Yamdrok Tso Lake, also known as Yamdrok Yumtso, is one of the four largest holy lakes in Tibet, besides Nam Tso Lake and Lake Manasarovar. The Yarlung Tsangpo River surrounds the lake located to the south within Langkazi County in the Shannan region of Tibet. Perched at an altitude of 14, 570 ft (4,440 m), the holy jaded lake in Tibet stretches over 72 km with an average depth of 20-40 m, the most in-depth point being 60 m, and comprises of dozen of tiny islands.
Since it lacks an outlet, it presents itself as a natural reservoir, maintaining an impeccable equilibrium between the water from melted snow and the water that evaporates from the lake. Surrounded by many snow-capped mountains and fed by numerous small streams, this sacred lake is an interesting place to visit. This is due to the mythological belief that it is a transformation of a goddess.
The coral colored lake and its surrounding areas, which engage the spiritual essence of Tibet, have a close association with Padmasambhava. In the 8th century, people believe that he introduced Buddhism to Tibet. Today, both pilgrims and tourists can observe individuals walking along the perimeter of the lake. One of the lake’s islands contains an old fort or castle called Pede Dzong.
Standing to the south of Lake Yamdrok Tso is the renowned Samding Monastery, a Tibetan monastery uniquely led by a female incarnate. People believe that the third-highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism had been reincarnating in this monastery for hundreds of years. A visit to Yamdrok Tso Lake is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So come and try your hand at drinking hot-buttered tea astride a colorfully bedecked yak while overlooking the beautiful emerald lake.
Reaching Yamdrok Tso Lake
If you visit Yamdrok Tso Lake from Lhasa, you need to drive 120 km towards the southwest. During this drive, you will climb over Kampala Pass, which offers a bird’s eye view of the incredible turquoise lake. However, if you begin from Gyantse, the lake lies 140 km eastwards, where you have to climb over Karola Pass. The drive, however, is very scenic and adventurous. Travelers will need to hire a car and driver or take a bus tour on to Yamdrok Tso. Alternatively, if embarking on an overland tour to Everest Base Camp from Lhasa, you can visit the holy lake en route.
There are several spiritual as well as mythological beliefs regarding the holy lake as mentioned below:
- Tibetans believe that lakes are the dwelling places of protective deities and therefore, revered and invested with special spiritual powers.
- The lake is said to be a manifestation of a natural force, the one that gives power in life.
- Yamdrok Tso Lake is said to be able to help Tibetans find the reincarnated soul of the Dalai Lama. After a Dalai Lama passes away, the senior monks take on the responsibility of locating the boy. This boy is believed to house the reincarnated soul of the Dalai Lama. They visit this lake to chant and pray, seeking a reflection of the precise location of the Dalai Lama’s soul.
- According to folklore, a fairy maiden left heaven and transformed into Yamdrok Tso Lake. The lake is said to be the female guardian of Buddhism in Tibet, guarded by the goddess Dorje Gegkyi Tso.
- It is believed that if the lake dries up, Tibet will become an inhabitable place.
- Tibetans believe that circumambulating around the lake in seven days will wash away their sins and earn merit.
- The Mongolian people believe that Yamdrok is the Tibetan female Dharmapala with multiple functions or divine power.
- There are many small islands in the lake, which support many migratory birds. The lake is the most abundant habitat for migratory birds in southern Tibet. During autumn and winter, the lake banks and the islands undergo a transformation. They turn into a spectacular scene with thousands of white birds gracefully soaring above the water. This awe-inspiring sight adds a touch of magic to the serene surroundings.
- The lake serves as an immense reserve of fishes, thus also called the ‘fish stock of Tibet.’ Local fishermen catch native varieties of fish in the lake for sale in local villages and markets.
- People revere Yamdrok Tso as a talisman and consider it to be a part of the life-spirit of the Tibetan nation.
- A significant variety of birds, goats, yaks, wild plants, plains, and pasture provides unique natural scenery with few villages hugging the rocky lake shores.
- Devout Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, traditionally make pilgrimages to the lake.
Fooding and Accommodation
There are no real lodgings available at Yamdrok Tso till now, and no boating, fishing or swimming beaches. This also extends to small establishments in local villages that sell some prepared food. However, most travelers arrive here as part of a tour itinerary, which is usually focused on the capital city of Lhasa. Nagarze is the nearest town to the lake. Some small guest houses, restaurants and shops here serve both tourists and pilgrims who come here to walk around the lake in honor of the resident goddess.
Why visit Yamdrok Tso Lake?
Yamdrok Tso Lake looks like a holy sapphire. Under the bright azure sky, the clean water of the lake reflects a surface as smooth as beautiful blue jade. This serene sight captivates all who behold it. Every year, many local Tibetans, visitors from Lhasa and foreign tourists come here for pilgrimage or sightseeing. Various reasons to visit Yamdrok Tso Lake are:
- It is the largest freshwater lake at the north foot of the Himalayas in southern Tibet.
- The lake freezes up in winter. However, melting of snow and glaciers feed the lake throughout the year.
- The lake is located in a fantastic environment and is a beautiful spiritual retreat.
- A trip to Yamdrok Yumtso consists of a glimpse of all that Tibet has to offer to a curious eye. A visit to the lake immerses you in the world of Tibet’s extraordinary landscapes, with fantastic options for excursions and walks.
- In the distance, you will have spectacular views of the holy mountain Mt. Nyenchen Khangsar (7,191 m).
- Yamdrok Tso is turquoise when the sun shines on it. With the change in the angle of the sun’s rays, the lake reflects different degrees of blue, light blue and sapphire, making it incredibly attractive.
Best time to visit
The winters are usually mild. However, the lake will freeze during winter seasons. The best months to visit Yamdrok Tso are from May to July. During this time, the temperature is relatively mild, and the sky is clear across the country. With unpredictable weather and temperature, it is always advisable to take your rain gear and warm clothing along with you.
Other interesting facts
- The lake offers yak rides to the tourists.
- The vast lake lies in what is called the Trans-Himalayas, a poorly defined mountainous region of Tibet.
- Local villagers here have begun developing cottage industries to create crafts to sell to the tourists.
- The world’s highest hydroelectric power is located nearby the lake.
- By standing on the hilltop around, one can have a far view of the fresh water under the sunshine reflecting different colors of blue, and the diverse lakeside grass and plants dotted with yaks and birds.
- The name of the lake roughly translates to the ‘jade lake in the upper pastureland,’ but some other translations also call it ‘Swan Lake.’
Tibet is one of the world’s most spiritually appealing places where everything seems pious in this time-wrapped enclave of purity. Set against the backdrop of perpetually snow-covered peaks, Yamdrok Tso lies among rolling hills with nearly the climate of a desert. The deep bluish-green of the lake not only adds a mass of welcome color to the often brown slopes, but it also creates a stunning contrast. Colorful prayer flags placed by the religious people on pilgrimage add spots of riotous color to overlook the shores of the lake.
Owing to its growing popularity, the mystical Yamdrok Tso Lake, in recent days, has been incorporated in many tour itineraries which focuses around Lhasa. Embarking on a distinctive Kathmandu to Lhasa overland tour via Everest Base Camp will allow you to explore the spiritual lake while conquering high passes and driving through exotic Tibetan towns.