of them have settled down permanently in Hanley Valley and are called Fangpa. They move their herds from the Hanley Valley to the village of Lato. Those who still follow the nomadic lifestyle are called Phalpa. They have a very hard life, and move around 8-10 times a year with their sheep, yak, goats and sometimes horses. Most of them have jeeps now. We also saw a ‘Residential School for Nomads’. They move to the lower plains during the harsh winters. Their present source of income comes from the livestocks. In exchange of food and other necessary materials they provide pashmina (expensive very fine quality under wool) and meat, and sometimes milk and butter.

By 3:30 pm we reached Tso Moriri. This beautiful glittering blue lake is at 4,522 m/14,836 ft altitude. It is also a closed  (endorheic basin) salty lake like Pangong. Your driver will take you to a few spots from you can get amazing view. Just relax and enjoy.



Our stay was in hotel Lake View. There aren’t many hotels in this place. It would be a good idea to book before hand. Reach early to get view rooms. Water is available from 7:30 to 9 pm and 7 to 8:30am, and electricity from 7:30 to 11pm. That’s the time for you to charge your camera, mobiles or any other necessary gadgets you have.

Following maps explains the geology around the lake."

Fig. 1. Geographical setting of Tso Moriri Lake. (a) Geological map of the Tso Moriri Lake (modified after Fuchs & Linner 1996, Steck et al. 1998, de Sigyor et al. 2004) and the sampling locations; (b) bathymetric map of the northern part of the Tso Moriri Lake basin; (c) alluvial fan from the lake catchment showing two levels of alluvial terraces.

There is a small monastery just uphill from our hotel. This 300-year old monastery is known as the Korzok Monastery and it belongs to the Drukpa lineage. It has many statues, including one of Buddha. It was built by the nomad kings of the region.

It was an amazing 9 days in this mythical land, but the best view of the trip was yet to come. Tso Moriri was the coldest place we have stayed so far. Only after my wife reminded us that we realised that it was a full moon night. We went out and I recorder one of the best memories of my life. Tso Moriri shining under the bright glowing moon. We felt like we were under a spell. It was the icing on our travel. 

Next day we drove back to Leh.

On the way back we stopped at Tso Kar - The white lake (Kar means White). The road to Tso Kar is a bit tricky. Stick to the main road and do not try to drive on the sands, even if you see faint tire tracks. We saw a car whose tires got stuck in the sand.
The salt deposits around the lake give it the appearance of white colour. It is at a height of 4530m/14860ft. This lake is popular with bird watchers as the marshland that surrounds the lake attracts lots of different species of birds. Tented accommodations are available around the lake.

Marshland around Tso kar
Salts of Tso Kar

Coming from Tso Kar to Leh we have to cross Taglang La, which is at 5328m/17480ft. The board wrongly claims it to be the second highest pass in the world at 5328m.

After Tanlang La the road met the beautiful, curvy, ribbon-like Manali-Leh highway that brought us back to Leh. Leh now felt like our new home. But only for the night. Our flight to real home was next morning.

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