The tranquil waters of Tso Moriri on the Changtang plateau in Ladakh. Tso Moriri, or Lake Moriri is a saltwater lake and the largest high altitude lake in India. Back in 2007 I tried to mountain bike around the lake and failed miserably. We were able to cycle along one bank to the end of the lake and then back again. The altitude, soft sand and hot sun defeated us. On the way we surprised some nomads on horses who stared at us as we struggled past. They shook their heads and rode off in a cloud of dust. Obviously horses were a much better idea.
I would love to return to the beautiful spot and spend some time shooting the lake in its many moods.
Encounter with the High Altitude Taxi Mafia
We had a strange incident while visiting the lake. We were camped by the shore some distance from the village of Korzok. We had pitched our tents and settled down to a cup of tea when we saw a couple of jeeps approaching our camp at high speed. They braked hard at the edge of the camp in a cloud of dust and the occupants rolled down their windows and started shouting incoherently at us. Not the kind of hello you would expect in an isolated spot at over 4000m in the Himalayas. Bemused I put my cup down and approached the vehicle along with my companions, Scott and Ross; both well over six foot and Scott is an ex-soldier from the Australian Army.
The jeeps were filled with local goons from the taxi mafia who demanded to know why we weren’t using their vehicles and camped in their camp grounds near Korzok. I just smiled and shook their hands with a cheery Jhuley! This disarmed them immediately and they calmed down. I said we hadn’t travelled hundreds of kilometres to get into a fight. We could have got into one right at our door step if we wanted one! Their tone changed and they now said they had come to inform us that we had camped on the lands of the Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve. All this while none of the pint-sized goons, packed like sardines, stepped out of the jeep. When they realised that there wasn’t going to be a scrap and left in a cloud of dust.
We had diffused the situation but the tension remained. I didn’t want them to return at night once they had had a few drinks in them. I thought it best to drive into town speak with their boss and clear things up. We located the goons in the village. They were playing snooker in a large parachute tent. They were very sheepish and wouldn’t even make eye contact when they spoke to us. When asked where their boss was, we were given a name and told to go to the monastery.
At the monastery we soon realised that the head Lama was the local mafia boss. I wondered if his motto was Om Money Padme Hum. After much running around we were told that the shadowy Himalayan Godfather was out of town, or maybe he just didn’t want to see us. We returned to camp and left early next morning.
Then we had a run in with the cops at the toll barrier who though we were running an illegal taxi, then we had a run in with the local tour company who stuffed up our permits and wouldn’t refund our money, the next encounter…… anyway…….I’d like to remember my visit to the lake with this serene photograph.
Om Mani Padme Hum!