Pangong Tso is a lake of breathtaking beauty in Ladakh, lying just about 160 km from Leh. A nearly 5 hour drive from Leh is a wonderful journey in itself, which first passes through huge monasteries and then a vast expanse of endless mountain range and finally cuts through the Changla Pass- the third highest pass in the world which has access to motor vehicles.
About Pangong Tso Lake
Pagong Tso means long, narrow, enchanted lake in the Tibetan language. It is situated at the height of about 4,350m, and measures nearly 134 km in length, though, at its widest it is just 5 km. Despite the fact that the lake is full of brackish water, it freezes to a depth of several meters in winter season. The lake changes in color during the day, appearing deepest hues of blue when the sun is high, a turquoise shade near the bank and deeper hues in the middle of the lake. It loses its shades and turns dull as the day progresses with the sun moves towards the horizon.
The salt water of the lake does not support life; hence we do not find fish or other form of aquatic life in the lake, other than few micro-vegetation and small crustaceans. Amazingly, many ducks and gulls have made the lake and its surrounding their habitat; in addition, it acts as a breeding ground for both the local and migratory birds. Some important birds that are spotted by tourists near the lake are the Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks. Some are lucky to spot wild animals like the kiang, a wild ass and Marmot which is a large brownish rodent of the squirrel family that lives on the ground and in burrows around the lake. The marshes around the lake have various species of shrubs and perennial herbs. Another spot of tourist attraction is the Khurnak Fort which lies halfway across the lake, on the northern bank.
Getting there via Changla Pass
As important as the visit to the lake is the 5 hour drive to it from Leh which runs through the one of the highest mountain roads in the world. While getting there, the tourist passes through the villages of Shey and Gya and goes across the Changla Pass where they can see the army sentries. It also houses a small tea house. During the journey the tourist can view barley fields which are the main diet of people living in this extremely harsh environment at 4000 meters above sea level.
The narrow and snaky road of Changla can be dangerous. It rises steeply on one side, and on the other there is a steep drop into the valley. Unfortunately, though highly required for safety, there are no rails or barriers guarding against the fall of the vehicle. The drive at this part has to be careful; overtaking without careful participation of both the drivers should be avoided at any cost.
After Changla, the road passes through Tangste and many other small villages which dot the hills. After the villages, the road runs across a deserted area which is just bare rocks and dusts. The tourist is blessed with the views of beautiful snow filled mountains laden. The road going down from the Changla pass crosses a river by name ‘The Crazy Stream’.
The first glimpse of the lake is breathtaking for tourists who stand in awe looking at the large mass of deep blue water body shining against the yellowish brown mountains, which are at times dusted with white snow.
As the lake lies on the Indo-China border, the security is a bit high for tourists. The line of control of India and China passes right across the lake, which has made Pangong Tso a disputed area. Permits and passports have to be shown here before entering the secure area, also for the reason of security, boating on the lake is not permitted. Tourists are allowed to go only up to the Merak village.
It is open to tourists from May to September. You can buy cheap tickets to Leh Airport from Delhi. Indian security at the place is very high, due to continuous incursions from Chinese. The lake will be soon identified as a wetland of international importance.
The beautiful, tranquil lake is not just a tourist spot; it is often visited by geologists from all over the world for its uniqueness.