Heavenly Lake Namtso was born in the Paleogene age, as a result of Himalayan tectonic plate movements. The lake lies at an elevation of 4,718 m (15,479 ft), and has a surface area of 1,920 km2 (740 sq mi). This salt lake is the largest lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, it is not the largest lake on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. That title belongs to Qinghai Lake (more than twice the size of Namtso); which lies more than 1,000 km (620 mi) to the north-east in Qinghai.
Heavenly Lake Namtso has five uninhabited islands of reasonable size, in addition to one or two rocky outcrops. The islands have been used for spiritual retreat by pilgrims who walk over the lake’s frozen surface at the end of winter, carrying their food with them. They spend the summer there, unable to return to shore again until the water freezes the following winter. This practice is no longer permitted by Chinese authorities.
The largest of the islands is in the north-west corner of the lake, and is about 2,100 m (6,900 ft) long and 800 m (2,600 ft) wide, rising to just over 100 m (330 ft) in the middle. At its closest point it is about 3.1 km (1.9 mi) from the shore.
The most remote island is, at its closest, 5.1 km (3.2 mi) from the shore. At summer time birds like Ruddy shelduck Phalacrocorax migrate to the lake area, besides the fields of astragalus, roegneria nutans and marram grass.
The weather at Namtso is subject to abrupt sudden change and snowstorms are very common across the Nyainqêntanglha range.
Heavenly Lake Namtso is renowned as one of the most beautiful places in the Nyainqêntanglha mountain range. Its cave hermitages have for centuries been the destination of Tibetan pilgrims. A surfaced road across Laken Pass at 5186 m was completed to the lake in 2005, enabling easy access from Lhasa and the development of tourism at the lake.
Settlements in the area include Dobjoi, Donggar and Cha’gyungoinba.
The Tashi Dor monastery is located at the southeastern corner of the lake.
Around the area’s natural elements, historical and anthropological background, a 2010 romantic drama 香格里拉 Shangri-La, starring China’s popular actor Hu Ge, was broadcasted at CCTV1 and received positive reviews. Some scenes in the 2002 Hong Kong film The Touch were filmed at the lake. Namtso Lake was featured in the BBC TV series: Himalaya with Michael Palin.
It is often incorrectly written that Namtso is the highest lake nationally (or even the world), or the highest salt lake in the world, but there are many smaller lakes at altitudes of more than 5,500 m (18,000 ft) in the Himalayas and in the Andes. For lakes with a surface area of more than 50 km2 (19 sq mi), the highest freshwater lake is Sengli Lake at an altitude of 5,386 m (17,671 ft) and with a surface area of 78 km2 (30 sq mi), while the highest saltwater lake is Meiriqie Lake at an altitude of 5,354m with a surface area of 64 km2 (25 sq mi) (both are located in the Tibet Autonomous Region). However, Namtso is the highest lake in the world with a surface area of more than 500 km2 (190 sq mi). The Qingzang Railway helped efficient transportation and also is a leisure way for sight seeing. A normal tour to Namtso often starts at Lhasa by taking the shuttle bus at 7-8 am, arriving at the lake’s shore by noon, and returning at 3-4 pm the same or the other day, costs RMB150 for an one day return trip. The traditional fashioned turquoise, silver, choral, amber and carnelian jewelry, handmade cheese and the Thangka craft are tourist’ favored local souvenir.