Namtso, Tibet

Photo: Boqiang Liao from Athens,Ohio , US ([1]  Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Boqiang Liao from Athens,Ohio , US ([1] Uploaded by PDTillman) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Languishing in Lhasa? You’ve spent almost a week getting lost in the twisting alleyways, touring the amazing Potala Palace, and acclimating to the high altitude. But you’re getting antsy. You didn’t travel all the way to Tibet to explore a big city. You came to hike, see amazing scenery, and maybe find peace at a monastery.

The first place on your list: Namtso. Tibet’s largest lake is a four-hour drive from Lhasa. It formed during the Paleogene age, between the Changtang plateau and the Tanggula Mountains, when the Himalayan tectonic plate shifted. The sacred spot is known for its stunning beauty, snow-capped mountains, shimmering turquoise water, and sickness-inducing altitude. At nearly 5,000 meters above sea level, Namtso is more than 1,000 meters higher than Lhasa.

After passing through the checkpoint, it’s a few more slow miles up to the lake. The landscape is desolate. There are no trees, just patches of short yellow and green grass. Purple rocks and reddish pebbles tumble down the hillside. A ferret runs in front of the vehicle. But your focus is on the impossibly blue water ahead.

Photo: Julianbce (西河冰雨) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Julianbce (西河冰雨) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons
At 70 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide, Namtso is huge. Depending on the weather, which changes multiple times an hour, you can either see the snowy mountains across the water or barely five feet in front you. Five islands, plus a few rocky mounds, sit on the water. Ruddy shelducks, cormorants, and gulls use it as a migratory resting point. Three small settlements—Dobjoi, Donggar, and Cha’gyungoinba—sit along the shore. While pilgrims come to worship the lake, the Avatar of gods.

You start where most do, at the Tashi Dor Monastery. The stone monastery was built in 1498 on the southeast corner of the lake. It’s surrounded by hermit caves, prayer flags, and worshippers on the Kora circuit. Patches of hardy wheat, barley, and rapeseed are grown around Donggar. Goats, sheep, and yaks graze in the rocky fields. Your trek around the lake is slow and quiet. You pause to catch your breath, sip yak-butter tea, and let the weather change. Nomadic herders watch you from the distance. Tiny fish dart through the water. While at night, the stars look like they’re going to drop from the sky because it’s so crowded.

You’ve found peace, quiet, and beauty in Namtso. Now if you could only find a cure for altitude sickness. Then you could explore the rest of southern Tibet before returning to the craziness of Lhasa.

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