Travel agencies organize both, one day trip and two day trip to Pangong Tso. Most people who came just for a day trip make a brief stop at the '3 Idiots' viewpoint, named after the famous movie shot near beginning of the lake, and then leave for Leh early. For those who want to spend more time by the lake, it would be a pity to travel so far for just few hours.
After arriving at Pangong Lake, we went further and stopped at the last village, called Spangmik. Our group didn’t want to spend too lavishly on accommodation since we would be just spending a few hours at the most there. Our driver, a local from a nearby village dropped us to a homestay at Spangmik Village. It was just above the many tent houses built for camping.
We were told that Pangong had seen so many tourists in recent times after the release of movie 3 Idiots. Prior to that people would just come for a day trip and drive back. There were no hotels or dhabas. It was just a beautiful place on a remote mountain, known to only few bikers and tourists. But within a span of two years hotels and restaurants have mushroomed in tandem. Today there are many hotels and tent houses around the lake but they are a lot more expensive than homestays. A decent tent house charges approximately Rs. 2,500 for a night.
Spangmik village is the farthest village tourists can visit in Pangong region. There are just 11 households in the village and they are not nomadic people unlike most people who live at this height. Some families have moved to Leh and other towns. In spite of the cold weather they dug in and live through the harsh winters. In such extreme conditions they can do little bit of farming to support their daily needs but nothing more than that. Earlier, their main source of earning was dependent on raring Pashmina goats, but only two families keep goats nowadays. Tourism has taken over and is driving their livelihood. But they have to make most out of those few months, before the cold crawls back on the mountains and they are isolated alone.
Pangong Lake is the largest brackish water lake in Asia and is 134 km in length and 2-3 km average in width. The lake is situated at a height of 4,350 m and is one of the most attractive lakes located at such an altitude. The lake spans across India and Tibet and is in a disputed territory. Out of the 134 km length, about 60 per cent of the lake lies in Tibet and the remaining in India. The deep blue colour of its water is due to high content of minerals. The saline water here does not support fishes except for some crustaceans. I was confounded at the sights of many seagulls and ducks. I knew that brackish water doesn’t support fishes but at the same time there are animals that live in water and feeding on fishes. It turned out that they fed on crustaceans, living mostly in the shallow, warm waters. The lake is known to be a breeding ground for many birds including Bar-headed goose and Brahminy ducks.
Spangmik village along with the blue lake looks lovely, just like Greece. The blue water and perfectly blue sky, exudes a Mediterranean feel. The small village overlooks the lake. It is a beautiful village with little greenery. My travel companion Eddie was so tempted by the clean blue water that he decided to go for a swim if the water was okay. We went down to the lake and found out the water was cold but not freezing cold. It must have been one of the hottest days of the year. It had been a hot dry day without a fluff of cloud in the sky. He said he had taken a dip at the freezing icy water on a rather rainy day at Hemkund, few weeks back and this couldn’t be colder than that. I didn’t have enough courage to go in with him so I watched from the shore.
He went in sliding, smoothly on the water. ‘It’s ok, he shouted back.’ it was now chest high and he began to swim deeper into the water. He had not anticipated that cold. It startled him. He swam back as fast as he could to the shore. ‘It is so cold inside,’ he said. The warm water on by the shore was heated and belies the cold freezing water deeper.
We walked the shore just trying to make the most out of that moment. A group of young Israelites were camping by the shore. They were brewing coffee in the fire they made of some twigs and jamming with two guitars and singing in their language. The smell of coffee injected life along with the music and the waning red sunlight.
There were patches of greenery, young paddy farms along the shore which makes the place a lot livelier. The texture and the colour of grass, blue water and the brown mountains were enchanting. These fields have stone walls and fences to keep away cattle and sometimes, even human.
There were more tourists than locals. At late evening we split up and went our own way, just to find little solace. A giant mountain sits just behind and the surrounding mountains were daunting. At places like this where you are cut off from everyone you know, or places you’ve acquainted with, you tend to look deeper into yourself. The isolation of the place in itself posed a lot of questions in your mind. And your mind is more decisive than ever.
We had dinner at our Homestay kitchen. We were all surprised by their impeccable way of arranging kitchen utensils. They played Buddhist chanting and religious songs even on the radio, which intrigued Eddie. We were served dal and very little quantity of vegetables (vegetables were hard to get) but with no salt. Rather they served the salt separately. Our writer friend suggested that it must be a scheme to accommodate people from various countries and culture. ‘It must have been hard for them to cook for everyone in a single pot,’ he said.
Pangong Lake was by far the most enchanting place I've visited. It was sight out of heaven.
How to Reach: Pangong Lake is around 6 hours drive from Leh. Travel agencies in Leh organize trips to the lake on hired and shared basis.
Where to Stay: Spangmik is the closest village near Pangong Lake. There are many guest houses and hotels but the cheapest and the best option is homestay.
Pangong Tso Permit: Both Indian and foreign travellers need permit to visit Pangong Lake. Travel agencies in Leh can easily make a permit.
Distance from Leh: Around 150km
Pangong Tso Length: 134 km
Pangong Tso Width: 2-3 km average
Pangong Tso Altitude: 4,350 m
Pangong Tso Depth: Maximum depth is 100m