Lake Namtso means “holy lake” in the Tibetan language. Stretching 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, making it the second largest salt lake in China.
At an elevation of 4,718 meters, it is also the highest salt lake in the world, and its furthest depth is more than 33 meters.
The water in the lake, for the most part, arises from rains, is of melted ice and snow of the Nyenchen Tonglha Mountains, and from the inflow of crooks and streams. Because of these natural sources, the lake is very clear and fresh. When the reflection of the lake assimilates with the hues of the vibrant sky, the two seem to be one and undivided.
As part of both history and legend in the late 3rd century and the early 4th century, Lake Namtso became a huge basin as a result of the Himalayas’ movement. Later, as the climate of the Tibetan Plateau became drier and drier, the size of Namtso decreased drastically to what it is now. Today, the beaches of the lake are a beautiful natural pasture, offering ideal conditions 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 also often be found around the lake. Highland thin-squama fish and non-squama fish are abundant in the waters as well.
Around Lake Namtso grows 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. This was believed to be the origin of worshipping the holy Namtso Lake in the Tibetan Year of the Sheep. According to Buddhists, when the Tibetan Year of the Sheep comes, Buddha and Bodhisattva hold Buddhist rites on Lake Namtso. If a Buddhist comes to walk and patter around the lake only once in this year, he will be much more blessed than he who does so 10,000 times in other years.
As such, in the Tibetan Year of the Sheep, numerous Buddhist monks and countless believers trudge all the way from far and wide to Lake Namtso, feeling satisfied and comfortable 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.
Besides Lake Namtso, travelers can also visit the 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 practice Buddhism with the support of local Tibetans. Visiting the lamas should definitely be a stop on any trip to Lake Namtso.
In terms of housing, there are no hotels by Lake Namtso. However, in the high travel season, local villagers will set up distinctly Tibetan camp hostels for visitors, charging prices ranging from 25 Yuan to 100 Yuan for a bed per day. If you suffer from altitude sickness and do not adjust well, it is not a good idea to lodge by Lake Namtso, which is situated at a high altitude and may worsen your sickness.