ilyani’s tips on Karakul Lake

I have just done Karakul Lake part in the Travelogue, and here I’d like to summarize some things that might be useful to future travelers. Although, I’d like to remind you that this is from our personal experience in April, 2012 and things can change since.

  1. First, be sure to fully charge your camera before going to the lake, because there’s no possible chance of getting power socket for charging in yurt or village (ignore the fact that yurt owner uses a mobile phone and dont waste your time thinking how on earth he charges his phone). Bringing an extra battery would help (yes, for our own note too, in the future!) because battery would dry faster in cold weather.
  2. Permit issue is what stops travelers from going to Karakul Lake normally by bus (fare from Kashgar is 36 yuan/person). At least we were too much worried about it thanks to confusing/inaccurate/obsolete source all over internet, including WikiTravel. People (who I suspect are the tour agent themselves) would post everywhere stating the restriction of going to the lake and you need permit because it’s located near the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border blablabla and if without permit you are likely to be stopped in the checkpoint and you might be turned down and have to go back to Kashgar! That sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Especially for travelers in limited time. And they say the only way to get permit is to go with a tour, and price starts from 1000 yuan! My way is to be determined enough and go to the police station asking the actual rule! I guess it’s the most reliable source afterall, ignore those threating info from internet! It would help if you have a friend who speaks Chinese to  explain/ask the police on your behalf. There *is* the check point but all you need to do is to show your passport with valid Chinese visa.
  3. Bring your own food, those instant noodle in bowl are easily found in shops in Kashgar, coz they taste way much better than what yurt owner would serve you. And I guess, after we gave this piece of advice to a fellow traveler we met in Kashgar hostel, he went on and chose to stay in yurt with exclusion of meal, and only need to pay 40 yuan! (it’s actually 50yuan with horrible meal).
  4. There’s no proper toilet in the lake so be prepared about it.
  5. If you dont like the idea of drinking lake water, bring lots of bottled water from Kashgar.
  6. Ask the yurt owner to teach you how to light the heater burner, because it would look enough to heat the yurt overnight, but what happens if it doesn’t? Once the heater dies at 4am and you will end up sleeping in a freezer!
  7. Bus from Kashgar to Taskurgan departs around 10am Beijing time/8am local time. Only one bus running everyday. Please tell the driver that you want to get down at Karakul Lake, and please dont sleep in the bus (which happened to that fellow traveler!) or you would miss the stop and you will end up reaching Tashkurgan and have to take taxi/hitch hike to get back to Karakul!
  8. It’s safe to keep in mind than bus from Tashkurgan to Kashgar will pass by Karakul Lake around 10am local time/noon Beijing time and I can’t be sure if there’s more than one bus running, so get ready to wait by the road side (there’s a so-called bus stop without bench, with China’s universal bus stop sign) for you to catch bus passing and take a ride to go back to Kashgar. In the meantime, you can waste time watching wild cattles nearby the hills.

Read full stories of Karakul Lake here:

Karakul Lake – Day 2 (and closeup of the epic toilet!)

Rewind to 4am last night: Thanks to the failed heater, it was freezing cold and five layers of blankets plus many layers of clothings didnt seem to help. It was way beyond what I could bear, and I couldnt hardly sleep. I tried to wake up Az to set the heater again but he said it’s impossible and continued to (pretend to) sleep. I woke up and with little help by the dimmed, generator-powered light, I searched for lighter to set up the burner again. But with old papers alone the fire doesnt seem to stay!

I recalled seeing Mr Same Price putting some coal and gasoline in it to set up fire, and I searched around for the bottle, and the container was running out of coal. I was so determined to get the heater on again so I rushed out of the yurt (!!!!) in the middle of dark, freezing night to get the coal from bag Mr Same Price had left outside. With coal and gasoline, the fire still doesnt want to set!! :( It lights for a few seconds then died. So instead of getting a fire, I was getting alot of smoke inside the yurt! This is disaster! I gave up and went into the blanket and tried hard to sleep again for another few hours.

When it’s dawn we woke up and I instantly called Mr Same Price, but couldnt get through. I sent him a SOS sms asking him to come for help. I was panic that the smoke was still inside the yurt, and if I wanted to open the door to let the smoke out, it’s crazy coz the cold wind would go inside. Around 20 minutes later, he turned up and he set up the heater again… actually he uses a piece of old rubber! No wonder he could get the fire stay easily =.= I should have known!

It’s funny to realize our leftover soup (from instant noodle last night) turned frozen this morning. So is our bottled water. And they’re located *inside* the yurt with us! Imagine the yurt has turned into a refrigerator overnight? And we’re inside! Inga says it was even too cold for her (despite coming from Europe!) and she could guess it was -5 degree celcius.

After breakfast, we packed our stuff to get ready to catch bus for Kashgar. Mr Same Price and Inga says the bus from Tashkurgan would pass by here around 12 noon Beijing time = 10 am local time, so we have to be early to wait at the road side, if you miss the bus then the only other alternative would be asking Mr Same Price drive us (or I guess, his friend) to Kashgar for some hundreds yuan. The chance of getting the bus seat is also unknown, as the bus is probably full. So all we can do is just hope.

Mr Same Price came with his daughter Bibi (in this picture) to help him do housekeeping in they yurt. Inga is staying for another night because she’s too in love with the sunset view of Karakul Lake yesterday and would like to see it again today. We, on the other hand, need to go back to Kashgar despite of enjoying this place so much because our camera has been dead since yesterday!! And this morning all the photos are taken by my cheap HTC phone. Not the best, but better than none.

When walking down the lake again, we could see the lake was half-frozen. And we get to hear some chirping sound from the lake, and it’s amazing to learn that the sound is made by the broken ice that surface the lake water. I purposely try to break the ice layer just to hear the sound! :) Watching this great view on our last day in here, it’s so beautiful that we dont feel like leaving!

Can you spot the outdoor toilet? It’s facing to the lake. And believe it, this is the most stunning view I’ve ever seen while using a toilet!

The toilet, close up. Yes, it’s open air, and the proper way to “flush” is using the sand. Luckily there’s only us living here at the moment, I can’t imagine of using it when you know other people are around. Okay, and you can always use the lake water! :P

It was when I was just done with my toilet business, we caught a sight of bus passing the road!! We got panic and ran for our live towards the road, waving with hope the bus driver would see us and stop. But it did not. It was so much a tense, thinking if we already missed the bus and no other bus for Kashgar today, we have to stay in here for another day without camera, or, to ask for Mr Same Price’s car for some extra fares. Or, maybe we could hitch hike some lorry! Nevertheless, we keep waiting by the roadside and hoping for another bus would appear (I was trying to recall reading there’s some Tashkurgan government bus or something).

There’s hardly any transport passing by except big lorries. We wait for like half an hour, before a small bus finally pass by to save our soul. The bus is different than what we used to ride from Kashgar, but nevermind. The driver doesnt immediately ask for fare when we get in (possibly coz we’re the only who get in at the middle of the road!) and only when reaching Kashgar, we just paid 36 yuan per person, as much as we had paid for inbound bus earlier.

Motorbike Ride around Karakul Lake

Mr Same Price returned to yurt bringing a big bowl of polo rice, and that’s supposed to be our lunch. Taste is bad, and I couldnt even finish half plate. We asked him if we can have boiled water for our instant noodles, and after checking that water isn’t enough after making our tea earlier, he went out to take water from the lake! Yes, where else we can get water here? =.= I just hope the lake water is clean. The water was half water-half ice when he brings it to put on fire.

While we’re eating, Mr Same Price offered to bring us on motorbike ride around the lake, it’s going to be around 2 hours, which is all we have until sunset. He asked 50 yuan per person as each has to be passenger of 1 motorbike. It sounds expensive but I guess we have no choice since there’s no other means of transport here!

The ride was very exciting along the lake side and mountains, although we have to bear with cold wind. I ask them to stop everytime I see beautiful view to take some photos. There’s a part in a corner of the lake where we find fresh ice frost, totally untouched. It feels so great stepping on them, it’s soft and powdery.

Continuing the ride, we’re now on the other side of the mountains, much like in the middle of deserted land. We cant stop being amazed on how beautiful the place is, and among all, the emptiness of it.

Muztagh Ata from the other side. This place is called Akto, a small county inside Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture located in East Xinjiang. Kyrgyz ethnic people make a large population here, and they actually live in this corner of the world where there’s no sight of buildings and proper road ways (apart from the Karakoram Highway that connects Kashgar to Tashkurgan, and even Pakistan if you go beyond that).

We somehow arrived to a community place that looks like a school, nearby two blocks of houses (which probably lives around 20 families). I was so surprised to see people here. I mean, can you imagine they really make a living in this cold place without much facilities? Those are the Kyrgyz kids we meet there. Look at the chapped cheeks suffering from the extreme cold! I just hope they do actually move to a warmer place when it’s winter.

And we get to see yak! Not one, but quite a number of them, and the locals get milk from yak. I have read earlier in other blogs that you can taste yak milk tea in here, so we ask Mr Same Price we can find it somehere.

Mr Same Price brings us to a village house which I guess one of his relatives, and he asks 10 yuan per person. I believe he’s trying to over charge us.. I mean, a cup of milk tea for 10 yuan? I said we’re not having much, just to try a little. So we agree 10 yuan for two persons.

Inside the house. It has a large hall and there’s the kitchen at the entrance. I guess the burner also is also functioning as heater. The Kyrgyz woman quickly prepares yak milk tea for us

Yak milk tea is ready. We’re given hard, cold naan bread to go with it. The tea is salty! Before I assume that the woman has put in salt by mistake, I see Mr Same Price drinking it just normally. And now I recall having read someone’s blog before that he’s given salty milk tea in Xinjiang. It’s possibly this, no mistake! Finally we pay 10 yuan for something we can’t really consume for the strange taste. But at least we can say we had Yak milk tea in in Kyrgyz house.

It’s nearly sunset and we continue the ride. Mr Same Price says it’s about 13 km to circle the lake. Because we already paid 100 yuan for the ride, I tend to utilize it by making them stop at many places to take photo ;p

We arrived to an extremely bumpy land, and their motorbikes seem to be capable in riding in such condition. It feels like riding a wild horse! Nearby,  we saw a few children playing and they seem to know Mr Same Price very well.

There’s a corner of the lake we get to see this pretty reflection of mountains in the lake (I guess the lake isn’t fully frozen here).

The view is so imaginary, dreamy, breathtaking and romantic. I wouldnt mind spending hours in here just to be amazed of how wonderful this place is.

Az with the bike. For photos only. And look, wild camels! I dont know if it’s okay to approach them but apparently Mr Same Price lets us to walk to the camels by ourselves. I dont think they’ll attack us, but yeah.

A view that reminds me to some cigaratte poster. Or was it Harley Davidson?

There’s a small stream with a small waterfall and it’s amusing to see how it looks like when waterfall gets frozen! Right picture is Az with Mr Same Price and his friend, our motorbike buddies! Yes, face is full wrapped coz the wind is too cold!

Traditionally, Kyrgyz people are nomad who set up canvas yurt in places they go. But somehow there are brick yurt too, and they call them “fake yurts”. They’re meant to be permanent there for whatever reason. At this point of time, nobody lives in there though.

We then get back to yurt when it’s alsmot dark. Camera battery is nearly finishing, and thanks to cold weather, we’re afraid it will quickly dry even though not using it. Therefore we decide to snap some final photos at the lake again while watching the sunset.

Mr Same Price and Az inside yurt. When the night comes, the German lady whom mentioned by Mr Same Price earlier returns to yurt. Her name is Inga and she’s traveling alone. Instead of taking bike ride like us, she chose to walk around the lake. We have a real great talk with Inga and learn how she’s been traveling the whole China and ended up in here. After dinner, Mr Same Price prepared the bedding for us, one  corner for Az and I and another corner for Inga, three of us are equipped with many thick layers of blanket, but they still dont seem to be enough. He prepared the traditional heater and then leaves to go back to his house, which I regret for not asking him well about setting up the heater, coz apparently the fire dies around 3 am and we’re freezing in -5 degree celcius!

Karakul Lake – Part 1

How to get there: Take bus from South Bus Station in Kashgar, 36 yuan. Bus departs 8am Beijing time (10am local time, double check with ticket counter person). Buying ticket one day in advance is advisable. Bus takes around 4 hours to reach the lake, including a stop for breakfast in the middle for half an hour.

We woke up in the morning to the biggest shock that we didnt charge all our devices (camera, camcorder, phone) last night, thanks to full day walking around Kashgar until late plus eating like mad at the night market before went to shop for some bowl instant noodle for tomorrow, and returned to hostel totally flat. Now all we can do is to wish there’s some village in the mountains where power sockets are available, although it’s hard to think the possibility.

We have to check-out from hostel since we’re planning to overnight in the lake, and thankfully the hostel manager is nice enough to let us leave our big luggage in the management office while we’re away. We dont bring any stuff other than (wearing) extra layers of clothings, gadgets and chargers, instant noodle, some Milo and Nescafe, and tripod.

We run quickly to the main road and catch a town bus for Southern Bus Station (luckily we already learned the route yesterday) and it doesnt take us long to reach the station on time, and we’re taken to a mini bus which is going to Tashkurgan. Here we are, to our ultimate destination! :) The bus leaves a little after 8am, and it’s almost full. After like half an hour when we’re somewhere outside the city, the bus stops to fetch a few more people, and now it’s full. Those people do not look like they’re going to the lake, and I guess they’re possibly heading to Tashkurgan.

We’re stopped after 1 hour at a small restaurant by the roadside for breakfast. We share a plate of polo rice and some manta (steamed bun). The stop is for around 30minutes so it’s an appropriate chance to find a restroom. While I am not sure how and whom to ask, I randomly approach one of the bus passengers, and she’s a well dressed lady. She doesnt know “toilet”, or “bathroom”, or “restroom”.. and I instantly remember universal sign “WC” (at least in China), and gotcha, she then walks us to the back of the restaurant around 100 meters, and there you go, the toilet!

We’re amazed to have finally come across this type of toilet :D It reminds me alot to the toilet one in the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, where it’s practically a hole and you can directly see the entire view of poops underneath. And Az has to take a photo of it!

Continue the ride, the bus stops to get some fuel, and you can notice the fuel price and somehow compare the fuel price back home. Sitting next to us are some curious Uyghur men who look like “they want to talk to us but dont know what language to use”. Body language works, though, and I somehow manage to let them know we’re going to Karakul Lake by showing the bus tickets.

A few hours gone, and the view start turning into a deserted mountains with no houses and trees in sight. Attempted to take more photos but have to save the (50%!) battery for the real destination. There’s a few small lakes we pass by and the more we anticipate to see the majestic Karakul Lake for real. And suddenly the bus stopped and the driver shouts to us, “Karakul! Karakul!” and in the midst of surprise, we get down the bus to the middle of nowhere. And even more surprising, the bus drops only US there, and nobody else!

Suddenly some five men in motorbikes approach us, they seem to be owners of yurts and houses nearby and asking if we need yurt, each of them busy making their offers, “50 yuan only, with 3 lunch”.. what, 3 lunch.?? Okay, I think he meant 3 meals. And another, “Come to house, yurt very cold! House not cold”.. It’s so much a tense of offering and bargaining for us being their only targets for that day. To be fair, Az asks if we can go to see the house and yurt first, and we’ll decide later. So Az jumps on the yurt owner’s bike, while I am on the house owner’s bike, along with 4 other their friends we’re convoying along the quiet road to see the house first, then then back to the lake to see the yurt. And the wind is so cold that I have to cover my face altogether!

We decided to choose the yurt over the brick house, being the house located a little farther from the lake. Although we have to be prepared when the house owner warns that it will be colder at night when staying in yurt. We pay 100 yuan for two persons staying 1 night, and it’s understood that it includes meals. The yurt owner is a Kyrgyz, who has a weird name too difficult to pronouce, we end up calling him “Mr Same Price” for some funny reason. He says that there’s a German lady who arrived earlier from Tashkurgan to stay here too, so it’s quite a relief that we’ll have a companion. But to our disappointment, he says there’s no power socket in the yurt, and no place to charge our camera in the village, although we silently wonder how he manages to own a mobile phone. Mr Same Price then goes back to his house (located in a village 10 minutes away) leaving us alone in this empty place.

After securing our luggage inside the yurt, we walk to the lake, and this is the view of the yurt from the lake! And see the outdoor toilet far to the left? It’s an epic! It may not be season yet, as I guess during summer, there should be alot more yurts set up in this large area to accomodate more tourists.

Until then, we have all the lakes for ourselves!! :D Isn’t this exciting?? The view just looks so amazing that somehow I couldnt believe it’s real. And we’re here!

The iconic Muztagh Ata mountain. Some hard core travelers would hike around it during summer. The summer starts very late in here being in high altitude, and it’s late April now and the lake is totally frozen! Imagine the cold wind!

We borrow some bigger jackets from the yurt and start taking photos. But we look fat in them, so forget it =.=

Centered view of Muztagh Ata….

Which is perfect for jumping photos! :D

And my turn!

Our favorite moments, trying to step onto the frozen lake. It may look frozen, but you can never sure how thick it is, the moment it breaks will straight away dumps you into the cold water! With extra precaution, Az steps and settles his position first, while I set the camera timer (thanks to bringing tripod, where else you can put your camera in this deserted, empty place?).

Okay, looking alright. Step further to get my space, and be calm. Next shot, yay, we’re on the lake!! :D

We wander around for a couple of hours, and it’s getting too cold so we go back into the yurt to curl ourselves in thick blankets, and somehow fall asleep for a short nap.

City of Kashgar

Despite the dusty, aging ancient buildings we have seen in the old part of Kashgar, the other side of the city is surprisingly very modern. We take a walk towards the Southern Bus Station to get a hand of tickets for Karakul Lake tomorrow. We need to check the bus station whereabouts and plan accordingly on how to get there first thing in the morning next day.

Walking down Jiefang Road in front of Id Kah mosque towards South, we start seeing high rise buildings and alot of cars. Kashgar city map comes in handy to give us direction to the bus station.

At the big junction we’re expected to use the subway to cross the huge road. It’s amazing that they have many subways every some hundred meters and how I wish KL has this facilities too.

We pass by an area which I guess the People Park as referred in map. Although a little confusing as we cant still see any sight of bus terminal after walking this far. After checking with some Uyghur women we encounter, it’s understood that the bus station should be after 2 more junctions. How come it looks very near in the map!

After a day being overwhelmed by Uyghur exotic culture here in Kashgar, we only realized that we’re still in China once we see the Mao statute! :) Wasn’t it a Mao statute also that we saw in Chengdu? Does this man practically have his statute in every single city in China??

So you can see more Chinese people in the city part here. We stop by a watch repair stall to let the guy fix my cheap watch, for 8 yuan, which is horribly done, but I have no choice. The bus station is a few steps away, it’s a huge building with a universal Chinese logo for bus station/stop/terminal which resembles the Mercedes logo. We manage a pair of tickets for Karakul Lake at 38 yuan per person, departing at 10 am Beijing time (8am local time). I’m rather surprised that the ticket people do not say anything about us having to get permit for Karakul Lake, but soon we’re planning to check with the police station itself.

Way back, we spare the walk and take a bus for 1 yuan instead. The bus service is very frequent! And it’s very systematic, for example, it only stops at the designated bus stop (unlike bus in KL stops just wherever and whenever people pressing the bell!), which I guess helps to smooth the traffic.

Pineapple being sold in cart. Wondering how they taste, yet we refrain from taking any uncooked food when traveling (and what’s with the water?).

We return to the police station to check regarding permit for Karakul Lake. Been here earlier before going to bus station but the officers were on lunch break. 4 police officers come to hear us, but sadly none of them understand English. I make a call to Nazar (in Urumqi!) to have him talk to one of the officers, while another officer is trying to call some other officer who can speak to us, and after repeatedly asking the same questions, she confirms us that we dont need any permit for Karakul Lake, rather all we need is to bring our passport (of course!). Having said that, we jump with joy that we didnt get trapped by tour agents and manage to save 1000 yuan by going there by bus ourselves! Can’t wait for tomorrow!

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