The Alpine Lakes of Tibet

The alpine lakes of Tibet cover a total of 23,800km² and there are more than 1,000 lakes in Tibet. The three largest lakes are Zhari Namco, Siling Lake and Namtso. The most popular lakes for foreigners to visit are Manasarovar Lake, Namtso Lake and Yamdrok Lake which are three of the most beautiful , the most accessible and also surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Most of the lakes are salt water lakes (some geologists believe that the Tibetan Plateau was once covered by the sea) but there are also fresh water lakes. Many of the lakes remain frozen for most of the year. Tibet is the site of the largest lake in all of China, Qinghai Lake. Several Tibetan lakes are sacred to Tibetan Buddhists who make pilgrimages to the lakes and even circumambulate the lakes prostrating every 6 steps. The most important sacred lakes are Namtso Lake, Lake Yamdrok and Manasarovar Lake.  Lake Ngoring Tso in western Amdo is one of the sources of the Yellow River.

The Most Sacred of The Sacred Tibetan Lakes

Lake Namtso – the turquoise colored lake

The Heavenly Lake is located 240km north of Lhasa. It is 70km long and 30km wide covering an area of 1,940km². This is the largest salt water lake in Tibet, the highest salt water lake in the world (at 4,718 meters above sea level) and the second largest in China. Water reaches the lake from the snow capped Nyenchen Tangula Mountains. There are 5 islands in the lake inhabited by rich bird life. At four points around the lake there are monasteries. It takes pilgrims about a month to circumambulate the lake and the best time to visit, when the weather is at its best is late April.

Manasarovar Lake – The Jade Colored Lake

This fresh water lake is called the Mother of the Holy Lakes. It is located 2,000km from Lhasa, has a perimeter of 88km, a depth of 90 meters, a surface area of 320km² and is located at 4,5000 meters above sea level. Lake Manasarovar overflows into Lake Rakshastal via the Ganga Chhu Channel. It is considered the source of four great Asian rivers. This is one of the most sacred of the Tibetan lakes. Tibetan Buddhists regard the lake as a gift from Shengledazun, the creator of Buddhism and as the ultimate spiritual lake. They believe that the lake water can wash away sorrow and evil.

Yamdrok Lake – The Coral Green Colored Lake

This sacred lake is over 72km long and has a surface area of about 638km². Water flows into the lake from the surrounding snow-capped mountains and flows out at the western end. Also at the western end is Yamdrok Hydropower Station. The lake is about 90km from Gyantse and 100km from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.  The 10 islands on the lake are inhabited by a large waterfowl population. Buddhists believe that the lake is guarded by a female goddess. On the banks of the lake is the only Tibetan monastery with a female abbot. Local fishermen harvest huge quantities of fish from the lake from April to October. Whenever you take a trip with local Tibet travel agency, you should not miss these lakes.

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