Pangong Tso is salt water lake in the western Himalayas in Ladakh. At 14000 feet above mean sea level it is one of the highest lakes in the region. Seen from air, it looks like a thin sliver of blue among the ochre and white of the barren mountains of the Ladakh plateau. Its about 130 kilometres long but just about 5 - 6 kilometres at its widest. Its pristine blue colour among the brown and white surrounding areas makes it look surreal and heavenly.
Reaching Pangong Tso is almost as difficult as reaching heaven, though. Just about a seemingly trivial 140 kilometres from Leh, its actually an arduous hour back rattling journey that takes one over the mighty Chang La pass. At a shade above 17000 feet, Chang La is not as high as the more famous Khardung La but its no less charming. The weather on top of the Chang La changes so frequently that it can be called mercurial. At the warmest time of the year one can expect about 10 feet of snow on either side of the thin one way road. Calling it a road is a bit of an exaggeration - it is majorly cratered and soon dissipates into a mud track. After every bout of fresh snow the mud turns into a squishy slime that tests the best of the drivers' skills. Needless to say passing the Chang La is an exhilarating experience. Beyond the Chang La, the meandering road is much tamer with a gentle climb down to 14000 feet. The last third of the road from the military cantonment of Tang Tse to Spangmik seems just out of a bollywood movie shot in the Swiss Alps. The road passes through a narrow valley cloistered on the side by a green meadows and then barren brown intimidating mountains on both sides. One can spot flocks of seemingly timid Yaks grazing and occasionally also spot the critically endangered Wild Ass.
The first view of the lake is truly hypnotising - a turquoise blue against the ochre mountains capped by snow. The road follows the meandering shore of the lake till one reaches Spangmik which is a tent town of makeshift resorts. The frail canvas of the tents can do little to alleviate the bone chilling cold wind that blows at all times of the day and night. Electricity is rationed to just about 3 - 4 hours in the evening as it is generated entirely out of Diesel generators. But this long difficult journey and weather is more than enough price to pay for the sights of the lake early in the morning. The colours of the lake reflect the clear blue sky, the mountains, clouds and the snow capped peaks changing from cobalt blue to malachite green and all the shades in between. Many migratory birds make a stop over at this lake and for Mumbaikar it is heartening to see the Black faced Gull in summer plumage. The same bird is seen in winters at the Mumbai shores.
The filming of the bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots has added to the rapid pace of commercialization of the lake front, yet it still retains a natural charm that is unmatched. Infact, if asked to sum up the lake in one word, perhaps it would be Pristine!