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Top 10 Lakes in Tibet

Tibet, the plateau with the largest number of alpine lakes on Earth, covers totally 23,800 square kilometers lakes, representing thirty percent of national lake resources. Overall, there are more than one thousand lakes, big or small, three of which exceed one thousand square kilometers, namely Namtso, Siling lake and Zhari Namco. Geographically, lakes in Tibet consist of endorheic lakes and exorheic lakes. The former were formed by continuous crustal movement and were scattered mainly in the north and south of Tibet whereas the latter came into existence as a result of mudslide, volcanic eruption and melted snow or glaciers.

To ordinary tourists to Tibet, Lakes are must-see attractions in their tour plan, the top three visited lakes are Namtso Lake,( the biggest lake in Tibet), and Yamdrok Tso Lake( one of the most sacred lakes in Tibet) and Manasarovar Lake ( a holy lake to the southeast of Mt. Kailash), with many more featuring distinct natural scenery. As it is virtually impossible to cover all the lakes in Tibet, 10 major lakes are to be discussed as follows.

1. Namtso Lake

Situated at an altitude of 4718m, Namtso, along with Yamdrok Tso and Manasarovar is considered as a holy lake revered by Tibetans. Namtso Lake is very near to Lhasa, only 4 hours driving. The lake has a special place in Tibetans' heart and it literally means "celestial or sacred lake". Namtso stretches as far as 70 kilometers from the east to the west side of the lake and not only is it widely recognized as the second largest saltwater lake in China but also the saltwater lake with highest altitude in the world.

namtso lake

The dazzling turquoise water brides the horizon, making it difficult to tell whether you are walking on the water or the lofty snow-capped mountainous range looming far ahead is within your easy reach. Namtso is surrounded by many monasteries, and tourists can visit. The lake is also a major draw for migratory birds and brown bears, wild yaks and Tibetan sand fox, and other plateau species. The best time to travel to Namtso is from May to September. 6 days Lhasa to Namtso Lake small group tour is a good choice to enjoy Lhasa and the sacred Lake.

2. Yamdrok Tso Lake

Yamdrok Tso, being the largest endorheic lake in north part of Himalaya, is known as one of the sacred lakes. Yamdrok Lake is the nearest Lake to Lhasa and is accessible all year around, only 2-3 hours driving from Lhasa. the lake freezes partly in winter. The source of its water comes from the surrounding snow-capped mountains and there is no outlet for the lake water. As the melt of snow and its vaporization have a perfect balance, the entire lake is like a natural reservoir that fine-tunes its subtle ecosystem. Yamdrok Tso displays its unparalleled beauty with its tranquil and turquoise water.

yamdrok lake

Tourists can have a panoramic view of the lake from Khamba-la, with the large snowcap on Kula Kangri on the Bhutanese border. As winter comes every year, plenty of migratory birds, such as swans, ospreys and spotted eagles, will fly to this biggest habitat of birds in Tibet. In addition, Yamdrok Tso is also the largest freshwater lake in Tibet, and home to the hydropower plant with highest altitude in the world. Though the construction of this plant is fairly controversial, this plant does play a huge role as the major source of electricity to the south of Tibet. The best time to visit Yamdrok Tso would be from July to September, you will get amazed by Yamdrok Lake scenery during 5 days Lhasa and Yamdrok Lake small group tour, and it’s better to rent a car to visit it. Nagartse and Samding Monastery are also major draws for tourists near Yamdrok Tso.

3. Manasarovar Lake

Lake Manasarovar is the must-see attraction in western Tibet, as well as the sacred lake of Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism. To the southeast of Mt. Kailash lies Manasarovar Lake. Among the three holy lakes, Manasarovar Lake has its special place in that it is a lake that is closest to Mt. Kailash, the center of the universe revered by Tibetan Buddhists, Hinduists. Pilgrims are deeply convinced that Manasarovar Lake is the sacred water bestowed by the Buddha and it can not only remove the nastiness of mankind, but more importantly is able to purify the soul and extend one's life.

lake manasarovar and mount kailash

To ordinary tourists, Manasarovar Lake is a lake that you can’t afford to miss. The transparency of its water is said to be the highest and as you stroll along Manasarovar, the crystal-clear water plus stunning clouds and holy prayer flags will definitely blow you away. Aside from that, tourists can have a horse ride beside the lake while enjoying the wildlife and witnessing the devoted pilgrims circuiting the lake, which is known as Kora. Travellers can even ascend to Chiu Monastery to have a bird view of the grandeur of Manasarovar. And refreshing yourself in an open-air spring beside Chiu Monastery is also a favorable option. The best time to visit Manasarovar Lake is from early May to middle October.15 days Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar tour can provide enough time to enjoy the sacred mountain and lake.

4. Pangong Tso

Located in very remote in western Tibet, Pangong Tso is a long and winding strip of lake that stretches from Tibet’s Ngari prefecture to Kashmir of India. The peculiar thing about this lake is that on the China’s side the water is freshwater while in India’s territorial the water is saline. Because of its winding shape, Tibetans name the lake Pangong Tso which means a swan with long neck.

pangong tso

Pangong Tso is not very popular for tourists, but it is a must-see lake if you travel from Lhasa to Kashgar, Xinjiang. Celebrated for its clear water, Pangong Tso features varied colors as sunlight changes and it is surrounded by snow-capped mountainous range. The lake is dotted with islands of different sizes and is home to as many as 20 kinds of birds. Tourists reach these islands by boat where they can have a close contact with Bar-headed Geese, Great Blackneaded Gull, etc.

5. Basumtso Lake

Known as "Cuogao Lake", Basumtso literally means greenish water in Tibetan Language. It lies in the valley of upper reaches of Ba river, 50 kilometers to Gongbogyamda County in Nyingchi prefecture. With an altitude of 3538m, and an coverage of 15 square kilometers, the lake is a sacred lake and a holy place of Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, and its spectacular scenery is often proudly compared to that of Swiss.

basumtso lake

Though it is small, Basum Tso is very sacred in Eastern Tibet Nyingchi. It is reputed as the paradise of trekkers for this picturesque environment, which is surrounded by forest and snow-capped mountains.

Travelling in Basumtso Lake and its surrounding areas offers a diversified sightseeing experience. Tourists will be able to enjoy snow-capped mountains, greenish lakes, pristine forest , impressive waterfalls and lush pastures and ancient monasteries. Undeniably, the major draw for tourists is the stunning Tashi Island, an island that is located in the middle of Basumtso lake, where tourists can explore the Tsodzong Monastery of Nyingma Sect built in 17th century. Other options are travellers include a visit to aboriginal Jieba village where the age-old traditions and customs like polyandry are still practiced among around 80 households. In all, the breathtaking landscape and mysterious tribal tradition will absolutely make a rewarding journey.

6. Tangra Yum Tso

Located in Nagqu and very far away from hot tourist destinations, Tangra Yum Tso is the dreaming place of photography and wildlife lovers. Situated at the bottom of a deep lake basin formed three million years ago,Tangra Yumco, next to Tangra Qonco, stretches over 80 kilometers from south the north. It is revered as the sacred lake by disciples of Tibetan Bon Religion and is also noted for the third largest alpine lake in Tibet. The lake is shaped like a sole of shoes and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

tangra yum tso

The legend has it that the Tangra Yumco was once ruled by a demon and it was the Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab who tamed the evil spirit and transformed the lake into a sacred lake. As Tangra Yumco is located around the ruins of ancient Zhang Zhung kingdom, tourist may choose to visit this historical site which is 150 kilometers away from Nyima county. Travellers can also tour the oldest monastery of Bon religion by the lake. The dried mutton sold by locals is a popular delicacy to tourists. The best visit season starts from July to September when the weather becomes milder and the lush pasture dotted with yaks and other farm animals offers a picturesque vista. And if you have enough travelling time to tour both western and northern Tibet by overland, You can enjoy plenty of natural scenery besides Tangra Yum Tso during 22 days tour.

7. Lhamo La-tso

Located in Shannan, Lhamo La-tso is very small in size but enjoys one of the thre sacred lakes in Tibet. Now is close to foreign tourists. Known as one of the most important pilgrimage destinations, Lhamo La-tso has been revered for centuries as an oracle lake. Lhamo La-tso is a brilliant azure jewel set in a ring of gray mountains. The elevation and the surrounding peaks combine to give it a highly changeable climate, and the continuous passage of cloud and wind creates a constantly moving pattern on the surface of the waters.

lhamo-la tso

The holiness of the lake lies in that traditionally Dalai Lamas have made pilgrimages to Lhamo La-tso to seek visions that appear on its surface. The Tibetan regent journeyed to the lake in 1933 after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama and had a vision of a monastery of the present Dalai Lama. The lake is considered the home of the protectress Palden Lhamo.The lake is a perfect place to camp and spending a night here allows tourists to watch the dramatic weather patterns change overhead.

8. Siling Tso

Siling Tso is the 2nd largest lake in Tibet. It's very remote in northern Tibet, which takes 3 days driving from Lhasa. Siling Tso is also the 2nd largest lake (the largest one is Namtso Lake) in Tibet, lying at the south of the Changtang Plateau. According to legends, Siling is an arch devil who used to live in Duilongdeqing County, west of Lhasa. He greedily devoured thousands of lives everyday including both human beings and animals. One day, Padamasambhava found Siling and asked him to stay in the lake forever and confess. From then on, people called the lake “Siling Tso”, which means the “Siling Devil Lake”.

siling tso

Due to its unrivalled natural environment, Siling Tso is the largest nature reserve and important habitat for Grus Nigricollis. Tourists may have a full appreciation of as many as other 23 smaller lakes scattered in and out of Siling Tso and its surrounding mountains. Of course, you can visit Siling Tso by touring both western and northern Tibet overland.

9. Rawok Lake

Lying at the foot of Lhegu Glacier, Rawok Lake in Eastern Tibet enjoys one of the best photographic attractions in Tibet. Rawok, surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains and forests, is just nearby the Sichuan-Tibet road. The lake has an area of 22,000 square km, with an elevation of 3,850 meters. The famous Lhegu Glacier is standing to the north of Rawok Lake. When the ice melts, water flows into Rawok Lake, keeping the lake abundant. In addition, thawed snow makes the water give out different colors in different seasons.

rawok lake

It is said that Ranwok Lake, together with Lhegu Glacier is a perfect combination of Alps of Swiss and Jiuzaigou. After the arrival, the picturesque view will definitely ease your tiredness with the upright high peaks, white glaciers, blue lake, green grassland, floating clouds and lush forests. It's recommended to explore the natural beauty of Nyingchi and Rawok Lake with 10 days eastern Tibet tour.

10. Peikutso Lake

Not far away from Tibet-Nepal border, Peiku Tso is an ideal place for tourists to enjoy the stunning reflection of Mt. Shishapangmang and listen to the faint whisper of Yarlung Tsangpo, which is 60 kilometers away from Peku Tso. It is these two features that truly distinguish Peiku Tso from other lakes in Tibet.

peikutso lake

Peikutso Lake, which is 40km to the east of Gyirong county and has an elevation of 4600 meters, is a beautiful alpine lake, with a water area over 300 square kilometers. The light salty lake is near the world's fourteenth highest mountain,Shishapangma. Peikutso lake is just on the way to Ngari (the far west end of Tibet), and between Zhangmu and Saga. It's suggested to trek here and climb up to Lake Manasarovar and Kailash mountain during 10 days Beijing to Kathmandu tou by tibet train.

By the lake are a lot of nesting birds, and other wild animals such as Tibetan antelope, wild donkeys, wild horses, wolves, foxes, deer, gazelle, black-necked cranes as well as yaks and sheep. As there is no hotels or restaurants around the lake, it is suggested that travellers go there with tents, sleeping bags and food.

Master Catherine Jigme

About the Author - Master Catherine Jigme

With exceptional passion and outstanding leadership, Mrs. Catherine has dedicated herself to Tibet inbound tourism and China tour for 15 years. As one of the handful females who see great potential of Chinese inbound tourism, Catherine has made great contribution to promoting Tibet tourism and enhancing the employment of Tibetans and prosperity of local Tibetan community.

Over the years, she travelled overseas with Tibet Tourism Bureau many times to promote Tibet tourism. Currently, Catherine works as the marketing director of Tibet Vista, an opinion leader behind the whole team of Tibet Vista.

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