The azure blue lake playing a game of thrones as sunrays change their course of the daily path. Pangong Lake is situated about 150 KM away from downtown Leh, the capital of Ladakh, the newly formed union territory of India. The Lake is also known as Pangong Tso in the local dialect.
Featured as an exotic destination in many Bollywood movies (rumor suggests even GOT or Game of Thrones movie was shot here during April of 2018), Pangong Tso displays the untouched Himalayas at its best! We were staying at Leh and visiting Hemis Monastery for the Naropa festival. However, no visit to Ladakh will ever be complete without visiting this iconic lake!
Read More – Naropa Festival at the Hemis Monastery
Pangong Lake: The Beautiful Pangong Tso in Ladakh
A huge saline water lake remains frozen during the bitter winter that reigns on Ladakh for the larger part of the year; Pangong Lake showcases many shades of blue. However, from April end to early September, you may get lucky and find the lake at its azure best! Two-thirds of the lake falls under the Tibetan plateau, now within the Chinese international border. The remaining of one-third the waterbody falls under Indian territory.
Since it is close to the international and disputed border, expect a lot of army tanks and camps. The Indo-Sino war of the 1960s had army tanks scaling up the pristine landscape and leading to a lot of bloodsheds. I wonder how & why!
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If you delve a bit into the history of the Himalayas, you will be able to dig out a connection between the Indian Ocean and the lake. The literal translation of the Tibetan word Pangong Tso means High Grassland Lake. It is believed that the lake is what remains of the sea when the Himalayas emerged out of the sea. The lake is saline in nature and has no fish in it.
Situated at an altitude of 4300 Meter height, it does not harbor favorable conditions for fish stock to flourish. That said, the Lake is a thriving place for the migratory birds who feed on the moss and make a temporary nest to lay their eggs.
To stay overnight at Pangong Lake or to visit on a day trip?
This lake is a prolific example of how beautiful nature is when a man does not pollute! It is understandable if you want to spend a few nights by the banks of this pristine lake and reconnect with Mother Nature.
However, keep a few things in mind, mostly for safety. For example, it can get extremely cold. Remember, I am talking about minus 20 deg Celcius or so at night. Accommodation is very basic, mostly tented and this can cause severe physical exhaustion.
Read More – Short Day Trips from Leh in Ladakh
Nightlife at the Lake means having a hot plate of Maggi and sitting by the lake and star gazing. if you are into astrophotography, this is your best bet in India!
Many claim the sunrise at Pangong Tso to be an unforgettable experience too!
I preferred a day trip because I feared the bitter cold and the extreme road conditions!
ILP: A Permit to enter the Protected Area
Since the area falls under delicate international border scrutiny, we had to obtain an ILP (Inner Line Permit) to access lake. We paid around INR 600 per person and got it done through the guesthouse personnel.
If you are visiting the Lake from Leh on a day trip, I suggest starting as early as possible. An arduous 5 hours journey follows through treacherous roads, which can bar your entry depending on weather conditions. In the case of being stranded, the army will come and help you. However, daylight is your ideal safeguard against natural odds.
We started at 5 AM, drove for 40 KMs straight, had breakfast by the banks of the Indus River opposite Hemis monastery, and journeyed further.
The journey and multiple pits stops
The journey to the lake is an eventful one, especially if you are coming from Leh.
As you scale the heights, you will lay your eyes on a few dramatic landscapes. Snow-capped barren mountains everywhere, the robust still road going straight towards heaven, sparse vegetation, leave alone any local!
You know you are entering Chang La pass!
Chang La Pass: A High Himalayan Pass
It is claimed to be the second-highest motorable road in the world! Chang La (5360 M) can be your first pit stop en route to the Lake. The top of the pass houses a Chang La Baba Mandir. Colorful flags adorn the temple walls. Chang La is crucial since it is situated at an incredible height. If at all you will fall prey to AMS, the symptoms will start to show here!
From Chang La pass, a steep descent will follow. It is around a 3-hour long drive from Chang La. The winding road takes you through some of stunning otherworldly landscapes. Local nomads with their cattle herds will dot the mountain walls. Water streams from glacier melts will crowd the floor with a weak streak of green vegetation. A few yaks graze by the side. Very furry Himalayan dogs walk on the thin ice sheet in search of water.
Read More – Ladakh for Vegetarians
A few army camps have open tea stalls for 24 hours. The washroom is also available unless you want to bare it all in front of nature. Every drop of water is priceless in the region; you must remember this while using the washroom.
The long journey is a treat to your eyes. There are wild asses running along with the car. A few rivers play hide and seek in the valley beside. In summer, it is all dry… In winter, it is covered with snow.
The Himalayan Marmots will greet you soon after. These fat rats, indigenous to this region, will look at you with inquisitiveness and innocence in their eyes, reminding you of the first legendary human-penguin encounter in Antarctica. They live underground. Many interconnected marmot caves-holes are spread across the land. Step carefully!
The There Beckons
The first glimpse of the Lake cannot be put into words. It is a blue waterbody, reflecting the dome of a blue sky; blue so deep that it hurts your eyes!
The entry is a bit messy with countless tourists crowding the popular movie spots. The spot where Three Idiots, the Bollywood movie, was shot now has a colorful three-bum seater placed for the fans. The film was after all responsible for sending a lot of tourists here. If you fancy this touristy stuff, make a stop here.
I preferred a stop a few KMs ahead. It was serene, lacking the touristy chaos, tranquil and calm.
The lake boasts clear waters with least to no pollution. Oh wait, there are plastic bottles scattered here and there, thanks to tourists. Please carry it back to your car and discard it in Leh if you can.
Must remember while visiting the Pangong Lake
- Pangong Lake is reached by road via the Chang La pass (elevation 5,360 m). The best way to visit the lake is to use a Shared Taxi so that you can share the cost of the trip with other passengers and it reduces the impact on the environment. Shared Taxis can be found and booked in advance for all kinds of Leh-Ladakh sightseeing tours.
- Take care of your health. AMS or altitude sickness is a common occurrence here and can cause serious damage to your health. Medication may not be readily available. In case of sudden sickness, do not risk the entire journey. Also, carry medicine, water, and warm clothing. The best way to avoid AMS is to acclimatize in Leh for at least 2 days after reaching there.
- Funny it may sound, Ladakh is actually a cold desert and harsh sun rays penetrate the skin in the morning. The sun rays are the secret of the red faces of Ladakhi women! However, if your skin is not accustomed, can be really affected when exposed to the heat. Carry sunscreen to safeguard or stay covered as much as possible!
- Leave no trace behind. Bring back all your plastic mess lest the fragile geography becomes more susceptible to ecological imbalance!
- Swimming is not allowed in the lake.
This is a guest post by Madhurima Chakraborty.
Madhurima Chakraborty is a Kolkata-born, Bangalore-based travel blogger of Orangewayfarer. She loves food, sarees, books, clicking pictures, and an environment-friendly way of traveling. Aspires to travel to Antarctica someday.
She represented Inditales at Naropa Festival in Ladakh