How many shades of blue can you count? Because that is the first thing that comes to mind as you see the Pangong Tso lake. Nestled between dry barren brown mountains the lake sparkles like a jewel. Amethyst, Aqua, Turquoise, Sapphire, Azure, you name it and it is there and some more. This lake, infact this very region was relatively unexplored till the release of 3 Idiots. It is after the popularity of the movie that the region gained popularity in the tourism sector. Earlier most people would come for trekking and adventure camps.
The lake is situated at a height of almost 14,000 feet. It derives its name form the Tibetan word Banggong Co which means a long, narrow, enchanted lake. And all these adjectives suit the Pangon Tso perfectly.
The lake sprawls over an area of 100 kilometers with about 60% of it lying in China. 1/3 of the lake lies within the Indian territory and 2/3 in the Chinese territory. The road distance is about 150 odd kilometres from Leh city but it takes about 5-6 hours to reach there. You have to cross the Changla Pass which is the 3rd highest motorable pass in the world.
The road condition is not good and landslides are not unheard of. Be ready for some nausea and dizziness as you halt at Changla. We went there in August. Weather in Leh was pleasantly cool but as we approached Changla we were met with snow and flurries.
The weather is erratic and one has to be prepared. There are army medical camps available throughout the route in case you face some health issues.
But the weather and the road condition improves as you start descending from Changla. Soon the weather becomes dry and sunny and you forget that about an hour ago you were facing snowfall.
Your first glimpse of the lake will be an unforgettable experience.
Pangong Tso is a brackish lake. Created when sea water got trapped as the Himalayas rose after the Indian subcontinent banged into the Asian continent, the lake, even after thousands of years, retains some salinity. Do drink from the lake. It is fed by streams from the Chinese side.
In winters the lake freezes completely and you can drive a vehicle over it. The ideal time to visit is between May and September. Most people make it a day trip. They start early in the morning and are back by late evening. However there are campsites by the lakeside where you can spend the night under the stars.
The ideal thing to do is reach there by early noon, roam around, click pictures and return the same day saving some time in your short vacation. A narrow strip of land juts into the lake and is a popular selfie spot. The water is crystal clear and you can see the stones at the bottom of the lake. The water changes color with each ripple, with the varying sunlight, with the cloud cover. It is a real life canvas that keeps transforming every minute.
Two more things to do while you are there. One is to go search for garnets in the nearby garnet hill. garnet is a semi precious stone that you can set in your customised jewellery. But good luck doing that because first you have to climb the garnet hill and secondly you should have an eye for identifying the stone.
The other thing to do is search for Marmots.These are rodent like creatures that are indigenous to the area.