Lugu Lake — Scenic Home of the Matriarchal Mosuo

Lugu LakeLugu Lake

Lugu Lake, at the border between Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces and about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Lijiang city, is an alpine lake renowned for its stunning scenery and unique Mosuo culture.

Lugu is called the "mother lake" by the local Mosuo people. The Mosuo are one of China's unusual ethnic groups. They've sometimes been described as the last matriarchal society in the world. The Mosuo people have been living relatively isolated lives around the lake for generations, and they have retained their ancient traditions and customs.

  • Chinese:泸沽湖 Lúgū Hú /loo-goo hoo/
  • Altitude: 2,685 meters (8,809 feet)
  • Area: 49.5 square kilometers
  • Popular activities: enjoy a campfire party, take a boat ride on the lake, visit a Mosuo family
  • Suitable for: anyone, especially anyone interested in minority culture
  • Time needed: one or two days

Dotted with islets and surrounded by high mountains, Lugu Lake is an idyllic beauty spot not yet overrun by tourists. The water is clear and clean and the surroundings are peaceful and beautiful. You can just relax and slow down here.

The Mosuo Ethnic People

0A Mosuo girl wearing traditional clothes.

The Lugu Lake area is home to various minority groups, such as the Yi, Tibetan, Pumi, and Mosuo. The Mosuo are why most tourists visit the lake area. The Mosuo are the most numerous people around the shores, and though there are no clear census figures, perhaps about 50,000 Mosuo live around the lake and tens of thousands more are scattered in pockets in other valleys.

Their neighbors are about 30,000 Pumi who mainly live in the mountains around the lake. They and the Pumi share similar languages with the Naxi, but their customs and clothing are different.

The Unique Mosuo Culture

The Mosuo are known for their unique matriarchal society and "walking marriage."

Known as the "Kingdom of Women," the Mosuo are considered a matriarchal society although men generally have the political power. Mosuo women wield power in the families and control household finances. They take care of the crops, the house and children. Mosuo men take care of the livestock. Houses and property are passed down through the women. Traditionally, the men serve the women.

In the Mosuo households, the eldest female dominates the daily lives of those in the household. The women control the property.

Festivals: The Musuo are generally Tibetan Buddhists, so their festivals are mainly from that religion. But they also have an ethnic festival called the Zhuanshan Festival.

Mosuo Marriage

Perhaps the strangest feature of Mosuo society is their marriage traditions. They actually have at least thee forms of marriage and relationships. One of them is more similar to Western marriage. The Mongols once ruled and lived in the area, so many people practice what they call "one on one" marriage similar to Mongolian customs. However, the form of marriage that seems strangest is what they call "walking marriage."

In general, the Mosuo are known for being a people where the women don't marry. They have a matriarchal social system where one woman may have several male partners. If the woman chooses, she may select a man to live in her mother's home.

Most couples do not actually marry. The men might stay with their extended families during the day, and at night, they might walk to the houses of the women and then return to their own homes in the morning. Women may have multiple partners over the course of their lives.

Children are raised by their mother. The mother's brothers take on the responsibility of fatherhood in many households. The children often don’t know who their real father is.

The Mosuo's History

It is said that the ancestors of the Mosuo were a nomadic people who lived in the Tibetan plateau. They arrived in the area around Lijiang around 3 AD and then divided into three branches.

Those who remained around Lijiang and the Tiger Leaping Gorge area are known as the Nakhi or Naxi; those who moved to the Shaxi and Dali valleys are known as the Bai; and those who moved to the Lugu Lake area are called the Mosuo.

The people around the high altitude Lugu Lake region were more isolated and retained more of their traditional customs and religion.

Successive Waves of Rulers

More than about 1,000 years ago, the Nanzhao Empire ruled the Yunnan region during the Tang Dynasty era (618–907) era. Then the Bai people rebelled against the Nanzhao rulers and started the Kingdom of Dali (937–1253) that ruled the area.

From the Bai people descended the Naxi in Lijiang and other groups. The Mongols ruled the area as part of the Yuan Empire (1279–1368) and intermarried with the locals.

This is why the Bai, Naxi, Mosuo and Pumi speak related languages. But their customs became quite different.

Top Things to Do at Lugu Lake

The best-known villages around Lugu Lake are Luoshui and Lige. Both are now well endowed with tourist facilities. Apart from guesthouses, restaurants and cafés, however, you can still experience many interesting things in the villages.

Take Part in a Campfire Party

In Luoshui and Lige, you may have a chance to take part in a campfire party convened by local villagers. You pay about 30 yuan to join in. Even if it’s not as authentic as it once was, it is still a good way to relate to local people and to experience their way of life.

Take a Boat Ride on the Lake

Go canoeing on Lugu LakeGoing canoeing on Lugu Lake is a good choice to feel the beauty of the lake.

On the lake there are five islands, three peninsulas and a sea-wall islet. Boating is a good way of exploring the lake. Local boats are made from thick logs and are known as zhucaochuan (/joo-tsao-chwan/ 'pig trough boats').

You can charter a boat to see the beautiful lake scenery and enjoy a leisurely morning or afternoon.

Pay a Home Visit to a Mosuo Family

If you want to have close contact with local Mosuo people, we can arrange a home visit. You can see their house, talk with the family, and even eat with them. It is a great way to get to know about their daily lives and learn about local folk culture.

The Best Times to Visit Lugu Lake

The best times to visit Lugu Lake are when the weather is sunny and mild, from April to May, or from September to October.

The rainy season extends from June to August; you'd better avoid this period, as most recommended activities are outdoors.

Travel Essentials for Planning a Tour

Transport from Lijiang: Most people reach Lugu Lake from Lijiang by minivan. The ride takes 6–8 hours; usually leaving Lijiang around 6am and arriving at the lake around 1pm.

Transport from Kunming: A domestic airport was built in Ninglang, a county town near Lugu Lake. So a direct flight from Kunming to the lake is available. It takes about one hour.

You may initially experience altitude sickness, as the lake and the surrounding region are at an altitude of about 2,600 meters (8,530 feet).

Check out the weather and plan to make your trip when it’s less likely to rain.

Bring plenty of cash, for it’s not easy to find an ATM and most local hotels and restaurants don’t accept credit cards.

Nearby Attractions

The Ancient Town of LijiangThe Ancient Town of Lijiang
  • The Ancient Town of Lijiang is China's best-preserved ancient minority town. It is famous for its ancient architecture and orderly system of waterways.
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges on earth, and also the site of one of the best hiking routes in the Lijiang area.
  • Baisha Village is the earliest settlement of the Naxi people. It's a must-see place if you like murals, for Baisha is home to murals which combine the cultures of the Han, Tibetan, and Naxi people.

Touring Lugu Lake with Us

Shuhe Ancient TownStreet in Shuhe near Lijiang. We can take you to tour Lugu Lake when you visit Lijiang.

Lugu Lake is a place full of ethnic culture. You are recommended to visit it with a professional guide. We have developed various tours in and around Lijiang. If you are interested in Lugu Lake, we can add it onto your itinerary.

Here are two Lijiang itineraries for your reference:

If the above tours are not what you are looking for, we can tailor-make a tour for you according to your preferences.

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