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Namtso Lake in China

Lake Namtso

Namtso Lake and Himalayas

Namso Lake is renowned as being one of the most beautiful lakes in Tibet.  It is a salt water lake with no known outflows.  It receives its water from snow melt and springs from the nearby Tangulla Mountains.  The lake rests at the base of the mountains at an elevation of 15,479 ft.  Because there are no drainage outlets for the lake, it has grown to be 740 sq mi.  Its size makes it the largest lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, but not the largest in China.

Lake Namtso has 5 large islands.  The largest island has an area of 6,900 sq ft.  The average depth of the lake is 108 ft while the maximum depth is 410 ft.  The lake is estimated to hold 623,000,000-acre ft of water.  The lake has been popularized by being the filming location for Shangri-La, The Touch, and Himalaya with Michael Palin.

How to get there and where to stay

A surfaced road, completed in 2005, connects Lhasa to Namtso Lake.  A round trip visit to the lake can take 8 to 10 days depending on the number of side attractions you want to see, like visiting Everest North Base Camp.  The trip to Lake Namtso passes many cities offering great overnight accommodations.  These range in quality is luxury to intimate and cozy bed and breakfasts to mega-conglomerate style hotels.  Below is an itinerary of how to get to Namtso Lake.

Lake Namtso itinerary

Day 01: Arrive in Lhasa and travel to Tsedang to spend the night. -2 hrs, 3,550 m / 11,646 ft

Day 02: Visit Samye Monastery, Chim Phu caves and Yambulakhang palace on the way to Lhasa. -10 hrs, 3,550 m / 11,646 ft

Day 03: Visit Potala Palace, Norbulingka Palace and a traditional hospital. -06 hrs, 3,550 m / 11,646 ft

Day 04: Visit Namtso Lake. -08 hrs, 3,550 m / 11,646 ft

Day 05: Visit Sera Monastery, Drepung Monastery, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Bazaar. -06 hrs, 3,550 m / 11,646 ft

Day 06: Travel to Gyantse and visit Karo La Pass, and Yamdrok Tso Lake. -06 hrs, 3,950 m / 12,956 ft

Day 07: Travel to Shigatse and visit Shalu Monastery. 2 hrs, 3,900 m / 12,795 ft

Day 08: Travel to Rongbuk and visit Sakya Monastery. -09 hrs 5,000 m / 16,400 ft

Day 09: Visit Everest Base Camp and Travel to Lhasa. -10 hrs, 5,250 m / 17,220 ft

Day 10: Conclude trip

What to bring and where to stay

Namtso Lake, a man brought his yak to the lake.

You are likely to experience snow and ice during your trip.  Even the low temperatures during the warmest months can dip below freezing.  When you go, take some decent shoes.  You probably won’t need hiking boots for this journey, unless you are visiting the caves above the lake.  I would pack a sleeping bag because I am not comfortable sleeping in guest houses or hotel beds.

I always recommend a solid pare of UV protected glasses for any sustained outdoor activity.  You will probably want a water filter or SteriPEN or sanitizing tablets, but these may be rendered useless due to the prevalence of boiled water.  As always it is your call.  Sunscreen is also a good item to bring, if you use it.  I like to stay covered up and generally don’t put sunscreen on.  The trick to staying covered up and warm is to dress in layers.

I will normally start with 3 layers of pants (bottoms) and 5 layers of shirts (tops).  I will then layer down progressively as I trek.  Depending on how cold it is, I will generally be down to 2 bottoms and 3 tops.  Experiment with this until you find a right combination of what works for you in the weather you are in.  Sherpa Adventure Gear has great quality products with a wonderful selection for both men and women.  Their products are designed and manufactured to be layer-able.

If you are going to spend your nights on the open trail, ask your travel company if they provide camping gear.  Some of them have great quality products that they loan out.  If you would prefer having your own, try Eastern Mountain Sports for some great deals on great camping gear.  Using the travel agency’s camping gear is a great way to test out a product before you buy it, but it comes at a risk of being dirty.  Also, the weather is unpredictable so make sure you have gear for rain and snow.

When to go

Namtso Lake with a photographer

I prefer Tibet in the summer months of June, July, and August.  During these months you are more likely to experience warm weather, and mild rains.  Fortunately, the amount of rain you will probably experience is low.  This is due to Tibet being in the rain shadow of the Himalayan mountains.  The summer months tend to receive 3 to 5 inches of water per month.  With each month having 10 to 15 rainy days.  Summer temperatures range from lows in the 40s F to highs in the 70s F.

Any cold weather enthusiast wishing to visit Lake Namtso during the winter can experience temperatures ranging from the teens to the 40s, measured in Fahrenheit.  During the winter months of December, January, and February you will not likely experience any precipitation, and will be granted with amazingly crystal-clear views.


China does not allow foreigners to enter Tibet without the supervision of a tour company.  In addition to the Chinese Visa, you must also have a Tibet entry permit, which costs around $20, but is paid for by the travel company.  An all-expenses paid 10-day vacation touring Tibet, monasteries, caves and Namtso Lake will cost $2,790.  If you are only interested in visiting Lake Namtso you can probably do the trip in 7 days for a price of $1,000.

If you go to Tibet, you will probably be charged a singular rate by a travel company.  For those that like to know, I am providing an itemized list of the prices you can expect to pay on your trip.  I am including the cost of the Chinese Visa in cost of the trip.

  • $50/day guide
  • $20/day food
  • $30/day room board (some locations have tent style rooms for $5/ night)
  • $140 Chinese Visa
  • $20 Tibet Entry Permit (actual cost)
  • $180 transportation
  • $200 government tax

Historical significance

Namtso Lake pilgrimage

Namtso Lake is 1 of 3 holy lakes in Tibet.  The 5 islands within the lake are said to represent gods in heaven.  The name Namtso comes from the Tibetan word for heaven or sky.  Monks have been known to use the islands as spiritual retreats.  During the winter, monks pack food and supplies and walk on the ice to a chosen island.  They let the lake thaw and spend the summer and fall meditating on their island before returning home the following winter.

I was able to find information relating Lake Namtso to Nyainqêntanglha peak as being either its mother or wife.  I also found a source linking Lake Namtso to God Dishitian (Indra in Hinduism/ Sakka) as his daughter.  Namtso is described as having dark blue skin and possessing a 3rd eye.  She also is believed to ride a dragon and protects other gods; However, I found contradictory evidence to this.

It is believed that circumnavigating the lake will bring knowledge, good luck, and will cleans the body and soul.  If it is done during the year of the goat (next one starts Feb 26 2027 and ends Jan 25 2008) on the Chinese calendar, the blessings will be magnified by a hundred thousand times.

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