Arguably The Most Beautiful Trek In Ladakh
Rumtse to Tso Moriri is arguably the most beautiful trek in Ladakh. Colourful mountains, two huge alpine lakes and plenty of wildlife all add to the surreal beauty of this trek.
With seven pass crossings, more than ten river crossings and three campsites higher than 16,000 ft, this trek is surely an adventurer’s delight. The altitude of the trek along with all the ascents and descents involved in the seven pass crossings make this trek a challenging one.
However, nothing is more rewarding than ending a tough day’s trek at a lovely green campsite with some great mountain views. That is how all the campsites are on this trek, they are some of the most gorgeous settings you will get to camp in.
This trek is a great alternative to the relatively popular Markha Valley trek. Not only is it less frequented by trekkers, it is also much more beautiful and challenging.
What to Watch Out For – Rumtse to Tso Moriri
The camping grounds of Rachungkharu
All the camping grounds on this trek are extremely pretty, with a carpet of greenery splayed across campsites of Tisaling, Kyamar and Rachungkharu. To see so much vegetation at an altitude is a mind-boggling sight. However, among them, Rachungkharu stands out because that is the only Changpa settlement that is inhabited in the summer. You will come across and interact with Changpa nomads, who have a distinct Tibetan culture. They mainly raise yak and goats and are historically known to travel from Ladakh to Lhasa, Changpa clans now make their presence felt on this trail.
The lakes of Tso Kar and Tso Moriri
The sight of brackish Tso Kar is a sight for sore eyes from Shibuk La, while the sapphire blue of Tso Moriri that will leave an ever lasting impression. Right from when you first see Tso Moriri from Yarlung Nyau La to see it lap the shores of Karzok village, the lake is surreal.
The wildlife of Changthang plateau
The Changthang Plateau is known for its birds. Keep your ears open for songbirds such as the Horned Lark and the seed-eating Finch. The Brown Headed Gull, Brahminy duck and The Bar Headed Goose, known to be the highest flying bird in the world, can also be found here. The high plateaus of the area are home to some rare animals such as the Kyang (wild ass), blue sheep, marmots, Himalayan Ibex and snow leopards.
Trek documented by Alok Tiwari
Authors: Alok Tiwari & Aswati Anand
Trek to the largest high-altitude lake in India
- Spread over 120 square kilometres, Tso Moriri is the largest high-altitude lake that is entirely within India. And this Ladakhi wonder is the biggest reward of this trek.
- One trudges through seven mountain passes, more than 10 river-crossings and arid, deserted never-ending lands to get there.
- Throughout the 10-day trail, trekkers have the company of landscapes that are so outlandish, they don’t seem to belong from this world. It’s a starkly beautiful trail that no other trek can replicate.
Day 1: Drive from Leh to Rumtse: Acclimatization at Rumtse
- Altitude: 11, 560 ft – 13,770 ft
- Distance: 79 km drive
- Duration: 3 hour drive
It is highly recommended that you reach Rumtse a day before starting the trek to acclimatise. You can also get to Rumtse from Leh and start trekking immediately, but keep in mind that Rumtse is at a considerably higher altitude than Leh. The altitude gain from Leh to the first campsite Kyamar would be too much for a single day and you risk getting altitude sickness.
Rumtse is a small village, 79 km before Leh on the Leh-Manali road. You can get there by taking any of the Manali/Keylong bound buses from Leh, it should take around 2-3 hours.
Rumtse has camping grounds where you can pitch tents or you can also stay at local homestays or dhabas for about Rs. 500 a night. There is also a lodge run by Jammu & Kashmir Tourism.
Day 2: Rumtse – Kyamar
- Altitude: 13,770 ft – 15,010 ft
- Distance: 9 km
- Duration: 4-5 hours
Today is the first day of the trek. Start by walking down the Leh-Manali highway, towards Manali. Walk for 1 km from the Rumtse local market.
Take the trail towards your left, pass by the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism lodge and hike alongside the Chhaba Chu stream, which will flow on your left. After 10 minutes you will come across a steel bridge. Cross the bridge with the stream on your left and keep left, along a small plateau.
The dusty trail will eventually take a U-turn as you leave Chhaba Chu and enter Kyamar valley. This point is the confluence of Kyamar stream and Chhaba Chu. Leaving behind Chhaba Chu, look for multiple rivulets. These are small streams and can easily be crossed.
After 20 minutes of level walk, you will come across large green marshes on your right, suitable for camping. Here cross the stream and take the trail going left. The walk to Kyamar campsite is easy and over relatively flat terrain. The trail swirls inward along the natural scope of the valley.
A hike of 30 minutes will lead to a change in the landscape as green marshes give way to gravel. After 10 minutes, you will reach the base of the plateau. From here, observe a 3 way opening of the valley- take the widest valley in front of you. This is the logical trail going to the grazing grounds of Kyamar. After walking for about 30 minutes, the green marshes will re-appear along Kyamar stream.
You will be required to cross the stream towards the right and then back to the left side as per the trail in front of you. This section of the valley will take around one hour to traverse. The Kyamar grazing grounds are located at the base of the highest mountain ahead of you.
The final section of the trek will take around one hour. Look for a suitable camping spot next to the stream, which is on the right side of the trail. Kyamar’s grounds are surrounded by beautiful rocky hills on three sides of the valley.
Day 3: Kyamar – Kyamar La – Mandachalan La – Tisaling
- Altitude: 15,010 ft – 16,800 ft – 17,160 ft – 16,500 ft
- Distance: 15 km
- Duration: 8-9 hours
You have a long day ahead, so start early. Take the trail going to the base of Kyamar Mountain, cross the stream and re-join the trail coming from Rumtse. From the base of the mountain walk on the trail that naturally curves left. The green landscape is left behind as you now enter the barren mountainscape of the upper plateau of Kyamar.
The trail now gradually climbs up as you approach the base of Kyamar La. After about 20 minutes of walking you will reach the centre of the valley. From here, take the wide SUV trail on your right. It takes an hour to reach the base of the pass.
Observe a small bridge made of boulders and stones over Kyamar stream, cross over and take the trail that winds upward on your right. From here, it’s a steep ascent all the way to the pass. The final section of the ridge is littered with tiny wildflowers.
Leaving Kyamar valley behind, take the trail going downwards on the right side of the ridge. It’s a level walk for 15 minutes, after which the descent becomes sharp. The trail is slippery because of loose gravel so descend carefully, especially if it’s raining. It should take 30-45 minutes to climb down to the river bed of Tassa Phu.
Take the trail going towards your left as you reach the river bed. Cross Tassa Phu. Observe two valleys that open in front of you. Take the one that is on your immediate left. The ascent towards Mandachalan La is a brutal and laborious slog of around 1,000 ft.
The initial section has a gradual ascent till the base of the pass. The climb up to the pass may take anything from two to three hours. The terrain is all dry, with no snow. Mandachalan La, like Kyamar La, is well-marked with cairns and prayer flags. The view from the top is a notch better than Kyamar La.
Observe the connecting ridge, below which lies Tisaling, your destination for the day. Go ahead on the right side of the ridge into a bowl-shaped valley. The trail is a level-walk of 2 km. It leads all the way towards the summit of an unnamed pass. From the pass, look for the green camping ground of Tisaling below.
Feel free to break from the trail and descend towards Tisaling. Tisaling is a beautiful high altitude grassland between Mandachalan La and Tisaling La.You will have to cross the stream and the marshland for a suitable camping spot at the base of Shibuk La.
Day 4: Tisaling – Shibuk La – Pongunagu (Tso Kar campsite)
- Altitude: 16,500 ft – 17,370 ft – 15,050 ft
- Distance: 15 km
- Duration: 6-7 hours
Start early in the morning to avoid the brutal afternoon sun. The initial part of the trek involves a steady 1.5km climb to Shibuk La, which is adjacent to the campsite. The altitude gain is around 1,000 feet.
Cross the stream and head to the base of Shibuk La. The trail moves south-east and the pass is clearly visible above. There are several ways to reach the summit.
The straight route requires you to cross the stream towards your left and make a straight line upwards to the summit. This route is the shortest. However, the route has the maximum incline and is strenuous.
The other way to go about it is to take the left side trail and reach the crest of the pass. This is a longer route but the ascent is gradual, at least initially. It takes about an hour to reach Shibuk La.
The descent from the pass to Tso Kar Lake is rapid and takes around 4-5 hours. This is fertile stretch of land that is frequented by the Changpas, who come with their livestock.
After an hour, a rocky scree-filled trail awaits you. The view of Tso Kar lake basin is closer than ever as you descend swiftly. About 2-3 hours into descent, you will exit Shibuk La valley and enter Tso Kar region. Follow the trail on your right and exit the valley.
The trail here is well-defined. The brackish barren land has a unique array of colours that keep changing as the day progresses. As you approach the rocky spur, there will be a series of two crests of the plateau that need to be traversed. This will take 30-45 minutes.
Once at the top of the plateau, follow the trail that winds right. A motorable road becomes visible below now, it comes from the Leh-Manali road and heads south to Tso Moriri. Towards the far right, after crossing this road is the campsite of Pongunagu. It takes half an hour of walking to reach the campsite. Take the trail from the left side of a large fenced grazing ground to reach the campsite, this is the shortest route.
Pongunagu has place for pitching tents. It also has ready-to-use tents on rent. Today is the day you can also skip cooking if you are so inclined- there is a small dhaba where you can get food and also stock up on your supplies if necessary (of course, it is costlier than Leh).
This is the only point of exit on the trek, in case of emergencies. A satellite phone is also available in the nearest village, Thugje, 3 km away from the campsite.
Day 5: Pongunagu to Nuruchen
- Altitude: 15,050 ft to 15,310 ft
- Distance: 16 km
- Duration: 6-7 hours
Today is a relatively easy day of trekking over fairly flat terrain. Take the trail going south, facing the bank of Tso Kar lake. With the lake towards your left, the jeep trail is a pleasant one. Lookout for black necked cranes and Brahminy ducks. The trail passes by a few tea shops and winter shelters used by Changpa folk.
The valley widens as you walk towards Nuruchen, a Changpa village. Looming ahead are towering Zanskar ranges, where you can easily spot the Horlam La ridge. It’s an easy but long walk all the way to Nuruchen.
Nuruchen is used as a safe haven during bone-chilling winters by the Changpas. In the summers it looks like a ghost village with abandoned huts. There is a muddy stream gushing down from the Horlam La ridge, from the south west side. The rivulet is known as Nuruchen Lungpa and drains into the Tso Kar Lake. Pitch tents near the stream for the night.
Day 6: Nuruchen – Horlam La – Rachungkharu
- Altitude: 15,310 ft – 16,300 ft – 16,150
- Distance: 9 km
- Duration: 3-4 hours
Today’s trek is a fairly relaxed one, Horlam La is the easiest pass crossing of this trek.
Ford the Nuruchen rivulet and proceed further south west into the Tso Moriri Valley. You will notice an increased presence of Changpa nomads all the way to their settlement in Rachungkharu. Kiangs, Tibetan wild horses, frequent this trail. The trail is gravel and scree with short wild grass.
The approach to the pass is easy with wide expanses suitable for SUVs to drive by. From the pass descend to the grassy marshes of Spanglung Serpa river basin. A forty minute downhill ridge walk will have you reach the mushy marshes of the river basin. Avoid walking on the slushy side of the marshland.
Look out for a suitable spot to ford the river. The trail now takes you on a 5 km stretch till the campsite of Rachungkharu. Rachungkharu is one of the Changpa’s summer settlements and unlike the other settlements this one will not be deserted. Camp next to the river for the night.
It is also possible to continue ahead to the next campsite, but this will make for a long, strenuous day. It is not recommended unless you are short on time or supplies.
Day 7: Rachungkharu – Kyamayaru La – Gyamar La – Gyamalhoma
- Altitude: 16,150 ft – 17,780 ft – 17,700 ft – 16,900 ft
- Distance: 13 km
- Duration: 6 hours
Expect a long day of trekking. Today, you have two of the most formidable pass crossings in store for you. The other challenge of the day is fording a series of rivulets, including a few that can be tricky.
Start early. Take the clear-cut trail to Kyamayaru La, moving south. Follow the left course of the passing rivulet as you approach the base of the pass. After around an hour, you can see the saddle of Kyamayaru La on your right. Take the trail ascending all the way to the pass.
It takes an hour to reach the top of Kyamayaru La. From the pass Kang Yatse is visible to the south. Ahead of you lies the wide valley of Gyam chu. Descend to the extensive river basin of Gyam Chu. As you reach the first river, walk beside it until you reach pasture grounds used by yak herders. Ford the river from here and move ahead into Gyam Chu basin.
Below snow-covered Mendok ranges in the distance, observe several plateaus. Gyamar La ridge is in the middle of those plateaus. The ascent to the pass is steep. Keep a slow and steady pace as you approach the pass, it takes close to two hours to reach the top.
The pass has several prayer flags neatly laid out. The Mendok ranges (1 & 2) can be seen distinctly in the southern direction from here.
Descend from the pass towards the arid side of Gyamar basin. As you reach the banks of the stream, brace yourself for an exhilarating experience of river-crossings.
The rivers here are voluminous, deep and icy cold. Try boulder hopping or wade through the deep currents. The second river crossing appears shortly after the first one.
From here, head south towards the convergence of the rivulets that form the Gyamar River. Gyamalhoma campsite is across the river. Walk towards the bank of the river and prepare for the last river crossing of the day.
Gyamalhoma is a beautiful pasture ground frequented by Changpa yak herders and makes for an excellent camping spot. It is the base camp for climbing Mendok 1 and 2 peaks. If you a day to spare (and the supplies) then this is surely a campsite worth spending an extra day.
Day 8: Gyamalhoma – Yarlung Nyau La – Karzok
- Altitude: 16,900 ft – 17,840 ft – 14,900 ft
- Distance: 14 km
- Duration: 6 hours
Today’s scenery is the best you’ll see on this trek. Prepare to cross the highest pass of the trek. Yarlung Nyau La is located at an elevation of 17,840 feet and has the best views the trek has to offer.
Start by taking the marked trail heading south east of the river valley. About an hour of level walk over receding pasture land will have you enter a rocky landscape. The valley is barren and prone to rock fall.
There are cairns on the trail that keep you from getting lost. The plateau of Mendok will come into view after around 2 hours. The saddle of Yarlung Nyau La is now clearly visible ahead as you gain altitude.
As you reach the top, the first appearance of Tso Moriri lake is an overwhelming sight to fathom. The lake is huge and dominates the landscape. Some famous trek-worthy peaks like Chhamsher Kangri (21,725 feet) and Lungser Kangri (21,870 feet) are clearly visible from here. Standing at the highest point of the trek, bask in the view for a while before descending.
The descent to Tso Moriri lake loses altitude by 3,000 ft and is a long walk. Initially the descent is over very loose sand and an hour of descent will bring you to the pasture land of Karzok Phu. They are one of the summer grazing grounds used by the Changpas.
The trail from here winds through an arid desert valley, beautiful in its own accord, all the way to Karzok. The bank of the stream that drains into Tso Moriri has some green marshlands. Walk for another two hours at a steady pace to reach the camping grounds of Karzok next to the stream. You can also head further to the village if you prefer the comforts of civilization.
Day 9: Drive from Karzok to Leh
- Altitude: 14,900 ft – 11,560 ft
- Distance: 210 km drive
- Duration: 6-7 hours drive
The trek ends at Karzok. Karzok is a beautiful village near the shores of Tso Moriri, with beautiful snow clad mountains all around. It would be an injustice to the place and yourself to head back to Leh without spending a day here.
You can spend a day just relaxing around the village, exploring Tso Moriri. Alternatively you can also do a day hike to any of the numerous peaks around Karzok.
Leh is around 210 kilometres from Karzok and it takes 6 to 7 hours to get there. Unfortunately, public transport between Leh and Karzok is very sparse. Buses run from Leh to Karzok on the 10th, 20th and 30th of each month and return to Leh the next day on the 11th, 21st and 31st (or 1st).
The other option to get to Leh is to look for a shared taxi, or any other vehicle heading towards Leh, that should cost you about Rs. 500 per person. If you need to hire a taxi it can cost anywhere around Rs. 5000.
The trek starts at Rumtse and ends at Karzok. Leh is the ideal point to start your journey for the trek.
The easiest way to get to Leh is to fly in, Leh is accessible by air from all major Indian airports. If you do fly in, you should rest in Leh for at least a day in order to acclimatize to the altitude (11,560 ft).
The more adventurous but time-consuming way to get to Leh is by taking the road, either from Manali or from Srinagar. The Manali-Leh route is arguably more scenic than the Srinagar-Leh route, though it is also higher. Buses as well as shared taxis run on both Manali- Leh and Srinagar-Leh routes.
Travelling by the HRTC bus is the cheapest way to get to Leh from Manali. It takes two days and costs about Rs. 800, halting at Keylong for the night. Keylong is a nice town in itself and it would be a good idea to stay there for a day. A slightly more expensive but convenient option is the HPTDC run deluxe bus which stops at tourist locations along the way. It costs around Rs. 3000, which includes tented accommodation and food at Keylong.
There are also many privately run shared buses and taxis available, but be sure to get the details of the route. If you do opt for a shared taxi take one that stops overnight, preferably at Jispa. Avoid the taxis that run non-stop from Manali to Leh, it will be sheer torture.
Can I do this trek on my own?
Certainly. You do not need any technical skills to complete this trek. The trail is also well defined for the most part so a guide is not necessary. There are a couple of portions where the trail is not well defined though, so do your homework. Moreover you will likely meet some Changpas everyday, or maybe other trekkers, so be sure to ask them about the trail. You will however be carrying a lot of load so you can consider hiring porters/mules, though you can certainly carry it yourself as well.
Are there any facilities to stay or eat along the trail?
No, there are no villages/dhabas or anything of that sort along the trail. Only at the Tso Kar campsite (Ponganagu) you will find a dhaba that serves food and where you can sleep as well. For all other days be prepared to camp and cook your own food.
What permits will I need to do the trek?
Entry to the Tso Moriri region is restricted because of its proximity to the India-Tibet border and you will need an Inner Line Permit (ILP). Indian nationals can easily obtain the ILP from the Leh DC office by providing any government issued ID, but foreign nationals can only apply through travel agencies. Also, if you are a foreign national, keep in mind that for foreign nationals the permit is issued only for a duration of seven days, so make sure your travel agent can arrange back to back permits for you.
How to get fit for Rumtse to Tso Moriri Lake Trek
The Mt. Kanamo Summit is classified as a difficult trek. You trek up to an altitude of over 17,841 feet. You start from an altitude of 11,562 feet at Leh and reach the highest point of 17,841 feet. You have to make sure your lungs are strong for this.
On the Rumtse to Tso Moriri Lake Trek, apart from huge altitude gains, the trail is long and tiring. This requires a good amount of endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Start jogging at a slow pace and then keep increasing your pace day by day. Make sure you are able to jog 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too.
This is another area you should work on. There is a lot of trekking distance that you will cover in high altitude carrying your backpacks. You have to walk on uneven terrain during the trek. It could be taxing for your legs. For this, strengthening your legs will help. You can do some squats to strengthen them. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set.
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. On your trek, it is important that you arrive on the slopes with your muscles relaxed. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek.
Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
What to take on the Rumtse to Tso Moriri Lake Trek
Rumtse to Tso Moriri is a difficult trek. The trek starts at an altitude of nearly 14,000 ft which is often the highest most other treks get to, and one goes to an altitude of almost 18,000 ft. Trekking at these altitudes even on flat terrain can be physically demanding.
Add to it seven pass crossings and you have a pretty challenging trek ahead of you, especially if you do it independently. To comfortably complete the trek and enjoy the spectacular mountain scenery, be sure to prepare well.
- Trekking shoes: Carry trekking shoes and not sports shoes.The trail from Rumtse to Tso Moriri goes mostly over dirt and gravel, along with some stream crossings. So it is imperative that you have a good pair of trekking shoes. You will likely encounter very little, if any, snow so waterproof trekking shoes are not required.You can watch this video to learn to choose the right trekking shoes.
- Backpack (40-60 litres): A backpack with sturdy straps and a supporting frame is a must. A rain cover for the backpack would be desirable but not essential as you’ll be trekking in an arid region. Since you have to carry camping equipment and supplies, get a backpack that is at least 55-60L. Of course if you are hiring mules/porters you can get by with a smaller 30-40 litre backpack.
On a trek, carry fewer clothes than you would normally need. But enough to keep you warm.
- Four warm layers: The highest altitude you reach in this trek is 17,840 ft and the climate may require you to have more warm clothes. You will need at least three warm layers (two light layers such as fleece and woollen and one padded jacket) for this trek.
- Two trek pants: Two pairs of pants should suffice for this trek. Wear one pair and carry an extra pair just in case it rains or you need to change at some point on this long trek. Denim/jeans and shorts are not suitable for trekking.
- Three t-shirts: Carry light, full sleeved t-shirts that prevent sun burns on the neck and arms. You could even get by with just two, but do not carry more than four in any case, you won’t need them.
- Thermals (Optional): Those who are more susceptible to cold can carry thermals to wear at night.
- Sunglasses: Sunglasses help prevent snow blindness. There might be snow close to some of the passes and wearing sunglasses would be advisable. Moreover because of the altitude, the sun is particularly harsh in Ladakh and sunglasses would be required.
- Suncap:The sun is harsh at high altitudes, which is why a sun cap is mandatory.
- Synthetic hand gloves: Avoid woollen gloves as they will get wet if you touch snow. You can add a fleece glove as an inner layer, and wear two gloves on each hand if you’re more susceptible to cold.
- Balaclava: You’ll need this to cover your head, as most of the heat escapes from your head.
- Socks (2 pairs) and a pair of woollen socks:Carry at least two sports socks for trekking, and another woolen socks for the night.
- Headlamp/LED torch: Mandatory
- Trekking pole: Watch this video to understand why you need a trekking pole.
- Toiletries : Sunscreen, moisturizer, light towel, lip balm, toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitiser. Do not carry wet wipes since these are not biodegradable. If you do happen to use wet wipes to clean up after a trek, make sure you bring them back with you.
- Cutlery: Carry a spoon, coffee mug and a lunch box. We insist on trekkers getting their own cutlery for hygiene reasons.
- Two water bottles: 1 litre each
- Plastic covers: While packing, use plastic bags to compartmentalise things and carry few extra plastic bags for wet clothes.
Mandatory Personal Medical Kit
- Diamox – 10 tablets (to prevent AMS)
- Crocin – 6 tablets (fever)
- Avomine – 4 tablets (motion sickness)
- Avil 25mg – 4 tablets (allergies)
- Combiflam – 4 tablets (Pain killer)
- Disprin – 6 tablets (headache)
- Norflox TZ & Lomofen– 6 tablets each (diarrhea)
- Digene – 10 tablets (acidity)
- Omez/ Rantadine – 10 tablets (antacids)
- Crepe bandage – 3 to 5 meters
- Gauze – 1 small roll
- Band aid – 10 strips
- Cotton – 1 small roll
- ORS – 10 packets
- Betadine or any antiseptic cream
- Moov spray (aches, & sprains)
ATM: Leh is the last point where you can withdraw cash for this trek.
Mobile Network: There is no signal on the trail. Leh and it’s surrounding villages are last points where you can get any signal. Only postpaid SIMs work in Ladakh region.