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Karakul Lake - Kashi / Kashgar, Xinjiang

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Kashi / Kashgar, Xinjiang

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Editorial Review

May 15, 2006

Karakul Lake (Kirgiz: "black lake") is located approximately 200km from Kashgar, Xinjiang province, China, in Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture at the Karakoram Highway to Tashkurgan and Sost, Pakistan. At an altitude of 3600m, it is the highest lake of the Pamir plateau. Surrounded by mountains which remain snow-covered throughout the year, the three highest peaks visible from the lake are the Muztagata (7546m), Kongur Tagh (7649m) and Kongur Tiube (7530m). The lake is popular among travellers for its unreal scenery and the clarity of its reflection in the water, whose color ranges from a dark green to azure and light blue. There are two Kirgiz settlements at Karakul lake, a small number of yurts about 1km East from the bus drop-off point, and a village with stone houses located at the Western shores.

How to get there

A daily bus (43 RMB) heading for Tashkurgan which passes the lake leaves from the long distance bus station in Kashgar at 9.30am Beijing Time (please note that the bus station operates on Xinjiang Time which is -2.00hrs BT; thus the depature time on the ticket is 7.30am). It arrives at the lake after about 5-6 hours. Alternatively, a taxi can be booked from most hotels in Kashgar for a set price of 500 RMB per car and day.

Where to stay

There is a Chinese hotel with rooms (50 RMB) and semi-authentic yurts (30 RMB) at the bus drop-off point. The better way is to stay with a Kirgiz family in a yurt (30 RMB per yurt, 10 RMB for tea/dinner/breakfast) or village house.

How to get away

The daily bus from Tashkurgan, heading back to Kashgar, arrives at the drop-off point near the Chinese hotel at around 12pm Beijing Time. If all seats are taken, there might be the chance to catch a taxi for around 120-150 RMB.

Future

Karakul Lake is one of the greatest natural sights in Western China, a fact that unfortunately has not remained unnoticed by the Chinese tourism industry. So far, one Chinese resort has been erected where masses of tourists can be witnessed eating at a restaurant, riding a camel or getting a room/yurt for the night. Fortunately, so far this disturbing development is restricted to the hours around lunch time; in the evening and morning the dedicated traveller will still have the lake for him- or herself (together with the Kirgiz locals, of course). However, with the beginnings of the Chinese resort and the Karakoram highway currently being rebuilt into a larger road, there remains little doubt that even this remote part of China will soon be more tightly connected to the mainland and its ever growing tourism, with the unspoilt nature, relaxing quietness around the lake and traditional way of life of the Kirgiz people being threatened and possibly destroyed in just a few years.

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