Bewitched by the enchanting Pangong Tso Lake, Ladakh

posted in: Asia, India, Jammu & Kashmir, Nature | 55

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.

Pangong Tso in Ladakh
Pangong Tso in Ladakh

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.

The mountains across Pangong Tso belonging to China
The mountains across Pangong Tso belonging to China

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.

The Black Scorpio that never saw Pangong Tso
The Black Scorpio that never saw Pangong Tso

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.

Seating in the car
Sam at the Wheel with Raza navigating. Abhinav in the middle and Swati on the left.

Reaching Chang La

Ascent to Chang La Pass
Ascent to Chang La Pass

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.

Views enroute to Chang La Pass
Views enroute to Chang La Pass
At ChangLa Pass
At ChangLa 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.

Chang La Baba temple
Chang La Baba temple

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

Roads that disappeared into the streams
Roads that disappeared into the streams

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 terrain post Chang La Pass on the road trip to Ladakh
The terrain post-Chang La Pass on the road trip to Ladakh

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.

The magic of Ladakh
The magic of Ladakh
The magic of Ladakh that was fading into darkness
As the darkness took over

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.

The camp when we reached at night.
The camp when we reached at night.

First rays at Pangong Tso

The first sight of the gray Pangong Tso Lake
The first sight of the gray Pangong Tso Lake

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!

Sunrise at Pangong Tso
Sunrise at Pangong Tso that changed the lake from gray to blue

Kaleidoscope of colors at Pangong Lake

When you can touch the water from the car - at Pangong Tso
When you can touch the water from the car – at Pangong Tso

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.

Driving along Pangong Tso
Driving along Pangong Tso
The plethora of colors around Pangong Lake
The plethora of colors around Pangong Lake

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.

Reflections of the clouds
Reflections of the clouds

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.

The splash of red that offsets the gorgeous Pangong Lake
The splash of red that offsets the gorgeous Pangong Lake

Of Prayer Stones and enchantments

Prayer stones at Pangong Tso
Prayer stones at Pangong Tso

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.

The heaps that create the mystic environment of Pangong Tso
The heaps that create the mystic environment of Pangong Tso

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. 🙂

Photographer’s paradise

Capturing reflections at Pangong Lake
Capturing reflections at Pangong 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.

Walking amidst the Pangong Tso
Walking amidst the Pangong Tso                                                                                                        Picture Credit: Swati Jain

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.

Pangong Lake


Getting there

  • 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.

Travel Tips

  • 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.
Pangong Lake Retreat
Pangong Lake Retreat
  • 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.


P.S: I visited the Pangong Lake as a part of my trip to the Highest Blogger Meet, arranged by ScoutMyTrip & OYO Rooms



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55 Responses

  1. Lord Acuña

    Your photos are absolutely beautiful! The blue pool, lush fields and the Himalayas are very inviting! Thanks for the tips.

  2. Vineet

    These are some of the best pictures of Pangong Tso that I have seen! It wasn’t easy heading back to Leh from that point. If you guys had a heavy heart, we were nervous wrecks. Couldn’t sleep that night and we were only trying to get through to all of you. I had promised night photography to Deepak at Pangong Tso. So that’s a trip, we will do once again sometime.

    Lovely pics as always, if only Tso Moriri was not rain soaked, but I am eagerly waiting for those pics too! I am sure you would have done some magic there

    • Ami

      As hard as that decision was, it was a well taken one. There was no way that Scorpio would have survived that climb. It was not easy to leave you guys behind either. All of us had you on our mind. However, all that’s well ends well and it was good that you caught us at Tso Moriri. As for the magic that I might have woven there, just wait and watch

  3. raginipuri

    Magical Pangong Tso, so beautifully presented 🙂
    Loved all the photos, Ami, but the one of the sunrise at the lake is particularly captivating.

  4. Doreen Pendgracs

    Wow! What a journey! Your photos are incredible. Definitely makes me want to check out the Ladakh area.

  5. Animesh Bordoloi

    Wonderful photographs. A delightful read. Ladakh has been on my mind for a while now and I have to admit, I envy people who gloat about how awesome it is! No seriously, great job, keep traveling. Have a great day!

    • Ami

      Trust me , even though I am back from there, I am still not over it. It was one of my best trips and a lot to do with the place. Thanks for stopping by Animesh.

  6. Katchutravels (@Katchutravels)

    Pangong Tso is out of the world. Loved the shots of Chang la and the image through the grass at Pangong Tso tracing the first sunrise. I see some huts in the first photo. Are these settlements that have come after the place has become famous?

    • Ami

      Those are the camp sites at Spangmik. They are your only accommodations here and yes, a fairly recent development.

  7. Sandy N Vyjay

    Pangong-Tso lake leaps alive in vivid colour in your stunning pictures. The colours of the waters and the background give it a truly ethereal look. The place seems to have emerged straight out of an artists masterpiece.

  8. neha

    That morning pic so reminded me of the first drawings we used to make as children..a rising sun from amongst the mountains and a lake at the foot. Didn’t have a clue at that time that it’s Pangong lake that I draw 🙂 What a beautiful and adventurous trip you people had. Feeling bad for the vehicle which was forced to retreat.

    • Ami

      Thanks Neha, this trip was epic and yes, now that you mention it, it is exactly how we used to draw as a kid. I do wish Vineet and Deepak were with us when we reached Pangong, especially since Deepak was so keen on night photography here. But well, I have to admit that as hard as it was, they did take the right call of turning back.

  9. Alok Singhal

    I can imagine why it is a photographer’s paradise…reminds me of a couple of lakes I’ve visited that had amazing reflections in the crystal-clear waters.

    The pics of sunrise and sunset are enthralling, we don’t see them often!

  10. Cassie

    Like the others have said, your pictures are stunning. I now have a very good reason to get back to India!

    And I reckon it’s often better to have no idea of the dangerous roads you’re on at night whilst driving them or you’d be too scared to actually continue. Much better to just find out in the morning!

    • Ami

      Thanks Cassie. You are right – maybe it is because you don’t know you are ok. So in some ways driving at night was possibly the best.

  11. Samah

    I’ve heard 3 idiots is a really good movie, but I’ve yet to watch it. Pangong lake looks so beautiful and really reminded me of my time in Banff, with the glistening waters and mountains! I’ve been to India once, while I was very young, but I’d love to go back and visit some of these lesser known places

    • Ami

      The lake looks better than what 3 idiots showcased. It is one stunning place. I hope you visit it, Samah

  12. amit

    The views and scenery looks absolutely stunning, I can imagine you couldn’t stop taking pictures all through the trip. Reading through this, it really seems like the road trip was half the fun and how cool that the army guys were hospitable with offerings of tea, The lake really looks like a must visit, and you must be so happy that you got to experience it:D

  13. Lydia Smith

    Yes, I agree with you. Pangong Lake is really stunning and enchanting. I’ve watched 3 idiots too but long ago and I don’t notice this lake in the film. India must be really blessed to have lakes like that of Pangong considering its rich culture also. I look forward to visiting India in this lifetime of mine.

    • Ami

      The final scene of the movie is shot here 🙂 I hope you can visit it for yourself.. It’s truly beautiful

  14. Indrani

    Pangong Lake is mesmerizing. Such a photogenic place.
    Your trip is so exciting and good you could realize your dream of visiting the place.

  15. Yukti

    Pangong Lake really looks surreal and splendid. Bollywood has really influenced traveling a lot because before 3 idiots nobody was knowing this lake but now it has became a must in wish list. Staying in tents near lake must be so great.

  16. Shaily

    This is a beautiful post and reminds me of my trip to Ladakh. Pangong is definitely a photographer’s paradise. The view of the lake is magical and that sunrise is to die for. Your pictures are stunningly beautiful!

  17. Manjulika P. Sehgal

    What lovely shots Ami. I have heard many stories of this trip that you guys had. Pangong is definitely the best Indian lake that I have seen. I was mesmerized by it totally. If I had my will, I would have loved to stay around for few days. Definitely wanna go back again.

    • Ami

      I too, want to head back here… Could not have enough of it. The trip was quite epic but the place even more so. Thanks for stopping by, Manjulika

  18. travelbagtales1

    Good post and beautiful photos ! Evocative of my own experiences at Pangong as well.

  19. Souren Das

    The way you wrote your experience was really interesting. Very interesting and inspiring blog.

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