At elevations of about 15,000 ft, Tibet’s holy lakes are the pristine settings of sacred Lama rituals. For generations, Buddhist pilgrims have journeyed to these lakes to pray, meditate or seek wisdom. Many lakes in Tibet are considered to be holy by Tibetan Buddhists, but three are regarded as most sacred, Lake Yamdrok, Lake Namtso, and Lake Manasarovar.
Lake Yamdrok. Photo by Goran Hoglund
After a Dalai Lama passes away, Tibetan monks journey to lake Yamdrok to find the boy in whom the reincarnated soul of the Dalai Lama has gone to reside. The monks congregate on the shores of the lake to chant and pray, and throw khata, a ceremonial scarf that symbolizes purity, into the lake, and study its reflection which reveals the location of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnated soul.
Lake Namtso. Photo by McKay Savage
Lake Namtso is home to five small, uninhabited islands. In the past, pilgrims would walk across the frozen lake with food and supplies at the end of winter, and spend the summer there meditating, unable to return until Lake Namtso froze again the following winter. Perhaps the most beautiful lake of all, Lake Namtso, is a spiritual retreat for Buddhist monks and truly deserves the name “heavenly lake.”
Lake Manasarovar sprawls at the base of lonely Mount Kailash, deep in Tibet’s west. As the starting point of many pilgrimages that circumambulate Mount Kailash, the lake sends off pilgrims on their treks, and welcomes them back with its purifying waters. The holy waters of Lake Manasarovar are said to wash away all sins and pilgrims can often be seen bathing after finishing their trek around Mount Kailash.
Both lake Yamdrok and Lake Namtso are a day trip from Lhasa. Lake Manasarovar can be reached as part of a longer pilgrimage to Mount Kailash.
View a WildChina itinerary to Tibet to begin your journey: