The Yamdrok Lake, also known as Yamdrok Yumtso, is one of the three sacred lakes in Tibet, along with the Namtso Lake in North Tibet and Manasarovar Lake in Ali, as well as the largest freshwater lake at the south foot of the Himalaya Range. Surrounded by many snow-capped mountains and fed by numerous small streams, the lake is not only a scenic spot but also a pilgrimage destination, attracting numerous devout worshippers every year.
Yamdrok Yumtso lies within the boundary of Nankartse County, on the southern bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in the Shannan Region of Tibet, with Lhasa a hundred km to the northeast and the Tibetan town of Gyantse around 90km to its west. “Yam” means the “upper”, “drok” means “pastureland”, “Yum” means “jade” and “tso” means “lake” in Tibetan, so Yamdrok Yumtso means “the jade lake in the upper pastureland” or “Swan Pool” in Tibetan.
Yamdrok Yumtso is a continental lake supplied with rain, thawing snow and icebergs. It is an out flowing lake which is connected with the Yarlung Tsangpo River. About 1 million years ago, huge mud-rock flow blocked the river valley in the upper reaches of the Moqu River near Yangse which is about 20 kilometers west from Baidi and the lake became a continental lake.
With an altitude of 4,441 meters, the Yamdrok Lake is 130 kilometers long from east to west and 70 kilometers wide from north to south and covering an area of 638 square kilometers, which is about 70 times bigger than the area of the West Lake in Hangzhou. The depth of the water is general between 20 to 40 meters and the maximum depth is 60 meters. The lake takes a shape of paper fan and stretches roughly from northwest to southeast, while the south is wide and the north is narrow. Along the lake, there are many branches of the lake winding their way into the mountains, which appears much like the coral. Hence the lake has another vivid name called “Coral Lake”.
There are more than 10 islands in the lake; the large ones can hold 5 to 6 households while the small ones are only 100 square meters or so. There is lush pasture around the lake with an area of 10 million square hectares and is one of the most famous pasturelands in Tibet. It takes around 30 minutes to go down the pass to Yamdrok Yumtso, but the views are truly magnificent. Its appearance for the pure clean water is indeed as smooth as the surface of a fine jade. Lying in the sunlight, the peaceful water seems like a bright mirror. The reflection of sunshine in different depths lends the lake gorgeous and mysterious colors. Overlooking from the nearby high mountain, you can see the Yamdrok Lake, like a holy sapphire, set in the group of mountains. At times there is a lot of fog, but it changes by the minute, so wait around and you will see the extraordinary color and shape of this unique lake.
Yamdrok Yumtso is a salt lake of low consistency and it begins to freeze every mid-November and the ice can be as thick as 0.5 meter. The lake abounds in small scale fishes, Tibetan fish, plateau carps etc, with a yearly production about 200 to 300 million kilograms. Here is also the largest habitat for water birds in north Tibet. Every winter flocks of birds are flying here from the south. Along the banks and on the islands there are large numbers of swans, pigeons, yellow ducks, cormorants and bar-headed goose.
The Yamdrok Yumtso Lake is also a pilgrimage site. It is said that a fairy maiden left the Heaven and turned into the lake on earth, adding mystery and holiness to the lake. However, the main reason for being known as the holy lake is that it can help people to find the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. Every year, many devotional followers in Tibet or from other places would come here for pilgrimage and circumambulate the Yamdrok Lake, which takes around one month by riding a horse. Some of them start on foot and give one prostration every three steps even from hundreds of kilometers away.
The Yamdrok Yumtso Lake is situated on the way from Lhasa to Gyangtze which is the old route from Lhasa to Shigatse. You may take a bus or rent a car in Lhasa and it takes two hours to cover the 100 kilometers distance. If you go by bus, you may stop at the Great Bridge of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, then visit Yamdrok Yumtso by Taxi. The bus travels up a 4794M high mountain through rugged muddy road before reaching the lake, the journey is really breathtaking since the bus drives right on the edge of the cliff. But all these will be rewarded when you suddenly find yourself on the top of the mountain and the stunningly beautiful blue lake under the other side of the peak.