Pangong Tso, Jammu & Kashmir
It may be called as one of the India’s most celebrity high altitude lake. It is also the biggest one with an area of 29345 hectares. It is also a disputed one as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China passes through this lake. Located in upper reaches of Himalayan Mountain range in Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir at a height of about 4,250 m (13,900 ft), it is 134 km long and extends from Ladakh to China. Two thirds of the length of this lake lies in Tibet. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. In winter, the lake surface freezes completely despite being salt water. Undoubtedly lake is exceptionally beautiful. And what more is lovely about this lake is that travelers can go right upto the lake in their vehicles. Owing to Pangong’s proximity to the border, tourists are only allowed to visit the lake upto the Spangmik village. For the hardcore adventure lovers, there is a camping site on the shore of Pangong. Pangong Tso is about five hours drive from Leh in Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir. The route passes through beautiful Ladakh countryside, over Chang La, the third highest motorable mountain pass (5289 m) in the world. The first glimpse of the serene, bright blue waters and rocky lakeshore remains etched in the memory of tourists. There is a narrow ramp-like formation of land running into the lake which is also a favourite with tourists. Bollywood freaks also remember this lake from the last scenes of popular film- 3 Idiots. The most notable feature of the lake is the ever changing hues of the lake. The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a large variety of migratory birds like Brahmani Ducks, Rare black necked cranes and Seagulls. One can also spot Ladakhi Marmots, the rodent-like creatures which can grow up to the size of a small dog. The best time to travel to Pangong Tso would be during the summer months of June to September. The climate remains pleasant and the lake is a spectacle to watch.
If you want to stay near the shores of the lake then tents are the only option. The choice of stay near and around Pangong Tso is limited. Lukung which is in close proximity to the lake has camping facilities in Eco Huts. Basic accommodation is available in Spangmik, in the only hotel offering rooms as well as luxury tents. Local households also offer accommodation but most of them have shared toilets or toilets outside the house. If you are looking for better accommodation, Tangste which about 32 km before Pangong would be the ideal place. Options to stay here are better in terms of quality and more in numbers than both Lukung and Spangmik. (source: travel.india.com)
Tso Moriri, Jammu & Kashmir
This one is another gem in Ladakh. One of the most beautiful, calm and sacred (for ladakhis) high altitude lakes in India. Biggest high altitude lake in India in the sense that it is entirely in Indian Territory, unlike Pangong Tso. Picturesquely situated in secluded, breathtakingly beautiful Rupshu Valley, Tso Moriri Lake is apprx 250 kilometers southeast of Leh which is almost a seven hours journey. Travelers can only visit with a permit, that is available at Leh. Most visit the lake with an organized tour from Leh, which usually includes camping equipment and a cook. This is also a saltwater lake like Pangong Tso and this too has a very rich biodiversity. This serene lake and the area around it attract a range of wildlife, including migratory birds, marmots, wild asses, and (rarely spotted) Tibetan wolves. Nomadic herders of goats, yaks, and cows live in the lake's vicinity. The beautiful multi shades of blue color offered by this lake along with a picturesque landscape around gives this place an extremely romantic feel and breathtaking feel. However, in actual reality the place is extremely harsh and difficult to survive especially in winters. In January to March, Tso Moriri remains mostly frozen, extremely cold conditions with no options to stay around the lake. In April types, it starts to melt and starts transforming into the beautiful multi shades of blue colors off the shores. Then May, June, July and August is the peak tourist season but as compared to Pangong Tso it gets less number of tourist. September and early October is the best time to visit Tso Moriri to see full glory of beautiful shades of blue color.
Tso Moriri lake is one of the high altitudes lakes of India at a staggering altitude of 4595 Meters or 15075 Feet, yes higher than Pangong Tso. There exist a direct and an indirect route between Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso as well and in most general cases, you will always be doing it from direct route of Pangong Tso to Tso Moriri because you can exit Ladakh from Tso Moriri towards Manali – Leh Highway after visiting Tso Moriri without coming back towards Leh and secondly, Tso Moriri is higher than Pangong Tso so as per acclimatization schedule you should stay near Pangong Tso before spending night at Tso Moriri. (source: devilonwheels.com)
As celebrated by travelers as Pangong Tso and probably more beautiful. Situated at a staggering height of 17,800 feet, it is considered as one the most sacred lakes by the Buddhists and Hindus alike. Also a place among those where one has to be to believe it. The beautiful and awe inspiring lake (190 kms from Gangtok) remains milky in colour throughout the year. Gurudongmar Lake is among the top 15 highest lakes in the world and is the second highest lake in Sikkim as well as in India, the first being Cholamu lake at a height of 18000 ft, also situated in Sikkim. Being the second highest lake in India, the panoramic and scenic beauty of the place is a sight to behold. Named after Guru Dongmar, the lake has a religious appeal. The view of Mount Siniolchu and Khanchendzonga is breathtaking from that point. The beauty of the lake is awesome and out of the world spectacle. Surrounded by snow clad mountains and crystal clear icy water, it is considered to be a very sacred lake. According to a legend, since the lake used to remain frozen most of the year, it was not possible to use its water for drinking purposes. When the Guru Padmasambhava passed by, while returning from Tibet, the local residents are reported to have approached him for providing source of water. The Guru obliged. A portion of the lake touched by him does not freeze in extreme winter. Since water of the lake is considered sacred, visitors carry the 'blessed' water in bottles. The water of Gurudongmar Lake is said to have curative properties and many tourists carry the water with them on their way back. Close to the lake, there is a 'Sarva Dharma Sthal', and as the name suggests, it’s a place of worship for all religions.
Lachen in north Sikkim can be reached from Gangtok via Mangan by buses, shared or private taxis. It is almost a seven hour run from Gangtok to Lachen. It takes around 3-4 hours from Lachen to reach Gurudongmar Lake. The closest village from Gurdongmar Lake is Thangu, at about 14000 ft. There a single restaurant will serve you tea, bread butter (the bread has to be carried by the travellers) and maggi. Visit to Gurudongmar Lake requires a permit as it located close to the Indo-Tibet border. The best time to visit the lake is November to June. There is paucity of oxygen at such a height, and thus, staying there for more than an hour is not recommended for most tourists. But there are bravehearts, who go to Guruddongmar on cycles.
Chandertal, Himachal Pradesh
This is most popular and visited high altitude lake in Himachal Pradesh. Located at an altitude of 4270 metres, this lake can be approached from ‘Batal’ which is 120 Km from Manali on Manali – Kaza State Highway which links Spiti valley with Lahaul valley. Alternatively, one can reach Chandertal via ‘Kunjam La’ that connects Spiti and Lahul. Situated in the Spiti part of the Lahul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh (India), Chandertal is a popular destination for trekkers and campers. This natural lake is about one km in length, half km in breadth at its widest part and has a circumference of 2.5 km. The total area of the wetland is about 49 ha. The lake owes its name either to the fact that it is the source of the river Chandra, or by virtue of its crescent moon like shape. It is surrounded by the mountain ranges of Moulkila and Chandrabhaga. The clean water of the lake with small marshy patches around attracts many migratory birds. Important species noted are: Snow cock, Chukar, Black winged stilt, Brahmni duck, Golden eagle and Chugh, Hoopoe, Yellow Headed Wagtail, Jungle crow, Blue rock pigeon, Common rose finch, Black Redstart, Short toed Eagle, Common Sandpiper, Teal, Magpie Robin etc. The important wild life species found in the region are Marmota Bobak, Snow leopard, Red fox, Snow wolf, Capra ibex, Blue sheep and Lynx etc.
There is a motorable road from Batal which is 16 km away from Chandertal, but before August, its condition can be bad. The road from Kunzum Pass is accessible only on foot, and it is about 8 km from Chandertal. Suraj Tal is also accessible from Chandertal, which is 30 km away. It will be the best option to visit Chandratal in July-August month window when the roads are cleaned up by till very end and Chandratal becomes accessible by road. So, you can take your vehicle at the parking point of Chandratal from where you need to hike about 2 KMs for the rest of the journey. Reaching Chandertal is only possible when Rohatng-La or Kunjam-La is open for traffic. Adventurers going to Lahaul or Spiti valley try their best to be at Chandertal. Staying at Chandertal is possible only if you have a tent. Proper accommodation is at either Losar towards Kaza or at Batal and Khoksar towards Manali.
Surajtal, Himachal Pradesh
Suraj Tal is a well known high altitude lake of this state. It lies just below the Bara-lacha-la pass (4,890m) in the Lahaul and Spiti valley. It is the source of Bhaga River which joins the Chandra River downstream at Tandi to form the Chandrabhaga River and as it enters Jammu and Kashmir it is renamed as the Chenab River. The lake is fed from the glaciers and torrential streams originating from the Bara-lacha-la pass. The pass is 8 km long and called the "Pass with crossroads on summit" since roads from Zanskar, Ladakh, Spiti and Lahaul meet at this pass. Snowfall in this zone, though scanty, is reported to be spread all round the year. Rainfall precipitation is rare in the region. Snow starts melting from May. Even in July one can observe snow on the slopes encircling the lake, though the lake is fully in liquid state. It is claimed to be third highest lake in India, but that is only in common terms. There are many, probably hundreds of lakes higher than that in India, but they are either not accessible or very small to take notice of.
Suraj Tal is 65 km from Keylong, the district headquarters of the Lahaul Spiti district, a frontier district of India which is approachable by road by the National Highway NH 21, also known as the Leh-Manali Highway. The NH 21 is the vital road link for the people living in the Lahaul Spiti district. The road skirts the Suraj Tal and is just 3 km short of the Bara-lacha-la pass. Since the lake lies on the route from Manali to Leh, therefore it witnesses heavy activity by passersby, who cannot help but stop here to marvel the astounding beauty of the lake and the valley beyond.
Gangbal, Jammu & Kashmir
A beautiful lake in Kashmir side. Most of the bigger high altitude lakes in India are in the Leh-Ladakh region. Gangbal lake is one of the biggest in rest of Himalayan states- Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachl Pradesh. Gangbal Lake is situated at the foothills of Mount Haramukh (the highest mountain peak in the vicinity of Kashmir valley) in Ganderbal district, north of Srinagar. At an altitude of 3566 metres, this lake is home to many species of fish, including the brown trout. In Hindu mythology Gangbal is also called Harmukut Ganga, and it is believed that this place is as pious as Haridwar where Hindu pilgrims perform prayers and immerse ashes of the dead. A traditional annual three-day-long yatra has been revived to the lake. This Harmukh Gangbal Yatra is performed annually in the month of September. Gangabal Lake is 2.70 Kms. Long and about one Km at the widest point. Maximum depth of the lake is 83 Mtrs. The high trails of Gangbal lake trek takes through lush green meadows dotted with innumerable wild flowers and past colorful highland lakes that team with many varieties of trout. Gangabal is claimed to be the most enchanting trekking destination in the entire Kashmir valley. This trek also gives breathtaking views of Mt. Hurmukh (5380m) in the Pir Panjal range and Mt. Nangaparbat (8126m) in the Karakorum range. The Gangbal lake Trek also provides an opportunity to observe the Nomadic Gujars and Bakarwals who travel vast. June to November is the best time to be here.
The Gangabal lake is approached from Srinagar (45 kilometres) by road via Ganderbal up to Naranag and then a trek of 15 kilometres up slopes leads to the lake. This distance can be covered by a horse ride or by foot. Another trek (25 kilometres long) leads to the lake site from Sonamarg via the Vishansar Lake crossing three mountain passes Nichnai pass, Gadsar pass and Zajibal pass. It can also be accessed through a trek from Bandipore via Arin.
Tso Kar, Jammu & Kashmir
The Tso Kar ('White Lake') is third of the majestic salt water lakes of Ladakh. Though least celebrated of the three, it is located at the highest level at an altitude of 4660m/15280ft in the Changthang region of South Eastern Ladakh. The reason why it is called the 'White Lake' ('Kar' - White, 'Tso' - Lake) is obvious when one visits the lake and sees all the white salt deposits all over the lake shores. In fact in the years gone by, the Changpa nomads living in this region used to barter the salt for goods like rice and vegetables all over Ladakh and Western Tibet. Tso Kar is around fifty kilometers from Tso Moriri lake. But unlike Tso Moriri you don’t need any permit to go to Tso Kar. Tso Kar is surrounded by marsh lands that host amazing bird life making Tso Kar popular amongst bird watchers. Black-necked cranes, bar-headed geese and great crested grebe are the major attractions at Tso Kar. The basin of the Tso Kar and the adjoining More Plains constitute one of the most important habitats of the kiang, Tibetan gazelles, Tibetan wolves and foxes; there are steppe marmots in the higher reaches. Yaks and horses are kept by the nomads. Actually both Tso Moriri and Tso Kar are on the way between Manali and Leh. While coming from Manali one can take Sarchu-Pang -Debring – TsoKar route to reach Lake. Before Tanglang La ascend (around 23 kms before) there is a road going to right direction which will lead to Tso Kar. It is around 8 to 10 kms from there. But then you can’t go ahead towards Tso Moriri (without permit) and you have to come back to Manali-Leh highway to proceed towards Leh. But since most travelers want to do both the lakes and it is not possible to go to Tso Moriri without permit, hence they do it reverse, i.e. while coming back from Leh on route to Manali. Besides, Tso Kar doesn’t have staying options, except for own camping.
Kedar Tal, Uttarakhand
This is one of the most popular of high altitude lakes in Uttarakhand. Kedar Tal is in Uttarkashi district at 4425 m elevation. It is near Gangotri along Kedar Ganga, a tributary of Bhagirathi River. The lake is fed by the snowfall over Thalay Sagar (6,904m), Meru (6,672m), Bhrigupanth (6,772m) and other surrounding peaks, and is the source of Kedar Ganga, which in Hindu mythology is considered to be Shiva's contribution to Bhagirathi (a source-stream of the Ganges). Reflection of Thalay Sagar peak in Kedartal is very enchanting. One can encounter a good variety of high altitude fauna e.g. Bharal (blue sheep), Goral, Himalayan black bear with a great variety of birds. The trek is bit strenuous, but the rewards are very high.
Kedartal, at a distance of 17km from Gangotri, is a popular trekking destination. Starting from Gangotri the route involves a steep rocky climb along the narrow Kedar Ganga gorge en route to Bhojkharak, 8km away. From there it's 4km to the next available camping site of Kedarkharak, and a further 5km to Kedartal. The route passes through scenic Himalayan birch forests, but is made hazardous in places by falling rocks, high altitude and segments of steep ascent. Best time to visit is in late June till July & September till first week of October (avoiding the monsoon season). Gangotri is last point for proper accommodation. Ahead in the trek, we need to have tents and camps.
Not so high in altitude as others but very popular among tourists and locals in Sikkim. Tsomgo Lake (also called Changu Lake or Tsongmo Lake) is located at an altitude of 3780 m in the north eastern part of Sikkim. It is oval-shaped, with a length of nearly a kilometer and has an average depth of fifteen meters. This lake has been worshipped as a holy lake by Sikkimese. The lake is also an important tourist destination. It is home of Brahminy ducks. The surrounding is also an ideal habitat for the Red Panda and various species of birds. Many tributary glaciers in the side valleys feed the lake. These glaciers open into the main Zemu Valley from different directions. Between May and August the lake catchment becomes green and colorful with a variety of flowers, including the Rhododendrons, Primulas, Poppies, and Irises etc. The road to Nathu La passes the lake on north side. The Chinese border crossing is only some 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) east-northeast in a straight line, but some 18 kilometres by road. This lake also has a distinction of a commemorative postal stamp released on it. 38 km from Gangtok, the ethereally beautiful Tsomgo lake is a must on every visitors itinerary. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo, which means source of the water in Bhutia language. The lake derives its water from the melting snows of the mountains surrounding the lake. Of legendary beauty, the lake looks different at different seasons. In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake.
The lake is associated with many myths and legends and is revered by the Sikkimese as sacred. It is believed that in olden times, Buddhist monks would study the colour of the water of the lake to forecast the future. The lake is also of special significance for the Jhakris of Sikkim who congregate here annually on Guru Purnima, which coincides with the festival of Raksha Bandhan, from all over the state to offer prayers. For the tourist a visit to the lake offers a wonderful outing. Rides on colourfully decorated yaks and mules are offered at the lake site, which also has a variety of eating stalls serving snacks and beverages. Snowboots and gumboots can be hired here. Tsomgo lake is open for both Indian and foreign nationals, however foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agency. Travelers can hire taxis from Gangtok to go to Tsomgo lake. Normally travelers will include Tsomgo Lake and Nathu-La in their one day itinerary from Gangtok.
Lake though not very big or majestic like other lakes in Ladakh or Sikkim, but one of the most talked about high-altitude lakes in India. Often dubbed the Skeleton Lake and locally known as the Mystery Lake, Roopkund, which is at an elevation of 5,029 meters in the Garhwal Himalaya in Uttarakhand, is one of the popular high altitude lakes in India and is the third highest lake in India. Set on the hem of Trishul Parbat, access to this lake is quite strenuous but it has been pulling in trekkers from all over the world. Roopkund has attracted attention through its collection of human skeletal remains, which are easily visible at the bottom of the lake when snow melts. It is said that these skeletons date back to the 9th century and belong to a group who were heading for a pilgrimage to Nanda Devi shrine. Roopkund lake is situated in the interior of the Chamoli district. This is a shallow lake of about 2 m depth, with the edges covered with snow almost throughout the year. After the snow melts, skeletal remains which are believed to be 500-600 year old get exposed. The lake is nestled amidst panoramic mountain sceneryThe major attractions are Trishul and Nanda Ghunti at an elevation of 7,120 and 6,310 meters respectively. A religious festival is held at the alpine meadow of Bedni Bugyal every autumn with nearby villages participating.Further, the Nanda Devi Raj Jat festival takes place once every twelve years at Roopkund, during which Goddess Nanda is worshipped.
There are different routes for a trek to Roopkund. Generally, trekkers and adventurers travel to Lohajung or Wan by road. From there, they climb a hillock at Wan and reach Ran ki Dhar. There is some flat area where trekkers can camp for the night. If the sky is clear, one can see Trisul parbat from bedni bugyal. The next camping spot is at Bedni Bugyal, which is 12–13 km from Wan. There is a huge grazing ground for mules, horses and sheep. There are two temples and a small lake that add to the beauty of this place. One can see many Himalayan peaks from Bedni Bugyal bridge. Trekkers then go up to Bhagwabasa, which is 10–11 km from Bedni Bugyal. The climate at Bhagwabasa is hostile for most of the year. One gets a closer view of Trisul and other peaks higher than 5000 metres. Many waterfalls and landslides are visible on the extreme slopes of the surrounding mountains. From Bhagwabasa, trekkers either go to Roopkund and come back or they go to Shila Samundra (Ocean of Stones) via Junargalli Col Pass, which is just above the lake, and then proceed with the trek up to Homkund.