Tran Hong Ngoc

Join Heritage in exploring India’s three highest-altitude lakes

When you think of India, what color comes to mind? The yellow of the desert, the red of the fortresses, or the white of the Taj Mahal? For me, it’s a mix of blues and greens. I see the blue of the distant sky, the green of the grass, and the emerald hues of North India’s lakes.

Pangong Lake is beloved by tourists

Legendary Pangong Lake

Located at an altitude of 4,350m above sea level, Pangong is one of the highest lakes in the world. With a length of about 155km, it is up to 5km wide in places, and stretches across the borders of India and China. The lake is endogenous and located entirely inland, only receiving water from tributaries and not flowing into the sea. Pangong Lake has long been an attractive tourist destination. After the Bollywood blockbuster “Three Idiots” arrived in cinemas, the lake became even more popular. Enveloped by majestic golden-brown mountains, lying beneath a blue sky and white clouds, the emerald lake is as beautiful as a landscape painting. Pangong Lake offers a romantic atmosphere reminiscent of Bollywood love songs. The lovely thing about Pangong is that the lake’s color changes according to the time of day. On sunny days, the clear azure sky turns the lake brilliant blue. As the sunlight fades in the late afternoon, the color shifts to green, then back to a darker blue.

The nomadic village of Korzok

Around Pangong Lake lie wooden lodges and waterfront campsites where you can spend many days unwinding. Like many other tourists, I chose a cozy local tent next to the water’s edge, which had all the basic amenities. Waking up early in the chilly mornings, I sat on the lakeshore, silently watching sunlight passing through the leaf canopy. The vibrant green trees, blue lake, brown mountains, and white snow make Pangong as alluring as a graceful princess.

Peaceful Tso Moriri

If Pangong Lake is often bustling with tourists, Tso Moriri Lake lies peacefully under the mountains. Tso Moriri is the largest brackish lake in India, with a length of about 120km. It is located at an altitude of 4,500m. Visitors can only reach this lake from April to October, as the access road is frozen and impassable during the other six months of the year. I wondered why the water of Lake Tso Moriri was so blue, the color identical to ink cartridges I had in elementary school. The lake’s brilliant blue water reflects the surrounding snow-capped mountains and the nomadic village of Korzok with its simple and hospitable people. There is neither Wi-Fi nor any phone signal, and motels only supply the bare minimum. I realized I had left the modern world’s bustle to quietly embrace the area’s vast nature, majestic mountains, and fascinating blue lake. My favorite activity in Tso Moriri was walking around every corner of Korzok village in the early mornings, observing the locals’ idyllic lifestyle, and experiencing a different culture. Sometimes, I rushed to the lake and frolicked with the leisurely grazing sheep or lay down in the fields, watched the sky and the earth, the snowy mountains, and the blue lake, and listened to the wind whistling past my ears. It brought me a feeling of absolute peace and relaxation.

Tso Morini is one of the most beautiful high altitude lakes in India

Wild Tso Kar

Tso Kar is a salt lake located in the Rapshu Valley in the Changthang region at an altitude of 4,530m. It is surrounded by two peaks, the 6,370m-high Gursan and the 6,050m-high Thugie. Tso Kar was once an essential source of table salt for the people of Ladakh and surrounding areas. The smallest of India’s three lakes set above 4,000m, Tso Kar is less popular than Pangong or Tso Moriri, making it one of the most peaceful lakes in North India. This saltwater lake is also known as the “white lake” due to the large white salt deposits surrounding it. The soft emerald water, white salt, sepia grass, and gray mountains are the main attractions that create Tso Kar’s appeal. Tso Kar is located in a desolate and remote area with no restaurants or eateries. The only sign of human society is the village of Tsoker a few kilometers away. Tourists wishing to stay must camp or rent a room in the only motel in town.

Buddhist lungta prayer flags near Tso Kar Lake

Visitors often come here in the summer and autumn to camp, walk around the lake, and enjoy romantic sunrises and sunsets under the majestic Himalayas. If you’re lucky, you might meet some local shepherds harvesting salt from Tso Kar for distribution to the surrounding areas. Tso Kar also has many wild animals, including but not limited to seagulls, wild geese, terns, black-necked cranes, and antelopes. Many photographers have stayed in Tso Kar for a whole month just to film and photograph the flora and fauna.

No pen or paper can fully express the allure of North India’s highland lakes. They are precious gifts from nature.