Namtso, Tibetan for ‘Heavenly Lake’, is often described as being next to heaven because of its lofty altitude, stunning beauty, pure blue water, and spiritual associations.
It is the highest saltwater lake in the world. Snow-capped mountains and open grassland, dotted with yak herds and local nomads, surround the crystal clear water of Lake Nam, making it one of the most beautiful places in Tibet.
Chinese: 纳木错 Nàmù Cuò /naa-moo tswor/
Location: Damshung County, Nagqu Prefecture; 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of Lhasa city, 4½ hours’ drive.
Altitude: 4,718 meters (15,479 feet), accessed by a 5,100m (16,700 ft) mountain pass
Type: salt lake
Area: 1,900 square kilometers (760 square miles)
Maximum depth: 35 meters (115 feet)
Activities: viewing sunrises and sunsets, hiking, photography
Best times: June to September
In clear weather, the water is a stunning shade of turquoise and you will be surrounded by magnificent views of the nearby mountains. The wide open spaces, dotted with tents of local nomads, are breathtaking. You may also walk alongside the lake or climb up the hill nearby to explore the area.
Sunrises and Sunsets
The sunrises and sunsets of Namtso are breathtaking! The wide lake and the snow-capped Nyenchen Tanglha mountains catch the low angle rays of the sun beautifully.
In the quiet morning, beat the cold and get up early to the lakeside to appreciate the sunrise. You can see the ice blue water and gray mountains far behind the lake. As the sun rises, cloud lifts from the mountains and the scene is bathed in golden sunshine.
At dusk clouds are colored red and golden. You can sit beside the lake and see the sky change color.
Walk Around the Lake to Pray in the Year of the Sheep
Namtso has been a holy site for centuries. At the end of winter, devout Buddhists used to walk over the lake’s frozen surface, carrying their food with them. They would return when the water froze again the following winter. This practice is now not allowed by the Chinese government.
Worshipers believe that if one walks around the lake once during the year of the sheep (e.g. from Losar 2015), he and his family will be blessed with good health, safety, knowledge, and other virtues.
Walking on the peninsula to appreciate the beauty of Lake Namtso Walking on the peninsula to appreciate the beauty of Lake Namtso.
Lake Namtso is very peaceful and scenic, and is a great place to wander around. Standing on the Tashi Peninsula, you may feel like you are standing in the center of the lake. You can spend a leisurely time there, listening to the wind and watching the sparkling ripples.
The water is crystal clear and, if you are lucky enough, you can see the fish in the water. You may also see goats and yaks on the grassland while you are hiking.
When to Go
The road to Namtso is typically closed from December to March. April and November are still very cold, but dry, and sometimes the road is still closed due to bad weather. October often brings heavy snowstorms and treacherous road conditions. So the best time to travel to Lake Nam is from June to September, with warmer weather and higher oxygen content.
Traveling to Namtso
A day trip is often recommended as the weather at night can be harsh and cold. It is cold there, even in summertime, so take a thick coat to keep warm, and hot drinks in vacuum flasks.
There is no hotel accommodation at Namtso, but there is a campsite with limited electricity and running water. You can find hotel accommodation in the town of Damxung, 2 hours away on the Lhasa road.
The low oxygen content can easily cause altitude sickness, especially in the morning, so do not do any strenuous activities. For example, when you are taking photos, do not squat down and stand up too quickly. Lake Namtso is quite a distance from Lhasa city, and 1,000 meters higher, so take some altitude medicine and oxygen with you in case of emergency.