Most tourists visit Leh to Pangong Lake on a daylong excursion but this is an area not only of stunning beauty but also of great serenity. It would certainly be fascinating to enjoy the beauty of this lake in its different moods at various times of the day. Staying a day, or even two, over here would be extremely pleasurable and relaxing. It is definitely worth spending a night at Pangong Tso – it is mesmerizing to watch the many moods and changing colors of the lake and the surrounding mountains reflected in it.
Drive from Leh to Pangong Lake
However, assuming it is only a day journey, aim to leave by 5.30 a.m. to get a good view, as it is a long drive and at this high altitude (14,500ft/4420m), clouds tend to build up by the afternoons. Pangong Tso is 140km long but barely 4km at its widest point. Only 40km of this lake is in India while the rest angles into Tibet. This is a restricted military area and permits are necessary but easily obtainable from Leh. Tourists are not allowed beyond Spangmik village that lies 7 km from head of the lake, along its shore.
Monasteries en route Pangong Tso
There are two monasteries on the route to the lake and are of interest since they are somewhat different from the ones you see near Leh.
The first one is the Chemrey Gompa, 50km from Leh and a 4km detour from your road to the lake. It was built in 1645 to commemorate death of King Singe Namgyal and is one of the few gompas with fortifications. There is an impressive library and richly worked images in the main prayer hall. Particularly noteworthy are the paintings on the chortens on your drive up to the gompa – the peacocks etc. appear to indicate some Rajasthani influence, possibly from those of the invading army that elected to stay and settle here.
The more interesting of the two is the second gompa, Takthok (‘rock roof’ in Ladakhi), which is actually a cave hewed out of the rock face. Guru Padmasambhava is believed to have meditated here in the eighth century and this became a place of worship soon after. Located on a hill face the turn off is 1km from the one to Chemrey and a 7km long road brings one to entrance. It is the only gompa belonging to the Nyingmapa sect in Ladakh and definitely warrants a visit, as you will not come across anything like it in Ladakh. From here, instead of tracing your track back to the road, you can take an ascending unmetallled ‘shortcut’ along the valley and connect with the main road 10km ahead of your turn off to this gompa.
The Chang La pass at 17,800ft/5425m is the third highest in Ladakh and is 30km from Takthok. A further drive of 12km will bring you to a shimmering roadside lake that is a perfect spot to have your packed breakfast at a somewhat warmer 15000ft/4575m altitude! Your drive henceforth takes you through a tight valley with snow peaks at touching distance, somewhat akin to the spectacular drama of the drive to Padum in Zanskar.
Pangong Tso, (which means ‘hollow lake’), is a saltwater lake at 14,500ft/4420m and flanked by gigantic peaks over 19,700ft/6000m high. Depending on the weather, you could find the lake resembling a crystal clear sheet of glass, perfectly reflecting the surrounding peaks or, with the bouncing off the ripples giving it the look of an exquisitely bejeweled piece – yet again, it can present an unnerving, dark and brooding visage when the sky clouds over. No matter which mood you find it in, it never fails to captivate the imagination!
Spangmik, on its southern shore, has brilliant views of the mountains of the Chang-chemo range to the North, reflected in the ever-changing shades of the lake, while the snowcapped peaks and glaciers of the Pangong range tower above the village. Chang-pa nomadic herdsmen live here and in other scattered villages on the southern shore. They cultivate barely, peas etc. in the summer and in the winter fold up their yak wool tents (rebo) and move their flocks to distant pastures.
Leh to Pangong Lake Distances
Distance of Pangong Lake from Leh is approx 156kms, below is the various distances between the points and destinations on the way from Leh to Pangong Lake
|Leh – Shey|
|Shey – Thiksey|
|Thiksey – Chemrey|
|Chemrey – Takthok|
|Tangthok – Chang La|
|Chang La – Tangtse|
|Tangtse – Pangong Tso|