Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kashgar - Karakoram Highway & Karakul Lake

I’m going to start by saying that I have no idea why these people keep naming things with ‘K’s, and now I’m going to simply move on by showing you a photo of what I drove past for four hours to get to Karakul lake.

Breathtaking is a word always used for scenery like this. So even though it took my breath away, I’m going to use the words awesome and magnificent and glorious. This stretch of road is known as the Karakoram Highway, named after the mountains that line it, and it’s a pretty big deal. It took almost two decades from conception to completion, and boasts to have taken the toll of one dead worker for every two kilometers of tarmac. For centuries this path was used by traders and their caravans making the long journey across the silk road, and it’s the gateway from Kashgar (and thereby the rest of China) through to Pakistan. The history tells that many of the stretches of the road were know as ‘valleys of blood’ because they were popular hangouts for bandits and marauders. We didn’t run into any trouble, thank goodness, but when you’re eating up that asphalt, it’s easy to imagine the old days. The mountains are so high and dark that they become almost frightening. A lovely shallow, fast-moving river runs parallel to the road and the ancient path obviously followed the natural valley created for the river, but apart from this there is almost no sign of life amongst the ranges. It’s very harsh terrain, and as the sun sets and the cold comes in it is creepy. Tajik herders and their goats and sheep brave this place, blending uncannily in with their surroundings, and you can spot them if you look closely. For such locals, the high altitudes in the 3000’s are nothing to worry about, and after having braved the 4000’s in Songpan I was fine, but for the uninitiated (and my travel partner, Tom) it’s no walk in the park.

About three hours into the drive we were reminded of civilisation actually existing, by the presence of a checkpoint. We had to get out of our vehicles, and show our passports and permits. I couldn’t really figure out why until I realised that if you were hardcore enough, you could easily just make a run for it and get one of several other non-China countries. Safe to say, this place would give Bear Grylls a run for his money.

Also spotted some camels.
Can you spot the lamb? Our driver almost didn't.

Another hour after the checkpoint we arrive at a small congregation of taxis and donkeys and yurts, and behind them was the sparkling Karakul Lake. There isn’t much that needs to be said about this gem. The peaks that rise up behind it are eternally snow-capped, and the water temperature was seriously cold. Seriously. Cold.

A short walk along the banks will free you from the handful of tourists that actually make it here, and so long as you’re happy to share the view with some local livestock, it’s perfect.

What also struck me about this whole place was the silence. Living in Chinese cities means constant audio stimulation. At all times of the day you can hear televisions and traffic and government public announcements on town speakers and generators and stereos and engines and people! All the time! Out along the Karakoram Highway though, and especially at this Karakul Lake, the only soundtrack was the wind carrying the bleating of the goats. It was to be even quieter the following night (when we camped in the desert) but I remember it really struck me at this particular time.

Later that night at the hostel we met lots of people who were going onwards to Pakistan and Eastern Europe. Before this trip, I had never really considered a holiday to anywhere in the kind of region, but now I can totally understand the pull. There places are like nowhere else in the world, and are just so new compared to most destinations. Apparently the scenery in Afghanistan is a special kind of ‘frightening beautiful’… but it’s possibly also just ‘frightening’. Lol.

Safe to say, I never thought I would see anything like this in China. I’m just so impressed. And fundamentally happy! Very happy in life right now.


  1. wow, this is such an amazing post - You're a great photographer and I love the stories behind the photos

  2. WOW this is's such a good experience, very nice picture :)


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