Pangong Tso in the eastern highlands of Changthang bordering Tibet is one of Ladakh’s most spectacular and popular destinations. When I visited Ladakh last year I had originally intended to visit this lake as well as having a second excursion into the Nubra valley, but with limited time I decided to concentrate on Nubra and leave Pangong for another time. So this year I finally managed to make the trip.
Pangong Tso lies 100 miles east of Leh, it’s a 5-6 hour drive to get there and can be done in one single day although it would be very rushed and tiring. The better option is to stay one night at Spangik by the lake which mostly consists of tent accommodation, but this allows you to have a more leisurely pace. There is not much to do at Spangik, unless you want to do some serious hiking you will only need a single night stopover here.
The one night at the lake will also allow you time to visit Chemde and Thag-thok monasteries, which are well worth doing.
Note that Pangong Tso is in the restricted zone, so all tourists will require a permit to enter the region.
To reach Pangong Tso from Leh you will need to ascend the Chang La Pass, which at 5,270m is claimed to be the third highest motorable road in the world (the highest being Khardong La Pass which takes you into the Nubra valley). A series of lengthy switchbacks slowly takes you to the summit, where the usual prayer flags, a large chorten, cafe and military post are ready to greet you.
The descent is long but immensely scenic, passing Changpa nomad camps with their herds of yak, sheep, goats and horses.The camps are mostly run by women who milk the yaks and produce vast quantities of cheese over the summer months.The goats are sheared for pashmina wool, apparently it is only here in Changthang that the pashmina goats are reared.
The road continues to descend through the valley passing Darbuk and on to Tangste, Beyond here the scenery becomes even more dramatic and for me was the highlight of the two days. The terrain becomes rocky and rugged, some stretches of the valley floor covered with marsh, at other times the road almost completely covered by white sand. It is simply breathtaking.
It’s worth taking your time through this stretch, not just for the inevitable stops for photos, but also to try and spot marmots peering out of their burrows with their young.
Finally you will reach the shores of Pangong at a place called Lukung, it’s only a further 15 minutes along the road to get to Spangmik where most tourists overnight.
Pangong is a long and narrow stretch of water, over 80 miles in length but never much wider than 4 miles. 60% of the lake lies within China and until 2009 tourists were not permitted beyond Spangmik. You can however now travel further down the Pangong shores as far as Merak, a village about 15 miles away.
The lake itself is of course beautiful, and depending on the weather and cloud cover it can take on a variety of appearances, from the deepest blue, turquoise, through to almost white. But taking in the views by the shore of the lake is pretty much all there is to do here, hence why I recommend just the one night stay and more time to take in the journey itself.
If you’re thinking of visiting Pangong Tso during your stay in Ladakh and don’t already have your own transport it is not necessary to organise anything in advance. There’s an abundance of travel agencies lining the streets of Leh advertising spare seats on this excursion. You will of course end up travelling with strangers, but it becomes much much cheaper as a result.
Most people I met in Leh that had gone to Pangong secured their transport and accommodation though these agencies the day before they set off – it’s very easy to do and you’ll most likely get to the point where you’re having to decide who to actually make that trip with. Most of these travel agencies line Fort Road, Zangsti Road and Changspa Road in Leh.
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