Silk Road day 4: tashkurgan – Karakul

talk about a hard morning! you’re in a frozen hotel room curled up under 3 quilts and feeling quite OK. Incentive to get up? near zero!!! Alas, after snoozing the alarm a few times in a row, it was time to face the harsh morning get going. The lure of a nice hot cup of 3-in-1 nescafe was also big part of the equation but I’m not really sure whether that one is a positive or a negative!

Plan for the day: drive around tashkurgan, visit the old stone fort, the bazaar and breakfast (not in that particular order) and then head back to Karakul lake to visit a Kyrgyz village and hike around then finally back to Kashgar.

The plan gets reshuffled around right away as our chosen breakfast destination is still closed (10:30 a.m. beijing time) so we head on to the Stone City right away:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Now for the history lesson: Tashkurgan actually means “Stone fort City” and this place has been around for a long time, something along the lines of 1300 years. It’s also the stronghold of the Tajik minority in the region! Chinese nationals need a special permit to go and visit the city.

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

It’s been an important part of the Silk Road all along as one of the last places to stop before setting for the Khunjerab crossing. It was pretty much impossible to conquer due to its location. Surrounded by mountains, they could see the enemy coming from a mile away.

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

One can just stand on top of the ruins and picture a time long gone when guards were standing atop the towers scouting the horizon for upcoming trouble or maybe simply drinking a cup of tea as they witnessed the sun rising/setting behind the mountains.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

We spent about an hour just walking around the ruins and taking in the sights/sounds then it was time to head back to time for some food.
As I mentioned before, these breakfasts are a bit too stiff for someone who’s a firm believer in the diet of champions, aka cigarettes + coffee in the morning. This particular one consisted of momo (steamed bread) and 2 various beef (yak) stews that we washed with some tea and nescafe.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

With full bellies, we rolled out of the restaurant to take a walk up the street and check out the bazaar side and take in some of Tashkurgan’s sights:

City Center, just next to the restaurant:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Locals enjoying a little street chat:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The mix of colors is fascinating to me:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

a cow, an SUV, a dog and a tractor.. all downtown at the same time! gotta love it
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

and finally an overall view of the city before we set off towards Karakul and the Kyrgyz village:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

after a bit of shopping, we hopped in the car and set off for Karakul. The lake was about 1.5 hours away and the Kyrgyz village right next to it. The plan was to go there, have a meal with a local family and do some hiking/exploring.

On the way over, we crossed a couple of Tajik burial sites in the middle of nowhere, right along the highway. Each tomb was mini-mausoleum of sorts:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The road to Karakul was full of small settlements, little houses in the prairie (Kyrgyz style) but the strangest of all was a Mosque standing all alone, without a thing around it for miles except livestock:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Finally, we made it to Karakul and the village. We had seen the lake on the previous day but from the other side. At that time, we didn’t even notice the village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

and the village was not a small one. Thing is most houses literally blend in with the landscape to the point where form a few 100 meters, they’re practically invisible:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

We were welcomed by a local family that treated us to some warm milk-tea and nan (flat bread) inside their home. From the outside, it was just a bunch of mud, hay and bricks put together in a shelter-fashion but that particular house had been lived in for over 50 years.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The inside, however, was quite cosy with an old fashioned stove/cheminee thingie that was dual purpose heating and cooking. The walls were lined-up with handmade tapestries.

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The family consisted of the grandpa, grandma, son, daughter-in-lay and 3 kids. Grandpa had one of those “aged” faces that tell a story on their own and a beard that helped it tell that story every inch of the way. Heck, the beard had its own comb:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

After a few bits of conversation where adbulatif served as a translator, they presented us with a bit of handicrafts that hey hoped we would be interested in. S ended up getting 3 tapestries and I got a genuine Kyrgyz hat and we set out.
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

we took a bit of time to stroll around the village and the surrounding mountains just to get a better idea as far as their living conditions go. We came across the local chapter of Hell’s Angels:

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

As a reminder of the desert’s proximity, one of the mountains surrounding the village was covered in sand. Basically a dune that was somehow transposed from its natural habitat to this rocky mountainous section of the world. I just had to roll in it..
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

The villagers live more or less at the edge of civilization in one of the roughest areas i can think of and they have adapted quite well to it. It had to be the case otherwise they would have left for greener pastures i guess. They also had their own solution to the lack of wood/coal for heating: Manure! Nothing went to waste as they collected the livestock excrement, packed it in stacks and dried it up to use for heating/cooking purposes:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

Eventually, it was time to leave! The lovely day almost got ruined by the daughter in law who tried to go back on the deal S got for her tapestries. they deemed the price she paid too law and insisted on getting more moolah which we were not about to give into! a deal was a deal! after much argument, we won and headed back towards Kashgar!

The was back was filled with gorgeous landscapes as diverse as could be. The mountains took turns at being black, red, green, white, sandy etc…

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

as we came closer to Kashgar, we got reminded of why the city was there in the first place: It was an oasis… in more ways than one! It was definitely nice seeing some trees and plants again:
day 4. tashkurgan and Kyrgyz village

We checked in the hotel, went for some food and called it a night after planning the next day’s program.
A special shout goes out to the Pakistan Cafe across the street from Seman hotel. Their food was amazing and the price could not be beat. It’s a hole in the wall in every sense of the way but man was it good!!!!

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