The Himalayas, known primarily for their soaring peaks, are the highest mountain range in the world and boast 9 out of the 10 tallest peaks, including the iconic Mount Everest. Stretching across five countries – Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan – these awe-inspiring mountains offer more than just unparalleled heights. They also provide a haven for numerous beautiful lakes that showcase the diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage of the region.
In this article, we will delve into the top 10 gorgeous lakes found in the Himalayas, each possessing its own unique appeal. While the peaks of the Himalayas may dominate the limelight, these lakes offer a different perspective on the region’s stunning beauty. From the captivating colors of Pangong Tso to the sacred waters of Manasarovar Lake, we will explore the stories, cultural significance, and natural wonders surrounding these high-altitude gems. Join us on this journey to discover the lesser-known, yet equally remarkable, attractions that the Himalayas have to offer.
Map of the Most Beautiful Himalayan Lakes
1. Pangong Tso, India/Tibet
Pangong Tso, often referred to as one of the most breathtaking lakes in the Himalayas, is situated at an altitude of 4,350 meters (14,270 feet) above sea level. This enchanting lake is approximately 134 kilometers (83 miles) long and extends from India to Tibet, straddling the border between the two countries. The name “Pangong Tso” means “high grassland lake” in English, aptly describing the surrounding landscape of lush grasslands and towering mountain peaks.
One of the most striking features of Pangong Tso is its ever-changing colors, with hues ranging from azure blue to light green, depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun.
The lake’s mesmerizing beauty has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers either. Pangong Tso gained even more popularity after being featured in the popular Bollywood movie “3 Idiots.” The film that tells the story of three friends on a journey to find their lost companion. The movie’s climax was shot at this scenic location, showcasing the stunning landscape and captivating colors of the lake. The spot where the movie was filmed has since become a tourist attraction, with visitors flocking to the area to recreate scenes from the film.
2. Yamdrok Lake, Tibet
Yamdrok Lake, another gem in the Himalayas, is located in Tibet at an altitude of 4,441 meters (14,570 feet) above sea level. This beautiful lake, one of the three largest sacred lakes in Tibet, is approximately 72 kilometers (45 miles) long and spreads over an area of 638 square kilometers (246 square miles). The name “Yamdrok” means “turquoise” in the Tibetan language, a fitting description for the lake’s brilliant turquoise waters.
The shape of Yamdrok Lake has been compared to a coiling scorpion or a coral branch, with numerous bays and inlets adding to its unique appearance. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the lake’s tranquil waters are home to a variety of fish species. Although Yamdrok Lake is a freshwater lake with an abundance of fish, Tibetans generally do not catch or eat them. They believe that fish are incarnations of the god of water and that it is a sin to eat or attack them.
Yamdrok Lake holds great spiritual significance for the Tibetan people. According to local beliefs, the lake is the transformation of a goddess and is considered to be a guardian deity of Tibet. Each year, numerous pilgrims visit the lake to pay their respects and seek blessings. The picturesque beauty and rich cultural significance of Yamdrok Lake make it a must-visit destination for those traveling through the Himalayan region.
3. Gokyo Lakes, Nepal
The Gokyo Lakes, a series of six spectacular lakes nestled high in the Himalayas, are located in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park. These lakes hold the title of the world’s highest freshwater lake system, situated at altitudes ranging from 4,700 meters (15,400 feet) to 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level. The pristine turquoise waters of the Gokyo Lakes are fed by melting glaciers, making them an integral part of the region’s natural beauty.
Each of the six lakes – Gokyo Cho (also known as Dudh Pokhari), Thonak Cho, Gyazumpa Cho, Tanjung Cho, Ngojumba Cho, and Longponga Cho – has its own distinct charm and allure. The main and most visited of the lakes, Gokyo Cho, lies at the base of Gokyo Ri, a popular trekking destination that offers incredible panoramic views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks, including Mount Everest. The other lakes in the Gokyo Lakes system also offer stunning vistas and opportunities for exploration, providing a haven for trekkers seeking solitude and tranquility.
The Gokyo Lakes hold significant religious importance for both Hindus and Buddhists. During the auspicious month of August, the lakes attract numerous pilgrims who come to take a dip in the sacred waters, believed to wash away sins and purify the soul.
4. Gurudongmar Lake, India
Gurudongmar Lake, a majestic alpine lake situated in the northern part of the Indian state of Sikkim, is perched at an altitude of 5,210 meters (17,100 feet) above sea level. This remarkable lake, one of the highest in the world, covers an area of approximately 290 acres (117 hectares) and is surrounded by the rugged beauty of snow-capped mountains and barren landscapes.
Gurudongmar Lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava, an 8th-century Buddhist master who is believed to have visited the area. According to local legend, the guru blessed the lake to ensure that its water would never freeze completely, providing a source of fresh water for the local communities even in the harshest winter months. Indeed, a portion of the lake remains unfrozen throughout the year, a testament to the power of faith and the remarkable nature of this sacred body of water.
The lake holds great religious significance for Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus alike, with each faith attributing its own set of beliefs and stories to the site. As a result, Gurudongmar Lake attracts numerous pilgrims and visitors who come to pay their respects and seek blessings.
5. Tilicho Lake, Nepal
Tilicho Lake, an awe-inspiring glacial lake nestled in the Annapurna range of the Nepalese Himalayas, is situated at an impressive altitude of 4,920 meters (16,138 feet) above sea level. Recognized as one of the highest lakes in the world, Tilicho Lake is approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) long and 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) wide, with its shimmering turquoise waters reflecting the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
The lake can be reached via a challenging trek along the popular Annapurna Circuit route, with a detour leading trekkers to the mesmerizing beauty of Tilicho Lake. The trek to the lake is an adventure in itself, offering visitors a chance to traverse rugged terrain, cross high-altitude passes, and experience the diverse flora and fauna of the region. Those who make the journey are rewarded with breathtaking views and a sense of accomplishment that comes from reaching one of the world’s highest lakes.
Tilicho Lake holds significant cultural and religious importance in the area. According to Hindu mythology, it is believed to be the ancient Kak Bhusundi Lake mentioned in the epic Ramayana. The lake attracts pilgrims from various faiths who come to take a dip in its sacred waters, seeking purification and blessings. With its stunning beauty, challenging trek, and deep cultural significance, Tilicho Lake is a must-visit destination for adventure seekers and spiritual travelers alike.
6. Gosaikunda Lake, Nepal
Located within the scenic Langtang National Park in Nepal, Gosaikunda Lake is an alpine freshwater lake that sits at an elevation of 4,380 meters (14,370 feet) above sea level. The lake covers an area of about 34 acres (13.8 hectares) and is surrounded by a stunning landscape of snow-capped mountains and verdant valleys. Gosaikunda Lake is a sought-after destination for both trekkers and pilgrims.
The trek to Gosaikunda Lake offers a blend of adventure, natural beauty, and cultural interactions. Starting from either Dhunche or Syabru Besi village, trekkers will pass through dense forests, encounter traditional Tamang villages, and navigate high-altitude passes. The trek provides ample opportunities to appreciate the region’s diverse plant and animal life.
Hindu mythology plays a significant role in Gosaikunda Lake’s cultural importance. According to legend, Lord Shiva created the lake by piercing a mountain with his trident to access water after ingesting poison. The lake is considered sacred, and during the annual Janai Purnima festival, typically held in August, thousands of pilgrims visit Gosaikunda. They believe that bathing in the lake’s waters purifies the soul and cleanses sins.
7. Tso Moriri, India
Tso Moriri, a serene high-altitude lake, is located in the Changthang Plateau of the Indian region of Ladakh. The lake lies at an elevation of 4,522 meters (14,836 feet) above sea level and stretches approximately 19 kilometers (12 miles) in length and 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) in width. Tso Moriri, with its crystal-clear waters, is surrounded by barren hills and snow-capped peaks, creating a landscape that is both peaceful and awe-inspiring.
Visitors can access Tso Moriri by road from Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The journey offers an opportunity to witness the vast and rugged terrain of the region, as well as encounter diverse wildlife such as marmots, blue sheep, and the rare and endangered Tibetan antelope. The area around the lake is a protected wetland reserve, known as the Tso Moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve, which plays a vital role in preserving the unique ecosystem and the species that inhabit it.
Tso Moriri is not only a natural wonder but also a place of cultural significance. The small village of Korzok, situated on the western shore of the lake, is home to the ancient Korzok Monastery, an important center of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery, believed to be over 300 years old, hosts the annual Korzok Gustor festival, attracting monks, locals, and visitors alike. Tso Moriri offers a unique blend of natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural experiences, making it an unforgettable destination for travelers exploring the Himalayas.
8. Phoksundo Lake, Nepal
Phoksundo Lake, a mesmerizing alpine freshwater lake, is situated in the Shey Phoksundo National Park in the Dolpa district of western Nepal. Resting at an altitude of 3,611 meters (11,849 feet) above sea level, the lake is celebrated for its striking turquoise waters, which stand out against the rugged surrounding landscape. Phoksundo Lake, the deepest lake in Nepal, spans approximately 5.9 kilometers (3.7 miles) in length, 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) in width, and reaches depths of up to 145 meters (476 feet).
The Phoksundo Lake Trek is an excellent choice for travelers who wish to directly experience the beauty of the lake without undertaking the more challenging Lower Dolpo Trek. This moderately difficult trek starts from the town of Juphal and typically takes around 10-12 days. Trekkers will journey through picturesque landscapes, lush forests, and traditional villages, while enjoying the diverse flora and fauna of the Shey Phoksundo National Park.
In addition to its natural beauty, Phoksundo Lake holds significant cultural importance. On the shore of the lake, the 15th-century Thasung Choling Monastery stands as an important spiritual site for followers of the Bon religion. The area is further enriched by approximately 20 monasteries surrounding the lake, emphasizing its deep cultural roots.
9. Chandra Taal, India
Chandra Taal, also known as the “Lake of the Moon,” is a captivating high-altitude lake located in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, India. Positioned at an elevation of 4,300 meters (14,100 feet) above sea level, the crescent-shaped lake is formed by the melting of glaciers and is accessible only during the summer months, typically from May to October.
The serene and pristine surroundings of Chandra Taal attract adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The Chandra Taal Trek, starting from the Kunzum Pass or Batal, offers a chance for trekkers to explore the unique landscapes of the region, including lush green meadows and barren mountains. While trekking, one might also encounter diverse wildlife, such as marmots, snow leopards, and the Himalayan blue sheep, which are native to this region.
Chandra Taal holds a special place in Hindu mythology, as it is believed to be the location where Lord Indra’s chariot picked up the eldest Pandava brother, Yudhishthira, in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. This mythological significance adds to the allure of the lake, making it a popular destination for both trekkers and pilgrims.
10. Manasarovar Lake, Tibet
Manasarovar Lake, situated in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world at an elevation of 4,590 meters (15,060 feet). Covering an area of approximately 320 square kilometers (123 square miles), this vast lake offers stunning vistas of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
The lake holds immense religious significance for both Hindus and Buddhists. According to Hindu mythology, Manasarovar Lake was created by Lord Brahma to provide a suitable place for religious rituals. It is believed that a dip in the holy waters of the lake can cleanse one’s sins and bring salvation. For Buddhists, the lake is associated with the legendary Lake Anavatapta, where the Buddha is said to have received the teachings of the Perfection of Wisdom.
Every year, thousands of pilgrims embark on the arduous journey to Manasarovar Lake, often as part of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, which includes circumambulating Mount Kailash. The journey to the lake can be challenging, but the opportunity to witness the sacred site and experience its spiritual atmosphere makes it a deeply rewarding experience for many.