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How to Get to Namtso Lake

Located to the northwest of Lhasa lies one of the regions most famous, and most holy lakes, Namtso. At an altitude of 4,718 meters above sea level, it is the second largest saline lake in China, the largest lake in Tibet Autonomous Region, and the highest saltwater lake in the world. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and thousands of acres of open grasslands, it is a favored pasture for local nomads with their yak herds.

The Most Holy Lake - NamtsoThe Most Holy Lake - Namtso

In winter the lake is completely frozen and surrounded by ice, which thaws in the spring, feeding the lake with the snow-melt from the surrounding mountains. As the ice melts, the lake turns a spectacular shade of turquoise, making the site perfect for photographers. The crystal-clear water and the stunning scenery make it one of the most beautiful places in Tibet.

Why One Should Never Miss Visiting Namtso Lake

In translation, Namtso means “ heavenly lake” it lives up to its name, being the closest lake in the world to the heavens. There are five small, uninhabited islands in the lake, as well as a few rocky outcrops. The five islands have long been used as spiritual retreats for pilgrims, who would walk across the lake’s surface in winter, when it is frozen. Carrying enough food to last their stay, they will spend the summer on the island, only able to get back to the shore when the lake freezes over once more, in winter. While the islands remain, the practice is no longer allowed by the authorities.

Ruddy ShelduckRuddy Shelduck

The largest island sits in the northwest corner of the lake and is over two kilometers long, and only three kilometers from the shore. Nowadays, the islands are more a home to the many varieties of migrating birds that travel there twice a year, such as the Ruddy Shelduck and several species of cormorants.

Tashi MonasteryTashi Monastery

Apart from the five islands out in the lake, there are also five peninsulas that jut out into the lake from the shore, of which the Tashi Dor Peninsula is the largest. Comprising of ten square kilometers of land, the peninsula is the site of the Tashi Monastery, as well as several karst caves, a stone forest, and naturally formed bridges and ladders. The stone forest is an amazing feature of nature, comprising of dozens of natural stone peaks that resemble tree trunks, and some that even look a little human in shape. These stunning shapes can really spark the imagination, and the mind can see all kinds of shapes in the rock.

Karst CavesKarst Caves

The karst caves are quiet grottos that are natural masterpieces. Some are long and narrow, much akin to the subways of New York, while others are vast and domed, and filled with stalactites and stalagmites. With the caves, the stone forest, and the natural stone bridges and ladders,Tashi Dor Peninsula is filled with mystery and enchantment.

Many locals set up their tent hotels around the lake.Many locals set up their tent hotels around the lake.

One of the three holy lakes of Tibet, along with Lake Yamdrok, and Lake Manasarovar, Namtso is a place of pilgrims just as much as tourists. Just as there are many sacred mountains, the Tibetan people also believe that lakes are sacred too. For Tibetan Buddhists, they believe that lakes are the homes of protective gods, which are invested with special, spiritual powers. Many devout Buddhists travel to these sacrosanct lakes every year, to walk around the lake’s perimeter in what is known as a holy “kora”.

Walking Around the LakeWalking Around the Lake

Every year, thousands of pilgrims make the journey to Namtso from all over Tibet. Walking around the lake, the kora for these pilgrims takes 20-30 days, depending on how fast they are walking and how often they prostrate themselves in prayer. Most pilgrims do this when walking a kora around a holy site, as they believe they will attain more merit on their journey to enlightenment.

How to Travel from Lhasa to Namtso

Of course, you should to go to Lhasa for a couple of days’ acclimation and then head to Namtso for this lake is located at 4,718  meters (15,475 feet) above sea level.  At present, you can go to Lhasa by train or by air, but by train is the most popular way for tourists can view the amazing scenery  along the world’s highest railway, Qinghai-Tibet Railway. Taking train to Lhasa from Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Xining is very convenient nowadays. Of course, flying to Lhasa is the most convenient way.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayQinghai-Tibet Railway

When arriving in Lhasa, you need to stay at least two days in Lhasa before you go to another place with higher altitude. The  altitude of Namtso Lake is much higher than that of Lhasa (3700m). After a full acclimation, you can charter a bus or car with other travelers to Namtso Lake because there is no regular bus to  Namtso Lake at present. If you rent a car on your own, it is troublesome with making the itinerary, signing the contract. So it is better to share a bus or car with other travelers. You can find information on renting buses/cars on message boards in front of many youth hostels in Lhasa, like Dong Cuo International Youth Hostel, Phuntsok Kasang International Youth Hostel in Lhasa, Kyeri hotel and Banakshol hotel.

You can charter a bus or car with other travelers to Namtso Lake.You can charter a bus or car with other travelers to Namtso Lake.

The distance from Namtso Lake to lhasa is over 240km, and there is no direct bus to get there. The most popular way to get to the lake is to hire a car in Lhasa for the five-hour drive to the lake, and the well-paved road makes the driving easy. As part of the road condition from Lhasa to Namtso is not very good, a 4WD is recommended, for example, Toyota 4500. The lowest price is 3.5CNY per kilometer  during the peak tourism season of Tibet. The distance between Lhasa and Namtso is around 250km and it will cost you about 1700CNY from Lhasa to Namtso and back to Lhasa from Namtso.

Toyota 4500Toyota 4500

Besides, you can join a tour group by a local travel agency, like Tibet travel org. Local travel agencies can arrange everything  for you, including finding a car or bus for you  to Namtso. It is more convenient. You can find Lhasa and Namtso tour groups easily during the peak season.

Nyainqentanglha Mountain RangesNyainqentanglha Mountain Ranges

Plus, there are several interesting and scenic sites along the road to Namtso. On the road to Damxung County, you pass the stunning scenery of the Nyainqentanglha Mountain ranges, and from Damxung to Namtso you travel over the Nagenla Pass, at an elevation of 5,200 meters. The pass is the main landmark to tell that you are within a short ride of the lake.

1. For foreign visitors to the lake, you will need to include it as a stop on your tour itinerary with your travel agent, as international tourists are not permitted to travel in Tibet without a guide and a private vehicle.
2. For those wishing to make it more than a day trip, there is a campsite at the lakeside, with running water, and limited electricity. In the summer months, many locals set up their tent hotels around the lake, catering to the thousands of visitors during the summer months. Prices are reasonable, and they also have selections of Tibetan dishes available.

Best Time to Travel to Namtso Lake

The best time to visit Namtso is in summer, when the grasslands are at their greenest and most lush. Wild animals such as black bears, yaks, wild donkeys, bharals, foxes, roe deer and marmots can often be found leisurely grazing along the lakeshore, and the lake and its surroundings are filled with life and activity.

Travel to Namtso Lake in AprilTravel to Namtso Lake in April

The hundreds of species of migratory birds come to the lake in summer, to build their nests and lay their eggs, spending the rest of summer and fall feeding and rearing their hatchlings. The lake is filled with saltwater squama fish, and it is home to an abundance of valuable medicinal plants such as the Chinese caterpillar fungus, fritillaria, and the snow lotus flower.

The grasslands around the lake are full of sheep and yak herds throughout summer.The grasslands around the lake are full of sheep and yak herds throughout summer.

The grasslands around the lake are full of sheep and yak herds throughout summer, when the pasture land is best for grazing. The nomads travel to the area for the summer grazing, allowing their herds to get the best of the lush, nutritious grass while it lasts. The grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see, and the dulcet songs of the gauchos can often be heard on the wind around the lakeshore. The nomads are a big part of the traditional Tibetan culture, and are an important part of Tibet’s history. These nomadic herdsmen have been living the same way for thousands of years, and still follow the traditional migration paths for their herds.

What to Do at Namtso Lake

For those who love to take photos, there are few better places in the world than Lake Namtso. The prime time for photography is within half an hour of sunrise or sunset, when the view of the mountains from the Tashi Peninsula makes them glow orange in the low-lying sunlight. The hilltop of the Tashi Peninsula is high enough to get a great view of the Nyainqentanglha Range and Namtso Lake, although the hilltop is 5,000 meters above sea level and the wind is very strong, making the climb to the top quite strenuous.

Lake Namtso is the best place in the world for those who love to take photos.Lake Namtso is the best place in the world for those who love to take photos.

There are several other excellent shooting locations around the lake where you can get some really spectacular photos. The Yingbin Stone, also called the Gods Gate, is a pair of huge rocks that are hung with colorful prayer flags all year round. They are surrounded by Marnyi Stones and bleached yak skulls, giving your photographs the perfect foreground. The Gassho Stone, or “parents stone” is written in legend to be the incarnated symbol of the faithful love of the Nyainqentanglha Range and Namtso Lake.

Yingbin StoneYingbin Stone

Besides photography, there are many other things that attract visitors to the lake. In spring and fall, when there are less clouds, the sky is perfect for stargazing. With an elevation of 4,800 meters, and no light pollution at all, the sky above the plateau is filled with billions of starry lights. The thin air, clear sky, and fry atmosphere are all crucial elements for getting a perfect view of the heavens. When night falls, the Milky Way can clearly be seen in the sky, appearing as a foggy cloud. Visitors can also take in the beautiful peninsulas of Zaxi and Tashi-dor, or walk the kora around the lake.

Packing List for Lhasa to Namtso Lake:

1. Tibet is a land that is set on a high-altitude plateau, which means that the nights can get fairly cold, even in the summer months. Clothing should be suitable for traveling through rough and rugged areas, with warm pants and jackets for colder times, and sturdy walking boots and thick socks for trekking around the sights. Boots are better than rubber shoes when walking on the rough terrain, and will protect your feet well against slips on the often uneven ground.
2. For those going camping, it is best to travel light, and keep a small pack with you for water, snacks, camera, etc. You can take larger packs as well, which can stay in the vehicle when walking around the sites you visit.
3. As there are few restaurants in the area, it is a good idea to take some dried and packet food along, especially if you are not fond of Tibetan dishes. There are no western restaurants near Namtso.
4. Pack the toiletries you would normally pack for a vacation, as well as sunscreen, sunglasses and lip balm. The sun can burn the skin easily in the thinner air of the plateau, and the wind is strong enough to chap lips easily. Medicines for altitude sickness can be brought, after discussing your options with your doctor, and it is a good idea to carry headache tablets and cold remedies, as well as a basic first aid kit.

Other Insiders' Tips:

1. When traveling in Tibet there are a few things that would be advisable to remember, so that you have a great tour.
2. When walking around places like Jokhang Temple or Lake Namtso, always remember to walk clockwise, in the same direction as the other pilgrims.
3. When visiting temples and monasteries, it is polite to ask before taking photos of the interior, and with locals it is best to ask permission before including them in your pictures.
4. Altitude at Namtso is higher than that of Lhasa, so it is advised not to exert yourself too much. Altitude sickness can be uncomfortable at best.
5. Remember to take it easy when increasing your altitude, and to not over-exert yourself. Include snacks such as dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, and biscuits for a quick energy boost when you get a little weary. Altitude can affect your energy levels faster than you might think.
6. Remember to pack your warm clothes even in summer, as it can get cold at night.
7. Tibetan foods is somewhat bland, and not to everyone’s taste. If you are not sure whether you will like Tibetan dishes, there is normally a Chinese option as well in most places you will eat. Alternatively, bring along some packaged foods such as pot noodles for times when you can only find Tibetan dishes.

Master Kungga Dundruk

About the Author - Master Kungga Dundruk

The Lhasa-born prodigy used to study business overseas, and got his Bachelor of Business in Nepal and India before moving back to his homeland. With pure passion for life and unlimited love for Tibet, Kunga started his guide career as early as 1997.

Responsible, considerate, and humorous, he devoted his entire life to guiding and serving international tourists traveling in Tibet. As a legendary Tibetan travel guru with 20-year pro guide experience. Currently, he is working in Tibet Vista as the Tour Operating Director. Whenever our clients run into trouble, he is your first call and will offer prompt support.

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