What to see in Tibet
Tourist attractions Sacred lakes
In Tibet, there are more than 1500 lakes, which are concentrated mainly in the eastern area of the country. All are surrounded by the majestic characteristic landscape of the country, between towering mountains, valleys, rivers and plains, in an environment free of pollution. Due to the Buddhist religion of the country, several of them are considered sacred and are visited by the faithful on their pilgrimages. The three largest and most famous sacred lakes in Tibet are the Yamdrok Yumtso, the Namtso and the Manasarovar.
In the arid Tibetan steppe, on the road that runs from Lhasa to Gyantse, is one of the sacred lakes of Tibet, Yamdrok Yumtso. It is 4441 metres above sea-level and covers an area of 638 km², stretching 130 km in length and 70 km in width, making it the largest freshwater lake in the northern Himalayas.On route to Yamdrok Yumtso, the Road of Friendship ascends and winds through the mountains to the Kamla La Pass, at 4800 metres altitude, from whose viewpoint you can experience a unique view of the landscape.Its name in Tibetan has several meanings; "Lake of Swans" for its symbolism of the sacred bird, "coral lake" for the irregular shape of the arms of the water that are interspersed in the mountains and "lake of green jade", for its resemblance to this beautiful precious stone in both its colour and the smooth and crystalline appearance of the surface.According to local mythology, Yamdrok is the incarnation of a goddess who has spiritual powers. Devoted Buddhists, to cleanse their sins and gain merit and blessing, travel the perimeter of 240 km on horseback for seven days.Here you can find the Samding Monastery, built on a hill on a peninsula to the southwest of the lake, where it enjoys unparalleled views. This monastery is the only one in Tibet whose abbot was a woman, the first Lama Dorje Pakmo, for them the female reincarnation of Buddha and the third authority in hierarchical importance after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.For Tibetans, Lake Yamdrok is a source of life and it is believed that if it ever dries up, Tibet would become uninhabitable. It is the southernmost habitat for migratory birds and although its high altitude makes life here difficult, from May to September, when the temperatures are warmer and the lake is not frozen, the fertile grass on the slopes serves as vital nutrients for groups of yaks, goats and sheep. Fish from the lake are captured and sold in the markets of Lhasa.A trip to Lake Yamdrok is an unforgettable experience. This great mass of water dotted with islands and bordered by mountains with snowy peaks rising for more than 7,000 metres, surprises everyone who visits it for its vibrant blue colour and for the elegant and inspiring natural environment that surrounds it. It is considered one of the most beautiful on the planet and a talisman for the Tibetans for whom the lake is an integral part of many fantastic legends.
After passing a security checkpoint to enter the area of Lake Namtso, a climb begins between the imposing snowy peaks up to the Lakenla mountain pass, located at 5186 metres altitude. From the pass, visitors must then descend to the lake itself, located at 4718 metres above sea-level. It lies 270 km north of Lhasa on the barren Tibetan plateau and covers an area of 1920 km². It is the highest lake in the world and the second largest saltwater lake in China after Qinghai. Bordered by the Nyainqentanglha mountain range with mountains up to 7000 metres high, its water accumulates from the rain and the melting snow from the peaks. Like other lakes in Tibet, it is considered sacred and to possess special spiritual powers and the faithful worship the lake’s five small islands as the incarnation of the five Dhyani Buddhas. For centuries, it was the spiritual retreat of many pilgrims who crossed the frozen lake to reach the islands, stocked with food, to spend the summer and return the following winter, a practice that is currently banned by the Chinese Communist regime.The Buddhist legend tells that those who walk and pray around the lake even if only once during the year of the Tibetan sheep, which according to the lunar calendar happens every twelve years, will have more fortune, health, safety and knowledge than those who visit the lake ten thousand times in other years, but even so, every season Buddhist monks and believers come from countless places to practice this ritual. On the path of the "kora" that circles the lake, is the Yingbin Rock or "welcome rock" adorned with long ribbons and prayer flags and numerous mounds of mani stones with mantras engraved with elegant calligraphy. In summer there is a great abundance of fish such as golden trout and it is a sanctuary for migratory birds and other animals such as yaks, wild donkeys, Himalayan goats, marmots and black bears. In addition, medicinal plants such as Chinese caterpillar fungus and the snow lotus flower are abundant in the surrounding lands.Around the lake, there are karst caverns corroded by the water and wind, visited every year by hermit monks, pilgrims and tourists. To the southeast, there is the small Tasi Dor Monastery and the Lianhuasheng Cave which houses a natural lotus pagoda, extraordinary stalactites and natural bridges.With a name meaning "heavenly lake", a trip to Lake Namtso is comparable to visiting an earthly paradise. Here, the stage is set in an overflowing natural frame where the sky and the clear water seem to merge in the most absolute peace and tranquillity.
940 km northwest of Lhasa, in the desolate, arid and cold western region of Tibet, is the highest freshwater lake in the world, Manasarovar, at 4556 metres altitude. Rounded, its surface of 320 km² extends to the foot of Mount Kailash, whose pyramid-shaped mountain is considered the home of the Hindu God Shiva and like the lake, it is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Attached to it by a canal rests Lake Rakshastal, but in spite of its proximity to the latter, it is not worshipped because it is considered the residence of the demon king and a place of "darkness" due to its half-moon shape, unlike the Manasarovar, which is "the brightness" for being round like the sun.Its name in Chinese is Mapham Yutso and Manasarovar in Tibetan. It comes from Sanskrit and means "invincible lake."
Within a radius of 100 km the Indus, Karnali, which is a tributary of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers are born. This fact has been assigned a beautiful story, which tells how in four mysterious caves located in the four cardinal points there are hidden a lion, an elephant, a horse and a bull from whose mouths flower the largest rivers of Asia.Each religion has its own mythological explanation about the creation of the lake. The Hindu legend says that it was originated by the god Brahma when he saw that his twelve sons performed their rituals on dry land, and wanted to offer them a better location. Devotees believe that if they bathe in its icy waters, they get forgiveness for the sins of this life and the salvation of reincarnation. It is also said that some of Gandhi's ashes were thrown into it. On the other hand, the Buddhist tradition tells that the gods moved the mother of Buddha to this place and that when entering its waters, his body became pure and a white elephant ran towards it from the mountain and Buddha entered his belly. The pilgrimage ritual consists of making the "kora" or religious circumambulation ring, travelling the 52 km of the perimeter of the lake, always in a clockwise direction.There is little data on the biodiversity of the lake, since fishing is strictly prohibited. The reason being that Buddhism preaches the defence and love of all living creatures, thus preventing damage to any form of wildlife in the area.Near the lake, there are several monasteries such as the Chiu Gompa, which, perched on a hill, houses an interesting library and is an important stop for believers. This area of Tibet is cold and windy, so the women cover their heads and neck with fuchsia turbans. Lake Manasarovar’s water is as blue as crystalline and sapphires, and emerges from an absolutely solemn landscape, evoking the most spiritual and esoteric thoughts. A visit to Lake Manasarovar is a unique experience for all who have a sense of appreciation for nature.