Pangong Tso – A blue world, An enigma , A dream destination that is high on every traveller’s bucket list. How Much Ever we talk (or crib) about it getting famous only after the movie “3 Idiots”, it is still one place in India where everyone wants to pay a visit. And believe us, it does not fail to amaze you. Irrespective of the hordes of tourists visiting this place, it has managed to maintain its charm and divinity.
Situated at a distance of about 160 km (might vary depending on the route you take) from the city of Leh, Pangong is one place without which your trip to Ladakh is Incomplete. Whether you go to other places in the region or not, but Pangong Tso is a must-visit and why not… After all it’s the highest Salt water Lake in the World. Have we managed to grab your attention yet? Well, let’s move ahead with some more info around this lake.
This is a 134 km long lake which is shared between India and China. 40% of the lake is in India while 60% of it lies in China. But the widest part of the lake is in India. At Pangong, the width of the lake is said to be somewhere between 5-7 km. During the winters when the lake completely freezes – you can walk or drive on it. Locals drive their vehicles on this lake to reach the other side. It’s just unimaginable that the same lake dons such varied impressions through the year.
Route and Road conditions
We took the usual Leh-Pangong route via Karu. After you take the turn from Sakti village, you leave behind the metalled road – more or less. Though we won’t say that the roads are very bad, yes you do get patches where you need to go off road on your way to Pangong Tso. Ladakh is a beauty and any route you take, you are bound to witness beauty galore and the route to Pangong is no different.
You drive on the curves of the road built on the trans-Himalayan range getting mesmerized at every turn. Due to the road construction at lots of places, you might find yourself waiting ,at times, for the traffic movement but it’s usual and nothing out of the blue.
Reaching ChangLa Pass
Road to ChangLa is uphill and steep only towards the end but it’s nothing to worry about if you have some experience in driving through the mountains. Chang La is at an altitude of 17585 ft and you gain almost 6000 ft in about 3 hrs after leaving from Leh. Exciting – right?
The mountain pass is surrounded by the snow-clad peaks which you can see all around from the top of the pass. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to be there. The cool wind blows against your face the moment you step out of your car and it’s such a welcome feeling.
There is a small temple of “ChangLa Baba” which is all covered by the fluttering flags giving you a very ethereal feeling. The walk to this temple gives you a sense of calm and peace.
Amazingly enough, you find a small cafe there called “ChangLa Cafe”. To find a cafe at such a staggering height is beyond belief. We were surprised to find a cafe here but a hot cup of kawa is always welcome in these Ladakhi terrain.
From ChangLa it’s a steep downhill to the village of Durbuk so please drive carefully. The road is a little rough but nothing you won’t be able to manage. Considering the terrain there, roads are really good. Durbuk is a big army base and you also find some cafes and restaurants here. Mostly vehicles stopover at this place for lunch.
This is the junction for the routes coming from ChangLa and Shyok. And from hereon you enter the Changthang valley which leads you to Pangong Tso.
A beautiful valley with grasslands and surrounded by famous high altitude lakes like Pangong, Tso Moriri and TsoKar. This is a wildlife area which falls within “Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary” and you find some rare flora and fauna in the area which is very unique to the area. Himalayan Marmots, Tibetan Ass and Black Necked Crane are some of the famous wildlife found here. We were lucky enough to spot some Marmots and Black Necked Crane during our visit and were super excited because these are some rare sightings to witness.
This valley is awe-inspiring, unfolding some of its best landscapes for you as you keep moving forward on your journey.
First View of the Lake.
And just when you are getting used to this splendid landscape and thanking your stars to bring you here, you get to see the first glimpse of this high altitude lake. This definitely comes as a surprise because all along your journey of about 5 hrs you are on your toes to catch your first sight of the lake and suddenly you find yourself caught in that moment.
Nestled between the colourful and majestic mountains, you find a small opening that gives you a chance to steal the first look of the lake. And this definitely beckons you to move ahead and reach your destination fast enough.
The crowning glory
Right after leaving the grasslands of the Changthang valley, you enter into a zone of barren landscapes and see a vast expanse of blue unfolding in front of your eyes.The azure blue waters of the lake get you glued to it, you just do not want to take your eyes off it lest you might not see it again. It’s almost as if you have been hypnotized by nature. What you see is one end of the lake with the knowledge that you won’t be able to see the other end of it since that is in China.
Road that you drive on from here is along the lake and it’s just breathtakingly beautiful. You need to pinch yourself to believe that you are living in that very moment. The blue colours of the lake have a magnetic effect on you and you just wait to reach the lake.
The day when we visited the lake, the nature gods were not really in our favour OR so we thought. The sky was overcast with dense clouds and the Sun was playing hide and seek with us. It even started to drizzle a little in between and we had lost all hopes of seeing the deep blue waters of the lake.
But as we parked our Car in the parking lot, it had stopped drizzling completely and the sky started to get a little clear, soaring our hopes high. And we were definitely not disappointed. The moment we started moving towards the lake, the dramatic play of rain and light was frutified by a beautiful rainbow in full glory.
You can imagine our surprise and happiness at that. Right there in front of our eyes was the dance of colors; nature had put up a show for us and we were enjoying every bit of it.
Luckily even the clouds scattered a little and we could see the blue skies and of course the turquoise blue waters of the lake. Ohh what a magical moment it was!! We stayed by the lake for as long as we can remember seeing the colours in it with a promise to be back by its side in the morning.
There is no dearth of stay options at Pangong Tso. Though we had pre-booked our cottages in the village of Spangmik, you can also plan to just reach there and find one for yourself. There are a few stay options right at the start of the lake but most of the tents and wooden cottages are a little before Spangmik but a little further away from the lake which is a really sensible decision.
We found our cottages facing the lake. The rooms were clean and warm with basic amenities provided with. Please do not expect any 5-star facilities here. There was hot water provided and decent food as well. We paid 3000 INR for 2 people inclusive of breakfast and dinner. There was good parking available right in front of our rooms which was a relief as well.
A cloudy sky – a true blue moment
Pangong Tso is also famous for star-gazing. Usually you get to see a star-studded sky. If you go upto the villages of Man and Merak which are also along the lake, you have home-stays which also provide you with astro-stays where they have telescopes around for you to gaze at the stars. So you can book these stays if interested.
Unfortunately for us we could not see any star-studded sky so we pacified ourselves with clicking some long exposure shots of our own. But we had super fun doing that and got some of the best shots.
It still rained in the wee hours of the next day giving us a scare that the route ahead might turn really bad for us to drive on. With that thought in mind, we woke up really early but the moment we stepped out of our room, it had stopped raining and found the sun kissed sky with all the blue hues around. Though the Sun was still playing hide and seek with us, it didn’t stop us from keeping our hopes high and we went to the lake to witness some more magic.
Morning by the lake was super beautiful with hardly any people around. To be there sans any tourists, was something that we had really hoped for. It gives you a chance to see the place in its raw form. The thought that you are the only one there to feel it, to sense it, to become one with it – is enough to take you on an emotional journey. It’s a feeling to be cherished forever. We came back happy.
After having a quick breakfast we bid adieu to this heavenly lake and started on our journey ahead but not before thanking the lake for providing us with the moments that we will cherish for a lifetime. The weather did try to dampen our spirits a little but the lake really uplifted our moods. It’s just not possible to leave disappointed from a magical place like this.
For further information about the routes, accommodation and permits, read Pangong Tso – All about Routes, Accommodations and Permits