A night on Karakul Lake / by Thomas O'Malley


200km west of Kashgar on the Karakoram Highway is Lake Karakul, at almost 4000m elevation. I drove here with a bus-load of Chinese soldiers on their way to the border. Check out the sand dunes dusted with snow in the picture - very peculiar.


Karakul means 'Black Lake' in Kirgiz. Although obscured by cloud here, the lake is overlooked by three mountains over 7500m high.


It's a bleak, beautiful wilderness, empty at this time of year.


It takes about 5 hours to hike around the lake. Or you can take a camel operated by the handful of villagers who stay in yurts that cling to the shore.


Although some locals cycle straight across the frozen expanse.


These creatures are sensible enough to stick to dry land, however.


After hiking for longer than expected the Pakistan border bus has long since passed by, so I need to find some local accommodation. Choice is limited out here. Well, this place looks OK...


Inside the tiny earthwork house lives a Kirgiz family (of Krygestan origin). This is Anudin his wife Bizoura. She puts the kettle on the stove and stokes it with a couple of handfuls of yak shit to make tea. They agree to put me up for the night.


The conversation starts flowing as Anudin strums Fere Jacques on his rustic guitar, probably taught him by French travelers. For a Yak-herding lake-dweller high in the mountains, Anudin is surprisingly well-informed on geopolitical matters, from Gordon Brown to Bin Laden.


We all bed down together under thick blankets, with a bowl of salty milk Chai, as is the custom.


The solar-powered bulb gets powered down and we go to sleep by flickering candlelight, in total, immense silence save for the bubbling of the iron kettle on the stove. The sense of scale, of our tiny one-room house a dot in a vast, frozen landscape makes for some snug snoozing.


At dawn, I brave my way out into the cold for a piss. It's snowed in the night. Boy, has it snowed.


There's few things as good as waking up to a fresh carpet of white stuff.


Totally unexpected - a sea of white on an arctic scale. But it's like Anudin says, "In winter, sometimes minus 45 cold. Karakul sometimes wind, sometimes snow, sometimes sun. Never knowing.'