Things You Need to Know Before Touring Yamdrok Lake
Lying on the southern edge of the gray and green Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, Lake Yamdrok is one of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, and one of the most stunning tourist attractions close to Lhasa. Located close to Lhasa, the lake lies on the road from Lhasa to Gyantse, and is one of the first great attractions you will see when taking a classic tour across the plateau to Shigatse and Mount Everest. Shaped roughly like a Chinese character, this beautiful lake is the perfect place to visit for those that admire the stunning beauty of Tibet’s natural landscape.
Why We Visit Yamdrok Lake?
As one of the sacred lakes of Tibetan Buddhism, a visit to Lake Yamdrok is more than just a trip to see a beautiful lake. It is a partly spiritual journey that has as much to do with learning more about the history and legends of the lake as it does with viewing the spectacular beauty of this stretch of turquoise water. The surrounding landscape of mountains and plains perfectly frame this lake for the best photos, including snow-capped mountains, Himalayan glaciers, and the numerous islands that dot the lake’s surface.
Legendary Tales about Yamdrok Yumtso Lake
Lake Yamdrok is one of the lakes in Tibet which is surrounded by myths and legends, and it is said that the lake was once a set of nine lakes, and the fairy, Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, feared that, as individual lakes with no inlets, they would dry up. To save the lakes and the people, she threw a handful of gold dust into the air, and where it landed, the channel formed that joined the nine lakes, saving the animals and people in the area. Even today, the legend persists that, if Lake Yamdrok should ever dry up, Tibet will no longer be inhabitable.
The largest inland lake of Yamdrok is located in Nagarze, Shannan, Tibet.
Another legend of the lake tells of a young girl that lived by the lakeshore, who loved to bathe in the lake in the early morning. The legend says that a rich man fell in love with her, and hid by the lake one morning, grabbing her as she drew close to take her to his home to be his wife. As he strode out of the water, a fairy appeared and beat the man to death with her beads, but he refused to release the young girl, who was dragged to the bottom of the lake with him and drowned. When the villagers came to look for her, a beautiful white bird flew up from the lake, and they found only the body of the rich man. The people believed the fairy had turned the girl into the white bird when she drowned, and ever since, the lake has been home to a wide variety of birds.
Religious Significance of Yamdrok Tso Lake
In Tibet, the lakes are deemed to be sacred, just as many mountains are, and are believed to be the homes of many of the gods and goddesses of Tibetan Buddhism. The lakes are thus believed to be endowed with spiritual powers, and are the culmination of many pilgrimage trails for the Tibetan Buddhists every year. The pilgrims reach the lake and perform a ritual walk around the perimeter of the lake, along with an ancient path known as a “kora”.
This ritual kora is believed to be a way to accumulate merits, and it is widely believed that to perform the kora around one of the Great Three Holy Lakes can wash away the sine of an entire lifetime. Lake Yamdrok kora route can take around a month to complete on horseback, or as much as three months on foot. For some, who perform prostrations at everybody length around the lake, it can take up to six months.
Yamdrok Lake Location and Altitude
Located around 100 kilometers to the southwest of Lhasa, the lake lies in the natural depressions formed by glaciers from millions of years ago. The lake lies wholly within Shannan Prefecture, also known as Lhoka in Tibetan, and is one of the most astounding tourist attractions in southern Tibet. At an altitude of 4,441 meters above sea level, this unique lake has several inlets from mountains snowmelt, but no outlets. The lake has the most perfect balance of inflow to evaporation of any lake around the globe.
Highlights of Yamdrok Lake
Yamdrok Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Tibet, and is a popular tourist attraction in itself, with the first sight of the lake coming as you crest the Kamba La Pass along the S307 from Lhasa to Gyantse. It’s also one of the first sights that you will see on a tour of Tibet, outside Lhasa.
Yamdrok Lake Water
The waters of Lake Yamdrok are turquoise in color, due in part to the freshwater that flows into the lake from the snow and ice that melts in the mountains, and the shallow depth of the lake itself. The serene waters of the lake, set against the backdrop of the mountains, are one of the most beautiful sights in Tibet, and are a popular spot for photographers in the region.
Yamdrok Lake Fish
Yamdrok Lake is one of the few lakes in Tibet that has an abundance of fish, as it is a freshwater lake. However, while there are many fish that live and breed in the lake, they are not caught and eaten, as Tibetans believe that fish are the incarnations of the god of water, and it is a sin to eat or attack them. It is widely believed that only demons and evil men will eat fish.
Yamdrok Lake Islands
Yamdrok Lake has 21 small islands out on the waters, most of which are used as rich pastureland for the local sheep herders. The islands can be reached by the shallow reefs that stretch across the lake’s waters. One single lake is also the site of an ancient Nyingma Temple, built in around the 16th century, that was constructed near the site of what is believed to be the sacred handprint of Padmasambhava, the second Buddha, set into a rock on the island.
Capturing the countless migratory birds on the island.
Migratory Bird Watching
Lake Yamdrok is a popular place for local resident birds, but in the winter months, the lake fills up even more with migratory birds from northern Tibet and Mongolia, that fly south to winter on the lush fertile shores of the lake and the many islands. The island known as Bird Island is one of the best places for birdwatching, and the scene of thousands of migratory birds flying around and over the lake is absolutely stunning. The migratory birds at Yamdrok include bar-headed geese, black-necked cranes, and brown-headed gulls.
Photography with Tibetan Mastiff
Of course, there is no getting away from that perfect photo opportunity to get your picture taken with one of the most beautiful and expensive dogs in the world, the Tibetan Mastiff. Found all over Tibet, mostly in the camps of the nomadic herders as guard dogs for their herds of yaks, these beautiful hounds can also be found at the tourist spots around the lake, dressed in their colorful ruffs and ready to have their photos taken with you. A unique opportunity, it is best to do this with the trained mastiffs at the tourist spots, as the mastiffs in the nomadic camps can be dangerous and vicious.
Tourist Attractions around Yamdrok Yumtso
Yamdrok is not the only tourist attraction in the area, and there are a host of places you can see and visit close by, all of which are amazing sights and great places to visit.
The lake has close links to the second Buddha, Padmasambhava, also known as the Guru Rinpoche, who had the nearby Samding Monastery constructed during his mission to re-establish Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century. The monastery is unique in that it has the only female abbot in Tibetan Buddhism, who leads a community of around 30 monks and nuns. The monastery was the home to Samding Dorje Phagmo, the most famous woman in Tibetan Buddhism, and the female abbot is her reincarnation. The monastery lies on one of the many peninsulas that jut out into the lake.
The dam that lies at the western end of the lake, near the small village of Baidi, houses the Yamdrok Hydropower Station, originally designed to generate power without the use of a dam, through long tunnels. However, a dam was built later to restrict the flow of water from the lake to the bare minimum required to generate the power needed, and maintain the delicate status of the lake’s ecosystem.
A short distance to the west of Lake Yamdrok lies one of the most pristine glaciers in Tibet, the stunning Karola Glacier. Located just to the north of the road towards Shigatse, between Lake Yamdrok and Gyantse, this small but beautiful glacier shines a spectacular white that can be clearly seen from the highway, and is a great place to stop for some photos.
Our clients have payed a visit to the spectacular Karola Glacier after enjoying the holy Yamdrok Lake.
One of the Six Great Monasteries of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Mindroling Monastery was built in the late 10th century as one of the seats of the Nyingma School in Southern Tibet. Covering more than 10,000 square meters, this unique monastery is the only place in Tibet where the monks are allowed to marry and have a family.
Best Time to Visit Yamdrok Lake Tibet
For most tourists, the best time to visit Lake Yamdrok is from late April to the end of June and late September to mid-November. This is the time of year when the temperatures are mild and pleasant, and the weather is not too cold to spend some time wandering around the shores of the lake. Summer, from July to September, is the rainy season, and the area of Shannan Prefecture sees more rains that western and central Tibet, which means the summer can get pretty wet around the lake itself.
Restaurant and Hotels near Yamdrok Yumtso Lake, Nangartse
You cannot find hotels and restaurants near the Yamdrok Lake, and the nearest decent hotel lies about 10 km to the south of the lake, which is too far for most travelers. If you visit this lake from spring to autumn, camping by the lakeshore is a good option. And you can also find some small guesthouses along the roadside and in the town of Nangartse, which is the largest town towards the west of the Yamdrok Lake and a popular stop for the night. Here are several hotels and restaurants in Nangartse for your reference.
Lhasa Restaurant is a well-established restaurant in Nangartse, which has a colorful dining hall with old photos of Lhasa and offers you a wide arrange of Tibetan and Chinese dishes. The Chicken Chowmein is the most recommended here.
Yamdrok Yak Restaurant
Yamdrok Yak Restaurant is a branch of the Yak Restaurant in Gyantse, serving you Tibetan, Western, Indian and Chinese dishes. Amazingly, you'll have the chance to taste the watermouthing French cuisine and the lunch buffet served between 11 am and 4 pm. Besides, the English menu is available.
Yamdrok Yak Restaurant is a good place to taste the delicious food around Yamdrok Lake.
Yanghu Hotel is one of the best hotels in the town. It is located on the 307 provincial road, just at the end of the Yangzhuo Lu. The hotel can offer you a relatively clean and comfortable room. Also, hot showers are available here.
Nangartse Grain Hotel
Nangartse Grain Hotel, a two-story hotel, is run by a Tibetan. It offers you the rooms that you can overlook the main intersection of the town. There is no running water but each room comes with a big bucket of cold water for washing.
How to Get to Yamdrok Lake
From Lhasa, the best route to take to get to Lake Yamdrok is to head west out of the city, along with the G318 Friendship Highway, which runs all the way to western Tibet and Mount Everest. Just past Quxu a little distance, there is a bridge that crosses the wide Yarlung Zangbo River, at Dagaxiang, which links the G318 with the S307 National Road. It is this road that you take to travel to Lake Yamdrok and Gyantse. The route heads southwest for a while before turning south to head over the Kamba La Pass, where you will get your first view of the lake, and then dropping down to follow the lake’s northern shore all the way to Nagarze. - Lhasa to Yamdrok Lake Distance: distance from Lhasa to Yamdrok Lake by overland and biking
Useful Travel Tips for Yamdrok Lake Tour
If you are planning a trip that includes visiting Lake Yamdrok, then you will need to have the Alien’s Travel permit, as well as the Tibet Travel Permit, since the lake lies outside Lhasa. The permits are obtained by us once you have booked your tour.
The area around the lake is lacking in shelter and cover against the sun, so it is a good idea to bring along plenty of sun cream to cover up from the damaging UV rays. Hats are a great addition, and make sure you have plenty of water to keep from getting dehydrated in the harsh sun.
The lake is a great place for photographs, and not just selfies with the mastiffs. While you can get a relatively decent shot with the modern cameras on cell phones and tablets these days, there is nothing like the ability of a good camera for that perfect photo. However, it is a good idea not to bring too much camera equipment with you, as it is heavy and the high-altitude cold can be damaging. Here we also offer you the ultimate guide to Yamdrok Lake Photography.