Tso Kar, Jammu and Kashmir, India

Lake Locations:

India - North - Jammu and Kashmir -

Also known as:  White Lake

One of the three saltwater lakes in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, Tso Kar requires a bit of work to visit. The lake is very picturesque, its shores covered in salt which gives it the nickname of White Lake. Located over 100 miles from the nearest city with lodgings, Tso Kar is nonetheless quite popular as a tourist attraction and receives tour groups nearly every day. Part of the attraction is the scene of the huge shallow lake against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains. Much of the attention comes from the huge numbers of birds found here in the marshes surrounding the lake.

Tso Kar was a much larger freshwater lake in the past. It has shrunk through the millennia down to two smaller pools of water which vary with the seasons. Tso Kar is the larger, with about 5,430 surface acres when full. It has a nearby smaller neighbor, freshwater Startsapuk Tso. The smaller 740-acre lake feeds into Tso Kar during spring snowmelt via the Pholokongka Chu, adding fresh water to its salty big brother. In early summer, the lake is nearly freshwater but changes as the water evaporates. Above the basin which holds these lakes, the two mountain peaks of Gursan (20,899 feet) and Thugje (19,849 feet) stand like towering sentinels. Both lakes are surrounded by marshes which provide a haven for birdlife. Fresh water enters through springs and small inlets which also contain most of the plant life. The marshes are lush with wildflowers and grasses in the warm months.

During the summer, the lakeside is alive with birds, including brown-headed gulls, grebes, brahmni ducks, rust geese, strip geese and terns. Tibetan grouse and black-necked cranes can be seen near the lake; the cranes are treasured for their fidelity, and at least one pair nests here. The area is protected as a wildlife reserve, and hunting isn’t allowed. The marshes and their surrounding lands are a haven for Tibetan gazelles, marmots, foxes, ibex, snow leopards, Tibetan wolves and large herds of Kiangs, largest of the wild asses. Tso Kar is known as the best place to see Kiangs. This basin, located within the Rupshu Valley, will be included within the proposed High Altitude National Park of eastern Ladakh. Currently, the wetlands and marshes are state-owned.

The Khampas, a nomadic tribe, live near Tso Kar and often earn a living harvesting salt from the shoreline to be sold in the larger cities. Although salt harvesting was once a thriving commercial venture at Tso Kar, it has dwindled to a subsistence activity for those wanting quick cash. The marshes surrounding Tso Kar contain large deposits of borax, natron and other minerals. Hot springs and geysers can be found nearby. Yaks and horses graze in the area, a concern among environmentalists that they may cause damage to the sensitive ecology. Pilgrims often visit the small Buddhist monastery near the lake.

Lodgings for tourists are limited, with only a small tent camp located on the west end of the lake. One food stall provides the only source of food at Tso Kar. The tent camp isn’t usually the choice of western visitors; accommodations are primitive and nights can get quite cold at this altitude. Instead, most tourists find lodgings at Leh over 100 miles away and bring a tour bus to the lake. Late spring and summer are the best times to visit. Summer temperatures can reach as high as 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter temperatures can dip down to -40 degrees. Little rain or snow falls at Tso Kar.

The small city of Leh offers several facilities for lodgings. Some are quite modern and come well-recommended. There are also homestays in the area which accommodate guests. The market at Leh is always interesting and offers a wide variety of fruits and vegetables along with trinkets, craft items and necessities. Many tour companies can be found at Leh, most with the stated purpose of providing transportation to Tso Kar Lake. Tours from some of the larger cities in Jammu & Kashmir Province schedule tours that include all three high-altitude salt lakes, including Pangong, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar. Tso Moriri is only abut 35 miles away from Tso Kar.

Tso Kar is beautiful and peaceful. The lake sees fewer visitors than the other salt water lakes due to its remote location. And its very serenity is what makes bird watching here so rewarding and enjoyable. For any visitor who wants to see the fauna of the high-altitude portions of Jammu & Kashmir, Tso Kar should definitely be at the top of the list. Bring the binoculars, camera and plenty of space on the bird watching ‘life list’. You’ll be sure to fill in a lot of the blanks here.

*Few statistics are available for Tso Kar.

Things to do at Tso Kar

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Camping
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Tso Kar Photo Gallery

Tso Kar Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 5,436 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 14,862 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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