There's Another Dead Sea In Asia And We Are Just As Surprised As You Are!

16th Feb 2019
Photo of There's Another Dead Sea In Asia And We Are Just As Surprised As You Are! by Shalbha Sarda
Photo of There's Another Dead Sea In Asia And We Are Just As Surprised As You Are! 1/1 by Shalbha Sarda

Straggling in between the borders of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, in the autonomous region of China, lies the endorheic high mountain lake- Karakul also called the “Black lake”.The lake was so named because the sunlight is not able penetrate into the water and is reflected back, hence, the color of water appears black at dawn and at dusk. The lake is Perched at an altitude of 3900 m above sea level and is located 196 km southwest of Kashgar in the Pamir plateau region.

The drive to the lake is one of the worlds epic road trip, an experience in itself. The lake has its access from the Karakoram highway. The once major silk route is now the highest major road on the entire planet. At 1,284 kilometers, the Karakoram Highway linking Kashgar with Hasanabdal near Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan) is a stunning roadway that winds through some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world – the great mountain ranges of the Pamir, Karakoram, and the Himalayas. The Highway took 20 years to build and cost the lives of over one thousand workers, mostly to landslides. The Highway is considered by some to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. The landscape here is barren, deceptive reddish, rocky, Martian-scape, and every bit as impressive as one could hope. Predominantly devoid of any vegetation and habitation but occasional Double-humped Bactrian camels lazing insouciantly on the sides of the road. Recently, there is a lot of ongoing development happening on this road by the much ambitious Chinese government who has placed great hopes of on this high alpine motorway.

This remote Shangri la of Karakul is within the Tajik national park of Tajikistan. It is one of the driest location in central Asia receiving not more than 30mm rainfall annually. The air is uncomfortably thin at this altitude but the view of the cloudless sky, the changing shades of the lake water and the reflection giant Muztagh Ata puncturing the sky with its snow doused peaks, juxtaposing against barren landscape can help ease that discomfort caused by the lack of oxygen. This area was once so remote and inaccessible that it was used as a prison camp for Germans during the World War 2. Just like the middle eastern cousin, The Dead Sea the Karakul Lake also has a very high concentration of salt in the lake. The water is dense exerting greater buoyant force making it very likely for a boat to become unbalanced and turn over. The locals have to weigh down the boats to stop capsizing in order to navigate through the lake. Yet, few adventure junkies go against all the odds and head to this lake every year to participate in the roof of the world regatta, the highest sailing event of the world.

There are two desolate settlements along the shore of Karakul lake, the inhabitants are ethnically Kyrgyz and speak Kyrgyz. Most of the families rely on nomadic herding of sheep, goats, cattle, and yaks. The villages have no electricity or running water and conditions are very basic. A small number of yurts and some stone houses are located near the bus stop. In the past, tourists were able to stay in a yurt overnight. Unfortunately, recent security measures now restrict overnight stays in the yurts of Karakul Lake and one might have to head to Tashkurgan for a night halt or head back to Kashgar.

There’s plenty of things to do at Karakul Lake though, by yourself or by engaging the services of enterprising Kyrgyz locals.

Hike along the shores of the lake- Karakul Lake is not too large and makes for an enjoyable 3-4 hour hike around its rocky shores.

Ride a horse around the lake- The horse ride is an adventure around lake Karakul, unlike a pony ride in a laidback farm. In the good hands of skilled horsemen, many of whom are descended from the fearsome nomadic warriors of the Mongolian steppes this one is an experience to remember.

Explore the lake on the back of a motorbike- the locals offer their motorbikes to ride around the lake which is an equally enticing alternative to the horse ride.

Have some snack at a Kyrgyz yurt- The Kyrgyz are really friendly. They will welcome you into their yurt for a small fee. They offer you tea and freshly baked bread, as you sit and warm yourself by a small stove.

Visit the Taheman grasslands en route to Tashkurgan- Just less than an hour away from Tashkurgan, you’ll pass by the Taheman Grasslands. This is yet another unmissable scenic highlight along the Karakoram Highway. Look out from the elevated vantage point, and admire the huge grassland unfolding into the distance and herders bringing their cattle to graze.

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