This is probably the most funnest, the easiest (after ChangLa), friendliest and the most visually breathtaking ride experience available in Ladakh. And definitely my top favorite among all the cycling routes in Ladakh.
The reason why i loved this circuit is because of the 30 odd km flat stretch of dirt road along theÂ shores of the Pangong lake. You get to ride right up along the edge of the lake and the scenery on both sides of the road is just spectacular. On your left is the lake itself and the smooth barren mountains of the Chang Chemo range (which mark the beginning of the Aksai Chin plateau). And on you right ofcourse are the magnificient snowcapped sawtooth peaks of the Pangong range and the different villages that lie under their shadow.
There are 3 different villages one can visit on this route, Spangmik, Maan & Merak, each spaced about 10km apart. And you can easily find homestay accomodation in any of these villages. I spent about 2 days in each of the villages and if i have to pick a favorite, it would be Merak. It is the last and the biggest of the 3 villages and the landscape just opens up here with large sprawling farms and grasslands along the lake.
Zoom around the attached map for the location of these villages.
The easy part i mentioned above starts after the ChangLa pass. Changla is one of the highest (it is higher than KhardungLa which is touted as the highest motorable pass in the world) and one the most difficult passes in Ladakh. So if you want to take it easy you should hitch a ride upto Changla or even up to the Tangste village and then start cycling from there. From Tangste onwards the road climbs very gently up towards the Pangong lake. It is a smooth ride along the Tangste river with a couple of camping spots and wet lands along the way.
And the fun part starts once you reach the lake. There is not much of a road here to speak of, it is mostly a gravel track with sandy bits in between and there are numerous water channels which run down from the mountains to join the lake. Combine these two with the scenery and you get a up and down bumpy ride which surprisingly puts a big smile on your face.
With time and the necessary permits one could possible extend this circuit to cover all the lakes in the region, Pangong, Tsomoriri and Tsokar. This for me would be the ultimate cycling route in Ladakh as it cover the entire ChangThang plains and i hope to cover it the next time i go there. Zoom out a couple of times on the map to see this entire route mapped out.
For those looking to do the entire circut starting from Leh, i'am including a detailed list of food and accomodation spots along this route.
1. Sakthi/Takthok monasteryÂ : Located about 45km from Leh. This should be your first stop. There are no guest houses in the Sakthi village but you can go the main market street (some 4 shops on either side of the road) and ask the shop keepers for accomodation. Many of them provide home stays.
The Takthok monastery is located some 4km away from the Sakthi village (from the market). Here you'll find a goverment run PWD guest house and the rooms can be had for about 300Rs a night including dinner.
2. ZingralÂ : From Sakthi, it is one straight climb upto Zingral (around 18km away). At zingral there is a army checkpost and you'll able to get some tea from the army mess and if you are lucky some lunch as well.
3. ChangLa pass:Â If you make it up to the pass, you can stop here for some well deserved tea.
4. Nomad camp: There is a nomadic camp setup near a small lake halfway between ChangLa and Tangste. During high season you'll be able to stay here and get some food.
5. TangsteÂ : Many restaurant and accomodation options available here.
6. Mugleb:Â Inbetween Tangste and the Pangong lake there are a couple of camping spots. Mugleb is the pretty one.
7. LukungÂ : Located near the head of the lake, Lunkung has a couple of restaurants and tented camps where you can stay.
8. Spangmik:Â The first and the smallest of the 3 beautiful villages beside the lake. Almost every house in the village offers homestays.
9. Maan:Â No advertisements for guesthouses in Maan but you can ask for the home of the local headmaster and stay there. By 2011 he should have a couple of new rooms Â available for tourists.
10. Merak: Around 3-4 guesthouses here offering homestays. Some houses have inverters which you can use to charge your camera batteries. So be aware of this while choosing your home stay.