Day 99: What an anti-climax!
Karakul Travel Blog› entry 137 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Tim & Wim (Belgium), Serge (Switzerland)
On the road again. We were going to take it leisurely to the Kyrgyz border, taking two days to travel the 200km to the border. We wanted to visit the Kara-Kul lake and spend the night either at the lake or at the little village of Karakul on the shore of the lake.
Serge, the Swiss guy we had met yesterday, came with us as he had a few more days to kill before he would meet a friend in Khorog.
To get to the lake we had to get across the highest pass on the Pamir Highway, the 4655m Ak-Baital pass.
We made it though, giving confidence to Tim and Wim that if the car can do this, it can do anything and will certainly last until Mongolia.
Once again the views on the way were stunning. For most of the day we were driving close to the Chinese border, or at least the delimited zone in between the countries, and at times the fence was less than 20 metres away, right next to the road.
In Karakul we found a homestay and decided to stay here for the night. Tim and Wim would sleep in the car, but Serge and I would stay in the homestay. I was shocked at the prices. In the entire region the price for a homestay set at is $10 per person per night, plus another $4 for dinner and $2 for breakfast. While 16 bucks isn't a lot of money in itself, it is for the people here. Compared to the 5 bucks per person we paid at the Pamir Lodge in Khorog (which is a proper hostel) or the B&B's in Uzbekistan, this really is a lot of money.
Karakul lies on the shore of Kara-kul, at 3914m the second-highest alpine lake in the world. This salt lake was created some 10 million years ago when a meteorite hit the earth. The lake is stunning, with deep blue water and snowcapped mountains all around (quite a bit of new fresh snow had recently fallen on the mountains as well).
Because of its altitude the lake does not support any aquatic life. Erm, wait, let me scrap that. The lake supports a lot of life. Mosquitoes, millions of them. As soon as we got out of the car at the lake shore the attacked us by the thousands.
We fled the lake shore and stopped for lunch a kilometre or so from town. This didn't help, they found us here as well and attacked us even more ferociously. We decided to leave Karakul. It was a depressing town anyway (even worse than Murghab) and according to our map there was another homestay some 5 km out of town, so we drove there to see if this was any better.
Which is what we did. On our last day in Tajikistan, which we spent right next to one of the most beautiful sceneries imaginable, we played cards all afternoon and evening. This was the biggest anticlimax imaginable Tajikistan, which in itself has been one of the absolute highlights of this trip.
And a highlight it has been. What a fantastic country. The scenery is absolutely mindbogglingly stunning. The people we had met had been so nice, having been invited for tea, lunch, dinner, sleep several times by people who wanted nothing in return.
Tourism is rather underdeveloped in Tajikistan and in my opinion there are many missed opportunities. There are so many interesting sights which are in the middle of villages where half the villagers are unemployed. While I hate overdeveloped tourist sites a bit more development here and there would actually let some much needed tourist dollars trickle back into the village. Most tourists here are either on a tour from Khorog or Dushanbe, or they travel fully self-supported by bicycle or car. The only way to have these people spend some money at these places is by offering some facilities, restaurants, souvenirs, guides, entrance fees. Hmm, never thought I'd ever be pleading for entrance fees.
I mean, I haven't even been able to buy a small souvenir from Tajikistan for the simple fact that they don't have any (pretty much the only thing you can buy here is knitwear)
The META might sound like a good idea, but I have heard some pretty dodgy stories about them, charging extortionate commissions from their drivers and homestays, and their move to Dushanbe has been absolutely disastrous for the Murghab region.
So I look back on Tajikistan with fond memories, despite all the country's shortcomings