If you have seen the Bollywood film 3 Idiots, odds are that you have been enamoured by the picturesque setting in which Kareena Kapoor finally declares her love for Aamir Khan. The mesmerizing lake, a fit setting for the confession, was indeed the Pangong Tso lake in the Changthang region of Ladakh. Literally meaning “ enchanting lake”, it is known to enthrall many a tourist with its tranquil, crystal clear water and picturesque landscape. The sheer beauty of Pangong Tso stems from the fact that the lake displays multiple hues ranging from shades of blue and green and even appearing reddish at times The background of the Trans-Himalayan mountains makes for one breathtaking view. The place is clearly a photographer’s delight!
Situated at a distance of 170 Kms odd from Leh (with a travel time of approx. 5 hours), Pangong Tso is one of the largest brackish lakes in Asia. Located at a staggering altitude of 4250 metres, it sprawls over an area of over 100 Kms. It is interesting to know that while one-third of the lake lies in India, the remaining two-third lies in Tibet.
Best season to visit
June- August comprises of the peak tourist season as the water of the lake has melted. The area at this time is also home to migratory birds such as the common bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks, lending it a charm of its own. Light woolens are recommended even during the summers, since the temperature plummets during the evenings. Come September- October as the cold starts to set in, the number of tourists reduce significantly, though the magical shades of blue lend the lake an appeal of its own. Winters, of course, is the period when the lake remains totally frozen and the severe cold makes the place almost uninhabitable.
How to Reach Pangong Tso Lake
While it is possible to do a day trip to Pangong Tso and back to Leh, a 2 day trip is generally advised to be able to savour the beauty of the place. The general route recommended comprises of the following:
Leh – Karu (36 Kms) – Sakti (10 Kms) – Chang La (34 Kms) – Durbuk (32 Kms) – Tangste (9 Kms) – Lukung (34 Kms) – Spangmik (16 Kms) = 171 Kms
Leh – Shey – Karu: Start your journey early in the morning to be able to savour the many picturesque locations on the way. About an hour’s drive from Leh, you should be in Karu.
Karu – Shakti – Chang La : From Karu remember to turn left towards Shakti. As you drive a few kilometers you will be all set to take the ascent towards Chang La, literally meaning “ Pass toward the South”. The third highest motor-able road in the world, located at a staggering altitude of 17,590 ft. Sure enough, you need to stop here for a photo-op! A small cafeteria here is a good place to relax with a steaming cuppa! Consider visiting Chang La Baba ka mandir before you resume your journey!
Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste : After Chang La, take the descent towards Durbuk. Couple of hours and you are in Tangste.
Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik – Pangong Tso : After Tangste, it is a fairly clear drive to the village of Spangmik, on the shores of Pangong Tso.About an hour’s drive and you get the first sight of the beautiful Pangong Tso lake. That you will be mesmerized, is a given!
The road conditions from Leh to Pangong Tso vary from being smooth on the Leh – Karu – Shakti stretch and Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung stretch, not so good between Lukung – Spangmik and particularly bad between Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk stretch. The ascent from Shakti to Changla is also treacherous, as is the descent from Changla to Durbuk on account of bad road conditions. From Lukung to Spangmik, there is only a dirt track that needs to be traversed.
A well planned trip to Pangong Tso also enables you to visit iconic monasteries on the way. You could visit the Hemis Monastery, about 45 Kms from Leh, on your way to Pangong Tso. Situated atop a hill, surrounded by majestic beauty the monastery is a must see, even if you aren’t spiritually inclined! Surrounded on all four sides with fluttering prayer flags, this is a sight, that is bound to be etched in your memory long after the trip is over. Spend the night at a hotel or in one of the many camps around Pangong Tso lake and enjoy the picturesque beauty. On your journey back to Leh you could make a stop at he Thiksey Monastery, about 18 Kms from Leh. The imposing 40 feet statue of Maitreya Buddha will leave you spell bound, to say the least! Your next stop could be the Shey Monastery and the Shey Palace located at a distance of about 15 Kms from Leh. The monastery is noted for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha
Accomodation Options in Pangong Tso
If you do not want the let go of the sight of the majestic lake, from your view, tents around the lake work well. This is the perfect place to catch the sunrise and the sunset! Although if you are visiting the lake in winters, these are no longer an option. There is also a hotel leased by JKTDC. However remember to make your bookings well in advance!
Other than this, there are also a number of other accommodation options in Spangmik and Lukung. You could also consider guest houses in Tangste (34 Kms away) or home stay in Spangmik.
Amenities near Pangong Tso Lake
The closest medical health center is at Tangste Village about 50 KMs from Spangmik village.
Food is available in the overnight tents as also as a part of the home stay options in Spangmik. There are a handful of make-shift eating joints near Pangong Tso lake serving noodles, momos, fried rice etc
You are unlikely to find any mobile signals at Pangong Tso lake.
The closest Petrol Pump is at Karu about 135 KMs from Pangong Tso. It is recommended that you tank up at Leh before starting the journey.
There aren’t any ATMs near Pangong Tso lake and hence, it is always better to carry cash from Leh.
Here’s to a rejuvenating trip to this serene lake. The memories of the trip are likely to be engraved in your memory long after you are back!