The Rumtze to Tso Moriri trek in Ladakh takes you right through the Changthang region, a high-altitude plateau that has unique landscapes and stunning lakes. These grounds are home to nomad people, who move around with their goats and yaks.
The trek is classed as ‘moderate to strenuous’ because of the 6 passes you’ll have to conquer - all well above 5000 meters of altitude.
It’s an amazing trek and I will give you an idea what to expect when you sign up for this. I went via a travel agent from Leh (guide, pack horses, tents and all gear included) but I’ve met people who’d done it independently.
If you want to do so - bring a good map and GPS and you will be fine. The trail is quite easy to follow so if you are self-sufficient in terms of tent, sleeping bag, food and cooking gear, you will be fine on your own!
Day 1: Rumtze - Chorten Sumdo
Getting from Leh to Rumtze is about a 2 hours drive on a well paved road. There are several monasteries on the way (Shey, Thiksey and Hemis monasteries) which can be included in the first day if you leave early enough from Leh.
The trek from Rumtze to Chorten Sumdo is supposed to be relatively easy going. Unfortunately, because of a whole lot of miscommunication and bad arrangements by the travel agency, I never walked this bit.
It is a well known fact that the first day is often problematic and many groups end up having to walk the first day with all their gear because the horsemen didn’t show up (yet).
Luckily, that first part of the trek is following a car track (which is used by the people collecting the camping fee - 200 rupees per tent; the money of which goes to the stupa and the nomads in the area) so instead of walking, we were dropped at the first camping site by car which took about 1 hour over easy going terrain.
Although not too strenuous, Rumtze already sits at 4240 meters of altitude, so you will definitely feel the limited oxygen levels!
Day 2: Chorten Sumdo - Tsaling (4940m)
Because of the first day problems - the pack horses were supposed to arrive early morning to take all the camping gear and food. During the nighttime, a pack of wolves messed up our plan. The wolves chased two of the horses that far up into the mountains that even after hours of searching, the horsemen couldn’t find them back.
The results was that the remaining horses were so heavily loaded that they barely made it over the two passes of that day: Kyamar La (5180m) and Mandalchen La (5206m).
Besides wolves, the elusive snow leopard is roaming this area in the nighttime as well - we spotted footprints on the trail..
After this day the altitude really starts to kick in, as you will be sleeping above 4900 meters. In our group, already 2 people needed oxygen - which the travel agency promised to provide, but didn’t.
Luckily we were camping in the same place as another group, so we could borrow an oxygen cylinder and mask, but make sure your agency provides proper oxygen cylinders including a mask because this is serious stuff.
Due to the climbing of the two passes, it will take around 6 -7 hours to get to Tsaling.
Day 3: Tsaling - Ponganagu (4651m)
This day will only see one pass (Shibuk La - 5275 m) straight at the beginning of the days trek. After that, it is a gradual decline towards lake Tso Kar, which is a salt water lake (Tso = water, Kar = White ) and will take about 5 hours of walking.
The camping ground is at a very windy valley, close to a stupa and a permanent camp where tourists usually stay for the night when coming to Tso Kar by road. This area is also a great place to see wildlife, such as migratory birds, kiang (wild asses), red fox, blue sheep, marmots and Ladakh pika.
Day 4: Tso Kar - Nuruchan (4679m)
The trek starts by circling beautiful lake Tso Kar. Though most of the salt has been mined in the past and transported along the Silk Road, it is still a gorgeous place where the mountains are reflected in the lake as if a perfect mirror.
The 5 hours of walking are almost flat and go through open plains which -on a hot and sunny day- feels like you are walking through the desert.
Day 5: Nuruchan - Rayun Karu (4800m)
This is a short day of trekking with only 3-4 hours and including only one pass (Horlam Kong La) at 4930 meters. Rayun Karu is a summer camping ground for nomads, who stay here around 2 months with their goats, yak and horses.
During the day, you will only find the elderly men, women and children in the camp, who will be doing a lot of praying (Om Mani Padme Hum). They will allow you to sit with them for a while, and you’ll get the cue on when to leave again.
It’s a good idea to buy some packages of 100 grams of tea in Leh which you can give to local people you meet on the way. Tea addicts as they are, it will be very much appreciated.
Day 6: Rayun Karu - Gyamar (5157m)
This is by far the most challenging day of the trek, so be prepared! You will trek over 2 passes: Kyamayuri La (5430m) and Kartse La (5384m), of which the first pass is right at the beginning of the trek.
There is a gradual descent, after which the second pass needs to be scaled. Both of the passes are very steep in places, and you may encounter cutting winds, rain, hail and sunshine - all within an hours time!
Depending on what time of the year you are doing the trek and how dry the season is, there are some serious river crossings on this day and you may be up to your thighs in icy cold Himalayan river water. This is another day in which oxygen is likely to be needed and it will be at least 6 - 7 hours of trekking.
Day 7: Gyamar - Korzok (4552m)
The last day is quite a long day of trekking, but luckily doesn’t involve too much climbing. The only pass on this day - Yalung Nyau La (5435m) involves a gradual climb and after that, you will only be descending with lake Tso Moriri in sight!
(Beware that if you are doing this trek the other way around, this is a monster of a day with some 1000 meters increase in altitude!!)
Don’t be fooled by the view of the lake though, your mind tends to play tricks with you in these surroundings, and it is still a looong walk to Korzok after the pass.
The lake is definitely worth it though; this fresh water lake supposedly gets its name from a nun from the Moro clan, who got into trouble while riding her yak and exclaimed ‘Ri Ri’ - Help Help!’ just before she drowned in the lake.
Locals claim that the lake is heart-shaped - you need quite some imagination to see it; but at least that story is more romantic than that of the drowning woman.
After spending the night on the camping ground just outside tiny little Korzok - or in one of the guesthouses or homestays - you will be driving back to Leh. If you are not a big fan of backtracking like me - you can continue trekking to the town of Kibber in Spiti Valley.