Karakuli Lake

Features

1. Small lake at an elevation of 3,600 meters (about 12,000 feet). Rugged scenery in a high remote plateau. Measures 4.8 square kilometers.

2. About five or six hours by regular bus from Kashgar near the Pakistani border. About four hours by rented vehicle or taxi.

3. Excellent scenery. Next to three peaks that are over 7,500 meters or about 25,000 feet tall.

4. The scenery along the Karakoram Highway that links Kashgar with the lake and Pakistan is as good as that at the lake site. Enjoy the drive on the highest paved international highway in the world.

5. Kygyrz people live there.

For some checking around, economical but not generally comfortable accommodations may be had in Kyrgyz yurts.

6. Transportation during the travel season is easy since Lake Karakul is besides the Karakoram Highway that goes to Pakistan.

7. Enjoy hiking, camel or horseback riding. A hike around the lake may take about three hours. There are little streams to jump over.

8. The whole region is remote, exotic and rugged.

Overview

The high mountain lake is about 4.8 square kilometers in area. The lake is a travel destination since the surrounding mountains are so high -- approaching the height of Mount Everest, the scenery is rugged and beautiful, and the lake is next to the Karakoram Highway that links Kashgar and Pakistan. There are accommodations along the lake in Kyrgyz settlements. The ride on the Karakoram Highway is interesting. The highway passes by high valleys where people herd various kinds of animals, and it goes down to the cultivated Uighur tree-lined farms around Kashgar. Accommodations may be had at the lake in a Chinese hotel, in huts or in Kyrgyz yurts. The best accomations will probably be in Kyrgyz-owned yurts next to the Kyrgyz people. People may also bring their own tents. People can hike around in the area, but a lot of people will probably get altitude sickness since the lake is at a high altitude of 3,600 meters or 12,000 feet. It hasn’t yet been turned into a big tourist resort destination, so people can find some solitude though the nearby highway means that people will also hear traffic noises.

The lake has a maximum depth of 242 meters. This makes it reflect the surrounding mountains and gives it a variety of hues depending on the weather. There are three peaks near it that are over 7,500 meters or 24,600 feet. Muztagh Ata is 7,548 meters tall, Kongur Tagh is 7,646 meters tall, and Kongur Tiube is 7,530 meters tall. For comparison, this is higher than any mountain in North America. The two Kyrgyz villages and Kyrgyz herding their animals gives the place an exotic feel, and people can go for rides on the camels or horses. Though the Kyrgyz might try to gauge people on prices, economical meals and places to stay can be found by checking around for what is available. Yurt prices per night start about 35 RMB or about 5 USD. The Chinese hotel and non-native accommodations cost more, and it is said that they try to rip people off. It is probably best to bring your own clothes, food that you like, toilet paper and water. A very warm sleeping bag is useful because even during the summer the place is very cold at night.

Since the lake is on the Karakoram Highway, the beautiful and exotic scenery during a ride from Pakistan or Kashgar is interesting in itself. People can see various ethnic groups such as Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Uighurs and others during a journey between Kashgar and Pakistan. Unlike what people say, hiring a travel guide, a permit or an entry fee to the lake area are not mandated. To avoid a lot of hassle, it is probably best to plan a trip by yourself by using taxis, buses or local transportation and by finding accomodations with the Kyrgyz people once you get there.

During the summers, there is short green grass with grazing animals near the lake, but in the fall the land around the lake turns brown like the color of camels. If the sky is clear, the blue sky and snow-capped mountains reflecting in the lake is something to remember and makes for beautiful photos.

The People

Kyrgyz people are a Turkic people who speak a language related to Turkish. About 150,000 Kyrgyz live in China. They were mainly ranchers of cattle, sheep, goats, camels and horses. Those who live around the lake during the summer work the tourist trade. They vacate the area in the winter. It is expected that travelers along this highway will increase, but a Chinese resort hasn’t been built yet. The Kyrgyz people and the other people at the lake have a reputation for trying to sell too much to tourists. Kyrgyz graze their animals by the lake when there is grass.

Touring Activities

1. Hiking, riding horses and staying in yurts.

2. Photography.

3. Hike around the lake.

4. Save money compared to staying in Kashgar.

5. Learn about Kyrgyz people.

6. Admire the scenery along the Karakoram Highway.

Travel Essentials

1. Location: The far western tip of China. It almost the farthest west one can go in Xinjiang. It is on the Karakoram Highway (G314) about half the way between Kashgar and the Pakistani border. It is about 4 hours by car from Kashgar.

2. How to go there: There is a daily bus that costs about 45 RMB or about 7.50 USD that goes to Lake Karakul and then on to Tashkurgan (塔什库尔干) on the Karakoram Highway G314. It leaves at about 9:30 am Beijing Time or 7:30 am Xinjiang Time. The trip takes 5 or 6 hours. It might be possible to hire a taxi for about 400 RMB or about 60 USD round trip. The taxi trip takes more than 4 hours one way. From the lake area, it might be possible to find taxi rides back to Kashgar for about 150 RMB.

3. Season: It is best time to go is in the summer. From about November until about April, the place is too snowy and freezes.

4. Accommodations and Meals: The Kyrgyz yurts are the best bet for low prices and less hassle. Prices start at about 35 RMB per person. The place isn’t really government regulated, so it is kind of wild with people making up fees and trying to trick people. So ask around for good accommodations and meals.

5. Gear: A number of stores sell outdoor gear, camping supplies (户外用品), and hiking supplies on Renmin Lu, east of Nanmen in Xinjiang.

6. What to bring: Bring a heavy coat for cold nights, extra clothes, food, sleeping bag, toilet paper, water and food you like. The food provided is kind of iffy, and bringing the additional things is a safeguard from being money gauged.

7. Fees: There is no entrance fee since this isn’t a government regulated site. People may try to charge you one at the main entrance, but don’t pay it. There is also apparently no travel permit required, though one can be got for 50 RMB from the police station in Kashgar.

8. Local Transportation: People can walk around or hire animals to ride.

9. Tours: Tours arranged from Kashgar seem to be iffy. It seems that often once tourists are taken out of the city, people raise prices and take people to places they don’t want to go. It seems best to go it alone with friends or to try to arrange for a reputable tour company to arrange a trip for you before you arrive in the area.

Nearby Attractions

Kashgar that is about 4 or 6 hours away is famous for its “Sunday Market.” It is a place to find tourist goods at about the cheapest prices available. There is a market for animals and a market for manufactured products and crafts goods.

Questions and Answers About Karakuli Lake

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Hi, I'm Ruru Zhou
I updated this article on December 4, 2012
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