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Home Travel in Xinjiang Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Travel in Xinjiang

Karakul Lake
In a stunning location adjacent to the Karakorum Highway (kā lǎ kūn lún gōng lù 喀喇昆仑公路)and near the junction of the Pamir (pà mǐ ěr 帕米尔), Tian Shan (tiān shān 天山) and Kunlun mountain ranges (kūn lún shān mò 昆仑山脉) lies Karakul (meaning black) Lake (kǎ lā kù lè hú 卡拉库勒湖). At 3,600m this high altitude lake is surrounded by much higher peaks including Muztagh Ata (mù shì tǎ gé fēng 慕士塔格峰)(7546m) and Kongur Tagh (gōng gé ěr shān 公格尔山)(7649m) This is Kirgiz country (kē ěr kè zī xiàn 柯尔克孜县) here and accommodation is rough and ready in local Yurts. Karakul Lake is a natural overnight stop on the way between Kashgar (kā shí 喀什) and Tashkurgan (tǎ shí kù ěr gàn 塔什库尔干).

Karakul lake spread its waters in Markansu valley - one of the most driest place in Central Asia. Surrounded by high mountains which block humid air masses the valley has less than 30mm of precipitation a year which is 3 times less than in Karakoram desert (kā lā kūn lún shā mò 喀拉昆仑沙漠). Fluctuation of temperatures is a usual thing for desserts and in Karakul lake they are just incredible. The great Russian Explorer of Pamirs N. Korjenevskiy, describing lake Karakul wrote: "In Febrary, at 9am the temperature was -35 Centigrade, while at 1 pm the temperature raised up to -6,2 Centigrade and so fluctuation of temperature for 4 hours was 28.8 Centigrade".

Karakul Lake The temperature measurement taken between 1933 and 1934 shows there were only 15 frost-free days and by latest observations it is known that 67 of 100 years had no frost free periods at all.

Karakul is kyrgyz for "black lake" and its indeed looks black when the sun is hidden by clouds.
Karakul has an area of 380 sq km and lies at the altitude of 3914 metres above sea level. It's the most highest lake in the world excluding those in Tibet and even Titicaca lake -the biggest alpine lake in the world is located on lower altitudes. The lake has 2 basins separated by a peninsula from the south and an island in the north.The island is 8 km long and 4 km wide. The strait between them is 1 km wide. East side is 22,5 metres deep, while west basin deepest point is 236 m. 

Karakul LakeKarakul's water level is now much lower than before, but this fact also applies to many other closed lakes of Inner Asia. N. Korjenevskiy noted that before Karakul lake was at least 60 metres above the present level. But even 37 metres is enough to create an outflow on the south where the valley ends up with flat pass towards Kokuibel valley. This means the lake was much bigger in the past and had an outflow that feed Pyanj and finally Amudaria River known in the west as Oxus. Its not exactly known when the lake had an outflow, should be an ice age, when glaciers were on much lower altitudes and some of them flow down the lake. Later the lake's territory reduced, the depths diminished, the lake lost its outflow and finally became salty.

The recent geological research undertaken by Russian scientists along with pictures taken from space let some scientists to diagnose Karakul Lake depression as impact crater created some 230-190 mln years ago.

Get in
Karakul LakeA daily bus (43 RMB) heading for Tashkurgan (tǎ shí kù ěr gàn 塔什库尔干) 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 departure 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, per day (i.e. it can be done as a day trip).
Note: as of August 2009, this bus will only leave if there are enough passengers going to Pakistan to warrant a trip. At that time, there were usually not enough travelers. The only other way to get to Karakul Lake is to book a tour through a travel agency. A reasonable price is 200 RMB per person round trip for a day trip with about 2-3 hours at the lake. The plus is that a shared taxi will take about 2-3 hours to get there. Many people visit the lake either as a stop off when travelling the Karakorum Highway between Pakistan and Kashgar, Xinjiang in China.

Get out
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. Alternatively it may be possible to hitch a ride, although some form of payment will be expected (possibly around 70 RMB).

Karakul LakeThere is a Chinese hotel with rooms (50 RMB) and semi-authentic yurts (40 RMB) at the bus drop-off point. The much better way is to stay with a Kyrgiz family in a yurt (30 RMB per yurt, 10 RMB for tea/dinner/breakfast) or village house. Alternatively, there is hotel accommodation in nearby Tashkurgan.
Prices do vary, and the Chinese hotel will try to rip you off. Staying with the Kyrgiz families is a much better experience. They are very honest and hospitable people and the young men who act as travel guides are great hosts.

Best Time to Visit
May to late September are the best and often the only months as winters are cold and the road can be affected by snow. Even in the summer it is cool up here (the photo above was taken in mid-August - note the snow line!)

Best Reason to Visit
The lake is a stunning spot on its own but the journey getting there along the Karakorum Highway is as much the reason as the destination itself. A truely spectacular drive.

Admission Fee: CNY 50