The road over Chang La is kept open in winters by the Indian army. So Pangong lake is accessible throughout the year.
If you can afford to hire a taxi, then that would be the easiest way to get to the lake. A overnight trip to Pangong lake by an SUV costs approximately 8000Rs.
But if like me, you cannot afford to hire a jeep or simply want to spend more days at the lake then things become a little complicated.
There is no bus service to the Pangong lake in the winters. But a lot of army vehicles and local jeeps go to Tangste, Durbuk and other villages around the Pangong lake. Tangste is the major hub in this region. Get to Tangste first and then figure out a ride to Pangong lake from there.
So, how do you get a ride to Tangste? There are many options.
1. Go to Karu, some 35kms from Leh. All the vehicles going to Tangste and the villages around Pangong lake stop here at the Karu police checkpost. If you wait there long enough, you are bound to find a vehicle that can give you a ride.
2. The trouble with waiting at Karu is that most of the vehicles would be full and won’t have a seat for you. So it is better to find a shared ride beforehand. The best way to do this would be to go to Choglamsar and ask around if any vehicles are going to Tangste or Pangong lake. Most of the villagers from Pangong lake have houses in Choglamsar, so you are bound to find a ride there.
3. The 3rd option is perhaps the best option. The lady who runs the Dodhguling guest house at Tangste is very sweet and very informed. If you call her up, she can help you get a shared ride from one of the locals driving from Leh to Tangste or Pangong lake. Her name is Tashi. She speaks Hindi and Ladakhi. I do not want to share her number in the open. Let me know if you need it and I can send it to you privately.
Places to Stay
The homestays charge anywhere between 300 to 400Rs per person. This includes your bed, 3 meals a day and all the tea that you can drink. Always ask for these all inclusive deals and avoid homestays which charge separately for the bed and bill each item of food or drink that you have.
This is the first village at the head of the lake. Lukung is the only place from where you can view the entire stretch of the lake. Home stays are plenty here. Try to find a home which is closer to the lake as the village is quite long and it is a long walk from the village to the lake shore.
If you are coming by a hired taxi, this is probably where your taxi driver would take you. The village is chock-a-block with homestays and skeleton tented camps (they take down the tents during winter). Frankly, I do not like Spangmik as the village has lost its character by leasing all its fields to the tour companies in Leh for setting up their tented camps.
Maan 'Ice' Village
Maan, according to me, is the best place to experience winter in Pangong lake. I call it the 'Ice' village because it has a couple of frozen rivers running right through the village. Maan is not yet spoilt by tourism like Spangmik and people are extremely friendly here. Be warned though, the road from Spangmik to Maan is very bad and most tourist vehicles will not come here.
Merak is another beautiful village unspoilt by tourism. It is also the most difficult to get to as it is further away than any of the other villages. I visited both Maan and Merak at the same time during the winter of 2015 and there was a stark difference between the 2 villages. Maan had a lot of ice and snow while Merak had none.
Things to Do
The most obvious thing to do at the Pangong lake in winters is to enjoy the beautiful winter scenery all around you. If you are adventurous and have a bit more time then you can try the following activities.
Ice hockey is a favorite past time of the Ladakhis in the winter. I had seen them play it in Leh, but i was pleasantly surprised to see the village kids from Maan play Ice hockey on the frozen Pangong lake.
These kids were more than happy to share their skates with me. I politely declined though as I a bit wary of falling down and hurting myself on the solid lake surface.
But please always check with the villagers before venturing on to the ice. Last winter (in 2014) a couple of kids from the Merak village fell through the Ice and died.
Cross the frozen Pangong lake
In January, the peak winter, the shepherds from Maan village cross the Pangong lake to reach the pastures on the other side of the lake. They stay here for about 1 month before moving on to the winter pastures at Tokung. The villagers would be happy to take you along with them on what would an once in a life time journey across the frozen lake.
Winter pastures at Tokung.
During winters the villagers from Maan, Merak and Kakset take their herds of sheep and yak to the pastures at Tokung. This wide open swathe of land has plenty of sunshine and grass. Visit Tokung if you want to see the Ladakhi Changpa in action. Also there is a special handpump near Tokung where you get warm water even in the winters.
Thats about it for my guide. Hope you found it useful.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you.