Pangong is an endorheic lake with crystal clear brackish water in the Himalayas, nestled at an altitude of around 4350 m and is 134 km in length and 5 km in width with a maximum depth of 100 m. Around 60% portion of the lake lies in the Tibet region of China and line of actual control passes through the lake. This Lake changes its color in multi shades of blue with the changing position of the sun in the sky. This lake freezes completely during the winter despite being saline water. Reportedly there is no fish or any aquatic life in the lake, except crustaceans. In the summer period, a significant number of birds can also be seen around the lake including the most common Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks.
The journey from Leh to Pangong Tso is a 5-hour drive, mostly through rough and uneven terrains and some dramatic mountain roads. Even though its only 160 km from Leh to Pangong Tso, the journey is tame taking. Hence an early start from Leh is recommended. Since Pangong Tso is situated at a higher altitude of 4350m, the lack of oxygen makes survival difficult if your body is not properly acclimatized to its high altitude and hence, one need to plan his/her journey extremely carefully to make it an acute mountain sickness free vacation.
A Trip to Ladakh is incomplete without a visit to this beautiful Lake. The spectacular lakeside is open during the tourist season, i.e., from May to September. Earlier inner-line permit was required to visit Pangong Tso, which is no longer necessary now.
Leh – Shey – Karu – Shakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik (Pangong Tso)
160kms (Note: Distance between the places are matched with Google map and has been self-evaluated throughout my own journey)
Motorcycle enthusiasts who are unable to take their bikes to Leh can get one for rent for local sightseeing and to go to places such as Pangong Tso. One can find numerous bike rental shops at Leh. You can also hire a taxi in Leh to visit Pangong Tso. There is also a public bus service from Leh which drops off visitors at the Spangmik village.
Pangong Tso is located roughly 160 km from Leh. Many travelers do the Leh – Pangong Tso excursion as a day trip and come back to Leh by nightfall. However this is not at all recommended since the 320 km long round trip will be a rush as most of the time will be spent in travel and leaves little time for Pangong Tso, which is a magnificent lake and doing this excursion in the span of 2 – 3 days is highly recommended. One should be acclimatized properly by spending a night or two in Leh before attempting to sleep near Pangong Tso.
Leh – Karu (35 km):
Start early in the morning and driving/riding on the Leh – Manali highway till Karu can be done in an hour. You will cover Thicksey, Hemis, and Shey monasteries while going through this route. The road is in good condition, and the journey is fast-paced.
Karu – Shakti (10 km):
From Karu, you’ll find a diversion to Pangong Tso, and that would take you to the village Shakti. Roads are mostly straight till you cross Shakti.
Shakti – Chang La (33 km):
A few kilometer after Shakti the real ascent for Chang La starts. The ascent is very steep and requires a careful drive. Initially, roads are in good condition, and as you approach the final few km of the ascent to Chang La, road conditions start to deteriorate and steepness increase, making the affair of reaching the summit of Chang La more challenging and memorable.
Of all the passes one encounters in Ladakh (barring Marsimik La), Chang La is the steepest, and due to bad roads at the final ascent it is also the toughest, no wonder it is called “The Mighty Chang La.”
Chang La, the name literally means “Pass towards the South.” At 5360 m it is claimed to be the second highest motorable road in Ladakh. Once you reach the summit, you will be greeted by the Indian Army troops who are stationed here. There is Chang La Baba ki Mandir built by Indian Army and also a small cafeteria, so take a small photo break and enjoy the beautiful scenery around you.
Chang La – Durbuk (30 km):
After Chang La, the descent begins, and the road is in bad condition for few kilometers, beyond which superbly laid tarmac coupled with beautiful scenery awaits you. You will find Army base camp in Durbug.
Durbuk – Tangste (8 km):
When you reach Tangste, one has to register his name along with vehicle number. Tangste is a small town with few shops and hotels. In case you have arrived late in the evening, then spend the night here instead of continuing to Lukung or Spangmik where finding accommodation in peak season can be an issue.
Tangste – Lukung (34 km):
Journey beyond Tangste, most part is through fantastically laid tarmac and beautiful valley views. However one should not over speed, as this area is a habitat for Himalayan marmots. And one should drive cautiously as you may see them crossing the roads.
Lukung – Spangmik (Pangong Tso) (10 km):
Reaching Lukung, you will get the glimpse of Pangong Tso. As you approach the lake, the sheer size of it starts becoming more apparent as you finally reach its shores. On the banks of the lake is a military camp and also a collection of tents and newly built Eco Huts. You can either choose to stay at the tented accommodation at Lukung or continue to Spangmik.
The small settlement visible from here is the village of Spangmik, the last village up to which you are allowed to go. Beyond Spangmik there are two more villages, Man and Merak but tourists are not allowed beyond Spangmik.
Pangong Tso (Spangmik) mainly has accommodation available in the form of tents, campsites, and some luxury tents, some of them just right on the shore of the Lake. Also, home-stay is available here.
Accommodation in Lukung is available in the form of eco huts just right on the shore of Pangong Tso. Besides this one can also pitch one’s own tents here. Facilities like electricity, medical aid, hot water, western toilets, etc. are rare to find.
You can also plan for a stay in Tangste, even though it is 34 km before Pangong Tso, it is a good place to spend the night, due to a sheer number of accommodation options and better quality than Lukung and Spangmik.
Petrol pumps: It is essential to fill up your vehicle’s petrol tank at Leh and carry enough petrol for the return journey since there are no petrol pumps beyond the outskirts of Leh.
Beyond Thiksey there are no phone booths and mobile phone coverage.