The 134 km long Pangong Lake flows from India through Tibet and into China. In Tibetan, Pangong means high grassland lake and at 4350m above sea level, it’s the worlds’ highest saltwater lake.
The lake is simply wonderful. In the morning sunshine it sparkles a beautiful bright blue and it’s mesmerising to watch as it changes colour throughout the day. It’s incredibly clear with both the clouds above and the marble colours of the minerals in the surrounding peaks reflecting in the water.
It is very cool to see the high glaciers surrounding the lake and it felt like a little glimpse of what Tibet might be like as it’s just a few km away.
The lake has became popular because of the 2009 Bollywood movie 3 Idiots so it’s full of Indian tourists recreating the scene. It’s especially quiet and peaceful, though, in the mornings when people have left or haven’t arrived yet from Leh. As such, it’s definitely worth spending a whole day here.
There are a number of lovely accommodation options with great dinners included. Accommodation is predominantly in large canvas tents and they’re very cosy and quaint.
Perhaps the lake was more special because it was such a journey to get there! Our original thinking was that we’d catch the bus or possibly find people to share a jeep with. A Belgian couple in Lamayuru planted the bike seed when they raved about the ride they’d done. Once we arrived in Leh it very quickly became apparent that bike rental is a popular way to get around.
I last rode a motorbike in Vietnam over six years ago and that was a Honda Win 100cc and paved roads. Here we had rented an Enfield 500cc Bullet, and were driving over a sandy, rocky, narrow and super steep 5360m pass! Not to mention all the river crossings and all the oncoming traffic (including an endless number of military trucks).
A bike can be a really fun way to travel, especially if the road is good. You have the breeze in the heat and a freedom you don’t on the bus. The first 40 km out of Leh were wonderful. A winding, paved road made for easy riding and we enjoyed wonderful views of the many peaks in the area, including the snowy 6000m Stok Kangri, and the many hill-top monasteries. We drove past herds of pashmina goats, horses and the occasional yak, while the ducks living on the lake looked pretty happy.
The pass was challenging to say the least and we took our time almost doubling the estimated journey time! Thankfully after the pass most of the road was paved, though as we got closer to the lake our slow pace caught up with us as the water hazards were in full afternoon flow. There’s nothing like getting soaked to your knees to cheer things up!
We arrived at the lake in the early evening as the sun shone on the rocks and the lake glistened. It was magical and we were blown away by how pretty it was. We slept very well, dreaming about winding roads, and awoke to another glorious day. We enjoyed a day walking by the lake and taking the bike on a much easier journey to the smaller villages further down the lake. We settled on a spot to stay with an uninterrupted view of the lake and made ourselves at home for the afternoon.
Despite being a wonderful passenger, we like to not push our luck so Catherine caught the bus back to Leh the following day. She enjoyed the view from the bus window, reading her book with less worry of us both being thrown off the cliff! While still pretty hair raising on the bus, the driver was phenomenal on the bends, off-roading on the beach by the lake and putting the bus through its paces!
I was a little more confident on my journey back, but was more than happy to give the bike back at the end of the ride!
Renting a bike
There are dozens of rental shops around Leh and prices are fixed. On the Belgians’ recommendation we rented from Hidden North Adventures and it was INR 1,600/day. The owner is Tashi – firstname.lastname@example.org / +91 9419218055.
You need a permit to visit the lake and many travel agencies can do this for a small commission. Tashi arranged ours and it cost INR 700/person.
Where we stayed
On our first night we stayed at Himalaya Inn, before the town of Spanmik. The lake was perhaps a 10 minute walk away. It was very comfortable and dinner was delicious. It was INR 1,500 for the tent, which included chai, dinner and breakfast.
On our second night we stayed at Galaxy Camp. We were right on the lake and as there were no further accommodation beyond us, we enjoyed amazing views. It was INR 2,800 for the tent, which included chai, dinner and breakfast.
Prices seem fairly flexible and there is no shortage of options, from home-stays to luxury.
There is no petrol station beyond Karu so you’ll need to carry a 5l jerry can. These can be bought at the bazaar in Leh or at the petrol station itself.