Pangong Tso

Coordinates: 33°43′04.59″N 78°53′48.48″E / 33.7179417°N 78.8968000°E / 33.7179417; 78.8968000
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso from space
A view of Pangong Tso from space
Location of Pangong Lake
Location of Pangong Lake
Pangong Tso
Location of Pangong Lake
Location of Pangong Lake
Location of Pangong Lake
Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso (Ladakh)
LocationLeh district (Ladakh, India),
Rutog County (Tibet, China)
Coordinates33°43′04.59″N 78°53′48.48″E / 33.7179417°N 78.8968000°E / 33.7179417; 78.8968000
TypeSoda lake
dimictic lake (east basin)[1]
cold monomictic lake (west basin)[citation needed]
Basin countriesChina, India
Max. length134 km (83 mi)
Max. width5 km (3.1 mi)
Surface areaapprox. 700 km2 (270 sq mi)
Max. depth330 ft. (100 m)
Surface elevation4,225 metres (13,862 ft)[2]
Frozenduring winter
Pangong Tso
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese班公錯
Simplified Chinese班公错
Tibetan name
Tsomo Nganglha Ringpo
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese錯木昂拉仁波
Simplified Chinese錯木昂拉仁波
Tibetan name

Pangong Tso or Pangong Lake (Tibetan: སྤང་གོང་མཚོ;[3] Chinese: 班公错; pinyin: Bān gōng cuò; Hindi: पैंगोंग झील, romanizedPaiṅgoṅg jhīl) is an endorheic lake spanning eastern Ladakh and West Tibet situated at an elevation of 4,225 m (13,862 ft). It is 134 km (83 mi) long and divided into five sublakes, called Pangong Tso, Tso Nyak, Rum Tso (twin lakes) and Nyak Tso. Approximately 50% of the length of the overall lake lies within Tibet in China, 40% in Ladakh, India and the remaining 10% is disputed and is a de facto buffer zone between India and China. The lake is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its broadest point. All together it covers almost 700 km2. During winter the lake freezes completely, despite being saline water. It has a land-locked basin separated from the Indus River basin by a small elevated ridge, but is believed to have been part of the latter in prehistoric times.[4]


Historically, the lake is viewed as being made up five sublakes, which are connected through narrow water channels. The name Pangong Tso only applied to the westernmost lake that is mostly in Ladakh. The main lake on the Tibetan side is called Tso Nyak (the "middle lake"). It is followed by two small lakes called Rum Tso. The last lake near Rutog is called Nyak Tso again.[5][6] The whole lake group was and is still often referred to as Tsomo Nganglha Ringpo (Tibetan: མཚོ་མོ་ངང་ལྷ་རིང་པོ[3]) in Tibetan.

There are different interpretations of the meanings of both Pangong Tso and Tsomo Nganglha Ringpo. The Ladakh government website says "Pangong Tso" is Tibetan, meaning "high grassland lake",[7] however travel books say Pangong means "hollow".[8][9] Tsomo Nganglha Ringpo is Tibetan that is interpreted to mean various different but similar meanings -- "long, narrow, enchanted lake" by Chinese media sources,[10] "female narrow very long lake" by early European explorers,[11] and "long-necked swan lake" by other modern sources.[12]


Pangong Tso is surrounded by three mountain ranges: Changchenmo Range and Pangong Range sub-ranges of Karakoram Range, and Kailash Range (Gangdise Shan range).[13][14][15] Changchenmo Range runs along the eastern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso, and contains spurs Finger-1 to Finger-8. Pangong Range, along the southern bank of the Pangong Tso, runs from Tangtse in west to Chushul near the centre of southern bank of the Pangong Tso. According to the Britannica, the Changchenmo Range and Pangong Range are sometimes considered easternmost part of the Karakoram Range.[13] Kailash Range, runs along southern bank of the Pangong Tso, from centre of Pangong Tso at Lukung to the west to Phursook Bay and Mount Kailash.[14]

Changchenmo Range has several glaciated spurs which slop down and jut into the northern bank of Pangong Tso, and these spurs are called as the fingers. From west to east, these are named as the Finger-1 to Finger-8. The Indian claim of LAC runs east till the Finger-8, and the Chinese claim of the LAC runs west till the Finger-4. The overlapping LAC claim area between Finger-4 and Finger-8 is considered a buffer zone by India and China.[15] Indian Military has a permanent base near the Finger-3, named as the Dhan Singh Thapa Post,[16] and the Chinese Military has a permanent base to the east of Finger-8.[15]

Pangong Range has several important features, from northwest to southeast: Harong peak, Merag peak, Kangju Kangri peak, and Kongta La pass.

Kailash Range on the southern bank of Pangong begins from Lukung, runs eastward via Thakung Heights, Helmet Top, Phursook Bay, till India-claimed-LAC at Bangong Co.[14] Other important features in this range are Helmet Top, Black Top, Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Spanggur Tso, Rezang La, Rechin La, Rezang La II, etc.

China-Claimed-LAC runs via Finger-4 in Changchenmo Range on north bank of Pangong Tso to Phursook Bay on south bank, then via Helmet Top, Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La (1962 battle), Rezang Top, Rechin La, Rezang La II, Mount Sajum.[14][17]

India-Claimed-LAC runs further northeast of China-Claimed-LAC via Finger-8 in Changchenmo Range on north bank of Pangong Tso to Bangong Co on south bank, then via Black Top and Gurung Hill, and then along same the alignment as the China-Claimed-LAC via Spanggur Gap, Rezang La, etc.[14]

India-Claimed-border runs further northeast of India-Claimed-LAC via Khurnak Fort on north bank of Pangong Tso to Mumkun peak on south bank, to Laban peak, Matung Nyungtsa, Spanggur Tso, Dage peak, Rechihlong and Bapi peak.

Sino-Indian border dispute[edit]

Contested LAC near the Pangong Lake[18][a]
with "fingers" – mountain spurs jutting into the lake[19]

Pangong Tso is disputed territory. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) passes through the lake. A section of the lake approximately 20 km east from the LAC is controlled by China but claimed by India. The eastern end of the lake is in Tibet. After the mid-19th century, Pangong Tso was at the southern end of Johnson Line, an early attempt at demarcation between India and China in the Aksai Chin region.

The Khurnak Fort lies on the northern bank of the lake, about halfway up Pangong Tso. The Chinese have controlled the Khurnak Fort area since 1958.[20] To the south is the smaller Spanggur Tso lake.

On 20 October 1962, Pangong Tso saw military action during the Sino-Indian War, successful for the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).[21] The area remains a sensitive border point along the LAC.[22][23] Incursions from the Chinese side are common.[24]

In August 2017, Indian and Chinese forces near Pangong Tso engaged in a melee involving kicking, punching, rock throwing, and use of makeshift weapons such as sticks and rods.[25][26] On 11 September 2019, PLA troops confronted Indian troops on the northern bank.[27][28] On 5–6 May 2020, a face-off between about 250 Indian and Chinese troops near the lake resulted in casualties on both sides.[29][25][30][31]

On 29–30 August 2020, Indian troops occupied many heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso. The heights included Rezang La, Reqin La, Black Top, Hanan, Helmet, Gurung Hill, Gorkha Hill and Magar Hill.[32] Some of these heights are in the grey zone of the LAC and overlook Chinese camps.[33] India chose to pull back from these positions as leverage for larger disengagement.[34]

China is building a bridge across the lake near the Khurnak Fort.[35][36] Both the Chinese and Indian militaries have vessels stationed on the lake.[37][38][39]

Transport & roads[edit]

Following roads provide the access within the Indian held area:

  • "Finger-4 Road" (F4R), is a black top motorable road till "Finger-4" on the northern bank of the Pangong Tso, being built by India which will be completed by 2025.[41]

  • "Pangong Tso#PL|Pangong Lakeshore Road" (PL road), is a motorable road along the scenic southern shore of Pangong Tso from Kakset to Chushul via Lukung and Thakung (Indian military post).

Following roads provide the access within the China held area:

  • "China National Highway 219" passes by the eastern end of Pangong Tso. The lake can be accessed by driving 12 km from Rutog or 130 km from Shiquanhe. Tourists can rent a boat on the lake, but landing on islands is not allowed, to protecting the avian breeding grounds. There are several restaurants along the shore.[42] The "Khurnak Bridges" are the twin adjacent bridges over the Pangong Tso, one smaller and a bigger one for the heavier vehicle, built by China to connect Khurnak Fort on the north bank to Rutog in southeast via a new road which will reduce the distance between two locations by 150 km. India claims that this bridge is illegal as it lies in the area claimed by India. It lies 20 km east of the point [Finger 8] which India perceives to be the location of LAC.[43][44]


On the Indian side, an Inner Line Permit is required to visit the lake, as it lies on the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control. For security reasons, India does not permit boating. Groups are permitted, accompanied by an accredited guide.[45][46] The past few years have seen a remarkable increase in Indian tourists flocking to Pangong Lake. However, this surge has presented environmental challenges due to inadequate infrastructure to accommodate and manage the growing number of visitors.[47] In 2023, on the Indian side the tourists are allowed to visit only the eastern and southern bank, access to the north bank is not yet open for the tourists.

Flora and fauna[edit]

The eastern part of the lake is fresh, with the content of total dissolved solids at 0.68 g/L, while the western part of the lake is saline, with the salinity at 11.02 g/L.[48] The brackish water[49] of the lake has very low micro-vegetation. Guides report that there are no fish or other aquatic life on the Indian side of the lake, except for some small crustaceans. On the other hand, visitors see numerous ducks and gulls over and on the lake surface. There are some species of scrub and perennial herbs that grow in the marshes around the lake.

The lake acts as an important breeding ground for a variety of birds including a number of migratory birds. During summer, the bar-headed geese and Brahmini ducks are commonly seen here.[50] The region around the lake supports a number of species of wildlife including the kiang and the marmot. The lake hosts large quantities of fish, especially Schizopygopsis stoliczkai[51] and Racoma labiata.[52] Freshwater snails of the genus Radix also live in the lake.[53]

Formerly, Pangong Tso had an outlet to the Shyok River, a tributary of the Indus River, but it was closed off by natural damming. Two streams feed the lake from the Indian side, forming marshes and wetlands at the edges.[54] Strand lines above current lake level reveal a 5 m (16 ft) thick layer of mud and laminated sand, suggesting the lake has shrunken recently on the geological scale.[49] On the Indian side, no fish have been observed, however in the stream coming from the south-eastern side (Cheshul nalla), three fish species (Schizopygopsis stoliczkae, Tibetan stone loach and Triplophysa gracilis) have been reported (Bhat et al., 2011). The low biodiversity has been reported as being due to high salinity and harsh environmental conditions (Bhat et al., 2011).

Bird Islet is a popular location for bird-watching for tourists in Ngari.[55]


Climate data for Pangong Tso
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) −5.9
Daily mean °C (°F) −13.3
Average low °C (°F) −20.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 4


Pangong Tso


Edward Weller map of Ladakh and Garhwal, 1863
Map including Pangong Tso (AMS, 1954)[b]
Map including Pangong Tso / Bangong Co (DMA, 1992)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The LAC displayed is that marked by the OpenStreetMap editors, said to reflect the Chinese maps.
  1. ^ Wang, M., Hou, J. and Lei, Y., 2014. Classification of Tibetan lakes based on variations in seasonal lake water temperature. Chinese Science Bulletin, 59(34): 4847-4855.
  2. ^ Dortch et al., Catastrophic partial drainage of Pangong Tso (2011), p. 111.
  3. ^ a b "Ngari prefecture". Geographical names of Tibet AR (China). Institute of the Estonian Language. 3 June 2018. Archived from the original on 10 January 2020. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  4. ^ "River basins with Major and medium dams & barrages location map in India, WRIS" (Adobe Flash Player version 10.0.0 or greater). Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  5. ^ Hedin, Sven Anders (1907). Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899-1902: Central and West Tibet. Lithographic institute of the General staff of the Swedish army. p. 521. From Noh to Bal Rawling followed the same route that I did along the northern shore of the Tso-ngombo, which he calls the Tso Mo Gualari, dividing it into the sections: Tso Nyak, the twin lakes Rum Tso and Nyak Tso. He says that it consists of a string of five lakes 120 m. in length, the four most southern of which are fresh, and Pangong, the most northerly, salt. They are joined together by channels about 60 feet in width and 15 feet deep, the current running at nearly 1½ mile an hour.
  6. ^ Saward, M. H. (1878). Routes in Asia: Routes in the territories of the Maharaja of Jummoo and Kashmir, and adjacent countries. Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing. pp. 31–33. Only the lower lake (the Pangong Tso proper) lies in Ladak, the middle (Tso Nyak) and upper lakes being in Rudok territory. ... The waters of the western end are much more salt than those of the eastern end near Ot. in the stream connecting the Pangong Tso with Nyak Tso the water becomes drinkable, and rich grass is found on the banks.
  7. ^ "Pangong Lake". Union Territory of Ladakh. 29 October 2019. Retrieved 9 January 2020. Pangong Lake, one of the most famous lakes in Leh Ladakh, derives its name from the Tibetan word, "Pangong Tso", which means "high grassland lake".
  8. ^ Michelle Coxall; Paul Greenway (1 September 1996). Indian Himalaya: a Lonely Planet travel survival kit. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-0-86442-413-6. The salty Pangong Tso - Pangong means 'hollow' - is the highest lake in Ladakh at about 4300m, and is flanked by massive peaks over 6500m high.
  9. ^ Kirit Rindani (7 January 2016). Indian Himalaya: Story of a 100 Visits. Partridge Publishing India. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-4828-5886-0. The word Pangong means 'extensive concavity' which probably explains its size.
  10. ^ "Pangong Tso Lake in Tibet". China Daily. 17 July 2012. Archived from the original on 24 January 2020. Retrieved 9 January 2020. Pangong Tso Lake is a trans-border lake extending from the Ali prefecture of China's Tibet autonomous region to India. About 155 kilometers in length, the geographic features of the lake are indicated in the name which in Tibetan means "long, narrow, enchanted lake".
  11. ^ Trotter, H. (1877). "Account of the Pundit's Journey in Great Tibet from Leh in Ladakh to Lhasa, and of His Return to India Via Assam". Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. 47: 86–136. doi:10.2307/1798740. ISSN 0266-6235. JSTOR 1798740. Archived from the original on 4 November 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020. the Pangong, but better known to the Tibetans as the Chomo Gna Laring Cho, which, being literally interpreted, means "Female narrow very long lake."
  12. ^ "Pangong Tso Lake in the Northern Tibet". Kangba TV. 6 March 2017. Pangong Tso Lake, at an altitude of 4,200 meters, is also called Tsomo Nganglha Ringpo Lake, which means "a swan with a long neck" in Tibetan.
  13. ^ a b Karakoram: Pangong Range, Britannica, accessed 13 October 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d e If India loses grip on Kailash Range, PLA will make sure we never get it back, The Print, 12 November 2020.
  15. ^ a b c India, China ramp up infra on north bank of Pangong Tso lake, The Hindu, 3 July 2023.
  16. ^ ITBP to Guard Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3 again, Economic Times, 22 February 2021.
  17. ^ Lt. Gen. H. S. Panag, India sits on Black Top with Helmet under its boots, The Print, 9 September 2020. See "Map 1 – Kailash Range Chushul Sector".
  18. ^ India, Ministry of External Affairs, ed. (1962), Report of the Officials of the Governments of India and the People's Republic of China on the Boundary Question, Government of India Press, Chinese Report, Part 1 (PDF) (Report). pp. 4–5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 October 2020. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
    The location and terrain features of this traditional customary boundary line are now described as follows in three sectors, western, middle and eastern. ... From Ane Pass southwards, the boundary line runs along the mountain ridge and passes through peak 6,127 (approximately 78° 46' E, 38° 50' N) [sic] and then southwards to the northern bank of the Pangong Lake' (approximately 78° 49' E, 33° 44' N). It crosses this lake and reaches its southern bank at approximately 78° 43' E, 33° 40' N. Then it goes in a south-easterly direction along the watershed dividing the Tongada River and the streams flowing into the Spanggur Lake until it reaches Mount Sajum.
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Further reading[edit]