Nam Tso is an important pilgrimage site. It is one of three lakes considered to be holy and sacred by the Tibetan people. This huge body of pale blue water is back dropped by mountains with hints of purple tones. It’s a surreal setting that looks like something you would see in a water colour painting.
The drive from Lhasa to Nam Tso takes about four hours. We booked our vehicle and driver with two young girls from England. Unlike our last trip in Tibet, this one went off without a hitch. We had no flat tires and no break downs.
When we arrived at the lake the size of it was staggering to us. It is over 70 km’s long and 30 km’s at its widest. There were a lot of Chinese tour buses when we arrived, but they were only there as a day trip. The buses were gone by afternoon and then we shared the area with only a handful of other tourists and locals.
Devotion To Religion
After spending some time in Lhasa we were aware of how devout the Tibetan people are to their religion, but this site was beyond belief. On the way to Nam Tso we saw a lady prostrating along the side of the road going towards Lhasa. Our guide said she would be going all the way into Lhasa until she reached the Barkor area, another holy site. We were in the middle of no where with not even a village in site, who knows how far she had already traveled.
We saw another Tibetan practicing religious prostration underneath hundreds of colorful prayer flags at Nam Tso. They had most likely traveled a great distance as a pilgrimage to the holy lake.
Violated By Some Tibetan Men At A Rest Stop
On the drive to the lake we made a rest stop at a monument site. It was a large set of hands held out to the sky. Locals seemed to be popping out of no where. Jack was over across the road entertaining a group of children that had gathered around him. They were trying to climb on him and grabbed at his hands wanting to be swung around. While he was busy doing this, I and the other two girls were being harassed by a group of men. They were making rude gestures, pointing at our crotches and then theirs. The situation quickly got out to of hand. A few of them started to grab at us inappropriately. I was just about to start yelling when Jack came across the road and our driver returned from going to the washroom. The guys stopped as soon as they saw the other men coming.
A Walk Along The Lakeside
We met up with the English girls and set off for a two hour walk around a peninsula of land that juts into the lake. We passed by endless strings of prayer flags. At the base of a mountain there were stone tablets with prayer inscriptions carved into them and thousands of white scarves hanging from the cliff face. From a distance it actually looked like bird droppings. The scarves are tied to a small rock and thrown at the cliff until they catch onto the jagged rock. The scarves are known as a khata. They represent respect or love, and are often presented to people by being placed around the neck.
Nam Tso is a place to just come and be and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty. There are very few areas in the world we have felt such solitude and peacefulness. No wonder the Tibetans consider this a sacred lake. At the end of the walk we climbed up a mountain to get even better views. We could feel the effects of the altitude. We had to stop many times on the way up to catch our breath.
The wind was relentless at the top, strings of prayer flags were flapping all around us. The flags are meant to purify the air and the wind is supposed to carry the prayers that are written on them. The colours of the flags represent earth, sky, clouds, water and fire. Jack had purchased some prayer flags back in Lhasa. We decided this is the place we would place them. Mixed along the colours are flags that have been bleached white by the sun and are little more than rags hanging from strings. We tied our flags on tight and watched them flutter in the wind. It was a sentimental feeling to know they would stay there until the elements literally wore them away to nothing.
Our Tin Box Accommodation
We were quite hungry after our walk and trek up the mountain. There were a couple of eating establishments to choose from. When I say that, I mean one or two box shelters that could prepare a meal. The shelters are metal habitats that you see used as first aid stations or temporary offices on construction sites. We stopped outside one of them where a man greeted us at the door. A sign hung near the door that said shopping to indicate it was also the store for the settlement. There were the usual items of toilet paper, water, cigarettes and pop. We asked if we could see a menu. The man said he did not have one and motioned for us to follow him. We went back into a smaller room where he pointed to bowls of various vegetables and raw meats. We don’t eat meat other than fish so we asked for rice and a mixed plate of stir fried vegetables. Our dishes were far from anything that excited our taste buds and certainly didn’t fill us up. For our next meal we tried a different place. The menu was badly translated, we couldn’t figure out what most of the dishes were supposed to be. We ended up having another plate of rice and steamed vegetables.
Our accommodation choices were either tents or metal shelters. The English girls stayed in a tent. Jack and I opted to shell out a few more dollars and call a luxurious tin box our home for the night.
As the sun starting to go down it became very cold. It was only 8:30pm but we were really tired and decided to settle into our tin box for the night. There was nothing else to do anyways. The cold got to the point where it became bone chilling. This was just like our night at Everest Base Camp. Nam Tso is actually not much lower in elevation. We piled on every blanket from all four beds, and shivered ourselves to sleep. I guess we over did it, we both woke up feeling like we were suffocating. We threw off about half the blankets. It felt like we had been sleeping forever so we assumed it was the middle of the night. I reached over to look at my watch to find out it was just after 11pm! We were both starving, our rice and vegetable dishes had long since burned off. We got up and ate some cookies we had brought with us and fell back asleep. Normally I would be up for the rest of the night once I have woken like that. I’m not sure if it was the altitude or perhaps the deafening silence, but I fell back to sleep and slept like a baby until morning.