Monday, 10 September 2012

Ladakh Diaries 5 - Leh to Pangong Tso, the lake @ 15000 feet

After the summit drive to Khardung La, we were looking forward to our next day's trip to Pangong Tso. It is a high altitude lake at 15,000 feet. For anyone traveling to Ladakh, a visit to the lake is a must. Ever since it was show cased beautifully in Aamir Khan's Bollywood blockbuster "3 Idiots", it is "the hot spot" for the tourists visiting Ladakh. This a good example of how one movie can make all the difference. It had happened earlier to places like Ooty, Kodaikanal, Shimla, Manali and Kashmir.  Now it the turn of Ladakh to get swarmed by tourists.

As usual, Zigmet, our driver was ready with his vehicle at 5 in the morning and we set out for the drive to this lake at dawn. Driving in the hills as the sun comes up is an experience to behold. The Shadow-play over the hills is something one cherish for a long time. It happened to us as well. Leaving behind Leh and few KMs on the road, we could see sun coming up and lighting up the ranges. Stok Kongri, the tallest peak was literally basking in the sun.

Shadow-play at Dawn. Notice Stok Kangri - the tallest peak in Ladakh - in the centre.
The best part of the trip to Pangong Tso is the drive. No doubt, the lake is pristine and beautiful. But the drive to reach the lake must rank as one of the most beautiful drives in the country. We cross one of the highest pass in the region - Chang La - on the way. The landscape changes every few KMs and we are greeted by mesmerising landscape with amazing colours of mountains and sand. The barren landscape is broken by small streams with wild flowers growing in abundance. Fortunately, the road was freshly laid and fantastic. There was one patch which was bad - a avalanche prone area - and we had to literally struggle to get past that. But for this, it was a drive we always cherish.

The mustard and barley fields add contrast to barren landscape
The shadow play continues as we climb to Chang La
Yaks grazing
First glimpses of snow as we close in to Chang La
Colourful Prayer flags fluttering in a make shift mandir @ Chang La
Your truly @ Chang La
The bad stretch and avalanche prone area - Notice the snow wall
A frozen lake surrounded by snow clad peaks
We now move into barren and desert landscape. It is disturbed only by a stream with some lovely wild flowers on its banks. Notice the changing colours of the mountains in the succeeding pictures.

First glimpse of the lake
The lake itself is pristine, calm and beautiful. Though tourists have increased, it has not gone to the level of spoiling the pristine charms of the place. You will come across people who will inquire locals - there is hardly anyone except for a small tent selling chai and meals - about where the last scenes of 3 idiots were shot. Grant it to them. The lake is one of the largest brackish water lakes in Asia stretching across India and Tibet. You can not see the farther bank which stretches into Tibet. Fortunately there is no boating arrangements in the lake and hope it will remain so in future as well. The beauty of the place is enhanced when the sky is clear when you can see the reflections of the peaks in the crystal clear water. It was a bit cloudy on this day. Nevertheless, we could capture some nice pictures of the lake.

It is possible to camp on the banks of the lake for which you need prior permission. I have heard from friends who have camped here of watching the sky with millions of stars. The best time to camp should be full moon day.

The lake and its surroundings

The lovely blues of the sky reflected in the clear waters
 We have observed that many a time, we miss out some views which will always strike you on the way back. It did happen to us a s well. Our return journey was fabulous as well. The mountains, the desert, the sky, the clouds all made a beautiful collage.
Natural Zen Garden

To us, the trip to this lake always remain special. The drive, the tranquil lake and pristine surroundings make this a pleasurable day trip. If you are doing this as a day trip, we strongly recommend you to leave Leh early and return early as a road condition in avalanche prone areas may turn out to be a risk.

Travel Tips

a) A visit to Pangong Tso can be comfortably done as a day trip from Leh. If you want to enjoy the stars pitch a tent at night or stay in any Eco-tents pitched by some agencies. Check this out in advance. Leave early and return early if you are going on a day trip. Special permission from district authorities will be needed. Check with any tour operator in Leh and they will help you.

b) If you are staying at night, make sure you have a good tent, sleeping bag and woolens. It will be very cold and windy at night.

c) If you are stuck with any medical emergency, contact army detachments which are nearby. They will be glad to help.

d) Be a responsible tourist. Don't leave any plastic or any other thrash. Take it back with you. Enjoy the tranquility of the lake and surroundings. Don't spoil it with loud music. This is not a place for partying.

e) Savor the drive. Stop and enjoy the nature. It is just awesome. 

f) Always be mentally prepared for delays due to unforeseen landslides. The Border Roads Organization (BRO) is doing an amazing job in keeping these roads in excellent condition. They will clear the blocks in quickest possible time.

Related posts on Ladakh in this blog 

Ladakh diaries 1 - Manali to Leh, Day One 

Ladakh diaries 2 - Manali to Leh, Day 2 

Ladakh Diaries 3 - Leh, Sights of a mountain town 

Ladakh Diaries 4 - To Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world 

 Useful Links

On Wiki - Pangong Tso

If you are staying overnight you can look at this nice link - Camping at Pongong Tso


a) Bollywood - Another name for Hindi film industry in India

b) Aamir Khan - One of the super stars of Hindi film industry

c) 3 Idiots - Name of a super hit Hindi film

d) Chai - Indian spicy tea

e) Mandir - Hindu temple

f) Zen garden - Japanese gardens which use minimalistic designs with stone and sand

g) Tso - Ladakhi word for "Lake"

Did you like this post?  Do you need help in planning a trip to Leh and Ladakh? You are welcome to write to me at

Happy to help

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