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Namtso Kora: Best Travel Tips for the Pilgrimage Walks around Holy Namtso Lake

November,16 2019 BY Sonam Tenphel 0 COMMENTS

The way for Tibetan ancestors, nomads, pilgrims and even the aborigines to ask a blessing is never limited to the turning of the prayer wheels. Many other customs for praying have been preserved from the far more ancient time. Nomadic group living on this holy land found that circumambulating mountains and doing the lake kora were efficacious to release them from all kinds of sins, misfortunes and evil attacks and helped them pray for boundless merits and immense blessings. Therefore, the long-existed custom of doing the lake kora has been passed down and rooted deeply in the mind of today’s Tibetans.

Why we do the Namtso Lake Pilgrimage?

As a result of Himalaya tectonic movements, young Namtso Lake was born in the Paleogene age. With time passing by, the once young Namtso Lake has grown to be a glamorous and the most beautiful lake with its altitude of 4718m being next to heaven in Tibet. Besides, it has been long regarded as the birthplace of Bonism in Tibetan Buddhism. Therefore, Namtso Lake pilgrimage becomes the must-do ritual for most of the devoted prayers every year.

Pilgrimage kora around Namtso LakePilgrimage kora around Namtso Lake

How do we perform the Namtso Lake Kora in an expert way?

Lake Circumambulation Conventions

Trekking Mount Kailash in horse years, circumambulate Zhari Holy Mountain in monkey years and do the Namtso Lake Kora in goat years are typically regarded as three mountain-revering and lake-worshipping activities in Tibet. It is widely said that doing Lake Kora in goat years can one hundred thousand times prevail over simply chanting the holy thymes. Besides, lake pilgrimage can also discard all the evil practices or miserable pains and guide the prayers to acquire the boundless virtues as well as the profound knowledge.

Top Things to Know for Namtso Kora

Namtso Lake pilgrimage attracts worldwide prayers in its own ways. Basically, there have two widely accepted ways for prayers to practice Namtso Lake pilgrimage, circumambulating Tashi byland or doing the entire lake kora. In addition, the Kora can be conducted mostly by trekking, riding motorbikes or driving the off-road vehicles.

How to Do Tashi Byland Kora (Trekking)

Duration: 1 day for traveler/ 7 or 13 day for pilgrims
Distance: 40 km
Start: Lhasa
Finish: Tashi Byland
Nearest Large Town: Damxung
Accommodation: Camping or living in guesthouse
1. karst landform (two gigantic Yinbin stones with prayer flags/burrows/temples)
2. watch the sunset

For most travelers or those who do not have enough time, the best choice to worship the lake is to circumambulate Tashi byland. Tibetan pilgrims believe circumambulating the Tashi byland lap after lap has the same effect of doing the lake kora. In Namtso Lake, 5 comparatively large peninsula are scattered around, among which the area of Tashi peninsula top the most. Nowadays, most pilgrims choose to do Tashi byland kora 7 times (Though it is believed that the perimeter of the entire lake kora equals to 7 times of the peninsula kora, the pilgrims customarily trek the Tashi byland 13 times) instead of circumambulating the entire lake.

Tashi peninsula boasts its irreplaceable role in taking pilgrims and visitors to worship the Lake. With an area of 10 sq. km, the peninsula has many attractions with Tibetan characteristics to explore. Besides the widely revered temple, two gigantic Yinbin (guest-welcoming) stones must be the symbolic landmark of this attraction. Prayer flags, burrows with karst landform characteristics and many other interest sightseeing places form this attraction. Pilgrims climb through the burrows to discard evils and sins attached in their bodies. Besides, it’s not only a place to kora the lake but also a popular place to appreciate the sunset.

How to Do Namtso Lake Kora (By SUV)

Duration: 2 days
Distance: 280-340km
Start: Lhasa City
Finish: Namtso Town
Nearest large town: Damxung
Accommodation: camping or living in guesthouses
1. Stunning lakeshore lines
2. God bath Gate (one of the four God Bath Gates in Namtso)
3. Qiaduo Temple, the largest temple in Namtso regions
4. Shengxiangtianmen attraction (sightseeing attraction with a holy elephant-shaped landform)
5. Best viewing point to appreciate and shoot the breathtaking Namtso Lake.

The Lake lies at the elevation of 4,718m (15,479ft) and covers a surface area of 1,920 sq. km., ranking the largest lake in Tibet. So doing the Lake kora has always been the holy practice to all the pilgrims with deep devotion. Taking off from Lhasa, we begin the pilgrimage tour. It typically takes about 2 days’ drive to do the entire Namtso Lake kora if you maintain the speed of your SUV no less than 60 km/h. Shengxiangtianmen, the sightseeing attraction with burst of public praises on the north side of Namtso Lake, is worth recommending. Pilgrims prefer to choose this place as the most proper site for camping after one day’s drive. Take off early from Lhasa in the morning or you will definitely miss the chance to appreciate the beautiful sunset there at dusk. If you crawls out of bed and departs in late morning, Qiaduo Temple is another back-up place for you to stay overnight.

Lake Namtso Travel MapLake Namtso Travel Map

Namtso Lake circumambulation starts from the Ticket Check-in Office. The fork in the road miles away from it divides the main road into two parts. One road is the namtso lake kora route on the left while the other one guides the pilgrims to do the Tashi Byland kora on the right. Notice the signpost for detailed information. Running straight forward on the unsurfaced road in west direction, you can find no other forks standing in the way. The sparkling wave on the surface of the Lake ripples back to the shore, making the entire lake much more holy than any other moment of the day.

1. The Way from Check-in Office to Duoqia Temple
Along the tour, one of Namtso’s four God Bath Gates with prayer flags comes into view. These flags are actually the pilgrim-made praying things with mantras inscribed on them. Pilgrims believe that the plateau wind has the mighty power to spread the mantras from the flag to the entire region, bringing good virtues and blessings to all creatures living on this land. Other God Bath Gates are scattered around the Namtso area.

It is said that when the winter season comes, the temperature falls abruptly to thirty or forty degrees below the freezing point, the frozen cold weather seals the entire lake, but the water drifting through the four gates never blocks with no thermal spring or hot spring flowing around. Leave off the God Bath Gate, we keep running westward until we arrives at the road fork located at the southwest corner of the Lake. Choose the right road and keep moving. Follow the signpost to reach Deqing Town (a small town along the way to Duoqia Temple). It takes 95 km’s drive from the check office to this town. So do not get off and hurry on with your pilgrimage kora. Make a short break until reach the Duoqia Temple after another 41 km’s drive from Deqing Town.

Duoqia Temple is situated on the cliff of the Lake’s due west side, ranking the largest temple in Namtso Lake area. Built in 1879, the temple has been worshiped for quite a long time. Padma Sambhava is revered in this temple. Cardboard buildings are provided for staying. Go northwest from Duoqia Temple, we arrive at the northwest corner of the Lake after 17 km’s drive. Signpost shows the left road stretches to Baingoin County while the right road points the trial we continue our pilgrimage kora. Not far from the turning point, we reach a checkpoint, at which we are required to purchase the ticket to view the elephant-shaped landform. (Ticket price: CNY 80).

2. Keep Moving from Duoqia to Gangxung Village
As we leaving the checkpoint, we are approaching the lake at the same time. From a distant view, we are excited to find three giant stones standing upright by the lake, representing the emanation bodies of valokitesvara (Buddha of Mercy), Manjusri Buddisattva (Buddha of wisdom) and Vajrapani (Buddha of courage). Bypassing the stones, the fork points us the way to the top of a hill. Park the car on the top and take out the camera, since this is the best place to shoot Namtso Lake. Looking down from this angle, the view of Namtso Lake is dramatically changed. It transforms into a huge stunning and breathtaking lake with two magnificent arcs attached to its edge, and the main peak of Nyenchen Tonglha Mountains lurking behind makes this place a perfect look-out point to enjoy the holiness of Namtso Lake as well as the Nyenchen Tonglha Range.

Friendly tips: the cliff here is extremely steep, so watch you steps in case of slippery.

3. Driving From Gangxung Village to Namtso Town
Leaving the attraction we go back to the kora way. The trail tends to leave the lake and stretches towards a hill to reach the Gangxung Village. About 3.6 km away from the village, we encounter a very small lake with an inconspicuous fork on the right side. Here, you need to make a choice. If you chose to drive on the sideway, the trail condition is below expectations, for you have to cross two small saddle backs, one of which is quite steep and only SUV can do the trick.

However, if you decide to drive on the main road, the direction turns to the northeast and the route is totally far off the Lake. After 40 km’s drive from the fork, we move back to the asphalt road. (If the main road, you have to drive 60km to return to the kora route) Then turn right and continue to trek the Namtso Lake in the Namtso Town direction. After crossing the last saddle back, we meet Namtso Lake again and eventually accomplish the Kora tour by running straight to the Namtso Town.

When is the Best Time to do Namtso Lake Kora?

When to do the lake kora must be the most concerning things for travelers since the distance is extremely long for pilgrims without plateau trekking. The best time is no doubt from April to October in all goat years. Some prayers with deep devotion try circumambulating the Lake in winter when the lake surface has been sealed by cold air. Like the ascetics in Christian, these pilgrims believe that the pain or body suffering can wash out sins and give them the redemption.

Amazing Sunset of Namtso LakeAmazing Sunset of Namtso Lake in Summer

Dining and Accommodation When Doing Namtso Lake kora

2-day drive is not that hard for most of the pilgrims or travelers. So you can choose to stay overnight at Duoqia Temple or the attraction where can appreciate the elephant-shaped stones as mentioned above. These two places provide guesthouses with basic accommodation services including hot running water, the bed with cotton quilt, etc. - Check Namtso Tent Guesthouse. But the Tibetan food is delicious. Try some Zanba which is made of fragrant milky tea and highland barley. High-calorie Tibetan food is also popular there. Have more canned meet and drink a lot of water. Or you can pack enough food in your SUV, and enjoy them when you rent tents from the two places.

1. If you plan to do Namtso Lake by trekking, do reserve the yak and the horse in Baingoin County in advance.
2. If you decide to circumambulate Tashi byland, then you can stay overnight there in the guesthouses or you can rent the tents too. Many Tibetan food are served on the peninsula together with some Sichuan food, which can meet all your needs.

Other tips for Namtso Kora

1. Altitude sickness soothing pills, cold cure pills or fever-reducing medicines must be prepared in advance
2. Both casual wear and sportswear are recommended. Pack sweaters in case of the changing weather. A thick coat is of good use especially at night. Wear comfortable trousers and prepare hard-ground sneakers or the sport shoes.
3. When you stay at temples or find pilgrims praying or chanting rhymes, do not raise your voices and interrupt.
4. Watch your steps when you shoot sceneries at steep places and care your bodies when you worm your way into caves.
5. Nagenla Pass which is on the only road to Namtso Lake from Lhasa, has a high altitude along the whole kora. Bus vehicles usually makes a short-time stop here for travelers to take photos. Due to the rapid rise of height and the lack of oxygen content, altitude sickness can be easily caused. Do not exert yourself like chasing around or jumping when arriving at Nagenla Pass. Do not make grand or exaggerated gestures when doing the photo-shooting. Relax the body and breathe smoothly. Nagenla Pass is quite a distance from Lhasa, and more than 1,000 meters higher, so take some altitude medicine and oxygen with you in case of an emergency.

Sonam Tenphel

About the Author - Sonam Tenphel

Energetic, responsible and reliable, Sonam is a guide with more than seven years experience informing visitors about heritage sites and attractions places in Tibet.

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