A rough ride, but well worth it!

Karakul Travel Blog

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Scenery from Osh to Sary Tash

People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sigrid (Belgium), David (Canada), Wouter (Holland), Remy (Belgium), Karol (Slovakia)

Excitement lingered amongst sleepy eyes, as Julia, Sigrid, David and myself congregated outside Osh Guest House at 06.30 on Sunday morning. What lay ahead was a trip into the unknown, well at least from my perspective. Stories of breathtaking landscapes, remote yurt stays and welcoming locals had served as ample motivation to explore this forgotten corner of the globe. Our mode of transport was to be a Russian Jeep, which a local Kyrgyz man called Kamchabek would be driving for us. When we were introduced, his gold teeth glimmered, as he broke out his first of many smiles for the day. By 06.50 the jeep was loaded with our gear and what we hoped would be enough petrol to last us for the next three days, at which point we were scheduled to arrive in Murgab.

Crossing the first pass between Osh and Sary Tash


The Pamir Highway is one of the World's highest stretches of road and thus it comes as little surprise to see that many sections are in poor condition. However, I hadn't banked on the first portion from Osh to Sary Tash been little more than a gravel track. Bumping up and down for hours on end would be a large part of our life, so we settled in as best as possible and enjoyed the scenery that was jumping in front of our eyes.

The first stop of the day came at 10.00, when we had a late breakfast of pelmeni, in a run down roadside cafe. On the bright side, the outdoor seating area was pleasant and the surrounding mountains were radiating fabulous colours in the bright morning sun. The next leg of the journey took us up a snaking mountain pass, where our jeep broke down at regular intervals.
Yurts and beautiful mountain scenery just after Sary Tash
Thankfully it was only minor problems and the brief stops gave us some nice photo opportunities. Few other vehicles were on the road and i found it hard to comprehend that ordinary cars could even attempt to tackle such terrain and road surfaces. Chinese lorries slowly ground their way up the pot holed road, making their way to the Irkeshtam Pass, which leads back into China.

The town of Sary Tash serves as a crossroads that links Kyrgyzstan, China and Tajikistan and we opted for the right hand road that would take us to the latter. The scenery here was spectacular, towering mountains were coated with snow, whilst a few yurts appeared on the horizon, with horses grazing around them. Driving onwards toward the border, the feeling of solitude grew as the grass thinned out and we became the only vehicle for as far as the eye could see.
Scenery at the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan


The Kyrgyzstan border crossing took an hour, as we had to go to four separate offices to gain approval to leave the country. It was a chilly wait, as we were now at 4000m (13,200ft), so to speed along the process Kamchabek had brought bread, toilet paper and other random gifts to bribe the guards. There was one edgy moment when David tried to look at a flag in one of the offices and the guard got pretty annoyed, as he found it disrespectful to touch the flag.

The Tajikistan checkpoints followed suit, although i must say that all the people we dealt with had a smile on their face and treated us well. One guard chatted away to Julia, trying to get information on working possibilities in Russia. Another guard spoke some English and joked around with us, as he processed our papers.
Welcome to Tajikistan!
A further hour passed us by, before the final barrier was raised and we gained admittance into Tajikistan.

The road improved somewhat from the border to Karakul, as it was almost entirely asphalt. From what i could gather, the road from Osh to Sary Tash had been chewed up due to the Chinese trucks carrying four times more cargo than the road had been designed to take. Crossing the 4282m (14,130ft) Kyzyl-Art Pass posed further problems for the jeep, as it constantly overheated, but the views were fantastic and certainly worth the toil.

It wasn't long before we got our first sighting of Karakul Lake, a spectacular body of water dotted with small islands and the place where we would spend the first night of our journey.
Karakul Lake wih snow capped mountains in the background
  Kamchabek pulled over so as we could take pictures, but i found it hard to take any that did any justification to what the naked eye could see. It was blowing a gale and at 4000m (13,200ft), it obviously starts to get pretty chilly. I started to jog up a section of hill to try and get a better perspective, but there always seemed to be something blocking the ideal view. In the end i gave up and returned to the car. Kamchabek told me not to run around anymore, as even horses have heart attacks at this altitude, but i felt surprisingly good, even if my pulse was temporarily racing.

META (Murgab Eco-Tourism Association) seems to dictate tourism in the Pamirs, and with Lousy Planet giving them rave reviews, most travellers will come across this organisation during their trip along the Pamir Highway.
Landcape around Karakul Lake
META's system is to charge foreigners inflated prices and on top of this take large commissions. I was skeptical from the offset, as i viewed it as another glorified travel agency, and as our trip through the Pamirs would progress, this feeling heightened with every encounter that i had with them.

Our home stay for the first night was to be in META accommodation, but we were not keen at first, as they were trying to charge $14 for bed, breakfast and evening meal. When it was put forward that this amount seemed an awful lot, considering there was no shower, an outside squat toilet, limited electricity and just a blanket on the floor that would be our bed, the owner of the house agreed that she also thought the price to be unfair, but it was META that dictated this.
Phil-san at Karakul Lake
After a moments thought, she halved the price and then came down to $6, with the agreement that she wouldn't register us with META. The fact that she knocked $32 off the price for the four of us and it still worked out more profitable for her than paying META's commission, suggests that META must take more than the 15% that they claim to get.

The day was drawing to a close, so whilst there was still some decent light, we decided to walk down to the Lake and take a closer look. The colours were stunning, as the blue of the Lake were complimented by the salty white ground, the looming mountains were dusted with snow, and tufts of green plants and grey rocks scattered the earth. The wind was whipping up dust from the ground and creating ripples on the water, so after half an hour we made our way back to the house.
Karakul Lake


Kara-kul was a desolate village, which had been deserted for the summer, as herders took their flocks to riper pastures in the valleys. The only signs of life were three Kyrgyz men wearing their Kara-Kolpaks walking into the Mosque and two small children running through the empty streets. It seemed hard to believe that the land could support any form of life, as we didn't spot any animals during our walk.

Back at the house we settled into the cozy living area, which had rugs adorning the walls and a photo of the Dad in his army uniform, hanging proudly above the dining area. We were joined by an elderly Italian man and shortly afterwards Wouter, Karol and Remy turned up. Sitting on the floor around a large table was where we would consume our communal evening meal.
2 children in Karakul village
The Mum served up some hefty portions of Laghman, Plov, Bread and Tea, which left us stuffed on the floor and unable to move for some time. It was nice to sit around and chat for a few hours, before everyone made a move for bed at 23.00.

I had a decent nights sleep, although the room did get pretty hot at times, as the family kept stoking the fire in our room. Fried eggs and bread were served for breakfast and by 08.30 we were ready to get back on the road again. We went down to the Lake for one final look, before leaving Kara-kul behind, like those who had passed before us had also done. Visiting in summer had been bearable, but it seemed ludicrous that a town located at 3900m (12,870ft) would fill up for the winter time. If this was more preferable to where the locals spent their summer, then God forbid the poor shepherds who chose to remain up in the valleys!

Deats says:
Thanks buddy ;0)
Posted on: Aug 08, 2008
JeAr says:
there are too many interesting stuff in this entry that i don't even know where to begin commenting! so, i guess i'll just say i enjoyed it immensely. perfect way to spend ur time waiting for ur drinking companion, get a dose of Deats-venture!!! :D
Posted on: Aug 08, 2008
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Scenery from Osh to Sary Tash
Scenery from Osh to Sary Tash
Crossing the first pass between Os…
Crossing the first pass between O…
Yurts and beautiful mountain scene…
Yurts and beautiful mountain scen…
Scenery at the border of Kyrgyzsta…
Scenery at the border of Kyrgyzst…
Welcome to Tajikistan!
Welcome to Tajikistan!
Karakul Lake wih snow capped mount…
Karakul Lake wih snow capped moun…
Landcape around Karakul Lake
Landcape around Karakul Lake
Phil-san at Karakul Lake
Phil-san at Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
2 children in Karakul village
2 children in Karakul village
On the road from Osh to Sary Tash
On the road from Osh to Sary Tash
Crossing the pass from Osh to Sary…
Crossing the pass from Osh to Sar…
A monument at the top of the pass
A monument at the top of the pass
Scenery at he top of the pass
Scenery at he top of the pass
ettig our jeep cool down at the to…
ettig our jeep cool down at the t…
David, Sigrid, Julia and I with ou…
David, Sigrid, Julia and I with o…
Mountain scenery near Sary Tash
Mountain scenery near Sary Tash
Mountain scenery near Sary Tash
Mountain scenery near Sary Tash
Mountain scenery near Sary Tash
Mountain scenery near Sary Tash
Yurts and horses, with towering sn…
Yurts and horses, with towering s…
Scenery at the Kyrgyzstan - Tajiki…
Scenery at the Kyrgyzstan - Tajik…
Scenery at the Kyrgyzstan - Tajiki…
Scenery at the Kyrgyzstan - Tajik…
Marco Polo sheep statue
Marco Polo sheep statue
GBAO sign at the Tajik border
GBAO sign at the Tajik border
Road leading down to Karakul Lake
Road leading down to Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Pretty flowers, a rare sign of life
Pretty flowers, a rare sign of life
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
A view from our jeep
A view from our jeep
Karakul village
Karakul village
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Julia at Karakul Lake
Julia at Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul village
Karakul village
Rusted wrecks in Karakul village
Rusted wrecks in Karakul village
Mosque in Karakul village
Mosque in Karakul village
2 young boys in the village
2 young boys in the village
Karakul village
Karakul village
Children in Karakul village
Children in Karakul village
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul Lake
Karakul
photo by: Biedjee