Asia and Africa 2004-2005 travel blog

Camel Meadows

Bruce Willis Undercover in Kashgar

Ice Mountain

Kara Kuli Kids

Pearl Girl

Uighar Instruments

Little yurt on Prairie

Buyer's Remorse



Kashgar Man

Sahib does Camel

Self Portrait

Copyright 2004

David Rich 650 Words

CHINA: K a r i K u l i & K a s h g a r T o o

Kara Kuli Lake is China's least known ultra-scenic area because it sits between the mythically remote outpost of Kashgar and the Pakistan border. Yet every day Kara Kuli awaits, patiently reflecting adjacent peaks over 7500 meters (24,500 feet)including the striking Father of Ice Mountain, Muztagh-Ata.

You'll want to spend a Kara Kuli night in a Tajik yurt ($6) for the sheer romance of the thing but go prepared because tourist yurts are less snug than their genuine Tajik cousins. Real yurts are insulated in yak skins and lined with plastic. Your yurt will instead be lined with cracks which on the shores of 3700M (12,000 feet) Kara Kuli lake will seem more like icy ravines for funneling Siberian whirlwinds. So pack your best down sleeping bag and cover it with the stack of the duvets you'll find inside the yurt. Next day you can take a peek inside a real yurt and marvel at the contrast.

Next day you'll be faced with a myriad of transportation choices for exploring the perimeter of the sprawling lake, from the kitschy tourist center with decent though over-priced food (entres $3 to $5, beer $1) to the quaint Tajik village at the southern end of the lake, directly below the shadow of the awesome Father of Ice Mountain. Modes of available transportation range from shaggy two-humped camels with winning grins ($5 for 2 hours) to sleek Tajik ponies or shank's mare, the last the best for photos free from jouncing. You'll take photos galore from wind-burned sun-burned Tajik kids splashing in the shallow end of the lake and their older sisters baking round-flat breads ($.12) in a subterranean oven. Lonely yurts little the prairie, stark below glaciated peaks while Tajik horsemen whip by on gallant steeds. Relish the refreshment of yak-butter tea ($.25) which some insist requires years of acquired taste, the flavor perhaps affected by the smoky fires within the café yurt. Pose for photos to startle the folks back home, you on a shaggy camel wading in the edge of the lake for the perfect doubling of sensational you and your buffalo-like conveyance.

The next stop is Kashgar, the Silk Roads crossroads of ancient Central Asia. Kashgar sits almost perfectly equidistant from Tibet, the Kashmir and Ladakh regions of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in the furthest northwest corner of China, which is to say classically remote. The sheer remoteness is apparently one reason more and more Western tourists are flocking to Kashgar. The other reason is Kashgar's famous Sunday market which draws traders indigenous to many of the above listed countries, creating a cacophony of capitalism from early every Sunday morning until late at night.

The market has grown so large that the regular market of at least a hundred thousand items ranging from Uighur musical instruments to traditional tribal hats and foodstuffs has been severed from the animal market, the latter attracting tourists like flies. At the animal market you'll see family donkeys minutely examined from tooth to tail and sold to replenish diminished fortunes. Rows of lambs and goats are tied head to head, a hundred in each string, their rear ends shorn in perfect rectangles to presumably enhance attractiveness. Cattle bawl, mount their neighbors and kick up dust while tourists furiously snap photos of the animals' owners. The owners make prize photos because they sprout variously shaped white, gray and brown beards topped by fuzzy black hats, or round multi-colored caps and variously adorned pillboxes. Hooved-animals are suspended by ropes between trees while sequentially levered feet are tied up for trimming, shearing and shoeing by an army of blacksmiths. Next door burly men try out new and still aromatic horse-carts made of fresh pine while colorfully dressed children ramble underfoot and mounds of empty watermelon shells grow along the roadside. When the dust settles you've gotten photos to send home for showing a vivid cacophony of vibrantly-dressed people and strangely shorn animals direct from the crossroads of ancient Central Asia.

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