Tibet’s Border in 2 Days

Photo by Patrick Horton

Dumbstruck by scenery in Ladakh while taking in the world's third highest road pass and Chemrey Monastery

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Tibet’s border is a magnificent trip from Leh, but you can’t cross it or even get close. The reason for going is the stunning mountain scenery and Pangong Tso (tso means lake). This is either a very long day trip out of Leh or a break into two days with an overnight stop in the village of Tangtse, some 40km from the lake, that has some basic facilities, shops and a hotel. Two days gives you the opportunity to have a look around Chemrey Monastery on the way.

You’ll need to organise this through a travel agent in Leh or your hotel as you’ll need a vehicle and a driver plus permits (easy to obtain).

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Pangong Tso

Pangong Tso is the largest brackish lake in Asia. Some 130km long, much of it lies in Tibet. In sun, the lake is a deep iridescent blue and green backed by barren tan-coloured mountains. There is snow depending on the season. Visitors are only allowed as far as Spangmik, about seven km along the south-western shore.

Starting early, it’s a possible day trip from Leh by jeep or taxi. Expect a five- to six-hour drive to the lake depending on the condition of the Changla La (La means pass). This pass at 5,289m is number three in the world’s hierarchy of highest passes. The pass and road are kept open all year round by the army as leading to Tibet and China’s border gives it great strategic significance. At the top of the pass is an army checkpost where you show your passport and permit. They’re very hospitable and I’ve been provided with a cup of tea in the past.

If you’re doing this as a day trip then get your hotel to pack you a lunch. Alternatively buy some tasty supplies from the German Bakery in Leh. A picnic by the lake is the thing to do.

On the way keep a look out for marmots that live in this region. They’re like large furry squirrels and quite cute.

Chemrey Monastery

This gompa (monastery) dates from the mid-17th-century and is some 40km (25miles) east of Leh. Like many Buddhist gompas it is perched precipitously on the side of a hill. The main temple on the summit and the clusters of  smaller buildings cascade down the slope. There are two main prayer halls one of which contains a one-storey high statue of Padmasambhava He was an eighth-century Buddhist guru who was instrumental in spreading Buddhism in Ladakh.

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