This brackish lake is located 4,595 metres above sea level, an altitude to tax the lungs of the most dedicated trekker. With two wetlands – the Nuro Sumdo on the North, and the Pare Chu on the South – the lake is a breeding ground for many rare bird species. It is a day’s travel from Leh and a popular destination for the avid birdwatcher. ‘It’ is Tso Moriri, home to the residents of Korzok, the closest village.

Korzok boasts a monastery, established around 300 years ago, by the kings of the time. To people of the crowded plain, Korzok seems a small village, but its size belies its importance. Korzok once ruled over the entire Ripshu valley and was an important stop on the wonderful Central Asian trade route that connected the eastern shores of China to Europe. Today, its fame comes from more humble sources – the barley fields around it .

These are cultivated by the Chang-pa, a pastoral tribe who live around the lake to provide sustenance to both humans and pack animals througout the year. Once they were nomads and the mountains of Tibet, China and Ladakh were their home. With India gaining Independence and later with the Chinese occupying Tibet, their trade routes were closed.

Today, the Chang-pa still raise yak and goats but stay in tents around Korzuk. It is the barley fields around them that now have the distinction of being the highest fields in the world – a fitting frame to Tso Moriri, the highest Ramsar wetland in the world. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovermental treaty that enables ‘national action and international cooperation’ to protect wetlands; part of its role is to identify and protect wetlands of international importance, such as Tso Moriri.

What does the name mean? It is difficult to say. The explanations given range from ‘blue lake’ to ‘salty lake’. There is also an anecdote about a yak called Tsomo. As yaks often do, Tsomo also wandered off and the owner called it back ‘ri! ri!’. I would take that with a pinch of salt as ‘Tso’ definitely means lake, and a yak named ‘Lake Mo’ is improbable to say the least. At any rate, it’s a good story!

Tso Moriri is the only breeding ground in India for bar-headed geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Sand Plover and the rare Black-necked crane, among others [image by: Keith Goyden]

The forces that created the mountains also created Tso Moriri [image by: Keith Goyden]

Tso Moriri was formed by the folding of the Himalayas. The water from 120 square kilometers enters the lake, only to evaporate leaving the lake landlocked. Consequently, its waters are brackish
[image by: Keith Goyden]

The lake has extensive wetlands to the north and the southwest which provide habitat and food to the many bird species that breed at Tso Moriri such as the Tibetan Sandgrouse shown here [image by: Keith Goyden]

It isn’t only birds; other animals find Tso Moriri equally congenial. During spring, the donkeys spend all night serenading their prospective loves [image by: Keith Goyden]

The drama during spring time is neatly echoed by the tumult in the lake itself. Come spring, the lake begins to thaw and great chunks of ice break off its surface [image by: Keith Goyden]

Things are never what they seem. Even in winter, the snow on the banks reveals interesting textures when seen up close – a metaphor for life, perhaps? [image by: Keith Goyden]

Korzok is the closest village to the lake. While it only has about 50 houses, the Chang pa shepherds greatly increase the population in summer [image by: Keith Goyden]

Despite all that is going on around it, the serenity of the lake cannot be denied. It is this that inspires shepherds to build the traditional offerings of thanks-cairns- by piling up stones till they form a little tower [image by: Keith Goyden]

And all the time, the prayer flags send their blessings to the winds [image by: Keith Goyden]

This article was first published on India Water Portal.

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