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Pangong Lake: A complete guide to one of the highest lakes in India

“First view of World Famous Pangong Lake,” said a huge yellow milestone as I witnessed the first glimpse of pristine blue Pangong Tso from far. It looked like a dot in the rustic landscape. My heart was pounding as I was about to behold the beauty that I had known by “that lake in 3 idiots”. As the vehicle progressed, the lake began to unfold its scenery with every turn and twist of the road. The water was mysteriously blue, something I had never seen before. My fellow travelers had already started capturing the grandeur of Pangong Tso by sticking their cameras against the windows of the tempo traveler while I was in a reverie not knowing if this was a dream or a reality. Soon, my reverie was broken by Palden, our driver, announcing that we all had reached 3 idiots shooting locations.

Pangong Lake 2

After visiting Pangong Lake three times, I decided to write this guide for the benefit of fellow travel enthusiasts.

Introduction to Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake is such a vast expanse of water it looks like an ocean with a backdrop of the Himalayas. It’s a saltwater lake and hence it doesn’t support a lot of aquatic life. One can witness very little vegetation, ducks, and gulls flying over the surface. I was left startled when my guide informed me that it acts as an essential breeding ground for a diverse number of birds, including a few migratory birds as well.  Bar Headed Goose and Brahminy Ducks can be spotted easily at Pangong Tso in the season of summer. 

Pangong Lake Ladakh
Spending some afternoon time at Pangong Lake

One of the most interesting facts about Pangong Lake is that it is almost 5 km wide at its broadest point, and a maximum of 330 feet deep. It extends to a length of 134 km with 60% of it in Tibet while the remaining 40% in India. I often wonder, will I ever be able to witness that huge 60% of the Lake from the Tibetan side, just like the character of Tamara Taylor does in the American movie “Love, Guaranteed”

The word “tso” in Tibetan translates to the word “lake” in English. Hence, Pangong Tso Lake or Tso Pangong Lake is the wrong nomenclature.

Where is Pangong Lake?

It is located at a distance of 223 km from Leh, in Ladakh, in India.

Things to do at Pangong Lake


Pangong Lake Camps
Camps at Pangong Lake

The overnight stay in the camps near the lake is one of the most sought-after experiences in Ladakh. However, be ready to brave the cold and thin air of the Pangong Lake in Ladakh. You can choose the camps as per your preferences and budget. There is a wide range being offered from luxury camps with proper beds and attached toilets to simple dome tents with sleeping bags and common toilets.


Pangong Lake at night
Pangong Lake night sky

Pangong Tso is one of the best places in Ladakh as well as in India to offer such a clear night sky for stargazing. It’s because of its geographical position, high altitude, and the fact that it’s mostly free from artificial lights, unlike Leh city. You can do some astrophotography, trace the trail of the milky-way galaxy, or some constellations. Don’t forget to wear layers of your warm clothes, caps, and gloves before heading for stargazing.

Three Idiots Point

3 idiots shooting location
3 idiots shooting location

“Lake in 3 idiots” that’s how many people know Pangong Tso. Hence, any trip to Pangong Tso may not be complete without visiting 3 idiots’ shooting locations here. You see the replicas of Piya’s famous yellow scooter and bum chairs. Tourists need to pay a small fee for getting themselves clicked with the above-mentioned props. It’s slightly loud and crowded but a shortstop doesn’t harm. One can make some pretty pictures and get the satisfactory feeling of having visited the 3 idiots shooting locations in Ladakh. You can head to other parts of the lake for a meditative and calmer experience. 

Stone Fish

Pangong Lake Stone fish

Not many people would know about the Stone Fish monument located next to the banks of Pangong Lake. Legend says that when the road construction work was under progress near the lake, a worker found a beautifully glowing golden fish. He was surprised to see such a unique fish that too in the saline waters of Pangong Tso. He went running towards the village to spread the news and returned with other villagers. However, the golden fish had sadly transformed into a stone by then. Many people still believe this story, while others just laugh it off.

The above-mentioned are the most preferred and the most common things done at Pangong Lake Ladakh. If you have an extra day in hand and you are fascinated by stars and astronomy, then you can go to Hanle. Hanle has the world’s highest observatory. You can stay overnight in a homestay in Hanle. You can also visit Marsimik La from Pangong Tso but it would require another Inner Line Permit. Also, it’s a 3 hours drive one way from Pangong.  As mentioned at the very beginning of this article, Pangong Tso is one of the most important breeding grounds for migratory birds, and hence, if you are lucky enough, you can also spot some migratory birds at the lake.

Best time to visit Pangong Lake

The most preferred time to visit Pangong is, of course, the summer season i.e. from June to September. The below sections would give more clarity on different seasons at Pangong Lake.

Weather at Pangong Lake in Summer

Pangong Lake weather is always on the colder side. It could be moderately warm during very few sunny summer days. You always need a warm layer because the cold winds are frequent visitors here. The temperature drops significantly after sunset and stays cold until the early morning hours. If you are not tucked in your bed, then do keep warm layers of sweaters, jackets, caps, and gloves handy.

During the daytime, I have always worn a base layer of thermal followed by a half-sweater or another body-hugging jacket. Layers always keep adding up as we reached dusk. Hence, do remember that even the summer season i.e. months of June to September, is also cold at Pangong Tso. But it’s the least cold of all the other seasons.

After September, the weather here becomes very unpredictable because it’s the onset of winter. 

Frozen Pangong Lake in Winter 

The Pangong Tso stays frozen in the winter months especially from January to March. The frozen Pangong Lake also offers spectacular views, however, quite different from its summer views. Very few tourists visit here during this time. Although, I have heard some thrilling stories from our drivers and guides about their Pangong Lake winter fun. They told me stories of jumping over its frozen sheet and also driving their vehicles over it. 
It’s not impossible to reach here in winter but it is slightly tricky. There are high chances of Chang La, which falls between Leh and Pangong, being closed due to heavy snowfall. The snow is cleared regularly as the pass has to be kept operational for army supplies. However, in case of heavy snowfall, it may stay blocked for a few days.

Please take a note that all nearby camping sites are closed in the winter months and only the homestays in Spangmik village are operational. Hence, you can consider staying there. 

Pangong Lake Altitude 

The Pangong lake altitude is 4350 meters or 14270 feet. The height of Pangong Lake tells us that it’s one of the highest lakes in India. 

Acclimatization at Pangong Lake

With this Pangong Lake height, comes the challenge of altitude sickness. Any frequent traveler to Ladakh, Spiti, or any other higher Himalayan region would be very well-acquainted with the phenomenon of altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The very simple logic of AMS is that the level of oxygen reduces as we gain height. The lack of oxygen becomes observable 8000 feet where the air becomes thin and many people face difficulty in breathing.

As a matter of fact, the height of Pangong lake definitely makes it a dangerous beauty where many people ain’t able to enjoy their visit here.  They begin to struggle with the AMS symptoms which include dizziness, fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, nausea, shortness of breath, etc. I have too experienced AMS on my first ever trip to Ladakh and Spiti Valley.

How to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or Altitude Sickness at Pangong Lake?

  1. Stay in Leh for at least 2 nights before coming to Pangong Tso
  2. Stay hydrated even if you have to use the washroom multiple times a day while traveling
  3. Refrain from smoking or drinking during the entire Ladakh trip
  4. Don’t undertake strenuous physical activity and exert yourself
  5. Get proper sleep
  6. Don’t overeat and get proper meals instead of filling your stomach with chips, maggie, or cup noodles
  7. Carry proper medication such as Diamox. You can start taking it a day prior to your arrival in Leh

Mobile Network at Pangong Tso

Don’t expect to be present at one of the highest lakes in India while staying connected with the parallel world. Only BSNL landlines and feature phones have the reception at Pangong Lake that too not guaranteed. I still remember that during one of our group tours to Ladakh, our vehicle had broken at Pangong Lake Ladakh. I wanted to call someone in Leh during evening hours to send a backup vehicle for us in the morning. “Madam, this landline phone will have the reception at 9 AM that too when kept on this table close to the window”, told a staff member. I was able to make a call at 9 AM but had to hire the backup vehicle from Pangong itself.

Ladakhi lady
Our group met a local lady during the evening walk

ATM at Pangong Lake

There are no ATM machines available around Pangong Tso, and also no dhaba/ restaurant/ campsite accepts credit cards or UPI payments. Carry sufficient cash along with some emergency cash with you while traveling to Pangong Lake Ladakh.

Medical Facility

There is no hospital/dispensary located at Pangong Lake Ladakh or in the Spangmik village. One can find the basic first-aid kit, oxygen cylinder, and other tablets related to altitude sickness at the campsites. Camp’s staff keep supplies to deal with the unforeseen health issues their guests might experience at that altitude. I recommend carrying your first aid kit and oxygen cylinder in order to avoid the risk and the dependence on campsites. 

The nearest basic medical center is located in Tangste village, at a distance of almost 111 km from the lake. It would require 2.5 hours of driving time.

Pangong Lake Permit – Inner Line Permit

Pangong Tso is considered as a part of the inner line i.e. areas that are close to the Indian border, and that’s why an Inner Line Permit is required for both Indian Nationals and Foreigners. One can obtain the permit from Leh by visiting the DM office or online. One can also outsource the permit arrangement work to their travel agency. If you are joining a group tour to Ladakh, then your organizer/ travel company would take care of the Inner Line Permit. Please note that with an official permit, Indian Nationals and Foreigners, both can visit here.

How to reach Pangong Lake?

There are various route options available to reach Pangong Tso. One either goes from Leh, or from Nubra, or from Tso Morriri. The altitude of Tso Morriri is higher than Pangong Lake, and hence it makes more sense to travel from Pangong Lake to Tso Morriri keeping the importance of acclimatization in mind. So, we are left with the option of traveling to Pangong either from Leh or from Nubra Valley. There are two route options from Nubra Valley, one is via Shyok village and another one is through Wari La. The latter one is 11-12 hours long, and the terrain is treacherous hence, I, won’t recommend that route. This leaves us to two routes which I am going to suggest to you.

Leh to Pangong Lake

Leh to Pangong Lake distance is 223 km which takes almost 6-7 hours including the breaks.  

This is the route for traveling from Leh to Pangong Lake:

Leh -> Shey -> Thiksey -> Chang La -> Durbuk -> Tangtse -> Lukung -> Pangong Lake

If you are short on time, then leave extremely early in the morning for Pangong Tso, and reach there by noontime. Spend an hour or so, and then head back to Leh before dusk. If you are going to take a Leh to Pangong Lake day trip, then it would be very tiring. You must return to Leh before dusk as it’s not safe to drive during dark hours on these precarious remote high Himalayan roads.

The best option is always to stay for a night at Pangong Tso and travel to Leh the next day. It doesn’t only give you a bit of flexibility in timings, but also gives you ample time to absorb the beauty of the mesmerizing lake and also make halts at places of interest that come in between.

You can visit the following places while traveling from Leh to Pangong Lake:

  1. Shey Monastery (time required – 1 hour)
  2. Thiksey Monastery (time required – 1 hour)
  3. You can also take a slight detour and visit the Hemis Monastery (time required – 2 hours)
  4. Chang La (time required – 20 minutes)
  5. Chagar Tso (time required – 10 minutes)

You can pick and prioritize the above-mentioned places during your trip from Leh to Pangong Lake. Some of the places you can also visit on your return journey i.e. Pangong Lake to Leh.

Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake

The majority of the people stay in Hunder village during their visit to Nubra Valley. A few of them end up staying in Turtuk Village as well which is also a part of Nubra Valley. If you wish to travel from Turtuk village to Pangong Lake, then it’s going to be a long and treacherous journey of 10-11 hours. I would strongly recommend starting from Hunder village to Pangong Lake which the majority of the travelers do. Hence, assuming the starting point to be the Hunder village of Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake.

Hunder village in Nubra Valley is almost 240 km from Pangong and it takes approximately 7-8 hours including breaks. I always make my groups depart from Nubra Valley at 7:30 am after having breakfast. It helps us to cover the distance stress-free. We are also able to make it to Pangong Lake during afternoon hours and spend ample time there. Moreover, some of the stretches on the route from Nubra Valley to Pangong Lake are extremely rough and get flooded by water which makes its way to the road from the ice melting from the glaciers. Hence, better to leave early in order to have a smooth journey and be able to spend some fruitful time at Pangong Tso.

Hunder -> Diskit -> Khalsar -> Shyok Village -> Durbuk -> Tangtse -> Lukung -> Pangong Lake

Packing List

  • Thermals, other Warm clothes, socks, shoes, cap, gloves
  • Insulated Water Bottle
  • Basic first-aid kit and AMS tablets
  • Oxygen cans/ cylinder
  • Neck Pillow for the road journey
  • Power bank
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Cash


You can either stay at camps at Pangong Lake or one of the homestays in Spangmik village. 

How to be an ambassador of Responsible Tourism at Pangong Lake?

You can be a Responsible Tourism  ambassador at Pangong Lake by following a very simple behavior:

  • Don’t litter around
  • Don’t go inside the water or take a bath in the lake. Buddhists in Ladakh consider their water bodies to be holy and that’s why it’s prohibited to go inside them. This is also the reason that you would find all the lakes in Ladakh to be super clean and worth visiting.
  • Don’t run around or get exhausted. Don’t drink alcohol or do anything else that would lead to AMS. 
  • Refrain from making loud noises during your stay at Pangong because the beauty of this place lies in its silence. 
  • It’s very tough to make water available for tourists at Pangong Lake because of the altitude. Hence, try to avoid taking a bath during your stay at Pangong.

The above tips are specific to Pangong Lake. You can read this article in order to understand more about the practices of responsible tourism that would help you in the longer term.


Pangong Tso is a great place to visit whenever you happen to be in Ladakh. I believe that it would be a sin to return from Ladakh without visiting Pangong Lake. Just follow the guide and you are in for a treat of a lifetime memory at majestic Pangong Tso.

You can also join our group tour to Ladakh. We organize a women-only trip to Ladakh and also a mixed-gender group tour to Ladakh, every year. If you are a group of people, we can organize a customized package for you as per your requirements.


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