Tso Moriri shaonlee bose & saurabh ganguli

Our last stop at Tso Moriri was to be our final destination before we took off for Raison, near Manali. By this time, we had spent close to 10 days in Ladakh and were feeling both acclimatized and comfortable. The cold became bearable and the persistent headaches and nausea so pronounced in the early days were just a memory now. We looked forward to Tso Moriri, shaken from our Pangong Tso experience but feeling rather determined to complete the trip, as planned.

We said our goodbyes to Leh, the previous evening, spent hours roaming the streets of Leh City, visiting Leh Palace, and the Shanti Stupa which was minutes away from our hotel, and drinking coffee at the German Bakery.

The weather had been blissful – not too cold, bright and sunny, making the goodbyes difficult. However, with growing concern, we watched Ahaan, as he became preoccupied, absorbed and heartbroken about not spotting the Black Necked Crane. His constant questions had now given away to a gloomy silence. He sketched the bird when we were at the hotel, he traveled and slept with his binoculars, refusing to part with it, he asked people at the hotel if they had seen the bird in the city. When? Where? Which time of the day? We tried managing this persistent, obsessive desire. We told him tales of photographers, travelers, nomads who waited years to see what they wanted to see, in extreme conditions, coming back to the same spot year after year. But in his silence, we felt an adamant yearning to catch a glimpse of this fleeting wonder that would, in many ways, define this holiday for him.

The drive to Tso Moriri was a hard and arduous one. For us, it was also full of uncertainty. The plan was to drive from Tso Moriri to Manali via Barchala Pass and finally Rohtang Pass. The authorities kept moving the dates, and we were worried and constantly wondered if it would open in time for us to leave Ladakh. We’d have to come back to Leh and fly out if the roads did not open, and that would mean not getting to visit the lush green orchards of Suri Farms in Raison, an experience that was becoming almost sacred for the boys and us. It took us nearly six and half hours to make it to Tso Moriri, a distance of only 240 km. After the first 30 km, the roads became very severe, sometimes there were no visible tracks ahead of us, and we drove through towering, colorful mountains towards our destination via Chumathang. The oxygen began to deplete quickly, and the old familiar nagging headaches came back, but we blamed it to the persistent and endless roads ahead of us. The landscape was not as captivating as that en route to Pangong Tso, but we were not to be deterred this quickly.

Towards the end of the final hour, the landscape suddenly opened up. Like a page straight out of Tolkien’s novel, the land became varied and picturesque and opened up to small streams, dotted with mountain goats, miniature horses and yaks breaking the monotony of the ochre that our eyes were used to by now.

Set against the most brilliant blue sky, we saw a glistening lake, small in size but magical to our weary eyes and exhausted bodies. The water shimmered ahead in a basin at a distance, and we felt our senses stirring again.

As we approached closer, we saw horses abound, and goats in their woolly coats gathered around the mirror like water in perfect harmony. But, there was not a soul in sight. Nothing moved, nothing stirred, nothing rankled, nothing could be heard. In a perfect silence and suspended reality, we prepared ourselves for what lay ahead. We could hear the waters lapping at a distance and made our way to the lake that has inspired travelers and storytellers for generations . Remote, pristine and breathtaking – Tso Moriri stood ahead of us in shades of blue that was impossible to comprehend. It looked almost mythical to us – a vision, a dream, a place where Gods lived, fought, loved, and ruled. It seemed to me that all the travels I had ever taken and all the days I had lived through and all the journeys I had ever planned was to reach this place.

One of Ladakh's most wondrous great lakes, Tso Moriri derives its name from a simple story of a woman who decides to cross the lake that freezes over in winter. Her name is Tsomo, and she attempts to cross the lake to go to the lands beyond with her yak. Riri is an instruction meant for the yak, urging control and restraint as Tsomo decides to navigate the treacherous frozen lake and make it to the other side. I couldn’t validate the authenticity of the story – the local shepherds we met, did not speak our language and we didn’t speak theirs. This story was told to us by our driver and elaborated by some of the staff at the hotel, but it has stayed with me because of the hauntingly beautiful image of the solitary Tsomo - the lonely but resolute girl trying to get to the other side with her loyal yak, through the unrelenting winter.

Nothing could prepare us for the night ahead. We reached in the afternoon, and the sun looked bright, but we didn’t feel it. As evening descended and darkness fell on the lake, the cold intensified with each passing hour and seemed to penetrate every layer of clothing we wore, and seeped into our skin and then reached our bones.

We couldn’t feel our hands or lips, our bodies groaned under the weight of jackets and blankets, our head hurt, and our breathing was labored. When the stars came out, we were beyond ourselves with exhaustion, cold and breathlessness. Surprisingly the children coped much better than us. They seemed content in the camp, which was very basic and did hardly anything to prevent the cold or the wind. We had used some heavy duty layering of underclothes for them, and it seemed to help them. We were grateful and relieved. As the night intensified, hounds of large Tibetan dogs made their way to the campsite and sat howling for hours. It was one of the harshest and longest nights of our lives, and we fought it hard, determined to make it through to the other side.

We left the camp at daybreak, the weariness fast catching up. The boys were exhausted too; the howling dogs had kept them up all through the night. However, we got to know that the road to Manali had opened the previous day and we were grateful for this divine intervention just in time. While drifting off to sleep, Ahaan mumbled wistfully, “Will you wake me up, if you see the Black Necked Crane, Mum?”I recognized the familiar twinge of regret in his voice as he fell asleep on my shoulders. Our journey to Manali was to last two days, including one overnight halt at Keylong. It was getting harder for us to prevent the meltdowns and manage the angst of being cooped up for long distances in the car now. The boys were most patient thus far despite the disappointment of not getting to see the fated bird, but it was becoming difficult for them to sit through the long stretches of bad roads.

As we left the blue lakes behind us and moved towards Puga's minor salt-crusted springs, mini-geysers, and sulfur mountains, charting a way towards Tso Kar, some movement caught our driver Angchook’s expert eyes. He pulled up and lifted his hand gently, pointed at the horizon and said: “Look there, the Black Necked Crane, has finally come to say hello.”

In a flash, Ahaan leaped off from his seat shaking off his slumber. He ran towards the marsh without his jacket, cap, binoculars or camera. He covered the distance of half a kilometer quickly, only as a child could, as we tried our best to keep up behind him. He dashed through the marshy water to get closer to the creature that had intrigued him, captivated him, enthralled him and in a way given his ten-year old heart a meaning to pursue. On the last day, in the last hours, around the last remains of this remote land, he met his pursuit, face-to-face locked in a moment of pure perfection, as the sandy expanse around them lit up with the brilliance of a thousand suns.

about the authors

Some of our friends and family call us a clan of restless, wandering souls. We are always either making travel plans or living them. Sometimes we fight about the choice of destination – as each one of us has a list, and we are all vociferously arguing our case. Rarely does all our choice coincide, but we are still a buzzing happy clan when we are out on the road, all feverish and impatient to see the unseen.

Created By
Shaonlee Bose


Saurabh Ganguli

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