At 4718m, staying the night at Namtso was cold, but metal cabin at Sacred Sheep Guesthouse (當雄神羊賓館) allowed us some decent rest. We woke up at 6:30am, quickly get ourselves ready and headed up the hill at the tip of Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島). Like many visitors to Namtso, we get up early just for the sunrise over the placid water. At 7:15, we found ourselves standing among several dozens of tourists standing at the north side of Tashi Dor Peninsula, awaiting for the first beam of sunlight from the east.
Facing northeast, we stood on the slope overlooking the placid water of Namtso Lake. At 7:20am, the horizon began to brighten up.
At 7:35am, a tint of orange signifying the arrival of the sunrise.
It felt like all visitors at Namtso were standing on the northern slope of Tashi Dor Peninsula to watch the sunrise.
Over at the southern side of Tashi Dor Peninsula, sunlight cast a orange glow on the highest peaks of Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山).
Sunlight slowly swallowed the darkness on the hills of Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島).
Looking north to where we saw the Milky Way the night before, the focus of the morning scenery was shifted to the placid water of Namtso Lake and Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains.
The campsites and tourist facilities at the waterfront were blanketed in the shadow of the Tashi Dor Peninsula.
Finally the sun rose above the Tashi Dor Peninsula.
While most tourists watched the rising sun, I preferred the scenery of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains and the lakefront lagoons.
At 8:50am, the sun was already high up. Namtso Lake returned to its famous deep blue colour under the pristine mountain air.
At 9am, we walked down the hill and returned to Sacred Sheep Guesthouse.
We took one last look at the Namtso Lake on our way down.
We passed by the trailhead one last time before entering the area of Sacred Sheep Guesthouse.
For a brief moment, I walked off to the lakefront near Tashi Dor Temple (扎西島寺).
Looking back up the cliff I could see the lookout where we photographed the Milky Way the night before.
On the otherwise bare landscape near the shore, simple structures and metal cabins were erected catered for tourism. It is actually a good idea to restrict all tourist activities of Namtso Lake only at Tashi Dor Peninsula and minimize tourist access to the rest of the lake for natural conservation purpose.
Before leaving Namtso Lake for Lhasa, I quietly bid farewell to the beautiful lake, and soon the Tibetan Plateau all together. In less than 24 hours we would be on the plane on our way back to Hong Kong via Chengdu.
Often considered as one of the most beautiful lakes in China, Namtso Lake ((གནམ་མཚོ་ 納木錯) failed to disappoint us. Sangzhu dropped us at Sacred Sheep Guesthouse (當雄神羊賓館) where we stayed the night. Probably the most established guesthouse in Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島) of Namtso, Sacred Sheep Guesthouse is in fact a simple building lined with metal cabins as guestrooms. We dropped off our bags in our room and stepped out right away hopefully to catch a glimpse of the scenery before sunset. Behind our guesthouse, there was a trail leading up the hill at the northwestern tip of Tashi Dor Peninsula. Several motorcyclists gathered at the trail-head. They offered to take us up the hill for a small fee. We preferred to walk despite the sky was getting dark. Before twilight, we reached a lookout overlooking the southern shore of Namtso Lake and the beautiful Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山) beyond. The last twilight was soon replaced by myriad of stars in the indigo sky, then came the moon and the Milky Way rising above the tranquil Namtso. It was a different starry night than two nights ago at the Everest Base Camp, but the wind was equally chilly and the scenery revealed the same magic of the Himalayan night sky.
The tip of the Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島) is the only spot around Namtso where tourist facilities are allowed to establish.
As we reached the lookout on the hill, the sun was setting fast behind the mountains.
The southern shore of Namtso Lake and the snow-capped Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山) defined the horizon ahead of us.
Slightly after 8pm, the sunlight began the fade away beyond the horizon.
At around 8:45, the Milky Way emerged from the indigo sky over Namtso Lake.
At around 9pm, the sky was dark enough for us to count the shooting stars.
Once again we were fortunate to admire the beautiful Milky Way in the clear sky.
Tourist cars kept on arriving at the Tashi Dor Peninsula.
Despite the chilly wind and our hungry stomachs, the magnificent night sky made us to stay for longer and longer. There were three other visitors, two from China and one from Hong Kong, taking photos of the starry night with their tripods alongside us.
I set up the tripod and camera on a rock to capture the night sky, and we just sat on the rocks behind to enjoy the scene.
Appeared as bright as the white cliffs of Dover, the majority of the Tashi Dor Peninsula was actually made of limestone.
At about 9:45pm, we decided to call it a day and return to Sacred Sheep Guesthouse for a late dinner. If not the cold temperature we could have perhaps stay a little longer at the lookout. No matter what, it was another magical night for the three of us.
Before noontime, we left Shigatse behind and headed northeast towards the sacred Namtso Lake (གནམ་མཚོ་ 納木錯). It would be another long day on the road. We would not reach our destination until 8pm in the evening. It was a journey of mixed feelings: being excited about seeing the famous sacred lake and troubled by the fact that Namtso would be our road journey’s final stop before returning to Lhasa for the last day of our trip. Unlike the past, the road conditions had significantly improved throughout Tibet, but the distances between sights are enormous. In 2005, a paved road had been constructed to the Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島) at Namtso Lake, where most tourists including us would stay the night right by the lake. This would offer us the opportunity to enjoy the night sky and sunrise by the sacred lake.
“Namtso” in Tibetan literally means “Heavenly Lake”, so as the Mongolian name “Tenger nuur”. Given its high altitude, sublime scenery, and pristine deep blue water, there was little surprise why the ancient Tibetans and Mongolians would consider Namtso “heavenly.” With an area of 1920 sq.km, Namtso Lake is the largest lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The famous salt lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, notably the magnificent range of Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山). At an altitude of 4712m, the lake surface is frozen for over six months in the year. During summer, the lakeside lush green plains offer great pastures for cattle and sheep.
The first part of the road journey passed along the valley of Yarlung Tsangpo River (ཡར་ཀླུངས་གཙང་པོ་ 雅魯藏布江).
The railroad along Yarlung Tsangpo River (ཡར་ཀླུངས་གཙང་པོ་ 雅魯藏布江) stood out from the landscape. It was probably Tibet’s only rail service between Shigatse-to-Lhasa.
We also passed by many narrow strips of Highland Barley fields on the steep slope above the river.
At 4pm, we were approaching the lush green valley plains of Yangbajain (羊八井).
At the green valley plains of Yangbajain (羊八井), yaks and sheep grazing in front of the 700km Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山).
Yangbajain (羊八井) is also famous for the geothermal fields and hot spring resort. We stopped by the hot spring resort but decided not to take a dip.
15 minutes before 7pm, we reached Lakenla (那根拉山口) at 5190m.
At 5190m, the Lakenla Mountain Pass (那根拉山口) offered us a glimpse of the Namtso Lake from a distance.
Time was getting late. Under the late afternoon sun, the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains welcomed us at the gateway into the Namtso Lake area.
After over eight hours on the road, we finally reached the Namtso Lake.
With Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山) to the southwest, our car headed over to the tourist accommodation and restaurant area on the Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島) in full speed.
At 4441m above sea level, Yamdrok Lake is one of the three sacred lakes in Tibet. This was where Tibetans came to search for the reincarnated soul of the Dalai Lama through chatting, praying, and throwing holy items into the water to get a reflecting hint on the location of Dalai Lama’s soul. Devoted Tibetans come to do the kora around the lake to pray for good luck and happiness in the following year. For tourists, Yamdrok is famous for its stunning scenery with its coiling scorpion shape, pristine turquoise water and surrounding snow-capped mountains. Located in Shannan along Road S307, between Lhasa and Shigatse, Yamdrok Lake is pretty much on everyone’s travel itinerary who ventures beyond Lhasa.
We knew this would be a long day on the road. We needed to travel for about 380km from Samye Town to Shigatse via Yamdrok and Gyantse.
We left Samye at about 9am and reached Yamdrok Lake slightly after noontime. We first stopped by a lookout along Road S307 to enjoy the overview of Yamdrok Lake from a high level.
Some travelers would just stop by the road to take in the scenery.
If the sky was clear, we would see the distant snow-capped mountains.
Along the balustrade visitors crowded at the best spots to photograph the turquoise lake.
Eateries and souvenir vendors surrounded the parking lot.
Dozens unfortunate Tibetan mastiffs dressed in funny outfits or had their hair dyed in vivid colours stood by the balustrade for everyone who was willing to spend 10 yuan for a souvenir photo.
Partly due to the strong and chilly wind at the 4441m altitude, and partly due to the noisy and overly energetic tourist crowds, we didn’t stay for long at the upper lookout.
Next Sangzhu drove us down to another lookout by the water, where we final got a close encounter with the sacred turquoise water of Yamdrok. Souvenir vendors set up their stalls along the steps down to the shore. By the waterfront, Tibetan mastiffs were replaced with Tibetan yaks posing for souvenir photos.
By the time we reached the water, the sky seemed to a little clearer than when we were on the upper lookout.
Local tourists gathered at the signage that said “Yamdrok, Three Great Sacred Lakes, 4441m.”
After Yamdrok, our journey continued to head west. The blue sky was well hidden.
Soon we saw an open area along the highway with a lookout to the Korola Glacier (卡若拉冰川). The sky was grey and we were a little behind schedule, so we chose to stay in the car and take photos of the glacier from the road.
The sky wasn’t as clear as the morning when we arrived at Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖). In our Nikko day trip from Tokyo, Lake Chuzenji was our last destination of the day. The scenery of Lake Chuzenji is dominated by the magnificent Mount Nantai (男体山 or 二荒山), an active stratovolcano that had erupted 7000 years ago. If visiting in the autumn, we can take the Tobu bus up to the lookout of Mount Hangetsuyama (半月山) to enjoy a fantastic view of the conical volcano and its perfection reflection in the lake. Since the bus only operates in the autumn months and we didn’t want to hire a car just for the lookout, we decided to enjoy Lake Chuzenji by doing a short walk along the southeastern shore to the former British and Italian Embassies.
From the bus station, it was only a five minute walk to the shore of Lake Chuzenji.
We walked along the southeastern shore of Lake Chuzenji and passed by many swan pedal boats.
Soon we reached the entrance of Chuzenji Temple (中禅寺), the Buddhist temple that gave the name to Lake Chuzenji.
Another short walk from Chuzenji Temple brought us to our destination of the afternoon, the former Italian Embassy. Designed by American architect Antonin Raymond, the villa was built in 1928 as the summer villa for the Italian Embassy in the past. Antonin Raymond cladded the entire building with Japanese cedar bark, a local material from the area.
Today, the building becomes a museum for the public.
The Viewing Hallway on the ground level allowed a magnificent panorama view of the lake.
There are three bedrooms on the upper floor. The decor is simple and elegant.
After touring the Italian Embassy Villa, we walked down to the landscaped area by the shore.
A timber jetty outside the Italian Embassy Villa brought us closer to the lake.
From the jetty, we could see the sacred Mount Nantai (男体山 or 二荒山). The lake was extremely peaceful with super clear water.
We walked back towards the starting point of our short walk. Soon, we reached the jetty of another old western villa, the former British Embassy Villa.
Similar to the Italian Embassy Villa, maximizing the panoramic views of the lake seemed to be the main concept of the house design.
The viewing hallway of the British Embassy Villa was equally impressive with the beautiful scenery of the lake.
After the embassy villas, we walked slowly back to the village of Chuzenji where we got off the bus.
We were way too early to see the fall colours, but instead we saw some beautiful flowers along the way.
We also saw several people recreational fishing in the lake.
Back to Nikko town, we still had about an hour’s time before our train departed for Tokyo. We dropped by Komekichi Kozushi, a small sushi restaurant just a stone throw from the train station, for a quick and decent dinner.
The father and son owners of Komekichi Kozushi were quite serious about the correct way to eat sushi. The food was very delicious and we highly recommend Komekichi Kozushi to any Nikko visitor.
After dinner, the sky was getting dark, and we could see the dramatic silhouette of Mount Nantai backed with vivid skies.
As we stepped into Nikko Tobu Railway Station, our one-day visit of Nikko was coming to an end. We hopped on the limited express train for Asakusa Tokyo.
Apart from the UNESCO World Heritage temples and shrines, Nikko is also well known for its natural scenery. The bus ride from Nikko to Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) took about 40 minutes. The journey passed through the town of Nikko along the river. After about half an hour, the bus began to climb up the Irohazaka Winding Roads (いろは坂) west of Nikko. As the bus zigzagged up the 48 turns of Irohazaka Winding Roads (いろは坂), we decided to get off one stop before Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) at Akechidaira Ropeway Station to visit the Akechidaira Lookout. Akechidaira (明智平) can be reached by a two-hour uphill hike from Lake Chuzenji, or a 3-minute gondola ride. Akechidaira offers an spectacular overview of three iconic scenic features of Nikko: Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖), Mount Nantai (男体山), and Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝). We stayed at the lookout for about 15 minutes to appreciate the peaceful scenery, then took the ropeway back down and continued the last bit of our bus journey to Lake Chuzenji. From the bus station, we followed the road signs to the nearby lookout of Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝). Almost 100m in height, Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝) is the most spectacular waterfall in Nikko, and one of the most famous falls in the entire Japan.
We hopped off the bus at the ropeway station below Akechidaira (明智平) Plateau. Unfortunately the weather was not as beautiful as earlier in the morning.
The Akechidaira Ropeway was first operated in 1933.
The lookout is about 86m above the ropeway station.
The ropeway ride took about three minutes.
During the Autumn, Akechidaira (明智平) is a highly popular spot to see the fall colours.
The lookout offers an almost 360 degrees view of the surrounding scenery.
Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) lies right in front of us at the lookout.
In front of Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) and at the foot of Mount Nantai (男体山), we could see the beautiful Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝).
Unfortunately the top of Mount Nantai (男体山) was hidden behind the clouds.
We stayed at the lookout for about 15 minutes. There wasn’t too many people and we had a brief and peaceful time to admire the scenery.
Then we took the ropeway back down to the station, and hopped on the next bus for Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).
The most important sight near the bus station of Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) is undoubtedly Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝).
With a drop of almost 100m, Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝) is an impressive waterfall. It serves as the only exit for Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖).
We got up at around 7 in the morning. The air was cold and refreshing. We walked down to the courtyard to brush our teeth and then into the dining room for breakfast. After breakfast, our host suggested us to take a morning walk to the “beach”. He gave us simple instructions and we ventured off onto the rural paths of Taquile again. We walked to a part of the island where we had not been to before, following a winding path with a low stone wall along both sides of the path that stretched all the way to as far as we could see. The beach was at the far end of the island. We could get a glimpse of it from the village centre. Without signage for direction and a clear path leading to the beach, we could only trust our gut to find a way to descend to the beach at the foot of the hill.
The lake water was freezing cold. Two cows were wandering on the sandy beach while we chilled out in the cool breeze. We stayed on the beach for about 20 minutes until we decided to walk back to the village to check out the handcraft centre. We climbed back up the hill to the main path. The handcraft centre had a huge collection of exquisite textiles and wearable pieces handmade by the villagers, such as knitted belts and hats. The colourful pieces are often decorated with traditional patterns unique to Taquile. In 2005, the textile arts of Taquile was declared Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO. Taquile is often considered a successful example of community-based tourism. Many islanders participate on making handcrafts for sell at the handcraft centre, or take turns to become hosts for visiting tourists.
After we visited the handcraft centre, we walked by a teenage girl sitting by the road, quietly knitting wool bracelets. She lined up her colourful bracelets nicely on a piece of fabric for display. The colourful bracelets had several different patterns knitted on both sides, and they all looked lovely to us. While we were appreciating the works, a local islander waved at us from afar and he looked anxious. He tried to tell us something important but we had trouble understanding. After moments of confusion, we finally understood that he had been looking for us for quite sometime. A friend of our host, he wanted to let us know that the boat leaving for Puno had changed its departure time earlier than scheduled. Our host, on the other hand, had gone to the pier to urge the boat captain to wait for us. By the time we were informed, we had less than half an hour to rush to the pier. We followed the messenger’s lead to the exit archway of Taquile, where a long flight of stone steps led to the community pier by the lake. We hurried down the stone steps in a single breath and finally jumped onto community boat leaving for Puno. The community boat was much slower than the tourist boats, and the ride took over two hours.
After docking at Puno, we went into a local restaurant at town centre for a big glass of warm chicha morada. Chicha is a Peruvian drink made of purple maize with a variety of spices or fruits. Fermented or non-fermented, chicha drinks have been popular with people on the Andes for centuries. A glass of purple chicha morada (with spices of some sort) became the perfect conclusion for our visit to Lake Titicaca. The next morning, we would head northwest to the historical heartland of the Inca Empire, Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
The boy of the host family was shy but curious. He invited us to play football with him at the forecourt of his house.
Our host’s home had a big foreground surrounded by adobe houses on three sides and a wall at the front. The forecourt is a perfect place for the kids of the family to play football.
The rural scenery of Taquile in early morning.
A woman with her sheep for a morning walk.
The beach that our host recommended was down the hill from the main path.
The beach is right at the foot of the terraced farmlands.
We finally reached the beach. We were greeted by a cow and its calf there. The water was too cold for a comfortable swim but the sun was warm and the sand was fine.
At the Handcraft Centre, we found many finely made textile items and knitwears. Examples of Taquile’s famous knitting could easily be seen everything on the island, including the traditional headwears of the villagers.
We passed by a number new buildings under construction when we rushed to the pier. Many buildings were left unfinished until villagers saved up enough money to complete the second level.
After passing this arch, we would bid farewell to Taquile island.
Following the messenger, we hurried down the stone steps to catch the community boat. The stepped path was long with uneven stone risers.
We finally made it to the pier and were amazed by the speed at which we descended the uneven steps.
There were a few boats at the dock. The community boat left from a different pier than where we arrived a day ago.
At last, the farming terraces of Taquile Island was behind us.
As the boat moved out to the lake, Taquile Island appeared smaller and smaller until it disappeared completely.
Our boat passed by some fish nets in the lake.
During the boat ride, we passed by a number villages along the coast of the mainland.
Close up of a coastal village by the Lake Titicaca.
We were sitting out on the boat deck. After the gate marked by the light towers, we knew Puno would soon be in sight.
We arrived at Puno at late afternoon. We strolled around the market near the town centre and went into a small local restaurant for a warm chicha moranda.
* * *
Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010
1. Peru Trip 2010
2. Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3. Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4. Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5. Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6. Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru