Pangong Tso reopened for tourismdespite China standoff

Published on : Wednesday, January 13, 2021

TheLadakhadministration has opened up for tourists the iconic Pangong-Tso lake, about six hours drive in summer from capitalLehand currently one of the main theatres of the military face-off with China.


The Ladakh tourism department has started issuing inner line permits online (lahdcpermit.in) from Sunday, even though the drive across the 17,590-ft-high Chang La is risky due to snow and chances of an avalanche.


But visitors will have to be satisfied with a panoramic view of the 135-km-long lake from its western end. And if they are lucky, they can also see Indian patrol boats in action from here and try to figure out the ‘fingers’ — the spurs on the north bank that are at the centre of the border dispute.


“Visitors will be allowed to travel up to Lukung for now,” Leh deputy commissioner Sachin Kumar Vaishya said. The reasons are obvious. Lukung is 138 kms from Leh but the trail beyond this point runs along the lake towards Chushul, from where it traces the LAC (line of actual control) towards Loma, Koyul, and Demchok. These are areas where India has deployed troops, armour, artillery, and air defence units.


The decision to reopen Pangong is being interpreted as a tourism offensive against China, which reportedly had continued to allow visitors to its side of the lake. In July, at the height of the stand-off with China, the Army had said it was willing to issue permits for mountaineering expeditions in theSiachenarea, another prickly issue for China.


The decision to reopen Pangong was taken after L-G R K Mathur’s recent meeting with stakeholders on reviving tourism, the main source of livelihood for a majority of the population. Phunchok, who operates a budget guest house and runs a taxi in Leh, is hoping to reopen Pangong will result in a bumper tourist arrival in the coming summer season beginning April.


Leh had nearly three lakh visitors in the short summer tourist season in 2018. But tourist arrivals tanked in 2019 due to general polls, Jet Airways failure and bandh in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and splitting of J&K. Covid-19 pandemic completely shut down tourism last year.


The Pangong-Chushul-Tsaga-Loma-Nyoma route officially opened up in December 2018 and is considered one of the last bastions of outback travel by thrill-seeking motorists and bikers. Before that, if was an off-and-on affair, with the administration and the security setup giving selective permissions to interested travellers.


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