Pangong Lake is pretty much the face of tourism in Ladakh. It is one of the biggest factors that drive tourism in the region and it’s one of the most visited places. A trip to Ladakh is incomplete unless you have been on a road trip from Leh to Pangong Lake and spent an evening on its shores.
In this article, I will provide details on how you can visit Pangong Lake from Leh. The article contains information on routes, accommodation, public transport, the best time to visit, and several other important tips that can be of help. If you want to get further information above visiting other places in Ladakh, please take a look at How to Plan a Trip to Leh Ladakh – A Complete Travel Guide.
About Pangong Lake
The word Pangong Tso derives from Tibetan “Spang Gong Mtsho” which literally means “High grassland Lake”, Also commonly referred to as “enchanted lake”, it is about 5 kilometers wide at its broadest point and runs a total length of 134 kilometers, extending from India to China. Approximately, 60% of the lake is in China and 40% in India.
Pangong is a saltwater lake and has very low micro-vegetation. There are no fish or any other aquatic life in the lake however you will still see numerous ducks and gulls flying over and on the surface of the lake.
Interestingly, this lake also acts as a breeding ground for a variety of birds. In Summer, Bar Headed Goose and Brahmini Ducks are common to be seen here. The area around also supports a number of species of wildlife like Kiangs and Marmots.
In winter, the water of the lake freezes completely, so much that you can actually walk over it. The route from Leh to Pangong Tso will also take you across mighty Chang La, a high altitude pass that was once considered as the third highest motorable road in the world.
Depending on your speed and breaks, this journey can take you anywhere between 6-8 hours and runs through a highly scenic region full of eye-catching vistas.
Leh to Pangong Lake Permit
Pangong Lake is considered a part of the inner line, areas closer to the border. Hence, an Inner Line Permit is required in order to visit here. The permit can either be applied for and obtained in person from DM office Leh or online. Please take a look at How to obtain an Inner line permit for Ladakh for more details on the procedure and related charges.
For foreign nationals, a Protected Area permit has to be procured before they can travel from Leh to Pangong Tso. This needs to be obtained through a registered travel agent, even if you were applying for it online. Please read How to obtain a protected area permit for Ladakh for more information on getting this permit.
Please note that this is a mandatory requirement. Just before the ascent of Chang La pass, there is a check-post in Sakti where you are required to submit a photocopy of your permit. Without it, you will not be allowed to proceed any further and will get sent back.
How to reach Pangong Lake from Leh
There are four routes that you can take for this journey. One is the most commonly used Leh to Pangong Tso direct route. The next two roads are via Nubra Valley and the least traveled upon is between Tso Moriri and Pangong Tso.
Leh to Pangong Lake Route Map
Before we get any further in the article, attached a road map of Leh to Pangong Tso that shows all 4 possible routes. You can refer to this map for better understanding while going through the information below. If you need a map of the entire Leh Ladakh region including the Manali Leh and Srinagar Leh highways, please read A Complete Road Map of Leh Ladakh.
Leh to Pangong Lake via Chang La
This is the most traveled upon and direct route to reach Pangong Tso from Leh. The other routes via Nubra Valley and Tso Moriri are more of an extended itinerary; when you try to cover all three places in a loop.
However, if Pangong Tso is on your mind and you want to get there directly from Leh, below is the route you will be following.
- Leh – Shey – Karu = 45 km
- Karu – Shakti – Chang La = 40 kms
- Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste = 60 km
- Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik – Pangong Tso = 30 kms
Traveling on the above-mentioned route, the total distance covered will be approximately 160 kilometers which can be covered in 6-7 hours depending upon your speed and breaks. Below is a detailed breakdown of the route mentioned above.
Karu & Sakti
An early start from Leh is advised so that you can reach Pangong by late afternoon and have ample time to spend on its banks. Take the Manali – Leh highway and drive till you reach Karu, which will take you less than an hour.
From Karu, leave the Manali – Leh highway and turn left towards Sakti. This is where you will need to submit a photocopy of your permit and register yourself. After doing that, continue towards Chang La pass, the ascent of which starts a few kilometers after crossing Sakti.
Chang La Pass
Chang La is claimed to be the third-highest motor-able road in the world, located at 17,590 ft. It is called Mighty Chang La because of its steep climb that is tough near the final ascent. The literal meaning of the name of the pass is “Pass towards the South”.
The distance from Sakti to Chang La is about 40 kilometers and should not take more than an hour and a half at most. Once at the summit, take a photo break and enjoy the beautiful scenery around you.
At the top of Chang La are an army base and small cafeteria, which offers free tea, without milk, however. So if you don’t mind sipping down black tea, it is a good place to sit with a cup in your hand and beautiful Himalayan peaks all around you.
Take photos next to several signboards reading “Chang La, 3rd Highest Motor-able Road in the world” You can also Visit Chang La Baba ka mandir built by the Indian Army under the belief that Baba will protect & save people from any mishap here.
After Chang La, continue on the descent towards Durbuk. The road initially is bad, closer to the top of the pass, after which it remains super smooth for the rest of the journey. At the foot of the pass, there is another small lake known as Tso Ltak.
In a couple of hours, you will reach the town of Tangste, the big town on this route with several shops, hotels, and guest houses. It is also a preferred stop for several people who reach here towards late evening. If you reached Tangste around noon, have your lunch here.
After Tangste, it is a straight run to the village of Spangmik, right on the shores of Pangong Tso. The roads are extremely good however there are areas where you will find streams of water flowing down from the hill on the road. Just before Pangong Tso, there is another small lake called Chagar Tso that is also a beautiful spot to click some pictures.
Shortly after Tangtse, you will get your first sight of the beautiful Pangong Lake. Get ready to be mesmerized and enchanted. A little before Spangmik, there will be a barricade where you will have to pay a small fee before you continue ahead.
Pangong Tso mainly has accommodation available in form of Chadar tents and campsites. The nearby villages of Spangmik, Man, and Merak also have small guesthouses and homestays if you wish to stay inside cemented walls. For more details on this, please take a look at Accommodation at Pangong Tso: Hotels & Camp Sites.
There is also an Army base by the lake and a souvenir shop in case you are interested to buy something that would remind you of the trip.
While traveling on this route, you can also cover several monasteries either while on your way to Pangong or returning to Leh. Thiksey, Hemis, and Shey monasteries can be covered but please ensure that you plan your day and time spent at the monasteries accordingly. This is the most convenient route of all and provides the best road condition.
Leh to Pangong Lake by Bus
There is a regular bus service available on this route. It is not available on a daily basis thought and leaves Leh every Saturday and Sunday at 6.00 am. The bus reaches Pangong by late afternoon, halts there for the night, and returns back to Leh the next day.
This is your best bet for reaching the lake and journey back. The fare per person is Rs. 250 one way. The timing of the bus and schedule changes every year. I provide the most recent updates on this bus at Leh to Pangong Tso Bus Service: Fare, Schedule & Timings. You can take a look at this post for the most recent timings in the year of your travel.
Leh to Pangong Lake by Shared Taxi
Shared taxis are available from the Leh Bus Stand every morning between 6 to 8 am. The fare per person is around Rs. 500 for a drop at the lake. For the return journey as well, you can find a shared cab in the morning from Pangong to return to Leh.
If the timings of the bus did not match your itinerary, the next best option is to travel by a shared cab.
Leh to Pangong Tso via Nubra Valley
This is not exactly the road you take if you want to go to Pangong Tso from Leh. It is rather a way to include both these places in your itinerary without having to come back to Leh from Nubra valley.
The most common way of a trip to Ladakh is to first reach Leh, then travel to Nubra valley and then to Pangong. Earlier people would come back to Leh from Nubra valley before continuing to Pangong but this has now changed. Now there is an option to travel between both these places directly without having to come back to Leh.
There are two routes that you can take to reach Pangong Tso from Nubra valley or the other way around. One will take you across a high altitude pass, Wari La while the other will have you traveling right next to Shyok river. Traveling on either of these roads will mean that you can save a day on your trip.
Of the two, the route via Wari La will take approximately 10-11 hours before you reach Pangong Tso. Traveling by Shyok road will see you by the shores of Pangong in 4-5 hours.
Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake via Shyok
This is the shorter of the two direct routes from Nubra valley to Pangong Tso. The journey will be as mentioned below,
Nubra Valley – Khalsar – Agham – Shyok Village – Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik
The total distance covered will be 165 kilometers which can easily be covered in 5-6 hours.
Depending on where you stayed in Nubra valley, you will backtrack to Khalsar village and take the road towards Agham village. From Agham, continue towards Shyok village and you will exit on Leh Pangong road near Durbuk. After Durbuk, it is a straight run to Pangong Tso.
This is the best way to travel between Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley. The road is mostly smooth and manageable even in a hatchback or Sedan. For a detailed description of this route, please take a look at Nubra Valley to Pangong via Agham Shyok Road.
Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake via Wari La
This route will take you over the mighty Wari La, one of the most difficult passes of Ladakh. The journey will be as mentioned below;
Nubra Valley – Khalsar – Agham – Tangyar – Wari La – Tathok – Sakti – Chang La – Durbuk – Tangste – Lukung – Spangmik
The total distance traveled will be close to 250 kilometers which may not sound much. But due to difficult roads and steep ascents, it can very well take anywhere between 10-12 hours.
Due to the long journey, an early start from Nubra valley is highly recommended. Leave by the first light of the day so that you can reach Pangong well in time. Depending on where you stayed in Nubra valley, you will have to backtrack all the way to Khalsar.
At Khalsar, do not take the road towards Khardung La. Rather continue straight towards the village of Agham. From Agham, you will take the diversion towards Tangyar, climb up to Wari La, and then descend on the other side to Sakti while crossing the village of Tathok on the way.
From Sakti, it is the same journey to Pangong Tso that I described previously in the article.
I have covered this route in detail in another post Nubra Valley to Pangong via Wari La that you can take a look at.
This road is really for someone who wants to add another pass to their itinerary because you will anyway reach back to Sakti. It is just that rather than taking the Khardung La route to get there, you will cross Wari La Pass instead.
There are a few important things you need to keep in mind while journeying via this route. First is the long travel time and an early start from Nubra valley. The second is that Wari La opens a bit late in the season.
While the road across Khardung La remains open throughout the year; the same is not the case with Wari La. BRO clears this road sometime by late June or early July so please check the status of the road before you plan your itinerary.
Last but not least is that from Leh to Nubra, then to Pangong and back to Leh will means several hundred kilometers of traveling, without any other fuel stations except for the one in Leh. So you need to ensure that you are making proper arrangements to carry spare fuel.
A good to know information here is that these days, you can get fuel at the Chadar tents at Pangong Tso. But it will be for double the price and quality of the fuel too cannot be guaranteed. For more information, please read Fuel Availability in Ladakh – How to Manage.
Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake by Bus
There is no direct bus available between Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake. If you are traveling by public transport, you will have to return to Leh and board a bus from there.
Shared cabs also are not available on either of these roads. You may get one from Diskit for Shyok road but definitely not for Wari La.
You should include Shyok road or Wari La in your itinerary only if you are traveling by your own vehicle. The only other choice you have is to hitchhike. During the peak tourist season, a lot of people travel between these two places. If you were lucky enough, someone may agree to let you tag along in their vehicle.
Tso Moriri to Pangong Tso
This route also is not really the one you take to visit just Pangong Tso but rather extends your itinerary. Traveling this way, you will explore both these lakes without having the need to come back to Leh.
In most cases, the route is actually done the other way around. People will first reach Pangong Tso and then travel to Tso Moriri directly. A few people however I knew to have done it from the Tso Moriri side as well. You will first reach Tso Moriri from Leh and then continue towards Pangong Lake via Chushul.
The route of the journey will be as mentioned below.
Karzok (Tso Moriri) – Sumdo – Mahe – Nyoma – Loma – Tsaga Village – Tsaga La – Chushul – Merak – Man – Spangmik
The total distance of this route will be close to around 250 kilometers. Due to bad roads, even this journey can take well over 12-14 hours. I have explained this entire route in detail at Pangong to Tso Moriri Travel Guide.
The way this journey is planned is that you first reach Tso Moriri lake via Chumathang and stay there for the night. On the next day, you travel via Chushul to arrive at Pangong Lake. Depending on your itinerary, you can then either return to Leh via Chang La or go to Nubra Valley via Shyok road.
Even on this road, there is no public transport available and you will have to make serious arrangements to carry spare fuel.
Leh to Pangong Lake Road Conditions
If you travel directly from Leh to Pangong Tso via Chang La, then most of the road is well paved and smooth. The only bad section is around Chang La top but the rest of the journey is comfortable.
Shyok road mostly remains in good condition and is a smooth drive all the way from Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake. The Wari La route on the other hand is a very steep climb on a narrow broken road between Agham and Sakti.
Between Tso Moriri and Pangong, the road is a mix of good, bad, and ugly. The ugly part is mostly between Pangong Lake and Chushul.
There is no best vehicle as such to visit Pangong Lake. Irrespective of which car or bike you were using, you can easily make a trip from Leh to Pangong Lake.
The only exception is the Wari La road. To go that way, you really need to be in an SUV with high ground clearance. It does not necessarily have to be a 4×4 but a good GC is a must. In bike, the best one for this road will be a larger engine one. If you were riding a 100 to 150CC bike, you should skip Wari La.
Also read: How to Plan a Journey from Srinagar to Leh
Best Time to Visit Pangong Lake
The best time to visit Pangong Lake is from June to September. This is when most of the tourism in Ladakh and at Pangong happens. However, the lake remains accessible throughout the year; except for the times when heavy snowfall may block the road temporarily near Chang La top.
If you want to see a completely frozen Pangong, then January or early February will be the best time to visit. Otherwise, anytime from June till September is good enough. It will be the peak tourist season and you will have no problem finding accommodation or transport to reach the lake.
Where to Stay at Pangong Lake
Accommodation at Pangong Tso is mostly in the form of campsites. There are several of these now and charges per person can be anywhere between Rs. 2000 to Rs. 4000, depending on which camp you are staying at.
If this sounds a little steep then a cheaper accommodation can be at any of the Chadar tents where you will easily get a bed to crash on for the night for Rs. 200 – Rs.300.
Another great choice for a budget stay is as a paying guest at Spangmik, Man or Merak. There are a few guesthouses in these villages which mostly are just homes of villagers where they let tourists stay for the night. There is only one cemented hotel at Pangong which is government-run and is always booked months in advance.
For more details on accommodation at Pangong Tso including names and numbers of camps sites & guest houses, please read Accommodation at Pangong Lake: Hotels, Camp Sites and Guest Houses.
Leh to Pangong Lake Taxi
Private taxis in Ladakh are a costly affair. But if it fits your budget, then it is the best mode of travel. Shared taxis are a cost-effective option that you can get from the Leh bus stand.
If you are booking a private taxi, depending on your itinerary, it will cost you anywhere between Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 25,000 for 2 to 3 days.
Petrol Pump near Pangong Lake
There is no petrol pump either at Pangong Lake or on the way. The only gas station here is in Leh. Usually, a round trip from Leh to Pangong Tso can easily be done in a tank full unless your vehicle is consuming excess fuel or has a smaller tank.
You will have to however make arrangements for fuel if you are heading towards Tso Moriri or Nubra valley from Pangong. You may buy petrol from the Dhabas and Chadar tents at the lake but it will be double the price and the quality of the fuel too cannot be guaranteed
Mobile Network at Pangong
There is no cell phone reception or data connectivity at Pangong Tso, no matter which network you are on. You may get reception at times with a BSNL postpaid connection but it will be extremely rare. Even if you did get reception, the voice clarity will be so bad that you will not be able to have a conversation at all.
For more details on this topic, please take a look at Mobile Network in Ladakh & Data Connectivity.
Banks or ATM
There is no Bank or ATM near the lake, and anywhere on the route. None of the hotels, guest houses, or camps sites have the facility to accept a debit or credit card payment. With no cellphone reception, you cannot even use Google pay or PayTM. Hence it is of utmost importance that you withdraw cash before leaving Leh and carry enough as per your itinerary.
Once again, the answer is none. The nearest place you can expect to find some basic medicines or a Doctor is at Tangtse village, about 50 kilometers from Pangong Tso. In case of a medical emergency, you can also seek help at the nearest Army base.
A friend of mine collapsed at the Pangong Lake due to AMS. They rushed him to the Army base but due to limited medical equipment, there wasn’t much they could do. He had to be brought back to Leh immediately but by the time they reached the hospital, it was too late. He had already passed.
The reason why I mentioned this is because Pangong is at a very high altitude. A lot of people suffer from acute mountain sickness here. If you were showing the symptoms or were unwell, please do not spend a night here and return to Leh ASAP.
Pangong Tso Weather
Cold is how the weather here always is. Days in summer will be moderately warm but you will still need to put on a jacket, because of the cold winds. At nights, even in summer, the temperature can drop several degrees below 0.
During the winter season, the lakes freeze completely and the temperature here can drop as far as -25 degrees celsius. You need to ensure that you are packing clothes that can handle the cold weather and the winds. For more details, I will recommend reading, Clothes for Ladakh Trip: What to Pack.
Leh to Pangong Lake in Winter
During the winter months, the lake remains accessible but there could be a problem with the accommodation. There will be no campsite available of course so you will have to look for a guesthouse or homestay in either Spangmik, Man or Merak.
Please do note that during the winter season, the weather near the lake gets extremely cold, enough to freeze it completely. So please be very sure about whether or not you want to spend a night here. Otherwise, make it as a day trip from Leh and return after spending a couple of hours.
Below are a few other tips that can be of help in planning a trip from Leh to Pangong Lake.
Pangong Tso Altitude
Pangong Lake is at an altitude of 4,350 meters 14,270 ft.
Acute Mountain Sickness
It is one place where you are most likely to suffer from acute mountain sickness. Upon your arrival in Leh, do not straight go to Pangong Tso. Spend a few days exploring Leh town and Nubra valley first and then plan a trip to Pangong Tso.
If you start to suffer from AMS during the evening, then do not spend the night at the lake and return to Tangtse. Please read How to Deal with Acute Mountain Sickness in Ladakh for more details on altitude sickness, its symptoms, and how to avoid it.
Leh to Pangong Lake Share Taxi Fare
A shared taxi from Leh to Pangong will cost you about Rs. 500 per person one way.
How to Reach Pangong Lake from Delhi?
To reach Pangong Lake from Delhi, you will first have to reach Leh city. You can travel either by Srinagar to Leh or the Manali route. If you were short on time, you can also catch a flight directly to Leh.
How to reach Pangong Lake from Manali?
The best way to reach Pangong Lake from Manali is to undertake a journey on the Manali Leh Highway. You will first arrive in Leh city, arrange your permits and go to Pangong Lake the next day.
Leh to Pangong Lake – Conclusion
Prior to the year 2009, the name Pangong Tso was pretty much unknown to everyone except for a few who were familiar with the terrain of Ladakh. Then in 2009, a movie called “3 Idiots” was released which featured a scene of Amir Khan flying a kite on the banks of a deep blue lake against the backdrop of barren grey mountains of mighty Himalayas.
The movie was an instant hit but an even bigger hit was that lake. It provoked curiosity throughout the nation and pretty soon, Pangong Lake became a household name, known to every travel enthusiast in the country. It is a beautiful spot that is now one of the most desired tourist destinations of our country and it truly deserves to be that.
I hope the information above on planning a trip from Leh to Pangong Lake was of help. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below or at our Community Forum, and I will be happy to answer.