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  About Ladakh > Destinations > Changthang      

The region lies to the east of Leh and is perhaps one of the largest region of Ladakh in terms of area. Because of higher altitude (average 5000 m) it has least vegetation, almost no trees, therefore many of the inhabitants are nomadic in lifestyle, locally known as changpas. Changpas are restricted to Changthang region. Their lively hood mostly depend upon livestock, particularly sheep and goats. During the summer the entire family move about from one place to other in search of pastures.

Nyoma is the largest village in Changthang region, Tangtse across Changla is the second largest village. Quite surprisingly the high altitude plains of Changthang with almost a barren landscape has quite an interesting ecological diversity. The undulating land of these high altitude plateaux is formed into huge basins with no outlet, into which the snowmelt streams settle into great brackish lakes. Some of these high altitude lakes are Pangong, Yaya Tso, Tsomoriri and Tsokar. Likewise it also has a large area of marsh land together they serve a rare habitat heaven for breeding for some of the rarest birds. These includes, the endangered black necked crane, bar headed goose and many more. The wild ass, Tibetan antelope and many ungulates are also found in these wildernesses. Until quite recently the brackish lakes like Tsokar provided the vital mineral, salt, which the changpas used to trade with the Shammas for fruits and other items. Another famous produce of the changpas are the Pashmina (the raw material for the Cashmere Shawl). It is obtained from Changra goats found only in these regions. The people are hardy and tough because of the climatic condition. They too have a slightly different dialect and quite a contrasting dress-up.

Caution: Changthang circuit is a difficult high-altitude terrain and the infrastructure in terms of amenities is bare. Throughout the stretch of Pangong or Tsomoriri, there will virtually be no shops, hotels or restaurant in most of the interior area. There is no fuel supply either, if you are on your own. All night halts are mainly on open camping sites, and usually the night is chilly. Some of the areas around the lake may be marshy and if your vehicles is stuck, beware there is no mechanical aid anywhere near. Sometimes you have to cross small streams, in that case it is better early in the morning when the water is low and you can judge your way. Your ration should be calculated.

CHANGTHANG CIRCUIT: Leh-Pangong Tso (lake) (147 km)
There are some short-of-time visitors who even manage this trip in a single day, that is starting early from Leh and returning by late evening. From Leh to Karu via Shey and Thikse is 45 km, your drive is along and against the Indus. At Karu you turn left, uphill in a side-valley, towards Sakti and Chemre villages. There is a police control check post here. After about 10 km climb you reach Sakti, further less than half a kilometer the road bisect. The road straight goes to Wari-La to enter Nubra valley, while the road to the right will lead to Chang-La towards Pangong Tso. After steady climb of about 20 km in a narrower side-valley you reach Zangral. There is a police/army control check point for your protected area permit. From this check point it is 13 km uphill to reach Changla La (5320 m), considred to be the world’s third highest pass. You then climb down 20 km to reach Durbuk village, which has a camping site and a tiny gonpa. Another about 20 km and you reach Tangtse, there is a check post just before the village after crossing a bridge. You may put up for night here or at Pangong tso. From Tangtse it is further 34 km smooth road to the Pangong Tso Info Tangtse: It is relatively a large village with amenities like hospital, school, a government rest house, guest houses and sufficient camping sites. There is a small monastery. At Tangtse, within the village, there is a big boulder which has inscriptions of great historical importance and other petroglyphs.

Pangong Tso: This high altitude lake at 4420 m is 150 km long and 4-6 km wide, but nearly two-third of the length lies under Chinese territory. This is the Asia’s largest and highest saltwater/brackish lake. But whatever, little part on this side, the sheer turkish-blue colour of the water, reflecting the golden coloured surrounding hills in it and the blue sky in the background definitely enthrall the worldwide visitor. The inland water has high mineral and salt content thus there is no aquatic life in it, but in and around there are some birds which are a rare species. There are some freshwater streamlets flowing into the lake. On the shore there is a small camping site called Lukung, but further about 8 km there is a hamlet called Spangmik, where there is also a camping site. The last village where a tourist is allowed is Merak 20 kms from Spangmik.

CHANGTHANG CIRCUIT-02: Leh-Tsomoriri/Tsokar (211+70 km)
These twin lakes are another high altitude lakes of Rupshu area of Changthang, but quite surely they are little different from the Pangong Tso. You can even make a round-trip, thus not returning the same way and also reducing the total journey to 439 km instead of 282 x 2. It requires minimum of two days. Leh to Karu is same as in ‘Leh-Pangong’ sector. From Karu it is another 14km to Upshi (3525m), which has a check point for your permits. From here you stick to left, along the Indus (crossing the Indus leads to Manali). Its about 90 km to Chumathang, which has a hot-spring and then another 22 km to Mahay. Going straight it leads to Nyoma village, the headquarter of Changthang. Mahay Gonpa belongs to Karmapa school of order and is relatively a new establishment. An unpaved road lead towards a less explored Yayatso. From Mahay you have to cross the bridge to cross the Indus. From Mahay bridge it is 48 km to Tsomoriri lake. It pass through village Sumdo, with a small beautiful monastery and a pass, Namshang La (4800 m).

From Tsomoriri you repeat some of the road before turning west on way to Tsokar lake, totalling about 70 km. Getting back to Leh from Tsomoriri means you have to hurry through Tsokar. From Tsokar, after about 20 km the rough road touches the Leh-Manali highway, it is further about 130 km to Leh. You need to cross the Taglang La (5325 m). From Taglang La it is 60 km to Upshi which passes through hamlets of Gya and Rumtse. Cross Indus to reach a tri-junction of Upshi, rest is same you came from.

Chumathang: You may make your night halt here, but usually it’s a lunch-stop. Although, it is of little importance, the hotspring here is supposed to be of therapeutic value. There is a resort here for night-halt. An accomodation “Holiday Resort’ is one option other than pitching your tent around.

Yayatso Lake: Its a beautiful high altitude lake with rare birds around. You will also be able to have a glimpse of the Changpa nomads with permanent settlements.
Tsomoriri Lake (4450 m): This brackish lake is surrounded by mountains and is abount 20 km in length and its width varies from 5 to 8 km. On the shore at around one of its freshwater inlet is the village of Korzok, which provide a beautiful campsite in the vicinity with the view of the lake. The village has a field of barley around, thus showing a premanent settlement of the Changpas. There is a beautiful monastery. This is a usual site for a night stay. You may be asked to register yourself here in Tsomoriri. If lucky, you would be able to see the Tibetan Wild Ass, Tibetan Blue Sheep and many birds around or on way

Tsokar lake (‘white lake’): This lake is about 3 km by 1.5 km, and greenish in colour. The water is so brackish that the Changpa are able to extract salt from it to trade with merchants from the rest of Ladakh. Little further away is a small village Thukje with a monastery. The freshwater inlets of these lakes and the neighbouring wetlands are the breeding-grounds of rare and interesting bird species including the black neck crane, great crested grebe, brown-headed gull, brahminy duck and bar-headed goose. There is greatest of possibility of getting to see the rare Tibetan Wild Asses or Kiang, solitary or in groups of 10 to 15.


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