Pangong Lake….The final leg of our Ladakh adventure was driving for five to six hours through Chang La Pass (17,586ft or 5,360m), the second highest motor pass in the world, to Pangong Lake. We were really excited about seeing Pangong Lake because we saw how amazingly beautiful it was in the Bollywood comedy “3 Idiots”.
Pangong Tso (Tso is Ladakhi for lake) is one of the largest saltwater lakes in Asia. It is 134km long and extends from India to Tibet, and interestingly, 60% of the length of the lake lies in Tibet. Pangong Lake is in disputed territory where the Line of Actual Control passes through the lake and incursions from the Tibet / Chinese side are common. In 1962, the lake saw military action during the Sino-Indian War when the Indian army experienced bitter losses along its shores. Until the mid-1990s, this area was off-limits to visitors and foreign tourists still need a permit to come here.
We stayed in tent camps by the lake. We were given a choice of staying in a brick accommodation or in a camp – we chose the latter. Other than two mattresses on the floor and an attached toilet, the tent was basic. We were served tea and biscuits upon arrival, and soon after we went down to the lake to explore the area.
Pangong Lake is just gorgeous. I have never seen such striking landscape before – the deepest hues of blue in the middle and shades of turquoise along the shores – and the colour changes dramatically as the sun moves. This immense beauty of a lake is set against a backdrop of rugged mountains and flanked by snow-capped mountains on another side. Our driver mentioned to us that the distant mountains in the east are in fact in China.
It was cold, bitterly cold. Even though the weather was probably around 13 to 15 Celsius, but it was extremely windy. We didn’t mind it because just standing there admiring the exquisite beauty of Pangong was absolutely worth it.
We met a number of travelers as well at the campsite. There was a group of retirees from Chennai, an English couple who motorcycled in Ladakh for the past one week and other young bikers traveling around the region on their Royal Enfields. Temperatures continued to dip as the sun went down and the wind became even stronger. At one point I thought my tent was going to be blown away by the wind! Dinner was supposedly to be tasty but we were freezing our butts off and the high altitude made us unsettled and disoriented, thus we didn’t enjoy dinner. Although I slept with two duvets and wore three layers of clothes, the night was still extremely cold to sleep comfortably. Fortunately, the people who ran the campsite gave us hot water bottles so that helped a little bit.
I was too lazy to wake up early to see sunrise by the lake but was woken up early enough to hear Indian Army choppers flying close to our campsite. Not surprising when our campsite was just 140-150kms away from the Chinese or Tibetan border. Although it was still chilly and windy, it was nice to be out of the camp and the sun was shining bright. After a light breakfast and taking a few more photographs, we left Pangong and traveled back to Leh for our last night in Ladakh before flying back to the plains in Delhi.