SOUTHEAST LADAKH, on the sensitive international border with Tibet, is a region with a series of spectacularly beautiful lakes. The two major lakes, Pang-gong Tso and Tso Morirl, are accessible by road, although there are no scheduled bus services.
The biggest of the lakes is the long and narrow Panggong Tso. It is 130-km (81- mile) in length and lies at an altitude of 4,420 m (14,500 ft), extending far into Western Tibet. Visitors may go as far as Spangmik, 7 km (4 miles) along the lake’s southern shore, from where there are spectacular views to the north of the Chang-chenmo Range, its reflection shimmering in the ever-changing blues and greens of the brackish water. Above Spangmik rise the glaciers and snowcapped peaks of the Pang-gong Range.
Tao Moriri, 30 km (19 miles) to the south of Pang-gong Tso is a 140-sq km (54-sq mile) expanse of intensely blue water. At an altitude of 4,600 m (15,092 ft), it is set among rolling hills behind which lie snow-covered mountains. The region’s only permanent settlement is on the lake’s western shore, Karzok – a handful of houses and a monastery, whose barley fields must be among the highest cultivated areas anywhere in the world. The lake and its freshwater inlets are breeding areas for many species of migratory birds, such as the rare blacknecked blacknecked crane and the great crested grebe. Wild asses, marmots and foxes can also be seen in the region.
Among the human inhabitants of Southeast Ladakh are the nomadic herders, known as Chang-pa, who brave extreme cold (-40° C/-40° F in winter, and freezing nights even in summer) throughout the year, living in their black yak-hair tents. They raise yak and sheep, but their main wealth is the pashmina goat. The severe cold of winter stimulates the goats to grow an undercoat of soft warm fibre, which they shed at the beginning of summer. This fibre, known as pasha, is the raw material for Kashmir’s renowned shawl industry and is, in fact, the unprocessed form of the world-famous cashmere wool. The lucrative trade in pasha from Ladakh’s high-altitude pastures as well as from Western Tibet was the motive behind Ladakh’s annexation by the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1834.
ENVIRONS: The twin lakes of Tso Kar and Startsapuk Tso, are 80 km (50 miles) north of Tso Moriri, on the road to Leh. While Startsapuk Tso has fresh water, Tso Kar is so briny that the Chang-pa herders regularly collect salt from the deposits along its margins.