Tso Kar and Tso Moriri - Salt Lakes of Ladakh
We need to push our acclimatisation and so we set off for the Changtang and the lakes called Tso Kar and Tso Moriri, which are over 1000 metres higher than Leh.
The road takes us over the Taklang La, at 5970m the third highest road pass in India. But first we stop at a small monastery at Gya. In the new monastery a monk chants prayers for us and we look round the remaining buildings of the older monastery. Faded frescoes are still visible in spite of the rain damage. Many villages are building new monasteries. In time they’ll have the atmosphere of the older ones but for now the antiquity of the older ones has a deeper resonance.
We camp near Tso Kar which is home to migrating birds. Tso Kar, like many lakes in the Himalaya, is shrinking and the habitat for migrating birds is deteriorating. Nonetheless, we are blessed with the sight of two black necked cranes, sacred birds for the Buddhists of the Himalaya. The salt deposits erupt in mounds and create little floral outbursts on the ground.
The nearby village of Thugde has a small monastery on the hillside and the older section has a cave containing a beautiful small statue in white alabaster of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
The village is deserted and has the strange atmosphere of a dusty film set. In the summer the villagers go to the high pastures and return here for the winter.
We spend a cold night in a tent. The next day we make the three hour drive to Tso Moriri and the town of Korzok but arrive too late for a important commemoration of the life of the Rinpoche of the monastery of Korzok. The Rinpoche, only in his early 30s, was killed in a road accident about six weeks ago and many villagers and other Rinpoches and lamas have come to Korzok for the day.
Most of the people who live here are nomads and have the leathery skin of people who exist in intense sunlight and some of the highest habitable parts of the world.
A couple of Rinpoches have stayed overnight, one is staying in the room above us and in the morning is giving blessings to long queues. He wants to know where we’re from - UK - “London, I go there often, we have a centre there, I hope you enjoy your stay in Ladakh”.
Later in the day another Rinpoche gives a teaching to large numbers assembled in the monastery courtyard and the event finishes with another round of blessings. Our heads were touched with a peacock feather fan, a small representation of a stupa and water is poured into our hands.
On a small platform cut into the hillside above the monastery the Rinpoche has been cremated, his ashes contained in a newly built stupa. All the local people make their way there to pay their respects. His mother is also there, spending time alone with her son.
The following day we make the long drive back to Leh. It’s harvest time and horses are hard to find so we have to abandon our plans to trek to Zanskar. Tomorrow we will drive instead to the village of Kanji and start a 7 or 8 day trek to the high altitude glaciers and mountains of Chomotang. It could be cold. It could also be spectacular!