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Ladakh’s southern lakes - A view from our expert author
One of the picture-perfect lakes in the southeastern part of Ladakh, Tso Moriri is a stunning contrast of blue water and towering mountains © Im Perfect Lazybones, Shutterstock
Some of J&K’s wildest, most remote and most beautiful scenery is to be found in the south of Ladakh. Here the human population is scant, especially as you move away from the monasteries, but the mountains and lakes roar across the landscape, ripping up the land into jagged peaks through which mighty rivers flow. It is here that you will find some of Ladakh’s most famous monasteries: the striking Thiksey Gompa with its vast Maitreya Buddha; perennially popular (if overly commercialised) Hemis; and dark Thagthog, the only Nyingmapa monastery in Ladakh. They lie almost side by side with holy fish ponds, carved stone Buddhas and two royal palaces, offering a rich cultural experience for visitors.
It is the natural sights that draw us back, however: the southern lakes of Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar may be far from habitation and along pretty awful roads, but their turquoise waters and unspoiled surroundings more than justify the bumpy journeys out to reach them. Likewise, some of the most popular treks are to be found in the Markha Valley, which is more easily accessible from Leh.
Retreat to the shores to watch the water lapping around your toes or stare up into a seemingly endless star-filled sky.
The southeastern part of Ladakh, running up towards the Chinese border, is sprayed with picture-postcard lakes and, if you’ve had your fill of monasteries, retreating to the shores to watch the waters lapping around your toes, or staring up into a seemingly endless star-filled sky, is just what the doctor ordered.
Unless you have a lot of time available, you’ll probably need to choose either to visit Pangong or to go to Tso Moriri and Tso Kar lakes. Both require a long and uncomfortable car journey, and as getting there and back from Leh is expensive your decision may well be shaped by whom you can share a car with.
The road south from Leh to the lakes is the main Leh–Manali road, National Highway 1 (NH1). It splits at Karu, an army base that also hosts a small line of shops and cafes. From here it is 110km to Pangong, 115km to Tso Kar and 175km to Tso Moriri.
Due to the proximity of the lakes to the Indo-Chinese border, you are required to have an Inner Line permit to travel there. If you do not have a permit (and the requisite number of photocopies), you will not be allowed to travel past the police checkpoints.