From the time I had seen the Pangong Lake in the famed movie – 3 Idiots, I wanted to visit it. Adding fuel to this wanderlust fire were the beautiful pictures that I saw on my friend Pooja’s phone. If I were honest with myself, this was one of my circled out destinations in the 12 day Ladakh Road Trip – I mean, how often do you get to see this glistening blue colored pool that is encircled by the huge Himalayas? Finally, the day arrived after the highest blogger’s meet and we set forth to visit one of the most beautiful lakes in India – Pangong Tso.
After our epic Khardung La Bloggers Meet, we spend the night at Hunder in Nubra Valley. I know I have skipped a chapter on my blog for this one but just as excited I was in my real life, I really wanted to share my journey to this gorgeous lake quickly. It is my promise to come back to Nubra Valley, but for now, zoom along with me to Pangong Tso. This part of the journey will not just bewitch you with its beauty but will enthrall you with the crazy adventures that we had along the way.
About Pangong Tso Lake
Enclosed by the Himalayas, you can visit only the one-third part of this lake from India for the remaining lies within China. In fact, when on the Indian side, the ranges that you see behind the magical blue waters of Pangong Tso is actually China. The line of control between the two nations actually passes through the middle of the lake. The lake is set at around 4350m above sea level and is a saline water body. Interestingly, though it is saline, it freezes over in winter and you can witness some ice skating here.
Pangong Lake is often referred to as the Hollow lake and I frankly, don’t know where that term comes from. I thought it might be owing to its literal translation but interestingly, it is not. The word Pangong is derived from the Ladakhi term Banggong and that just means “narrow and enchanted“. Hmm!
If you are going to ask me what the legend behind this enchantment is, trust me, there isn’t any. However, there is a reason which I believe gives it the term enchanting and that reason is something, you will yourself, realize at the end of this post!
One of our team leaves
Starting off from Hunder, we sped steadily towards Pangong. The idea was to clear one of the highest motorable passes – Khardung La and Chang La as early as possible, especially the latter, as the roads post the pass cease to exist. However, if you have read my part two on the Ladakh road trip, you will know that we ran into a few unexpected problems, specifically with one of our cars. The black Scorpio somehow chugged its way up the Khardung La (with some human push) but I think it had already exerted itself to the point that it gave up on us just before we started our ascend up Chang La.
A hard decision had to be taken and our head scouts – Deepak and Vineet put a stone on their heart and took the call to turn back towards Leh to get the vehicle fixed. The rest of us were to continue further to reach Pangong Tso. With a bit of reshuffling in seating, my car had Samarth (Sam) on the wheel, Raza on the navigator’s seat and Abhinav, Swati and me at the back. With some heavy-hearted “See you later” to the two brave scouts who were left behind, we moved ahead on our journey to Pangong Tso.
Reaching Chang La
I have to say this – but turning back of the Scorpio was one of the smartest decisions that the ScoutMyTrip team took. There was no way that the injured Scorpio could have taken this crazy accent and an equally crazy descent. The initial silence in our car, owing to one of our teams being left behind, was broken slowly by the gasps and the oohs and aahs as we encountered the spectacular sights along our route. Within no time we reached the landmark – Chang La Pass.
This is where we experienced the hospitality of the Indian Army who guided us to their rest rooms and offered us each a cup of hot tea before we continued our journey. It is here that I found a temple dedicated to Chang La Baba. Myth has it that the pass was named after this saintly figure Chang La Baba but it was quickly dispelled by the army folks who said that there was nothing of that sort that happened.
I think we were quite well-acclimatized that none of us had any headaches that are associated with the beginnings of AMS. We took our pictures in peace and with the blessings of Chang La Baba continued forth to Pangong Tso.
Thrilling Journey to Pangong Tso
It was evening and as Sam drove towards Pangong Tso, specifically Spangmik Village, we suddenly realized that the trail or the roads were just dirt tracks that went through the streams and emerged at the other end. The sunset cast a golden glow around us – on the mountains and the valleys to create this magical land. It was as if a spell was being cast on us.
The after effects of the spell was the strange adrenaline rush that we all experienced. It was evident in Sam’s smile as he sped and off roaded the Scorpio. The same rush manifested itself in different forms for the rest of us. For Swati and me, craziness had us literally out of the window while for Abhinav, it was evident in his loud singing. For Raza, it was how frantically he kept switching between cameras to capture it all.
Once the daylight faded, we just had our car head lights to rely on. There were no vehicles ahead or behind us except our own Bolero. The mobile signals were dead long ago. There were no villages along the way, no one to ask for directions, no shops, no petrol bunks. The visuals around us just appeared like shadows. The only thing I could sense was the sound of flowing water somewhere. Adding to the eeriness of this, was the star-studded night sky. Kudos to Sam, who brilliantly drove through this bewitched darkness to our camp.
First rays at Pangong Tso
Having reached dead in the night, we could only see a black expanse that the camp owners claimed as Pangong Tso. Frankly, at that point, we were all so tired that we really could not have cared too much about it. Relieved to have reached safely, we retired for the night to wake up to the most enchanting sight. Pangong Tso charmed me from the moment I saw it through the flap of my tent. Rushing out, I took in the sight of this lake slowly turning blue from gray. Mesmerizing is the only way I can describe this experience. The rest my pictures will hopefully showcase!
Kaleidoscope of colors at Pangong Lake
With a quick breakfast, we packed ourselves into the car to drive along the lake. When I say we drove along the lake, at certain points, it was as if you could lean out of the car and touch the water along the edge of the lake. It was then, that Sam told us that this was the same path we used to get to the camp, dead in the night. By his own admission, even he did not realize how treacherous our drive had been.
However, at that point, we really could not care less about the possible danger we had encountered. The stunning blues of the Pangong Lake overshadowed every possible concern that we might have had. The browns and the blacks of the mountains behind the lake enraptured us with their stark contrast to this blue. Even the blues sparkled in various shades -from turquoise to midnight and pale hues. And if this interplay of colors was not enough, the greens of the meadows around the lake added a further vibrancy to the scene.
Here and there, you could find pools of water that reflected the clouds and the mountains around and then, for me, the ultimate was finding this pool of red water that set the whole scene on fire.
Of Prayer Stones and enchantments
The enchanting quality of this lake was further heightened by the numerous prayer stones that you can find along its edge. Some stacked in a single pile and some in multiples. Though these were quite unlike the Mani stones that I found at Lamayuru and Thicksey Monasteries of Ladakh, they still had the same calming effect. It somehow felt right to see them there.
My mind ran through various reasons as to their presence here – was it to ward off evil? Or for protection? I don’t know the real reason but here is one that I believed in and made a small stack of my own at Pangong Tso. I think it is just so that you do not get consumed by the magic of the Pangong Tso Lake. 🙂
With the flying gulls and ducks on shining blue water or the sandy mountains reflecting on the lake, even a non-photographer can turn into a photographer. And it is not just about photographing the place, you really would want yourself in it. We got our chance as we landed at this strip where you could walk almost into the lake. It just seemed perfect – not just for a photo shoot but just to sit there with water lapping your toes as you stared into infinity.
Time was of essence as we had another lake to catch and this one rumored to be even better. I sure would have loved to spend some more time here. The urge was really strong. Must be the bewitching blues or the glistening waves or possibly just the trance effect of its water. Whatever the reason be, it did not feel good leaving Pangong Tso behind. Yes, I do believe there is magic here that pulls you uncontrollably to it, and that my friends, I believe is the reason for this lake to be named so.
- One needs to either fly down to Leh from Delhi or any other major city in India. Alternately, they possibly can do a road journey as we did to reach Leh.
- Once in Leh, you will have to hire a vehicle to reach Pangong Tso. If you are not used to offroading and driving on the mountains, then, do not attempt a self-drive here.
- It takes around 5 hours to reach Pangong from Leh and 7 – 8 hours if you are in Nubra.
- The best time to visit Pangong Lake is from June to September.
- Carry some warm wear when you go here as the temperature is quite low throughout the year.
- Inner Line Permits are required to visit Pangong Tso.These can be arranged for when in Leh
- There are no phone signals at all, in Pangong. Hence, be prepared to be cut off
- Make sure you are well-rested and acclimatized before heading here as the lake is at quite an altitude. Read all about AMS here.
- Swimming and boating are not permitted in the lake.
- There are a lot of people who do day trips to the lake. However, I would highly recommend a stay here to experience and enjoy the beauty of the place.
- For the stay, there are homestay and tent options only. Accommodation is limited and hence, please ensure you book yours well in advance. Here is where we stayed and I recommend the same owing to their clean tented accommodation and their proximity to the lake.
- There are no shops or public rest rooms along the way nor at Pangong Tso.
- One of the reasons why this place is so beautiful is because it is pure and pristine. My humble request to my readers is that if you are visiting this place, please do not litter and spoil the place.