Route: Leh – Upshi – Chumathang – Mahe Bridge – Tso Moriri – Korzok – Mahe Bridge – Tso Kar
Distance: 295 kms
Route Opens: Mid May to late October (depending on the weather)
Bus: There is a regular bus service run by J&K SRTC to the village of Korzok and occasionally there are buses operated by travel agents for large groups. However there are no buses available for Tso Kar.
Taxis: You can get a seat in local taxis, which are normally run in the same manner as a local bus or you can hire one yourself. For more details please contact the Leh Taxi Union at 252723/253039.
Hiring Motorcycles: Motorcycle enthusiasts who are unable to take their motorcycles to Leh can get one for rent. One can find numerous bike rental shops at the old post office road or you can ask your hotel to arrange one for you. For reference, please read "Renting Motorcycles in India".
There are a few variations to the above listed circuit, one can go to Tso Moriri or do the entire Tso Moriri – Tso Kar circuit and come back to Leh via the same route or via the Manali – Leh highway or head to Manali from Tso Kar itself.
Leh – Upshi (55 kms): Although you will be traveling for only 215 kms, it is best to start early from Leh. From Leh one needs to take the Leh – Manali highway till the town of Upshi.
Upshi – Chumathang (95 kms): From the roundabout at Upshi take the left turn and a few hundred meters down the road is the check post where you need to submit your permits. For better part of the journey you will have the Indus River for company and tarmac is in good condition for most part, barring few landslide prone stretches.
Chumathang itself has little to offer to a visitor apart from a few restaurants, a Gompa and hot water springs. A quick lunch stop would suffice for most, while a night here would be recommended for travelers with a lot of time at hand.
Chumathang – Tso Moriri (Korzok) (60kms): From Chumathang it is a relatively easy drive till Sumdo, few kms after which it is best not to use the road since it is too bumpy, instead either make your own track by driving/riding off road or use one of the numerous tracks left by passing vehicles. The last 30kms are a pain, but a boon for those who love off road riding/driving, the track here is a mix of sandy and dirt trails littered with small stones. However the view one gets at the end of it makes it all worth it.
Even though Tso Moriri is smaller than Pangong Tso and fewer people come here, it is more beautiful in some ways due to the fact that area surrounding Tso Moriri is a wild life reserve and one can see Tibetan wild ass (Kiang), marmots, red foxes and quite a few migratory birds. For accommodation and eateries take the right turn from the main entrance of Tso Moriri wild life sanctuary and continue for few kilometers to reach the village of Korzok a.k.a. Karzok.
Tso Moriri (Korzok) – Tso Kar (80 kms): From Korzok back track till the Mahe Bridge and from there take the diversion to reach Tso Kar. Road from Mahe Bridge is in bad condition, but a boon for off road junkies.
It is believed that Tso Kar was once connected to Tso Moriri, even though Tso Kar is a salt water lake while Tso Moriri is fresh water. The area surrounding Tso Kar is protected and forms the Tso Kar wild life sanctuary.
From Tso Kar you can return to Leh via Tso Kar – Moore Plains – Tanglang La – Upshi route (155 kms) or by backtracking to Mahe Bridge and then continuing on the Chumathang – Upshi – Leh route (205 kms).
You can also go to Manali by taking the More Plains – Pang – Sarchu – Darcha – Manali route (380 kms).
Restricted Area: Tso Moriri is a restricted area and to visit it you need permits which are easily obtainable from the DC office in Leh and can be procured by either submitting the application yourself or through a travel agent. The permits are issued for a maximum period of three weeks, in case you are visiting other restricted areas like Nubra Valley and Pangong Tso you need to mention them in the permit as well.
Make at least 4 photocopies of the permit per region, since you would need to submit them at various check posts.
Chumathang: Chumathang has more accommodation options to offer than Korzok or Tso Kar; it has a few guest houses and even a resort!
Korzok: There are few accommodation options in Korzok since Tso Moriri isn’t as famous as Pangong Tso. However there is a hotel here along with guest houses that Chang-pa Nomads run from their houses. There is also a collection of tents and one can even pitch their own tents at designated spots.
Tso Kar: There are tented accommodations available near Tso Kar; one can also pitch their own tent in designated spots.
Phone Services: There are no internet cafes or phone booths beyond Leh, so be prepared to remain out of touch for the next couple of days.
Petrol Pump: Carry enough petrol for the return journey to Leh or till Tandi, since there are no petrol pumps beyond Leh. Although one can find contraband petrol/diesel at Chumathang, Pang and Sarchu, it is recommended to carry enough petrol to see you through this trip comfortably.