The Karakorum Highway
Karakul Travel Blog› entry 6 of 24 › view all entries
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".
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.
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.