Salt is known to collect on the shores of Pangong Lake, giving it the characteristic “white halo” common to salt lakes. The lake is a beautiful deep blue and the surrounding grey and brown mountains buttress its natural beauty. Just beyond the shores of the lake, are grassy meadows, where yak herders bring their ruminant animals (yaks) to graze.
Pangong Lake is Tibetan for “High Grassland Lake.” It is a salt water lake in the autonomous region of Tibet and extends into the north-western region of India. The elevation of lake Pangong is 14,270 ft. The lake has a surface area of 233 square miles. The source of the lake comes from both sides of the border as glacial melt, and precipitation. I am unaware of an outlet for the lake and its depth and volume.
How to get there
There are two routs possible from Lhasa to Pangong Lake. The longer route (1,048 mi) takes approximately 42 hours and passes Namco Lake on the 301-highway west. The shorter route (978 mi) takes approximately 27 hours and passes Mt. Kailash, and Manasarovar Lake on the 219-highway west. Both routes have their benefits. If you would like to travel both routes, I recommend traveling from Lhasa on the shorter 219-highway west to Lake Pangong. Then taking the long way back to Lhasa on the 301-highway east.
Though we do not have any featured travel packages to Pangong Lake, customized tours are available upon request. Please contact Upper Himalayan Treks and Adventure to customize your trip and to arrange your booking.
What to bring and where to stay
This lake is fairly cold throughout the year. I highly recommend packing warm clothes for all seasons. You will want to bring comfortable shoes too. Boots are not necessary, unless you wear them to keep your feet warm. A beanie hat is a good choice to keep your head warm. You should also bring a water filter, UV protected sunglasses, and chap stick. You can substitute a SteriPEN or water purification tabs for the water filter. A sleeping bag is recommended but not needed. Sun screen should be used to cover all exposed skin.
There are plenty of places to stay while traveling to Pangong Lake. There are tea houses, hotels, guest lodges, and hostels available along the highways. You are almost always likely to find somebody eager to offer their generosity, which translates into a place to stay and warm food and tea. These resting areas offer comfortable beds and lots of blankets.
While you are traveling through Tibet, make sure you layer your cloths. It is a little bit of work at first but once you get balance right you will be very comfortable in the weather. Sherpa Adventure Gear has a lot of good quality equipment that is designed to be layer-able. Because you will be staying in hotels or tea houses you will not likely need camping equipment, but if you want a new sleeping bag or additional equipment for your trip, try Eastern Mountain Sports. They have a great selection of camping and hiking gear.
When to go
The best time to see the lake is in the summer (May through September). During the summer season the grass is green, the lake is water, and temperatures are warm (highs of 60s to lows of 40s (Fahrenheit)). You will also not likely experience much precipitation in the summer. The average amount of rain is less than 1/2 inch per month.
The winter season is violently cold. The temperatures plunge well below freezing into the negatives in Fahrenheit. It gets cold enough to freeze a saline lake. The lake completely freezes in the winter months (December through February). If you prefer cold temperatures and frozen lakes this is probably the preferred time to go. Below is a graph of the average monthly temperatures.
Figure 1 Average Monthly Temperatures
The Chinese government requires all visitors entering Tibet be accompanied by a guide through a licensed guide company. Visitors are also required to have a Tibetan Entry Permit, which is acquired and paid for by most travel companies. In addition to the permit travelers are required to have a Chinese Visa.
A round trip on the shortest route will take about 12 days. This depends on your driving preference. The trip can be shortened a few days with longer driving segments. A 12-day trip to Pangong Lake will have a total cost about $1800. Below is an explanation of charges.
- $50/day guide
- $20/day food
- $30/day room board (some locations have tent style rooms for $5/ night)
- $140 Chinese Visa
- $20 Tibet Entry Permit (actual cost)
- $200 transportation
- $200 government tax
There are no known religious attachments to Lake Pangong. However, the lake has been featured in over a dozen films and music videos. The lake is also the sight of border disputes between India and China. Venturing too far West toward the Indian boarder may lead to complications from the Chinese military, which controls the boarder.