Situated at an altitude of 4,552 meters and spreading over an area of 19 km, the majestic Tso Moriri is the largest high-altitude Trans-Himalayan lake, situated in the scenic Rushpu valley─ a part of the larger Changthang Cold Desert Sanctuary, a vast expanse of land southeast of Leh, that is home to the three gorgeous lakes of the Ladakh region. Since the lake is fed by springs and snow-melt, there are extensive marshes around it. The lake is enclosed by mountains exceeding 6,000 meters on both the east and west sides, which includes two of the highest peaks in Ladakh. With its unique characteristics, it is home to some unique species of plants and animals, especially those in the Nuro Sumdo wetland.
This area houses some spectacular water birds such as the endangered black-necked cranes and bar-headed goose. Along with the Tso Kar wetlands, this is the only breeding ground for these birds in India. The rare brown-headed gulls and great crested grebe are also spotted here, making it a frequent haven for birdwatchers. The small islands near the north and south ends of the lake serve as breeding areas for waterfowl including the bar-headed geese and ruddy shelduck. Among animals, the threatened Tibetan gazelle or the ‘Goa antelope’ can be found grazing here. Lynx, Nayan, Bharal (Himalayan blue sheep) and the Great Tibetan sheep are other unique mammals to be found here. Located in the Changthang plains, this region also harbors the regular/local species as well, such as Marmots, Kiangs, hare, vole and several kinds of mouse hare and Tibetan sand fox. This also plays host to the dreamy and elusive Snow Leopard or the ‘Ghost cat’, to see which, tourists brave the harsh winters of December-January and camp in remote parts of the mountains. The ferocious Tibetan wolf has also been reportedly seen in the area.
While the deeper parts of the lake have no vegetation, the shallow areas are reported to have Potamogeton species, a genus of aquatic freshwater plants. The marshes also have several species of sedge and reeds, which are all representative of the surrounding arid steppe vegetation.
It is because of its unique fauna collection of endemic and vulnerable species, as well as the strategic role played by the lake in serving as breeding grounds for a wide variety of birds, that this area, i.e. the Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve, was recognized as a Rasmar site─ i.e. a wetland of international importance for wildlife conservation.
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