As promised in the most recent post on the Karakoram Highway – part of the Karakoram Highway experience includes Karakul Lake and the Kyrgyz people, both nomads and permanent residents, that live in the region.
Karakul, whose crystalline waters beautifully reflect the surrounding glacier-capped peaks, is surprisingly unspoiled, with almost no development along its shores. Accordingly, one could choose a much worse place to stop for the night after a day of long driving on the KKH… This is particularly the case when the friendliness and hospitality of the Kyrgyz people is taken into account.
When we stopped next to several yurts by the lake…
…the heavy felt flap that seals the yurts from the wind was tossed up and we were immediately welcomed inside by this woman…
…who turned out to be from this family of shepherds:
The matriarch of the family (and a wonderful hostess):
Despite our polite protestations to the contrary, our unexpected visit prompted the family to decide that a small feast was in order. And as our hostess stoked a dung-fueled fire and prepared a meal comprised of tangy noodle soup and circular flat bread flecked with sesame seeds, this mound of blankets was spread out inside of the yurt for everyone to relax on:
When the noodle soup was ready, we were at least able to contribute very fresh watermelon that we had purchased from a farmer right out of his field just hours before near Kashgar:
As you probably expected, the meal was delicious and soon after the meal, everyone – including our Uighur fixer and driver pictured below – stretched out on the blankets and passed out for a nap:
Now, for my Western readers, consider for a moment how alien that whole experience would be for us. Can you imagine complete strangers arriving unannounced outside of your home and you, without hesitating a second, inviting them in for a visit? But that isn’t all… You also prepare a feast for them and within the hour, have got them all asleep in whatever beds you have available in your home. Oh, and your announced guests are spending the night too.
That, my dear Western readers, would be unfathomable for you. However, that sort of thing is normal in other parts of the world. And when one contemplates how unhappy so many people in the West seem to be, perhaps those differences are worth contemplating.
A nap was tempting for my Italian interpreter and I, but we were intoxicated by the environment and opted for exploring instead. Sleep could wait until it got dark…
We started out around the lake and shortly came upon this woman doing laundry the old fashioned way… We exchanged pleasantries as best we could given the language barrier and then headed toward the village one can see in the background:
Outside of the village, this handsome horse was staked out:
As was this Bactrian camel:
The Kyrgyz Village:
As I mentioned in the previous post, there are still roughly 145,000 ethnic Kyrgyz in China. The Kyrgyz in Xinjiang have been cut off from their countrymen in neighboring Kyrgyzstan for many years now since a falling-out between Mao and Khrushchev locked the border down…
During our visit, there were very few people around the village as most of the inhabitants of the village were out herding their goats and yaks (on whom they are still very much dependent for survival).
The stone walls to the left of the structure pictured above were actually pens. And next to one of those pens, I came across this little guy:
The small hill at the entrance to the village, mostly conceals the rest of the homes in the village… But that isn’t such a bad thing. These used to be picturesque yurts or structures made of stone, but the government in its infinite wisdom decided to “modernize” the Kyrgyz village with rows of these concrete boxes:
Fortunately, there are still some yurts belonging to passing nomads present along with some of the earlier structures made of stone… If you click on the picture to zoom in, you can see the solar panels outside of two of the homes. Even nomads need to keep their mobile phones charged:
Making our way around the hill, we came across more goats:
The rest of the goats (and a few sheep as well):
A view out toward Karakul Lake from the top of the hill… One can see a few people scattered along the shore of the lake:
For those of you playing along at home, the GPS coordinates for Karakul Lake are: 38°26′N 75°03′E
It’s well worth a visit.
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Brilliant Shots! :) Incredible post!
Thank you very much, Jono.
I absolutely love Kyrgyzstan due to the friendliness of the people and the relatively unspoilt countryside. I’ve been twice already and am married to a woman from there. After reading your article, I’ll definitely visit Karakul Lake.
Have you been to Lake Issyk-Kul yet? It’s more commercialised but well worth the “photography” experience.
As an aside: The small flap at the top of the Yurta is there to let the smoke out and is called a Tunduk. The kyrgyz flag has a sun on it with a a Tunduk in the middle.
Keep up the great work.
Thank you, Tom. Kyrgyzstan was on my list anyway, but this trip definitely moved it up the priority list. You must have some interesting cultural insights and stories given your marriage and trips there…
What a remarkable experience for you, and what lovely people. The photographs are stunning.
Thank you very much, Jim. It was indeed a remarkable experience with remarkable people…
This is my second favorite article of yours, wonderful photos, unique people.
Do you have contact number for the driver in kashgar..? will be visiting karakul lake next week and im looking for a transport to go there..tq
I checked in with them and they are no longer in business as there are not enough visitors to the region now. So, I’m afraid I don’t have anyone I can suggest.