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The Lake With Changing Colours

Mon, Jan 4, 2010

Natural India

Pangong Lake

Pangong Tso (Tso in Ladakhi means lake) or Pangong Lake, one of the biggest lakes in Asia, is located in a disputed territory between India (Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir) and the People’s Republic of China (Rutong County in Tibet). The lake has an area of 700 square kilometers and is situated at the height of 14,000 feet above the sea level. The maximum length of the lake is 134 km extending from the Indian to the Chinese territory (with 60 per cent lying in China) while the maximum width is 6-7 km. The endorheic lake, despite its saline water, gets completely frozen during winter. Efforts are on to identify the lake as a ‘wetland of international importance’ under the Ramsar Convention. In case that materializes, Pangong Tso will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia to be accorded such status. Chang-pa, a nomadic herd of Tibet and south-east Ladakh, mainly inhabits the region adjoining the lake. The Pangong Chnag-pa cultivates barley and peas in summer while during the winter they take their sheep and goats for distant pastures.

Pangong Lake Ladakh


Ladakh is a region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of India. Ladakh lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the Great Himalayas to the south. Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, Lahaul and Spiti to the south, the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Baltiyul regions to the west, and the trans–Kunlun territory of East Turkistan to north. Ladakh is sometimes called the ‘Little Tibet’ for the strong influence of the Tibetan culture. Ladakhis are mainly Tibetan Buddhists followed by Shia Muslims. Ladakh is spread over an area of 86,904 square kilometres. Capital of Ladakh is Leh.



The lake is mostly surrounded by snow-peaked mountains. Earlier, the lake had an outlet into Shyok River, a tributary of the Indus River in the west, but it was blocked by natural dam. Two streams feed the lake from the Indian side and form marshes and wetlands at the edges. Geological evidence suggests that the lake has shrunken in recent times.


The brackish water, snowy landscapes in and around the lake are devoid of any vegetation as such. Some scrubs and herbs are found in the marshes around the lake.


Local sources opine that no aquatic life lives in the lake barring a few crustaceans. However, one can spot ducks and gulls in the area. Various types of migratory birds breed around the Pangong Lake. Siberain cranes, Ruddy Shelduck, Black-necked Crane, Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks are also spotted here. Among the animal life, one can easily find Kiang, Asiatic Wild Ass, Blue Ship and Himalayan marmot here. Among other animals, Tibetan antelope, Tibetan Argil, Wild Yak and Ladakh urial are more elusive.

Ruddy Shelduck

Reaching the lake

By air
Direct flights are available to Leh, the capital of Ladakh from New Delhi, Chandigar, Jammu and Srinagar.

By rail
One can reach here from Jammu or Kalka railway station.

By road
Buses of Jammu and Kashmir State Bus Corporation reach Leh. However, road links remain closed from October-May. The road trip to the lake, however, takes about 5 hours and the journey is breathtaking. Driving down the Delhi-Manali-Jispa-Darcha-Sarchu-Leh-Khardungla-Pangong route is a memorable experience. Pangong is 160 km from Leh.


A large number of hotels are found in Leh at affordable prices. Booking, however, needs to be made in advance, particularly during the peak seasons or you might end up kissing the lake waters in the cool night. Besides, several tourist complexes, guest houses, hikers’ huts are also available near Lake Pangong. Homestaying with the local villagers can also be arranged. Electricity and running water could be major problems here. Among food available here, one gets rice, daal, potatoes and instant noodles.

  • Thikse and Shey monasteries
  • Spangmik, the furthest point on India-China border, is just seven km from the lake in the southern direction and the Pangong range.
  • Changchenmo and Pangong mountain ranges
  • Ancient temple at Tangse
  • Darbuk village, which is notable for the war memorials made in commemoration of the martyrs of the Indo-China war of 1962. A few of the army bunkers and trenches are still used.
  • Chusul mountains
  • Changla Pass at over 1,350 feet (the third highest pass in the world) while travelling from Leh to Pangong Lake.

Changla Pass

  • Wildlife exploration
  • Mountaineering
  • Skating
  • Skiing
  • Horseback tours
  • Trekking
  • Camping
  • Water rafting
Disputed region

The geographical location of Pangong Lake is a disputed one, between India and China. The Chinese had controlled the Khurnak Fort area, which lies in the northern bank of the lake, by the end of 1952. In October 1962, Pangong Lake witnessed military action during the Sino-Indian War and even today the lake is a delicate border point along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China.

Inner Permit

An Inner Line Permit is required to visit the lake for it is located on the Line of Actual Control. While Indian nationals can obtain individual permits, foreigners must have group permits (with a minimum of four persons) accompanied by an accredited guide. The tourist office in Leh issues the permits against a nominal fee. It is advisable to keep 5-6 copies of the permit for they are frequently checked enroute to the lake and every checkpoint will retain one copy. India does not permit boating for security reasons.

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