Rumtse Tsomoriri Trek – 10 days
If you're looking for an adventure that will take your breath away, look no further than Tso Moriri. This high-altitude lake, spread over 120 square kilometers, is the largest of its kind entirely within India. And the best way to experience it? Through a challenging and awe-inspiring trek.
The trek to Tso Moriri is not for the faint of heart. Trekkers will need to trudge through seven mountain passes and more than 10 river crossings. The journey will take you through arid, deserted, never-ending lands. But the reward at the end is worth it all.
The scenery on this 10-day trek is nothing short of otherworldly. You'll feel like you've left Earth behind as you walk among landscapes so outlandish, they almost don't seem real. And the beauty of the starkly beautiful trail is unparalleled - there's no other trek quite like it.
If you're looking for a challenge that will reward you with breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences, the trek to Tso Moriri is the perfect adventure for you. So lace up your boots, grab your gear, and get ready to explore one of India's most awe-inspiring natural wonders.
Day 01. Acclimatisation at Leh or Rumtse: Get ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime! But first, take a day to acclimatise to the altitude. At 11,562 feet (3,524 meters) above sea level, it's highly recommended that you rest for a day at Leh to acclimatise. This is not only important during this trek, but during any trek in Ladakh. Take a walk around Leh to get yourself better acclimatised before the trek.
It's essential to take acclimatisation seriously, especially if you're planning to reach Leh via flight. If you feel unwell at any point, do not attempt to start the trek.
For those who want to acclimatise in Rumtse, it's possible to head there on Day 2 and spend a night there. Rumtse has camping grounds where you can pitch your tent, or you can opt for local homestays by paying anything from Rs. 400 onwards for a room.
If you prefer more comfort, just one kilometer ahead of Rumtse is Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Lodge towards the left of the Manali-Leh road. You can choose to stay there as well. Take the time to acclimatise properly before the trek, and you'll be ready to take on the adventure of a lifetime.
Day 02: Leh – Rumtse – Kyamar Trek
On the second day of your Ladakh trek, you will leave Leh and head towards Rumtse, which is a small village located around 79 km from Leh. The journey takes around 2-3 hours and is a pleasant drive with stunning views of the Indus Valley and monasteries of Hemis and Thiksey.
Once you reach Rumtse, you can explore the local market and visit the Gya monastery, which has over 700 years of history and 108 stupas. Rumtse is also the base camp for treks to Tso Kar and Tso Moreriri Lake.
To start the trek to Kyamar, walk for a kilometre on the Leh-Manali highway from the Rumtse local market and take the trail towards your left. Hike alongside the Chhaba Chu stream, which will flow on your left. After 10 minutes, you will spot 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. Leaving behind Chhabu Chu, look for multiple rivulets. After 20 minutes of level walk, you will reach large green marshes on your right, suitable for camping. Cross the stream here and take the trail going left.
The walk to Kyamar campsite is easy and over relatively flat terrain. The altitude gain for the day is roughly 1,224 feet (373 meters) only. The trail swirls inward along the natural scope of the valley. After a hike of 30 minutes, you will see a change in landscape. The green marshes give way to gravel, and there is a small gradual ascent over a rocky spur.
After 10 minutes, you will reach the base of this 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 30 minutes, the green marshes will re-appear along Kyamar stream, and the river basin will remain on your right.
The Changpa nomads camp here during summer. The trail to Kyamar can also be covered in an SUV. The Kyamar valley is wide with vast marshlands. 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 45-60 minutes to traverse.
Ahead of you, observe the highest mountain with snow on its summit. The Kyamar grazing grounds are located at the base of this summit. It will take around 30 minutes to reach the base of this mountain. From here, one can see the beginning of Kyamar green pasture land. It is advisable to trek towards the end point of these grounds. The final section of the trek will take 45-60 minutes.
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. Overall, the trek from Rumtse to Kyamar takes around 4-5 hours and covers a distance of 9.5 km.
Day 03: Kyamar – Kyamar La – Mandachalan La – Tisaling
Altitude: 15,006 ft – 16,804 ft – 17,162 ft – 16,496 ft
Time taken: 8-9 hours, 15 km
GPS Coordinates: N 33°31.874, E 077 °53.707 – N 33°30.294, E 077 °54.632 – N 33°29.253, E 077 °55.968
Embark on an unforgettable journey to the summit of Kyamar Mountain, starting early in the day to take advantage of every moment. As you traverse the stream and connect with the trail from Rumtse, leave behind the green landscape and enter the barren mountainscape of the upper plateau of Kyamar. Over the course of the next few hours, hike through breathtaking views and challenging terrain to reach the summit of Kyamar La.
Upon reaching the centre of the valley, take in the sweeping vista of the Zanskar ranges, with a focus on the awe-inspiring Mt. Kang Yatse. After observing a small bridge made of boulders and stones over Kyamar stream, head up the trail to climb the steep ascent to the pass. At Kyamar Pass, you'll be greeted with an incredible 360-degree view that will take your breath away.
Next, journey to the Mandachalan La, a brutal and laborious slog of 950 feet that is well worth the effort. Keep your eyes peeled for Himalayan Ibex, Marmot, and Wild Hare as you make your way up the gradual ascent to the base of the pass. The final climb to the pass may take up to three hours and can get very hot in the noon sun, so make sure to stay hydrated and take breaks as needed. At Mandachalan Pass, revel in the stunning views of the surrounding area, including the high peaks of Pangong region.
From there, venture into the bowl-shaped valley leading to Tisaling, a beautiful high altitude grassland between Mandachalan and Tisaling Passes. As you descend towards the camping ground, take in the greenery and natural beauty of the area, but beware of the slippery terrain and loose gravel. Once you've crossed the stream and marshland, find a suitable spot for camping just at the base of Shibuk La.
This eight to nine-hour, 15-km journey is not for the faint of heart, but it is sure to be an experience of a lifetime. Don't forget to take plenty of photos and make memories that will last a lifetime!
Day 04: Tisaling – Shibuk La – Pongunagu (Tso Kar Campsite)
Altitude: 16,496 ft – 17,369 ft – 15,049 ft
Time taken: 6-7 hours, 15 km
GPS Coordinates: N 33°28.339, E 077 °56.650 to N 33°21.606, E 077 °57.562
Embark on an unforgettable adventure as you hike from Tisaling to Shibuk La and Pongunagu. This 6-7 hour trek covers 15 kilometers and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
To avoid the intense afternoon sun, start your journey early in the morning. The initial part of the trek involves a short but steady climb to Shibuk La, which is adjacent to the campsite. The pass is visible above, approximately 1.5 kilometers away with an altitude gain of over 950 feet.
As you cross the stream and head towards the base of Shibuk La, the trail moves southeast. The view of the Tisaling campsite and the vast Tso Kar valley will leave you awestruck. There are several ways to reach the summit, including a straight route that requires you to cross the stream towards your left and make a straight line upwards to the summit. While it is the shortest route, it is also the most strenuous due to the maximum incline.
Alternatively, you can take the left side trail and reach the crest of the pass. Although this is a longer route, the ascent is gradual, at least initially, taking about an hour to reach Shibuk La. From here, you can witness Mt. Thugse (6,050 m) and Mt. Gursan (6,370 m) standing prominently at the horizon, as well as a glimpse of the salt lake, Tso Kar, in the distance.
The descent from the pass to Tso Kar Lake is rapid, and you will pass by a fertile stretch of land that is frequented by Changpa nomads and their livestock. As you approach the rocky spur, there will be a series of two crests of the plateau that need to be traversed, taking 30-45 minutes. Once at the top of the plateau, follow the trail that winds right.
After 15 minutes of level walk, you will observe the whole Tso Kar Lake below. A motorable road is visible below that comes from the Leh-Manali road and goes east, crossing Polokongka La and descending to Puga Valley. It then heads south to Tso Moriri Lake. Towards the far right, after crossing this road, is the campsite of Pongunagu. It takes 20 minutes of brisk walking to reach the campsite.
Take the trail from the left side of a large fenced grazing ground to reach the campsite, which offers space for pitching tents and has ready-to-use tents available for rent. If required, private vehicles need to be arranged from Leh in advance. A satellite phone is also available in the nearest village, Thugje, 3 km away from the campsite.
Don't miss the chance to explore the unique array of colors that the brackish barren land has to offer. Follow the well-defined trail and witness the changing landscape as the day progresses. With breathtaking views and an exhilarating trek, this is an adventure you won't forget.
Day 05: From Pongunagu to Nuruchen – Enjoy an Easy Trek with Beautiful Views
Today’s trek from Pongunagu to Nuruchen is relatively easy and will take about 6-7 hours to cover a distance of 16 km. As you take the trail southwards, with the stunning Tso Kar Lake on your left, you’ll enjoy a pleasant jeep trail with gentle ascents and level walks. Keep your eyes open for black-necked cranes and Brahminy ducks as you pass by a few tea shops and winter shelters used by the Changpa community.
The valley will gradually widen as you approach Nuruchen, a small Changpa village, and you’ll be able to spot the towering Zanskar ranges with the Horlam (Kongka) La ridge. Although the trek is relatively easy, it’s still a long walk to Nuruchen, which serves as a safe haven for Changpas during the bone-chilling winters. During the summer, Nuruchen looks like a ghost village with abandoned huts.
You’ll also come across a refreshing stream, Nuruchen Lungpa, which flows down from the Horlam La ridge on the southwest side and eventually drains into the Tso Kar Lake. Pitch your tents for the night near the stream and enjoy the serene beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Day 06: Nuruchen – Horlam La – Rachungkharu
Altitude: 15,308 ft – 16,300 ft – 16,148 ft
Distance: 9 km
Duration: 4 hours
Today's trek is a relatively easy one as we make our way towards Horlam La, the easiest pass crossing in this trek. From Nuruchen, we'll ford the Nuruchen rivulet and proceed further southwest into the Tso Moriri Valley. The ascent to the pass is gradual, with a gravel and scree trail covered in short wild grass. As we make our way up, we'll look back for a stunning view of the turquoise blue Tso Kar Lake.
During our trek, we'll notice an increased presence of Changpa nomads all the way to their settlement in Rachungkharu. We may even spot Kiangs, Tibetan wild horses, as they frequent this trail often. From the top of the pass, we'll have a great view of the surrounding landscape.
Descending from the pass, we'll make our way towards the grassy marshes of the Spanglung Serpa river basin. The approach to the marshes is a forty-minute downhill ridge walk. We'll need to be careful while crossing the marshes and avoid walking on the slushy side. We'll look out for a suitable spot to ford the river and continue on the five-kilometer stretch to the campsite of Rachungkharu.
The campsite is located next to the river, providing a soothing atmosphere and beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. We'll pitch our tents and enjoy a peaceful night's sleep under the stars.
Day 07. Rest day at Rachungkharu
Rachungkharu is a perfect place to rest and recharge for a day before the upcoming challenging pass crossings. After trekking at such high altitude, taking a day off helps the team recover and prepare for the next two days.
Day 08. Rachungkharu – Kyamayaru La – Gyamar La – Gyamalhoma
Altitude: 16,148 ft – 17,782 ft – 17,700 ft – 16, 896 ft
Time taken: 6 hours, 13 km
Today's trek is going to be a long and arduous one with two of the most challenging pass crossings. You'll also have to ford several rivulets, including a few that can be tricky. Starting early is highly recommended.
Head south on the clear-cut trail to Kyamayaru La. Follow the left course of the passing rivulet until you reach the base of the pass. Spot the saddle of Kyamayaru La on your right after around an hour of walking. Ascend the trail all the way to the pass, which takes about an hour.
From the top, you'll get a spectacular view of Horlam La's ridge and Tso Kar lake behind it. Kang Yatse is also visible in the south. Ahead of you lies the wide valley of Gyam chu. Descend to the extensive river basin of Gyam Chu and walk beside the first river until you reach the pasture grounds used by yak herders. Ford the river from here and move ahead into the Gyam Chu basin.
Observe several plateaus below the snow-covered Mendok ranges in the distance. The Gyamar La ridge is in the middle of those plateaus. The ascent to the pass is steep, so maintain a slow and steady pace. It takes close to two hours to reach the top, where several prayer flags are neatly laid out. From here, you can see the Mendok ranges (1 & 2) distinctly in the south.
Descend from the pass towards the arid side of Gyamar basin. Brace yourself for an exhilarating experience of river-crossings as you reach the banks of the stream. The rivers here are voluminous and deep, so try boulder hopping or wading through the deep currents. The second river crossing appears shortly after the first one.
After crossing the river, warm up and dry yourself. The water is icy cold. Head south towards the convergence of rivulets that form the Gyamar River. The Gyamalhoma campsite is across the river, a beautiful pasture ground frequented by Changpa yak herders. It makes for an excellent camping spot and is also the base camp for climbing Mendok 1 and 2 peaks.
Day 09: Gyamalhoma – Yarlung Nyau La – Karzok Trek
Altitude: 16,896 ft – 17,841 ft – 14,895 ft
Distance: 14 km
Today's trek offers the most breathtaking views you'll see on this journey. You'll be crossing the highest pass of the trek, Yarlung La, which is located at an elevation of 17,841 feet and boasts the best views of the trek. Follow the marked trail heading southeast of the river valley. After an hour of level walking over receding pasture land, the trail will lead you into a rocky landscape. Be cautious as the valley is barren and prone to rockfall.
Ford over a few gentle rivulets and follow the cairns on the trail to avoid getting lost. After approximately two hours, the plateau of Mendok will come into view, and the saddle of Yarlung Nyau La will be clearly visible ahead as you gain altitude. As you go higher, the dusty wind hits you in thunderous bursts. Upon reaching the top, the first appearance of Tso Moriri lake will overwhelm you with its sheer size and stunning beauty. From this vantage point, you'll be able to see some of the most famous trek-worthy peaks like Chhamsher Kangri (21,725 feet) and Lungser Kangri (21,870 feet).
Take some time to bask in the view before starting your descent to Tso Moriri lake, losing altitude by 3,000 feet. Hike all the way up to Karzok, which is located at the bank of Tso Moriri.
Day 10: Drive to Leh
Altitude: 14,895 ft – 11,562 ft
Distance: 211 km
The trek ends at Karzok, and you'll drive back from Karzok to Leh. The road journey takes approximately 6 to 7 hours, covering around 211 kilometers.