Sunday, September 5, 2010
Day 6: Karakul Lake - Mountain in the Clouds
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18
After visiting the over-touristy Tian Chi near Urumqi, I was somewhat hesitant to visit another lake. But having enjoyed the complete absence of tourists so far in Kashgar I thought I'd give Karakul Lake a try.
Karakul Lake is 200 km (124 miles) from Kashgar on the Karakoram Highway, which runs all the way to Pakistan. It took 4 hours to get there.
The ride in was amazing. The highway runs along the side of a mountain valley, a river flowing through the middle. Each side was a different color, sometimes red, sometimes orange and sometimes grayish green. A storm had just swept the area, so piece of the road were washed away. But we made it nonetheless in the 4 hours our guide had said we would, even after stopping at a checkpoint so that we could enter China's "Frontier Territory" (or as I like to think, the "lawless land" of China's wild, wild west).
Karakul left me breathless. I felt as though this lake should be called the Heavenly Lake, not Tian Chi. The sky was blue and the mountains were snow covered. Goats and dogs wandered around the villages nearby. The people were Tajik, from neighboring Tajikistan, and took every opportunity to try to sell Layla and me something. But we were too taken in by the grandeur of the area to care about what they were selling.
The lake is located 3600 m in the mountains. The air was thin and after two hours I felt short of breath. I also started to get a bit dizzy, so we called it a day and made our way back.
Aside from the environment and landscape, what really impressed me was the complete absence of any other tourists. Layla and I were the only ones. And it was great, sheer bliss, to be away from the noisy crowds of Chinese tourists.
MAP: Karakul Lake is located in the mountains, so far up that the thin air will quickly affect travelers to the area. It's also relatively close to Afghanistan and inside China's "Frontier Territory."
A YURT CALLED HOME: Most of the Tajiks in the area live in yurts, tent like buildings that can easily be set up and taken down to ensure mobility
LOCAL GUIDE: A Tajik woman walks along the rocky shore of the lake
MOUNTAIN PASS: The 4-hour drive to Karakul Lake passed quickly as I stared out, wide eyed, at the landscape quickly passing us by
OFF ROADING: The road was washed out, a result of recent floods. Our cab trudged through the mud, and sometimes stopped
SAND MOUNTAIN: On the far shore of the one river was Sand Mountain. You can guess how it got this name
BEAUTIFUL BACKGROUND: Layla and I stand in front of the main peak near Karakul
TAJIK GOODS: A Tajik woman tries to sell Layla different Tajik goods, including a purse and a hat
AWE STRUCK: A Tajik woman looks off into the distance of the mountains near Karakul Lake
GOAT OF A GOOD TIME: Goats could be found all around the lake, enjoying the water and a few snacks I thew their way