Remember the scene from the movie 3 Idiots when Kareena Kapoor comes riding on a scooter to meet Aamir Khan? Those of you who have seen the movie, already have seen the scenic beauty of the picturesque Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake. Situated in the upper reaches of Himalayan Mountain range in Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir, the most notable feature of the lake is the ever changing hues of the lake.
Situated at a height of about 13,900 ft, the name Pangong is a derivative of the Tibetan word Banggong Co meaning "long, narrow, enchanted lake". One third of the lake is in India while the remaining two thirds lies in Tibet, which is controlled by China. Majority of the streams which fill the lake are located on the Tibetan side.
Pangong Tso is about five hours drive from Leh in Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir. The route passes through beautiful Ladakh countryside, over Chang La, the third highest motorable mountain pass (5289 m) in the world.
The first glimpse of the serene, bright blue waters and rocky lakeshore remains etched in the memory of tourists. There is a narrow ramp-like formation of land running into the lake which is also a favourite with tourists.
During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. The salt water lake does not support vegetation or aquatic life except for some small crustaceans. However, there are lots of water birds. The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a large variety of migratory birds like Brahmani Ducks, Rare black necked cranes and Seagulls. One can also spot Ladakhi Marmots, the rodent-like creatures which can grow up to the size of a small dog.
Pangong Tso lies on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control and hence requires an Inner Line Permit. Most of the lake is in Chinese-controlled territory. Owing to Pangong’s proximity to the border, tourists are only allowed to visit the lake upto the Spangmik village. For the hardcore adventure lovers, there is a camping site on the shore of Pangong. But do remember that the weather tends to get harsh after dusk. The place is a photographers’ delight and camping is the only option if you wish to see the sunset and the sunrise.
The place is under consideration for inclusion in Ramsar Convention for the conservation of wetlands. When it happens, Pangong Tso will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under the convention. The lake has become a star attraction after being featured in the Rajkumar Hirani’s blockbuster 3 idiots.
On October 20, 1962, Pangong Tso saw military action during the Sino-Indian border conflict. Pangong Tso is still a delicate border point along the Line of Actual Control and for security reasons, boating is prohibited on the Indian side.
- Nights can be very cold at the lake. Do remember to bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. Pack in some snacks and a torch.
- Pangong Tso lies in an ecologically fragile area. Littering is a serious offence. In case, you are unable to find a place to dispose off your rubbish, bring it back with you for recycling or proper disposal.
- An Inner Line Permit is required to visit Pangong. The permit is easily obtainable from the DC’s office in Leh by either submitting the application yourself or through a travel agent. It is advisable to carry atleast 5-6 copies because the permit is checked and a copy is kept at numerous checkpoints on the route.
Where to stay
If you want to stay near the shores of the lake then tents are the only option. The choice of stay near and around Pangong Tso is limited. Lukung which is in close proximity to the lake has camping facilities in Eco Huts. Basic accommodation is available in Spangmik, in the only hotel offering rooms as well as luxury tents. Local households also offer accommodation but most of them have shared toilets or toilets outside the house. If you are looking for better accommodation, Tangste which about 32 km before Pangong would be the ideal place. Options to stay here are better in terms of quality and more in numbers than both Lukung and Spangmik.
Where to eat
Just like places to stay, Pangong Tso has limited eating options. It is always best to carry your own food stock. Some eateries are present but the fare they offer is not very good and quite expensive. However, locals do provide home cooked food which is generally of good quality.
Best time to visit
The best time to travel to Pangong Tso would be during the summer months of June to September. The climate remains pleasant and the lake is a spectacle to watch unlike during the winter months when it is a frozen mass of ice.