Lake Namtso is located in Nagqu Prefecture, about 260 kilometers from Lhasa City and 60 kilometers from Damxung County. From Damxung to Lake Namtso, you have to drive on a gravel road and climb over a snow mountain. In the rainy season, the road, which may be destroyed the heavy rain, will make it difficult for the minibuses with low chassis to drive on.
Lake Namtso means “holy lake” in the Tibetan language. With over 30 kilometers from north to south and over 70 kilometers from east to west, Lake Namtso covers a total area of more than 1,900 square kilometers, being the second largest salt lake in China. At an elevation of 4,718 meters, it is also the highest-altitude salt lake in the world, the furthest depth being more than 33 meters. The water in the lake for the most part arises from rains, melted ice and snow of Nyenchen Tonglha Mountains and the inflow of crooks and streams, hence the lake is very clear and limpid. With the lake surface assuming sky blue, the lake and the sky seem to be one and undivided, which may make visitors feel themselves in a fairy land if they have a stroll by the lake.
History and Legend
In the late third century and the early fourth century, Lake Namtso dented to be a huge basin as a result of the Himalayas movement. Later, as the climate of Tibetan Plateau became drier and drier, the size of Namtso decreased drastically to be what it is now. Now the beaches of the lake are a beautiful natural pasture, offering ideal condition for animal husbandry. It is also an ideal habitat for animals and birds. In the early summer, flocks of wild ducks fly to inhabit here and breed their offspring. Wild animals such as black bears, yaks, wild donkeys, bharals, foxes, roe deer and marmots can often be found around the lake. Highland thin-squama fish and non-squama fish are abundant in the lake. And around the lake grow some famous valuable medicinal plants such as Chinese caterpillar fungus, fritillaria and hsueh-lien-hua (also called snow lotus flower).
It was said that in the late 12th century, Buddhist hierarchs including the founder of Tibetan Buddhism once practiced the essence of Esoteric Buddhism on Lake Namtso, which was believed to be the origin of worshipping the holy Namtso Lake in the Tibetan Year of the Sheep. According to the Buddhist followers, when the Tibetan Year of the Sheep comes, Buddha and Bodhisattva will hold Buddhist rites on Lake Namtso. If a follower of Buddhism comes to walk and patter around the lake only once in this year, he will be much more blessed than he does so for ten thousand times in other years. So in the Tibetan Year of the Sheep, numerous Buddhist monks and believers trudge all the way from other places to Lake Namtso, feeling satisfied, comfortable and happy after taking ritual walks around the lake only once. This activity, lasting for as long as several months, usually reaches its climax on April 15 in the Tibetan Year of the Sheep, when the Buddhist followers come and go in large numbers.
Besides Lake Namtso, you can also visit Namtso Grassland, which is enchanting with its vastness, herders’ camps and countless flocks and herds.
In the caves at the foot of the hill on Zatsi Island in Lake Namtso, there live many lamas who are practicing Buddhism with the support of local Tibetans. It should be interesting to visit those lamas if you take a trip to Lake Namtso.
There are no hotels by Lake Namtso. But in the tourist season, the local villagers will set up a lot of distinctly Tibetan camp hostels for tourists, charging prices ranging from 25 yuan to 100 yuan for a bed per day. But if you suffer from Altitude Sickness and don’t recover completely, you’d better not lodge by Lake Namtso, which is situated at a high altitude and may worsen your sickness.