Pangong Lake In Ladakh (Complete Guide)

pangong lake guide

Pangong Lake In Ladakh – Intro

Ladakh trip is not complete without visiting this mesmerising and vast lake landlocked within the Himalayas. Popularised by Bollywood, today Pangong Lake in Ladakh is a must-visit attraction when visiting Ladakh.

When you enter the village Lukung, which is a starting point of the lake, you would just want to stop and experience the sheer beauty of it. Its tranquility will definitely take you to heavens. Crystal clear blue waters with brown and purple colored mountains on the backdrop. It is romantic, isn’t it?

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Pangong Lake in Ladakh is at a breathtaking altitude of 4,350 m (14,270 ft). It is 156 km in length and almost 60% of the lake is in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. Just these 2 facts, its altitude, and longness are enough for travelers to be in awe. It is even 5 km wide at its broadest area. The total length inside the Indian Territory is about 75 km. Just imagine the scale of it.

In summers, it remains like this from May to October. But in winters, Pangong completely freezes besides its salinity. Due to its vast temperature differences and salinity, aquatic life cannot really survive much in such harsh conditions. The minimum recorded temperature of Pangong can go as low as -35 degrees centigrade.

The location of the lake and its brackish water attracts migratory birds each year. This becomes all the more reason for a traveler like you to must-visit Pangong Lake in Ladakh. Surreal crystal clear water has a unique quality. It changes its color during the daytime in comparison to sun location in the sky. You can enjoy all the hues of blue and green color which is an unforgettable sight to experience.

Its peace attracts a traveler and leaves her or him speechless. For a few, all it takes is an hour or so sitting in front of the lake to completely fall in love with this place. And a few lucky ones will get a chance to see it every year.

If you are looking for a customised trip exclusively for you, check out our sample itineraries and packages now.

Pangong Lake in winters

Winters brings a new look to the subtle and colourful Pangong. The temperatures hover in the range of -15 degrees centigrade to -35 degrees centigrade. Thick ice tops the lake and it is so strong that even a vehicle or a jeep can travel on it.

This brings joy and fun to the boring life of local villagers in winters. Children start playing skating and cricket on the ice sheet. However, Pangong becomes difficult to reach as Chang La gets covered with snow and it is difficult for front wheel drive vehicles to run smoothly. Only vehicles with chains or 4 X 4 vehicles can maneuver the terrain in winters.

Lots of locals, army trucks, and convoy regularly pass throughout winters. This setting is perfect for extreme adventure sports and bikers. Recently there was a group of motorcyclists who made it on the frozen Pangong lake in Ladakh. Though riding on the Pangong is prohibited as per local culture and traditions.

So if you are the one who loves extreme winters, nobody around and you are on your own to survive, then certainly this is the place to be in winters.

How to Reach Pangong Lake from Leh

This is the first question that comes to each and every enthusiastic tourist. Reaching Pangong in summers is pretty straight forward nowadays. Either take a bike on rent and ride or hire a taxi if you want to be in a little comfort. Both ways, you are destined to get the most out of your journey. The route to Pangong lake in Ladakh is under construction, so you might face little difficulties. But the scenic beauty of barren landscapes and the vastness of the region will definitely take your pains away.

There are 3 popular routes through which anyone can travel. Below is a brief description of the routes. You can choose any route as per your itinerary or travel plan.

Route 1 – Leh to Pangong Lake via Karu

Leh – Shey – Karu -Sakti – Chang La -Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik

This is the most common route that lots of travelers take. It is a 2 day trip with a night stay at Pangong. Although, lots of day trips also go through the same route. The travel distance is 156 km and takes around 5 hours of travel time. On the way, you can also cover Shey, Rancho School, Chushot, Thiksey, and Hemis.

Route 1 Leh to Pangong

Enroute you will get a petrol pump at Karu and few eateries and grocery shops as well. This is the last point for access to ATM as well. Karu is also a checkpoint where tourists need to submit their inner line permit and need to show ID proofs.

Shey has a palace which is in ruins (currently being repaired) and there is a Rock and Minerals museum as well just below Shey palace on Leh Manali road. You will also cross Stakna Monastery, Chemrey monastery, Sakti (a beautiful green and serene village with small water streams), and Chang La (3rd highest motorable pass in the world at 17,590 ft).

You have to be careful as one side of Chang La is quite steep and also has a water crossing cutting the road. Therefore for bikers, it is very important to ride carefully and safely.

Route 2 – Leh to Pangong via Nubra valley (Longer Wari La Route)

Diskit / Hunder – Khalsar – Agham – Tangyar – Wari La – Tathok – Sakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik

Due to its very high distance, bad roads, and unreliableness, this route is not taken by many tourists. Though the route is quite beautiful and you also get to see Wari La which is at an altitude of 5312 m (17,427 ft) above sea level.

Route 2 - Nubra to Pangong via Wari La

In this route, you can plan for a 3 day 2 night stay itinerary. The first night can be spent at Nubra and second at Pangong. On the third day, you can come back to Leh. But your travel from Nubra to Pangong will be close to 240 km and it will take you long 8-10 hours to reach. This will mean that you will lose all the day time which is perfect to enjoy the lake.

For adventure enthusiasts, this route is a boon. Wari La offers new challenges and is very difficult to cross sometimes. The roads are all broken and you will encounter water crossings and steep climbing roads to conquer.

So if you are looking for real adventure and you have time, then you can plan for this route. You can also think of taking a night halt at Sakti which is a beautiful tranquil offbeat village almost mid way. The next day, you can complete your journey to Pangong. This way it will become a 4 day journey.

Kindly remember to include this route on your ladakh permit.

Route 3 – Leh to Pangong via Nubra valley (Shorter Shyok River Route)

Diskit/Hunder – Khalsar – Agham – Shyok Village – Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik

From the last two years, this route has become quite famous. As it is easier, shorter, and takes a lot less time than the Wari La route. It is 175 km from Hunder and takes about 6-7 hours to reach.

Route 3 - Leh-nubra-shyok-pangong

Although this route also has a lot of adventure as you need to cross the River Shyok 2-3 times. You will be welcomed with lots of dust and huge boulders. Earlier there were no bridges and travelers used to cross the river on foot. But now at 2 places, the army has built bridges and is now operational.

Keep in mind that in the monsoon period, due to excessive rains, this river gets flooded and even overflows on the road as well. In 2019, there were two instances where travelers and vehicles got stuck for 2-3 days as the roads were completely washed away. There were several landslides as well on this route. The army cleared the way after lots of efforts and will. So you need to plan your travel accordingly keeping in mind the current weather conditions.

The popularity of the route is because it saves complete 1 day in your overall itinerary and the travel time is also not much. If one has a very short span tour, he/she can plan a night at Nubra and then do a day trip from Nubra to Pangong to Leh. Normally this is done in 3 days easily.

Once the hard part of the journey is done, you will be then welcomed with fresh tarmac roads from Durbuk onwards. It will definitely give you a sense of achievement once you conquer the harshness of the terrain.

Take professional help or talk to your hotel/camp for the latest road conditions and which route to take. As any backpacker, you should rather discuss your travel plan or itinerary with local experts so that you are aware of the pros and cons of each route. You need to take extra precautions when you are traveling with family and children.

Pangong Lake and its Bollywood connect

Bollywood is well known for its scenic picturisation in movies at offbeat locations. And guess what, Pangong is one of such locations. Since 1964 movie Haqeeqat, Pangong has been the center of attraction for famous movies. Some of them are as listed below:

  • Haqeeqat film based on Sino-Indian war in 1964.
  • Indian film Dil Se by Mani Ratnam in 1998 in a song.
  • LOC Kargil in 2003 based in Kargil operation Vijay.
  • As a film location in The Fall (2006).
  • Famous Lakshya movie in 2004 starring Hrithik Roshan and Amitabh Bachchan.
  • Movie The Last Monk in 2006.
  • Featured Documentary Film by Gaurav Jani, Riding Solo to the Top of the World in 2006.
  • Some parts of the 2008 film, Heroes.
  • Film Road To Ladakh in 2008 starring Irphan Khan.
  • The climax scene of the 2009 film, 3 Idiots starring Aamir Khan.
  • Parts of the 2012 film Jab Tak Hai Jaan starring Shahrukh Khan.
  • Sahasam in 2013.
  • 2016 Hindi film Sanam Re
  • Surra Surra song from Shakti (2011).
  • Subah Hogee song from Waqt: The Race Against Time.
  • Pyar Ke Silsile song from Na Jaane Kabse (2011).
  • Jo Hum Chahein in 2011.
  • Dil Tera Ho Gaya song from Taur Mittran Di.
  • Dil Haara song from Tashan starring Saif Ali Khan & Kareena Kapoor
  • Banjarey song from the movie Fugly
  • Bhelpuri song from Aagadu.
  • Enna Aachu song in the 2011 Tamil movie Vedi
  • Tamil Film Kaatru Veliyidai in 2017.
  • Tubelight movie by Salman Khan in 2017.
  • Another Tamil film Kayal in 2014
  • Race 3 in 2018 starring Salman Khan

There are still movies that are being either planned or have already done shooting in the Leh Ladakh region. But Ladakh and Pangong Tso really started getting famous from 3 Idiots movie. So much so that the famous bright yellow colored scooter is also now parked in front of the lake for photography and pre wedding shoots. Popularly known as the Kareena scooty, it was featured in the climax scene of 3 Idiots movie.

Now a days even you can get dressed as a “Nayi Naveli Dulhan” in red dress and get yourself photographed on the scooty itself. O God, these Bollywood fans you know!

Flora and Fauna of Pangong Lake in Ladakh

The eastern part of the lake is fed by fresh water which comes from the melted snow on ice clad mountains. While the western part of the Pangong Tso has a high salinity which makes it salty.

There is also an island in the lake on the China side which is known as the Bird Islet. The name is so as it looks like an eye of a bird from above.

Tourists can observe numerous ducks and gulls on the lake in the migratory season which is a common sight. There are also some varieties of scrub and perennial herbs that survives in the marshy areas around the lake.

The brackish water of the lake has very low vegetation and aquatic life. It is called brackish because it is saltier than fresh water, but not as much as seawater. Army reports that there are no fish species on the Indian side of the lake, except for some varieties of very small Jhinga.

The lake is an important breeding ground for a variety of birds including migratory birds which comes from as far as Europe. In the summer months of May to September, the Bar headed goose and Brahmini ducks are commonly seen here. The Changthang region around the lake also has active wildlife including the famous Kiang and the Marmots.

Pangong Lake Camping/Hotels

Camping at Pangong Lake in Ladakh is world-famous. There are lots of campsites available at the lake itself in Spangmik village. Few options are available at Lukung and Man villages as well. There are all segments of camping options available at the lake. You can also choose to stay at homestays available at Spangmik, Man, and Merak.

Pangong comes under the Changthang wildlife sanctuary. Looking into the huge influx of tourists and the pollution effects on the lake, all the camps were closed in 2019. They were given an option to open up in Tangste about 45 km from Pangong. Now gradually, few of the camps opened up again at Pangong.

Essential Info on Pangong Lake in Ladakh

Altitude – It is the world’s highest salt water lake at an astounding altitude of 4350 m (14,270 ft).

Best Time To Visit – This lake is serene and amazing throughout the year, but still best time to visit is in summers from May to September every year. In winters primarily December to March, the lake remains frozen and forms a thick ice sheet on top. You can easily walk on the ice and locals also play on top of the sheet.

Inner Line Permit for Pangong – As mentioned above, Pangong lies on the border with China. Therefore it is mandatory for every traveler to take Inner Line Permit to travel to the lake. This permit can be obtained either offline through DC Office or online on the LAHDC permit website. You can also ask any travel agent to arrange for the permits for your travel by paying an extra fee.

lake in ladakh

Distance between Leh and Pangong Lake – Pangong Lake in Ladakh is 156 km from Leh Main Market. It takes about 4-5 hours to reach Pangong via Chang La from Leh city.

Mobile connectivity – Connectivity to the region is only possible till Karu and Sakti. Thereafter no mobile connectivity is available of any network. Even BSNL doesn’t work in such remote areas. Nevertheless, why would someone want to be connected in such a serene place? It is better to keep your phones in your luggage and take your cameras out for awesome photography. There is a satellite phone available at Lukung with an army but that is only used by locals in a super emergency.          

Medical facilities – There are no private medical facilities in this region. You will not get any doctor or chemists throughout the way from Karu onwards. It is advisable to plan medical supplies from Leh itself. You can also opt to carry an oxygen cylinder which can be used for emergency purposes if the need arises. However, due to such high altitude, the army at Chang La and Lukung village can assist in case any person traveling with you is experiencing altitude mountain sickness.

ATMs – The answer is well No. As the region doesn’t have any connectivity, it is impossible for ATMs to work. It is always better to plan your cash requirements for your travel from Leh city itself. There is a saying in Ladakhi that you should never trust Weather, Water, and ATMs. There are lots of luxury camps and places to stay at Pangong but you cannot use your credit or debit cards. Many such stay places even don’t allow you to leave the camp if the payment is not made in full. So plan your cash requirements well in advance and carefully. Always better to take extra though. Last ATM is available at Karu on Leh Manali highway only.

Petrol pumps – Last Petrol pump you can use for your onward journey to Pangong Lake and Changthang area is at Karu on Leh Manali highway. Usually, if you full your tank at Karu, you will be well back to Leh without ever filling up again on the way. However, if you are planning to directly go to Tso Moriri then it is mandatory for you to carry extra fuel along with you.

Days to spend in Pangong – The drivable distance from Leh to Pangong is approx 160 km which will take at least 5 hours. So it is advisable to plan for a night stay at Pangong. This gives you time to rest after the treacherous journey and also soak in the place. However, many tourists have a very short time span in Ladakh and want to cover all areas. For such travelers, you guys can do a day trip to Pangong provided you start early from Leh in the morning and from Pangong while coming back to Leh. So as per our recommendation, a night stay is best.

Food joints – There are few food joints available at Lukung village which is the starting point of Pangong lake. You can enjoy momos, Thukpa, tea, coffee, dal rice and not to forget Maggy, etc here. However please don’t make a fuss about the quality of the food. It is set up by locals only for earning purposes. They make every possible effort to give you the best thing available in such remote areas. Other than this, all camps/homestays and stay places do offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. If you reach the lake within the set time then you can get your meals. The menu at most of such camps etc is very limited and doesn’t offer too many snacking options.

Things to note for Travelers

  1. Due to the very high altitude of Pangong Lake in Ladakh, it is highly recommended that you should be completely acclimatised to such altitudes before reaching. You must acclimatise at least 2-3 days in Leh. Talk to local experts or your hotel/camp or any Leh Ladakh tour operator for further assistance and info.
  2. It becomes extremely cold in night time in the lake as it is surrounded by snow clad mountains. Sometimes there are high winds also which makes it even feel more chilly. So we recommend to carry and wear sufficient warm clothes. You can ask for more blankets from the camping guys if need be.
  3. As it is a remote location, access to electricity is very limited. Generally, all the camps have generators that will run from 8 PM to 10.30 PM only. So you can charge your phones and batteries only during this time. As a precaution, you should carry extra batteries for photography purposes.
  4. Don’t make too much fuss about services and amenities. We must understand as a responsible traveler that camps and homestays are at a very remote location. Moreover appreciate the facilities they are providing and enjoy the scenic beauty of Pangong.
  5. It is a fragile ecosystem in and around the region of Changthang and Pangong. Littering here and there destroys the very essence of Ladakh and also hampers in the wildlife. Due to excessive throwing of plastic waste everywhere, the local administration closed all the camps on Pangong lake. In 2019 till July no tourist could stay at Pangong at night. They had to either travel back to Leh or if lucky found a place to sleep at Tangste. So be responsible and kindly dispose of your waste wisely.
  6. Night and astrophotography are best at Pangong lake in Ladakh. It doesn’t have any light pollution after 11 PM. In clear sky nights, you can easily see the milky way band with bare eyes. So carry your full photography gear and extra batteries for taking star trails.
  7. For security reasons, boating/kayaking or any kind of water sports is not permitted on the lake. There are few tourists who take their jeep or vehicles inside the lake which is strictly prohibited.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Pangong Lake Blue?

This phenomenon is due to many environmental factors. The clarity of the water, the salinity of the water, the cloudiness of the sky, and sun position. The science behind this is pretty simple. It is blue because the water, due to its structure, absorbs colors in the red part of the spectrum. Acting just like any filter, only blue part of the spectrum is left behind which scatters. The change in hues of blue color is primarily due to the sun movement in the sky.

What is the depth of Pangong Lake?

Maximum depth of Pangong Lake is 100 m or 328 ft.

Why Pangong lake is salty?

The mountains and rocks in and around Pangong lake are very mineral rich. Slowly and gradually these minerals get dissolved in snow melting water and get accumulated over the period of time. As the lake has no natural drainage to any river or a tributary, the water in the lake slowly gets high in salinity. As mentioned above, the western side of the lake is more saline then eastern. Therefore the mountains around the western side must have more salt in its rocks.

Why is Pangong Lake a famous tourist attractions?

Lakhs of tourists arrive each year at the lake to see and observe the natural beauty, its remoteness, and awe-inspiring phenomena. The world’s highest saltwater lake deserves a visit and is must watch sight which tops the bucket list of every traveler. It is a perfect blend of adventure and calmness which makes the place so unique. Not to forget the popularised version of the lake in movies and Bollywood.

Is camping famous around Pangong Lake?

Completely. It is indeed a lifetime experience to stay in camps at Pangong. Night skies are a treat to watch and is now a paradise for many budding photographers alike. Camping gives you a real sense of adventure and you are more connected to the world outside the tent.

There are lots of options for camping. You can either take a luxury tent or a basic one. The nature experience and the feeling would be the same. Few adventure enthusiasts take camping to the next level by pitching their own tents wherever permitted.

Can I visit the Lake during winters?

You can definitely visit the lake in winter. After December, it gets frozen and is a different experience altogether. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. You will not get any hotels or camps during winter. You will have to stay in homestays which have only beds, quilts, Bukhari and food. Bukhari is a traditional wood/cow dung fire heater which is used by locals to warm themselves in winters inside homes.

Also, Chang La pass could be closed sometimes due to heavy snow. Not many taxis go there as they don’t have chains for tires. Taxis are also extremely difficult to start in the morning as the diesel might freeze or some other technical problem arises. So if you are looking for a real winter expedition kind of an extreme experience, you can choose to visit the lake.

Pangong Tso is Tibetan for?

Tso means lake in Ladakhi language. The full meaning of Pangong Tso is ‘high grassland lake’.

What is the colour of Pangong Lake and what is the reason behind the colour?

As explained above, the colour of Pangong Lake in Ladakh really depends upon many factors. However, majorly it is the sun movement in the sky due to which the colour changes happen. You can read the above for a more detailed explanation.

What is the average weather around Pangong Lake?

The weather at Pangong remains in the general cold to very cold. In summer months, the temperature varies between 6-8 degrees centigrade to 22-25 degrees centigrade. However, the same shall hover in between -10 degrees to -35 degrees centigrade. The lake remains frozen and a thick ice sheet is formed on top between January to March months.

Therefore it is important to carry enough woolens even in the summer time for travel.

Is swimming allowed in the Pangong Lake?

Technically, any kind of water sport (swimming is one) is not allowed on the lake as per army guidelines. However it is up to you, how do you perceive swimming as a water sport or not. We have not heard any stories of the army stopping the tourists from doing this. But locals treat Pangong lake as holy and don’t appreciate such acts. It is also taken as an act of pollution by Leh administration authorities and banned any commercial activities in 2019.

By seeing people taking a dip, others take it otherwise and start to wash their vehicles in the lake. Other than this, due to water being very low in temperature, it becomes dangerous as Hypothermia can hit once the body temperature goes below. There are no medical help or facilities available at Pangong, so one should be thoughtful and careful.

Is it safe to visit Pangong Lake from the Indian side?

Yes, it is completely safe to visit the lake. Traveling to these places have never been safe earlier. Road connectivity has improved and there are better facilities available nowadays.

Can I camp near Pangong Lake?

Yes, as explained above, camping is one of the most obvious things you can do at the lake. There are many campsites available with different amenities. You can also choose to pitch your own tent if permitted by locals.

Conclusion

Pangong Lake in Ladakh is definitely a must-visit place in Leh Ladakh. Its beauty not only attracts all kinds of travelers but wildlife from other parts of the world. The picture-perfect location with eye soothing colours all around, it is a perfect spot for introspection and self-reflection.

Many people perform yoga, read books, and just think about their life in general while sipping a coffee/tea overlooking lake.

Happy Traveling to Pangong! Enjoy!

Bikamp has a campsite in Leh named Bikamp At Leh Camp. We also organise Leh Ladakh Bike Trip for groups and offer Leh Ladakh Tour Package for couples, groups, families, and friends. If you are planning for an offbeat and adventurous experience, you can get in touch at info@bikamp.com or call us at +91 – 9818824450 / 9549919666

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