The inter-country wetland that shares its water both with India and China is Pangong Tso Lake. It is set in the lap of the giant Himalayas at a height of 4000 kilometres from the main sea level. The lake is 160 kilometres from Leh-Ladakh, a small township in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pangong Tso which means ‘high grassland lake’ in Tibetan is said to derive its name from the Tibetan word ‘Banggong Co’ meaning ‘an enchanted, long, narrow lake’.
The covered area of the lake is more than 550 kilometre square with 60% of its length in Tibet (China). It stretches for nearly 130 km, while the width is anywhere between 2-6 km. As the lake is shared by two countries, tourists are allowed only up till Spagmik Village. Beyond this is the Sino-India border where tourists are not allowed.
Why Pangong Tso is so intriguing
The lake is a wonder of its own for many reasons. Pangong Tso is not entirely a freshwater lake and some portion of it has saline water as well. Another food for thought is that though the lake is partly saline, it freezes solid in winters!
It is an impenetrable and a landlocked basin and hence draining of water to other channels does not take place. The water in the lake, congregated mainly due to the melting of glaciers, is the source for the lake’s freshwater percentage.
No aquatic lives are present on the Indian side of the lake except some small crustaceans which are often found near the water beds.
It is also known as ‘The Lake of changing colours’ because it appears to change colours ranging from blues and greens to even reddish hues. The colourful lake view with the indigo sky behind creates a utopia for nomads. The surreal beauty of the Himalayas takes one into another panoramic world of ecstasy and romance.
What can you find at Pangong Tso?
The lake is home to migratory birds from far lands. Birds like seagulls, rodents, bar-headed goose and ducks are few of the bird species that can be easily found along the lake. The main fauna around the lake is kiang, yaks, and marmot. Flora is only limited to small shrubberies that grow alongside the water body. And of course, the few crustaceans.
Pangong Tso lake during winter
The lake is a slice of miracle during January when the mercury comes down much below zero. The iced lagoon during winter becomes a hard and stiff chunk. The colours of the stiff lake deliver optimal scenery for photographers and nomads. Farmers walk through the lake to the other side of it for pastures. People from the rural community play ice hockey on the lake but this act can be dangerous as the ice gets thin at many places and there remains a risk to life.
Activities to do
Mountains mean hiking, camping, and bonfire; Pangong Tso being no exception.
- A camp with small lit up space in front makes the perfect ambience in the cold Himalayas.
- A short walk from the lake will bring one to the nearby villages. The villager’s small live-ins with a humble farming space adjacent to their homes embody their modest livelihood amidst the tough nature. Interacting with the locals and sharing food with them gifts one with a perfect time pass in the valleys of Himalayas.
- One can hike to Merak village for a rich and comprehensive view of the lake. The changing colours of the lake in harmony with the blue sky and white clouds make the sight a pure bliss for travellers.
- Marmots can often be seen in the daytime during which they come out of their pigpens and enjoy the sun. One can just wait and observe these creatures while they come out of their den and pose for your photograph!
- As mentioned earlier, ice hockey can be played during the colder months of the year but it has its own loopholes as well.
The place came to the limelight after shooting of the film ‘Three Idiots’ in 2009. The last scene of this film was shot at this lake. Beside ‘Three Idiots’, several shots of Bollywood films like ‘Dil Se’, ‘Tashan’, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, ‘Sanam Re’, ‘Shakti’, ‘Waqt: The Race against Time’ and many more were captured at Pangong Tso. Apart from Bollywood films, many South Indian movies were also shot at this location.
- How to reach: The most common route to reach Pangong Tso Lake is from Leh via Changla Pass. One can also take the route from Nubra valley where the trail passes through Lukung and Spangmik. Another way to the lake passes through Wari La via Agham which also routes from Nubra valley. Adventure lovers can cover the distance on the bike but private cabs are also available at Leh to take you to the lake.
- Where to stay: The best option for staying overnight at Pangong Tso is in camps. Hotels and hostels are available as well in nearby villages if you wish to stay there.
- What’s for eating: Variety of foods, both Indian and Tibetan are available at the cafes and shops near the lake. Momos, paranthas, rajma-chawal, Maggi, and dal-chawal are the most commonly available food items at the lake.
- Best time to visit: March to September is the high season time for Pangong Tso. A lesser number of visitors can be seen beyond this period due to a lowered temperature of the place. Most of the motorable passes get blocked due to heavy snowfall and as a result, the cab fares from Leh can get hiked or the route can be declared shut, allowing nobody to proceed, so plan well.
Pangong Tso Lake makes one feel that this is probably what serenity is made of. So when will you plan a visit? If you’ve already been there, let us know in the comment section below.