Pangong Tso, also known as Pangong Lake lies at a height of 4,350 m and about 160 kms from Leh. Approximately 60% of the length of the lake lies in China. The lake is 5 km wide at its broadest point. All together it covers 604 km2. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. It is not part of Indus river basin area and geographically a separate land locked river basin.The lake is in the process of being identified under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance. This will be the first trans-boundary wetland in South Asia under the convention.
A drive to this lake will result in one of the most wonderful experiences. The journey begins at Thiksey village, which is famous for its huge monasteries covering an entire mountain range. And beyond this remote village there is nothing but the vast expanse of extreme mountain ranges for company. An interesting observation of the topography throughout this journey is that they throw off all calculations of distance somewhat like a mirage-effect, what looked to be a ten-minute crossing easily requires an hour or more! Formerly, Pangong Tso had an outlet to the Shyok River, a tributary of Indus River, but it was closed off for natural damming purpose. Two streams feed the lake from the Indian side, forming marshes and wetlands at the edges. Lines above the current lake level reveal a 16 ft thick layer of mud and laminated sand, suggesting the theory that the lake has shrunken recently in geological scale.
At Darbuk village near Tangste Valley stands a chain of war memorials in commemoration of the soldiers who lost their lives during the Indo-Chinese war of 1962. Some of the historic army bunkers and trenches present here, are still in use. Villagers along with their large herds of Pashima sheep and long tailes yaks can be seen in these villages.
Pangong Tso can be reached in a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it on a rough and dramatic mountain road. The road crosses the villages of Shey and Gya and traverses the Changla pass, where army sentries and a small teahouse greet visitors. Road down from Changla Pass leads through Tangste and other smaller villages, crossing river called Pagal Naala or “The Crazy Stream”. The spectacular lakeside is open during the tourist season, from May to September.
An Inner Line Permit is required to visit the lake as it lies on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control. While Indian nationals can obtain individual permits, others must have group permits (with a minimum of three persons) accompanied by an accredited guide; the tourist office in Leh issues the permits for a small fee. For security reasons, India does not permit boating.