With all the problems associated with entering Kyrgyzstan, in view of the volatile situation overthere, it was easy to forget that between Murgab and Sary Tash, there was one more area that I wanted to see: Kara-Kul lake. Created by a meteor some ten million years ago, the lake was visited by Marco Polo, Sven Hedin, and other famous travellers, and is one of the highest lakes in Tajikistan. Moreover, its location close to the highest mountains of the country made for promising views. When we finally descended from the Ak Baital (White Horse) pass, the highest point on my journey through Central Asia at 4655 metres, the skies were almost entirely clear, which gave us a good view of Pik Lenin, at 7134 metres the second highest peak of the country. Where we were was mostly snow-free, but the peaks on the horizon looked packed with snow. Then, suddenly, it was there: Kara-Kul, or black lake. Its dark waters contrasted beautifully with the blue of the sky, the white of the snow on the mountains, and the grey of the landscape. It looked wild, forlorn - it looked spectacular.
On the eastern shore of the lake, there is a small village named Karakul after the lake. At 3914 metres altitude, with a salty and lifeless lake next door, long, cold winters and short, less cold summers, and with strong winds often blowing through the area, life cannot be easy for those living here. And it showed in their faces. The high altitude was visible in the dark pink-red faces, the weatherbeaten skin, the fast ageing of those brave enough to stay here. As soon as we had our belongings in a homestay, we quickly went to the lakeshore. Wind was everywhere in the town. The houses are built independently, so there are no blocks of houses blocking wind - it just curls around the houses and hits you anyway. Soon, I knew that we were going to be cold, very cold. But the views were far too good not to be enjoyed. The beach was a little trashy in the beginning, but walking a little away from town made a big differnce. Here, boulders lie on the sand, the waves lap the beach in a constant effort to change the shoreline step by little step - but the views remain superb. On the far end of the lake: massive mountain chains, one even higher than the previous one, layer upon layer of high mountains, especially considering that everything you see from here is over 4000m high. On the other sides, the mountains look different, perhaps more desolate; some of them are crowned by snow, others have a desert look. The lake itself: the wind makes sure that the water is topped by waves, since there is no life there are no fishing boats out, the lake had just melted a few weeks before so neither were there any boats on it. All together, Kara-Kul leaves a very desolate impression, one of untamed beauty, of ultimate wilderness, isolation.
The next morning, a full moon was looming over the lake with a brilliant reflection in its waters, and the sun had hardly started to cause the sky to turn from black to dark blue when I was already on my way to the shore again. I did not want to miss a minute of the sunrise over this lake. The mountains were still covered in a haze far away and had hardly started to show their contours. The lake itself was as black as the sky - and the name aptly chosen, I thought. Then, from the Chinese side, just behind the mountains across the fence demarkating the border, the light in the sky intensified. When, finally, the first sunrays managed to shine over the mountain tops, the highest peaks were first to see their snow colour from grey to pink, to orange, to red. As the sun climbed its way into the sky, the now familiar surroudings were taking on a completely new look. There were some clouds over some of the mountains, but otherwise, the skies were clear. It was time for a dip in the lake - despite the wind, the cold, and the patches of ice I saw in shallower waters, I undressed and had entered the icy waters of Kara-Kul. Shortly after coming out, I tried to get moving as much as possible - where I had walked to, there was no real beach left and no space to run. After dressing up and walking, I got warm again. Warmth was not going to come from the sun - so much was clear. Once more, I walked through a village that seemed completely deserted. The sounds caused by the continuous wind combined with this feeling of emptiness to give me an eerie feeling. When I arrived at the attractive small mosque of the village, I was not surprised to find that empty, too. I pushed the door that seemed closed - but it turned out to be open, and I entered. What looked so nice turned out to be pretty messy inside. Kyrgyz are not very strict Muslims. On our way to the border later that morning, we had some great views of the lake from the north, before we had to turn our heads and look ahead - to the border.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Lake Kara Kul (Tajikistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Lake Kara Kul.
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