Day 99: What an anti-climax!

Karakul Travel Blog

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The road to Kara-kul

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.

Driving up the Ak-Baital pass
At this altitude breathing is difficult for the lack of oxygen in the air. But we weren't the only ones struggling. The car also had a hard time getting over the pass. The combination of poor quality diesel and low oxygen made it really struggle up the mountain. Once we got higher than 4000 metres the car would not run faster than 40km/h, even on a flat road and for the last few hundred metres everybody had to get out to decrease the weight, because it couldn't get up the steep road to the pass otherwise.
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.
At the top of the Ak-Baital pass - Wim, Serge, Bart and Tim
I wonder if the whole of China has a fence around it. Wouldn't surprise me, actually, although this fence did not look as if it saw many border patrols. At certain points the barbed wire was gone and it was easy enough to cross into China if you wanted. Not that I wanted, I mean, I will be there in two days time anyway!

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.
Kara-kul lake
Now I know life is hard in the region, and produce is expensive for the people as they need to ship everything in as nothing grows here, but our stay at this homestay cost the equivalent of 4 months income for an average family in Tajikistan. That just doesn't seem right to me.

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.
The snow-capped mountains at Kara-kul
I didn't even know mosquitoes could survive at this altitude! They turned out to be very well adapted mosquitoes though. Whereas normal mosquitoes come out at dusk and dawn, these actually roam during the day, because otherwise it is too cold. We DEET'ed up every part of our body which wasn't covered by clothes, but it didn't help. They bit through our clothes, through out hair, as well as every bit of skin that didn't have enough DEET on it.

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.
Kara-kul lake in the distance
It didn't exist anymore, but we drove on and found a nice place to camp right next to the Chinese border from where we had excellent views over the lake in the distance. It was all in vain. Within ten minutes this place was swamped with mosquitoes as well. We figured there was nothing left to do but go back to the homestay at Karakul and stay indoors.

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.
the mosque at Karakul


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.
Kara-kul
But I'd happily have paid a few somanis at places like those Buddhist stupas or the fortresses (well, apart from the one where we actually did pay).
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

Biedjee says:
thanks! glad you liked it :-)
Posted on: Oct 31, 2010
edsander says:
Biedjee, I absolutely loved the Tajikistan blog. Great stories, stunning landscapes ... you name it. An absolute highlight for your readers and you alike.
Posted on: Oct 26, 2010
Biedjee says:
Oh, but these were Mutant Ninja Mosquitoes! Mozzies are not supposed to live at high altitudes either, but these ones survive at 3900 metres. In temperatures that should kill off any normal mosquitoes as well. They were hard to kill as well, had to hit at least two or three times - tough buggers...
Posted on: Aug 26, 2010
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The road to Kara-kul
The road to Kara-kul
Driving up the Ak-Baital pass
Driving up the Ak-Baital pass
At the top of the Ak-Baital pass -…
At the top of the Ak-Baital pass …
Kara-kul lake
Kara-kul lake
The snow-capped mountains at Kara-…
The snow-capped mountains at Kara…
Kara-kul lake in the distance
Kara-kul lake in the distance
the mosque at Karakul
the mosque at Karakul
Kara-kul
Kara-kul
Pamir Highway
Pamir Highway
Wonderful surroundings on the road…
Wonderful surroundings on the roa…
The Chinese border
The Chinese border
The road to Kara-kul
The road to Kara-kul
The road to Kara-kul
The road to Kara-kul
Wim and Tim
Wim and Tim
The car reaching the top of the Ak…
The car reaching the top of the A…
Walking up the Ak-Baital pass
Walking up the Ak-Baital pass
At the top of the Ak-Baital pass
At the top of the Ak-Baital pass
The road to Kara-Kul
The road to Kara-Kul
Kara-kul village
Kara-kul village
Karakul village
Karakul village
Kara-kul
Kara-kul
Kara-kul
Kara-kul
Panoramic view from the Ak Baital …
Panoramic view from the Ak Baital…
Kara-kul lake
Kara-kul lake
Stuck again - what a surprise
Stuck again - what a surprise
Kara-kul lake
Kara-kul lake
Paparazzi at work
Paparazzi at work
young girl at Karakul village
young girl at Karakul village
Karakul lake at sunset
Karakul lake at sunset
Our guest-house
Our guest-house
Crossing the 4655m Ak-Baital pass…
Karakul
photo by: Biedjee