If you’re heading up to Namtso, you’ll need to continue on the main highway past the Yangbajing turning for another 80km to DAMXHUNG (当雄, dāngxióng; 4360m), a bleak truck-stop town. The road is good, and the awesome Nyanchen Tanglha mountain range to the north is dramatically topped by the peak of Nyanchen Tanglha itself (7117m). Minibuses bound for these two places leave Lhasa from just east of the Yak Hotel around 7am each morning (3–4hr; ¥30). The turning north to Namtso is about halfway through the town, where a large concrete bridge crosses the river towards the mountains.
For accommodation in Damxhung, there are several unmemorable places, including the noisy and basic Tang Shung Shey (¥80 and under), opposite the new petrol station at the far end of town. In front stands the cavernous but atmospheric Muslim restaurant, Ching Jeng, an inexpensive change from yak meat and Nepalese curry, and there are plenty of Chinese spots around.
Set at 4700m and frozen over from November to May, Namtso (纳木错, nàmùcuò; Sky Lake) is 70km long and 30km wide, the second largest saltwater lake in China (only Qinghai Hu is bigger). The scenery comes straight from a dream image of Tibet, with snowcapped mountains towering behind the massive lake and yaks grazing on the plains around nomadic herders’ tents.
From Damxhung, it takes around two hours to pass through the Nyanchen Tanglha mountain range at Lhachen La (5150m) and descend to Namtso Qu, the district centre numbering just a couple of houses at the eastern end of the lake. Here you’ll be charged an entrance fee of ¥85. The target of most visitors is Tashi Dor Monastery, considerably farther west (a hefty 42km from Lhachen La), tucked away behind two massive red rocks on a promontory jutting into the lake. At Tashi Dor (¥10), a small Nyingma monastery is built around a cave, and there’s a dirt-floored guesthouse (¥80 and under) between the monastery and lake. It’s a glorious site, but facilities are limited – bring your own food and torches. Although some bedding is provided, you’ll be more comfortable in your own sleeping bag, and your own stove and fuel would be an advantage. You can walk around the rock at the end of the promontory and also climb to the top for even more startling views. For true devotees, a circuit of the lake can be attempted, though this takes twenty days and involves camping on the way.