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Tibet is a remote area of China, also called the roof of the world, where you find lots of unique nature and culture. I spend a week in Lhasa and from there I did day trips with my son (12 years) to various places. I like to base myself in one city and make tours from there like I did in 7 day trips from Cairo in Egypte a while back. A Yamdrok Lake tour is one tour which should be on everyone’s Tibet itinerary including a visit to the Karola Glacier and Samding Monastery. As you cannot drive freely yourself in Tibet we hired a guide from Tibet Ctrip Travel Service to take us on a Yamdrok Lake tour. The guide picked us up early morning at the Intercontinental Lhasa Paradise hotel and dropped us off in the evening. In this travel blog article I will share my experience of the Yamdrok Lake tour, enjoy!
Yamdrok Lake tour scenic drive
Before the actual Yamdrok Lake tour can start it will take around two hours to get to the lake. After an hour of highway the drive will take you up the mountains over a moderate sized road full of hairpins all the way. Left, right, left and right again with each time the ravine next to you getting deeper. Afraid? Not direct but I do prefer to drive such routes myself to have control.
TIBET – 7 days in Lhasa: a Tibet itinerary & practical travel tips
Just before getting to the top there is a tourist trap for you to enjoy with a nice view. Our guide warned us that the touts will try to get you to make photos of the dogs and goats or dress you up for money. I walked around a bit enjoying the nice view, took a few photos and used the expensive but clean toilets. After 10 minutes we headed further to the Gampa pass to enjoy a high view of the Yamdrok Lake.
TIP! If you make photo’s of the dogs be prepared to pay some money OR use a telelens to make your photos without anyone noticing.
Yamdrok Lake is amongst the three largest lakes in Tibet and the main attraction during a Yamdrok Lake tour. Once you arrive at the Gampa pass you have great view over the lake to the left and to the right. It’s a great point for photography and to admire the size of the lake and the deep blue colors. Just down the road on the left you have a small café where you can have another great view and see just a bit more of the lake. Did you know that from space the lake looks like a scorpion? See the map on the bottom of this page. On a clear day you can see the Nojin Kangsang mountain with its peak reaching over 7000 meters behind the lake. From here the best is to continue counter-clockwise around the lake and after 30 KM’s you arrive at Nangkatse where you can take lunch. Tibet has great food which I will let you taste in a different post.
TIP! At the Gampa pass do not go to the parking lot as you have to pay; just stop on the road a few meters down to make your photos.
Yamdrok Lake is one of the three holy lakes in Tibet. With a total length of over 72 km long. It’s long but at the other hand it is not wide and is scattered with inlets and bays. A Yamdrok Lake tour takes you along the north-western shore towards the city of Gyantse. In our case until the Karola Glacier from where we headed back to Lhasa. There are various points along the route where you can stop and take a walk to the shore. As the lake is holy it is not allowed to swim or to take a boat on the lake. There is a small ferry taking local people to the other side as there is no road going there but for tourist this has been suspended some years ago.
The depth is not known but it is sure that it’s decreasing as you can see when you drive to the Samding Monastery. A lot of land has dried up and you can still see the geo-structures of the old lake’s floor. With a hydro-electric power dam in the Western outlet stream the water level is not getting better. The lake is however a nature reserve and more damage is more and more prevented.
TIP! If you do not like to take lunch in a restaurant you can take also lunch for pick nick as there are very nice places along the road to enjoy nature and the views.
A 30 minute drive down the road to Gyantse passed the Yamdrok Lake will take you to the Karola Glacier. If you do a Yamdrok Lake tour make sure you also visit the Karola Glacier as it’s one of the more easy to access glaciers in Tibet. The road winds through the mountains with snow peaks on either side until you arrive at the 4330 meter high Simila Mountain Pass with a parking lot below the Karola Glacier tongue.
It was just a week or two after the big earthquakes in Nepal when I was in Tibet and lot of tour groups got cancelled because of some reasons which I didn’t understand as Tibet was perfectly safe. It never occurred to me to cancel my 7 days in Lhasa. This made the touts, especially here, quite annoying walking all the way with me to the viewing platform. Even a few polite no’s did not seem to get them away which made me more impolite and finally they left.
TIP! Do not buy from the touts as they over charge you. Politely say no and if they keep insisting you may get a bit more impolite.
The Karola Glacier has a total area of almost 10 sq. kilometers with a total length of just under 5 kilometers. The tail of the tongue which you can see is at around 5200 meters high. When the touts went away it got very quiet as I was the only visitor with my son. We could hear the glacier moving and water dripping. After 10 minutes just enjoying the view we walked slowly back to the car to continue our journey to the Samding Monastery, the last place we would visit on our Yamdrok Lake tour.
The Samding Monastery is the main monastery at the Yamdrok Lake and is not visited by many tourists. If your Yamdrok Lake tour doesn’t include this monastery ask your guide if a visit is possible as you will see the real monks and get in touch with them. The monastery is located on a peninsula just outside of Nangkatse. The drive there will show you that the water level of the lake is not as high anymore as before with dried up land and empty riverbeds.
The Samding Monastery is famous because it’s the only monastery whose head is a female re-incarnation of the Lama. She was the third highest ranking in the hierarchy after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The monastery is like the lake associated with the second Buddha Padmasambhava. Like each other monastery in Tibet just outside the walls of the monastery you will find a military building build in the same architectural style as the monastery but in a modern way. This is to “protect” the monastery.
When we entered the compound the monastery looked deserted. On the right are the common areas of the monks and a seperate prayer hall. The rooms of the monks are on the left side and a few minutes after we arrived the monks came all out their rooms to see which Western people made it to their monastery. We got a private tour around the monastery with explanation of the various rooms specially opened for us by one of the monks. When you enter the rooms the butter smell from the burning butter is very intense. The butter is used to light the candles in the monasteries in Tibet. The monastery is well preserved and renovated making it very enjoyable to visit. I liked the protector room a lot, which is a bit scary as you can see in the picture below.
TIP! Do NOT make photos of military buildings especially not in Tibet as this could get you AND your guide into trouble.
We finished the visit to the Samding Monastery in just over an hour and we drove back to Lhasa the same way we arrived. On our way back we came across some Tibetan farmer relaxing in the field while his horse was eating from a baseball tight around his neck. It was about 90 minutes to drive back to Lhasa. We arrived back to our hotel late evening from this Yamdrok Lake tour. The next day we would continue our 7 days in Lhasa by exploring more of the Tibetan autonomous region.
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Did you visit Yamdrok Lake too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!
Gallery Yamdrok Lake tour
Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.