This is a 5-6 hour drive from Leh and can be done, with an early start, as a very long day trip from Leh. It is a dramatic drive over ChangLa Pass claimed to be the third highest motorable pass in the world at 5270m (17290ft).
Leaving Leh on the Manali Highway the first part of the drive is fairly built up past the Model village of Saboo, through Shey with the ruins of the Palace high above and massive chorten field and Thicksey with the Gompa climbing up the mountainside.
The settlements are then left behind as the road crosses the desert. Stankna Gompa can be seen on the far side of the river.
Karu has grown up at a major road junction where the Pangong Lake and Hemis valley roads branch off. There are shops,,% restaurants and police checkpoint where permits and passport have to be shown.
The road turns off up a side valley and begins the climb to ChangLa. The narrow and bendy road is cut out of a ledge along the side of the mountain, which rises steeply on one side. The other side drops steeply into the valley with no safety rails. It hardly seems wide enough for cars to pass, but they do, often at the narrowest bits. Overtaking can be hazardous. The driver sounds his horn and overtakes trusting that the overtaken vehicle will slow down and pull to one side. It usually does.
There are good views of Chemde Gompa on a hill overlooking the valley. There was a small settlement below the gompa surrounded by green fields, some carefully terraced. Higher up the valley the houses were more isolated surrounded,% by farmland. There were super views back down the valley to the snow capped mountains on the other side of the Indus Valley. Closer to, there were,% steep rocky mountains of bare rock, dust and scree.
The road continued to climb up the side of the mountain by steep double bends. Shakti village was far below with the remains of a fortress falling down the hillside below. No-one knows the history of this.
Settlement and fields gradually ran out and the valley bottom became bare rock and dust. The road was getting increasingly narrow and the surface was beginning to break up badly in places. Early morning in June, water running across the road was still frozen as the snow line was reached. (This had thawed out by midday).
At 5270m (17290ft) this is claimed to be the third highest motorable pass in the world. Advice is to spend no more than 20 minutes at this altitude.
The road drops down from the pass through a much more open valley with grassy slopes. Horses and yaks can be seen grazing round here. There is virtually no settlement except for the small village of Tangtse, in wide valley bottom surrounded by grazing land. Permits and passports have to be shown here.
The road continues to drop steadily down through wide valleys with grazing for yaks, horses and Tibetan wild a.s (TA considers it objectionale if the middle s is included). Suddenly there is the first glimpse of Pangong lake which is deep blue against the yellow/brown mountains.
Most people park as soon as they reach the lake, where locals have set up small tents serving meals. It is very beautiful but at 4267m (14000ft) many people dont go far from their cars. Most people walk down to the tip of small peninsula in lake where part of a Bollywood film was set. There is a rough track which continues further along the lake shore with parking beside the lake. Tourists are not allowed beyond Merak village.
The lake changes in colour during the day. The deepest hues of blue are when the sun is high, with a turquoise shade near the bank and deeper hues in the middle of the lake. It looses colour later in the day and turns dull as the sun moves towards the horizon.
The lake freezes to a depth of several meters in winter.