The Karakorum Highway

Karakul Travel Blog

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Sheep in a bra

It's one of those names. I just had to travel along it towards the Pakistan border...and the Kyrgystan one, come to that. I wasn't going quite that far though - just to the lake at Karakul, which is stunning, with its snowy mountain backdrop and its community of yurt dwelling Kyrgyz people.

Unfortunately, the police have taken against foreigners getting there by public bus, and have been turning them back at the check points, so I had to spend some serious cash on a driver/guide. Some guide, in that he didn't speak a word of English. The guy at the cafe across the road, who organised it for me, had to teach him the word "stop", as in "if she says 'stop' it means stop the car so she can take a photo".

Yurts and the mountains
The good thing though, was that I was able to stop along the way, when I wanted - so we stopped at the market at Opal for half an hour, and then I visited the tomb of Mohammed Kashgari - a famous Uighur scholar, which was quite beautiful.

Bizarrely, the car was fitted with an altimeter, so I was able to watch as we climbed from 1250m to 3,400m, the scenery becoming ever more dramatic. A really spectacular (and ear popping) journey. The checkpoints were negotiated without any great difficulty (unlike someone I met later, whose driver had had to bribe the PSB to let him continue) and eventually we arrived at the lake. Immediately I was besieged by Kyrgyz trying to sell me stuff, and the staff of the small hotel which has opened there, trying to force me (by not returning the change for my entrance ticket) to stay in one of their 'fake' yurts.

My yurt.
I managed to escape them all, and was then left alone to wander around this amazingly beautiful lake. My dilemma was, that I wanted to stay with one of the locals in their yurts by the lakeside. This had always been possible until recently, but now the police have taken against that too, and have been raiding the yurts in the middle of the night and throwing people out.

As I wandered, a local woman invited me to have some tea in her yurt. After a while, she (very un-pushily) asked me if I'd like to stay. I'd already spotted a backpack by the wall, and figured that if I was thrown out in the dead of night, I wouldn't be alone - so I said yes please. The yurt was beautiful - brightly coloured inside, roof lined with barely processed sheep's wool, and with a dung powered stove in the middle. I watched Norwiya, the yurt owner, milk the sheep. Oddly enough, they all seemed to be wearing what I can only describe as bras. Pieces of fabric tying up their udders, and tied across their backs. It seemed that they were to prevent the (reasonably mature) lambs from suckling, because as she undid each one, the lamb would rush to suckle from one teat while Norwiya quickly milked from the others.

The backpack turned out to belong to a young doctor from Luxembourg, called Robert. He was really nice. Very well travelled, but quiet and self-effacing. We got on really well - with each other, and with our hosts. They fed us spiced vegetables, rice and slices of melon, before rolling out our bed pads and quilts to make up our beds. I wish I could say I slept like a log - but I seemed to spend most of the night gazing at the sky through  the hole at the apex of the yurt. At least the police didn't pay us a visit.

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Sheep in a bra
Sheep in a bra
Yurts and the mountains
Yurts and the mountains
My yurt.
My yurt.
Karakul
photo by: Biedjee