Leh Ladakh road trip – Nubra valley to Pangong Tso lake – Best travel guide

Travel India Blog

Journey so far – Delhi – Jammu – Patnitop – Srinagar – Gulmarg- Srinagar- Sonmarg – Zoji La – Gumri – Dras – Thasgam – Kharbu – Kaksar – Kargil Mulbekh- Namika La – Fotu La- Lamayuru – Khaltse – Saspol – Nimu – Spituk – Leh (local sight seeing) Khardung LaNubra valley

Visiting the Pangong Tso lake was very much the part of our plan but not in our itinerary during Khardung la and Nubra valley visit. However, Our driver yamling suggested making the Pangong Tso lake trip directly from Nubra valley via Shyok river (“the river of death”) instead of going back to Leh and then go to Pangong Tso. He said this is fastest route to travel as the monsoon has not started yet. Generally, in monsoon, this route can be dangerous and prone to landslides. so not advisable to anybody. We were on adventure road trip so everyone agreed readily and decided to visit Pangong Tso directly from Nubra valley. Sometimes, Unplanned adventure journey has its own charm and thrill. It’s takes about 6 hours for 175 kilometers journey passing right through Shyok river in patches. The journey to Tso Pangong was adventurous as we passed through difficult terrain, flowing river and landslide prone area. One of the thing I noticed, Yamling didn’t use horn at most places during the journey so I asked and he replied, accident due to landsliding is quite common in this area and sometimes the cause of accident could be birds if not careful which surprised all of us as how can the bird be the reason of accident? Then, he explained, the birds sitting on top of the rocks can lead to rock sliding if they get disturb and few rocks sliding can block this narrow path and sudden stone rolling is considered quite fatal in this route. He added, many tourist ignored this advice. Have a look at the journey:

The first glimpse of Pangong Tso is a sight we will never forget in life. But it was impossible to even imagine the magnitude of the lake from here.

First view of world famous Pangong Tso from 4 km away.
First view of world famous Pangong Tso

As we drive 4 km downhill towards the lake, the sheer size of it becomes more and more evident. By now we had got used to the dry lunar landscape of Ladakh. The sight of the unending expanse of bright blue amazed us.

‘Pangong Tso’ means ‘long, narrow, enchanting lake’. It is one of the high altitudes endorheic lakes of India at a staggering altitude of  14270 feet (4350 Meters) in the Himalayas. The multi-shades of blue colour and the beautiful ocean-like lake is about 5 KM wide at its broadest point and about 134 KM long with about 60% of the length extending into Tibet. During winters the lake freezes completely, which itself is a great experience to witness if you have seen the other colours of the lake. Beautiful, panoramic and mystical, the reflections of the spectacular Changchenmo mountain range shimmering in the ever-changing blues of the lake’s water, the serenity and purity of this marvellous place deserves a standing ovation. So, this is what we call as Pangong Tso. It is one of those places that everyone has to put on their bucket list as “See once before you die”.

Once we reached to the point, we challenged each other to stand knee deep in the chilling Pangong water for as long as we can. I must have stayed inside for about 50 seconds, longer than everyone but once I was out, it did have a long lasting effect. My legs were numb, couldn’t feel anything for half and hour.

Please note: It’s one thing to look at the video/picture of this breathtaking lake, However,  in reality, the place is extremely harsh and difficult to live especially in winters. The lack of oxygen makes survival difficult if your body is not properly acclimatised to its high altitude and hence, one need to plan his/her journey extremely carefully to make it the acute mountain sickness (AMS) free trip.

Best time to travel to Pangong Tso lake

In January to March, this lake remains mostly frozen, extremely cold conditions with no options to stay around the lake. In April, it starts transforming into the beautiful multi-shades of blue colours off the shores. Then end of May to mid of September is the peak tourist season and they generally flock the shores of the Pangong Tso lake. From the mid of September and early October, the tourists start to reside as cold starts to set in and accommodation tents start to pack up. After the second week of October up to December, all the accommodation packs up and the only nearest place you can stay is either in some homestay with basic facilities to fight the harsh cold or in some guest house at Tangste with more better facilities to fight the cold.

Trivia: In this summer period, a large number of birds can also be seen around the lake including the most common  Bar-headed goose and Brahmini ducks.

How to Reach Pangong Tso Lake – Ladakh

You have two options to visit Pangong Tso either directly from Leh or via Nubra valley.

Option 1 from Leh to Pangong Tso Lake

This is the general route to Pangong Tso that most people take to visit this ever beautiful lake in Ladakh. You can reach in about 5 – 6 Hrs depending upon the number of breaks you take in between. The distance between the subsequent places is as follows:

Leh – Karu (36 KMs) – Sakti (10 KMs) – Chang La (34 KMs) – Durbuk (32 KMs) – Tangste (9 KMs) – Lukung (34 KMs) – Spangmik (16 KMs) = 171 KMs

You can cover Thicksey, Hemis and Shey monasteries while going through this route. This route provides the best road conditions among all other routes.

PS: By now, your body should already be acclimatised by staying for a couple of nights in Leh and spending a night or two in Nubra Valley before attempting to sleep near Pangong Tso. If you are short on time then you should make a day trip to Pangong Tso via this route only, being best in road conditions, so fastest among all.

Option 2 from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso Lake

Many people first travel to Nubra Valley (always recommended for better acclimatisation) and then, take a direct route from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso without going back to Leh. For all such people, there exist two routes from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso:

Route 1: Nubra Valley – Wari La – Pangong Tso

This route goes via mighty Wari La pass, one of the remotest passes of the Ladakh region and takes about 11-12 hrs depending upon the number of interim breaks you take. The route is long and rough and hence require you to leave very early from Nubra Valley so that you reach Pangong Tso (Lukung or Spangmik) before the sun goes down. If you are planning via Wari La route then keep confirming from the BRO posts that come by to check the road conditions ahead. It is extremely remote region and you will hardly find any tourist or vehicle going past by you. Hence, in case required, help would be long to find. The distance between the subsequent places is as follows:

Nubra valley (Diskit)  – Khalsar (19 KMs) – Agham (31 KMs) – Tangyar (11 KMs) – Wari La (28 KMs) – Tathok (25 KMs) – Sakti (4 KMs) – Chang La (34 KMs) – Durbuk (32 KMs) – Tangste (9 KMs) – Lukung (34 KMs) – Spangmik (16 KMs) = 243 KMs

Route 2: Nubra Valley – Shyok Village – Pangong Tso (We travelled through this route)

It is much shorter than the Wari La route, takes about 6-7 hrs from Nubra Valley to Pangong Tso and hence will save more time and energy. But, again there are some nasty landslide prone stretches on this route which BRO has found hard to tackle and stabilise a road through it. In 2010, the whole route was washed off during the flood. Also, this route is fast to travel Pangong Tso before the monsoon. During the monsoon, It can be dicey so make sure the timing before you travel on this route. The distance between the subsequent places is as follows:

Diskit – Khalsar (19 KMs) – Agham (31 KMs) – Shyok Village (48 KMs) – Durbuk (18 KMs) – Tangste (9 KMs) – Lukung (34 KMs) – Spangmik (16 KMs) = 175 KMs

Note: The higher ground clearance vehicles are preferable and 4×4 ones would definitely be helpful especially between Nubra Valley – Shyok Village – Pangong Tso route. However, quite a few people do it in hatchbacks and sedans as well which depends upon your skills to drive and road conditions.

Suggested Travel Itinerary for Pangong Tso Lake – Ladakh

Generally, at least one-night stay is preferable to truly witness the mesmerising beauty of this blue coloured salt water lake. Also, you watch sunrise and sunset over the picturesque landscape and increase the charm of your vacation to great extent. Most people, generally do:

Day -1 | Leh – Khardungla – Nubra valley (spend a night in Diskit);
Day-2 | Nubra valley – future buddha – sand dunes- Pangong Tso Lake (spend a night at Spangmik or Lukung);
Day-3 | Pangong Tso Lake – Chang la – Leh;

OR

Day 1 | Leh – Hemis Monastery – Pangong Tso Lake
              Cover either of Hemis, Thicksey and Shey on the go towards Pangong Tso
              Overnight at Pangong Tso (Spangmik or Lukung)
Day 2 | Pangong Tso Lake – Thicksey Monastery – Shey Palace – Leh
              Cover either of Hemis, Thicksey and Shey on return to Leh
              Overnight at Leh

Medical Facilities:
The nearest basic medical health centre is at Tangste Village about 50 KMs from Spangmik village and 34 KMs from Lukung village. You can get basic first aid including Oxygen doses at some of the tents/camps.

Eating options:
Being a remote place, you will either be eating in the home stay at Spangmik Village or at the camps/tents you might be staying overnight.

One Last shot of Pangong  lake before we said good bye to the heaven on Earth:

Tso Pangong lake from top view, far away
Tso Pangong lake from top view

Pangong Tso is a great place to visit and I am sure if you visit Ladakh, this one should be on your itinerary. It is a photographer’s ultimate delight. We were mesmerised by the shades of the blue water. One moment it was azure, the next turquoise and next indigo and so on…

Well, with Leh Ladakh, once or twice is not enough, in fact an entire lifetime is not enough because its the dream of heaven. Road trips can never be the same again, after a tryst with this gorgeous piece of land set in high heavens!

Important tips to keep in mind:

  • Permits are no longer required for Pangong Tso for Indian tourists. You need to carry National ID proof, though.
  • Nights can be extremely cold, hence be prepared.
  • Bring a torch as electricity is shut down after 10 p.m. at the camps.
  • Do not expect 5-star luxury at the camp. The basic facilities that they are providing at such a remote location are worth appreciation.
  • Swimming is not allowed in Pangong Tso for environmental reasons.
  • Last but not the least – Littering is a serious offence. Do not litter Pangong Tso! If you can’t find a place for disposal, bring back the garbage with you for proper disposal.

This is the 5th post documenting our trip to Srinagar-Leh Ladakh. You can also read:

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Disclaimer: Please feel free to post any queries or doubts you might have in planning your trip to Pangong Tso place in the comments section below. If you have been to Pangong Tso lake, kindly share your thoughts and other information you might feel will be worth sharing with other fellow travellers and prove helpful to them. If you enjoyed such posts, then please subscribe to the blog for regular updates. Thank you !

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