Pangong Lake is over rated, visit this less commercialized lake instead
When we speak of travelling in Ladakh, probably the first place that comes to our mind is the surreal Pangong Tso. Make no mistake, Pangong Tso is indeed one of the most beautiful high altitude lakes that you can visit and soak in all its grandeur with dramatic backdrop of the mighty Himalayas. The lake itself is one of the largest in India and is spread over 125 kms. With its myriad hues that change frequently throughout the day, the lake is one of the most sought after destinations in Ladakh. After all, situated at a height of almost 4,350m, it is the world's highest saltwater lake.
Along with being one of the places of recent skirmish between the armed forces of India and China, the lake has received extensive coverage in a number of bollywood movies such as 3 Idiots, Jab Tak Hain Jaan and many others. This has indeed made this place heavily commercialized. As a tourist attraction, you will find some of the most famous objects from these movies such as the famous 3 Idiots bench or the scooter from the climax scene of the same movie positioned near the lake. You can photograph yourself on these by paying a nominal amount. Although, the prices for stay at nearby camps is still reasonable, the place in itself is heavily crowded. Look at this way - every tourist who visits Ladakh has Pangong Tso in his/ her destination list and over the peak seasons between June to mid- September, Ladakh sees an influx of lakhs of tourists. Thus during these months, you will always find this place crowded and where there is crowd, there is also litter strewn around. You can certainly give it a visit, if its your first time in Ladakha and instead of staying at Pangong, my recommendation is to stay at the Man or Merak villages which are a little further away and are usually avoided by the crowd. These villages in itself are beautiful and the drive along the lake itself is stunning to say the least.
If you are one of those who prefer to visit places that are less commercialized or prefer solitude, then read-on.
Located at about 190kms from Leh and on the way to another beautiful lake - Tsomiriri, lies Kyagar Tso, a small brackish lake. Kyagar Tso a small saline water lake at an elevation of 4.705 m (15,436 ft) above the sea level. It lies in the Rupshu Valley in Ladakh. The lake is accessible directly from Manali side as well via Debring - Sumdo. On the way, you can also visit the Puga hot springs known for its surreal landscape.
Picturesquely located in secluded, breathtakingly beautiful Rupshu Valley, facilities like electricity, medical aid, hot running water, western toilets etc. are rare to find here, although you will find all these facilities a little ahead at Karzok, next to the Tsomiriri lake.
Not many know about Kyagar Tso and only discover it accidentally on their way to Tsomiriri. The area registers freezing temperatures during the winter months and the lake itself remains completely frozen in winter. In summer though, the turquoise colour water of the lake and the backdrop of glacier mountains have a different charm to it. The lake is essentially situated in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by open fields and snow-capped mountains. You may not even find a single person around the lake and can get to soak in all its grandeur all by yourself! If you are lucky, you might find wild horses, yak, sheep, goat and geese. to give you company ;)
How to reach here?
Kyagar Tso is accessible from 3 routes -
Leh to Kyagar Tso. This is about 190 kms stretch and covers Leh - Upshi - Chumathang - Mahe - Sumdo - Kyagar Tso. The route is pretty good with about 75% of it completely paved and 25% offroading.
Hanle to Kyagar Tso. This is about 140 kms and covers Hanle - Rhongo - Loma - Nyoma - Mahe - Sumdo - Kyagar Tso. The road from Hanle to Mahe is completely paved and can be covered in very short time. From Mahe, it is a mix of paved and offroad conditions.
From Manali side. If you are intending to cover this place from Manali on way to Leh, then you need to take a deviation at Debring, just after the More Plains. From Debring, take a right towards Sumdo. You would be covering Tsokar, Pologongka La (a high altitude pass located at 15,892ft), Puga, Sumdo and finally Kyagar Tso.
Public transport is unavailable to Kyagar Tso. So you can either travel in your own vehicle or rent a cab or bike from Leh or Manali. Do keep in mind to carry extra fuel as there are no fuel pumps on the way.
Best time to visit
June to September are the ideal months to visit Kyagar Tso. The winter season is quite extreme and the lake itself is frozen while the temperature will drop to -ve even during the day. Along with this, since the place is on open vast land, there is constant breeze which can get chilly during the winters.
Food and Stay
For accommodations and food, you can stay at Karzok, alongside the Tsomiriri lake which has many stay options available. You can visit Karzok and directly book on the spot. Online booking rates are normally double the direct booking rates.
Keep in mind!
Kyagar Tso is a dreamy place and you can spend hours together here enjoying its beauty! However, do note that one of the reasons why its less visited is because the area is very remote and very sparsely populated. There are essentially no stay options available along the lake. There are no petrol pumps as well in the area. Carrying enough fuel is therefore necessary. Accessibility is largely limited to the summer season. Thus plan your visit accordingly. Despite the challenges, it is certainly a place not to be missed in your Ladakh itinerary. Happy travelling!