- 1 - Karakul Lake in Xinjiang Province: Escaping China’s Tourist Hordes
- 2 - Yurt Life at Karakul Lake in Xinjiang Province
In the evening, our hosts made us a delicious noodle dinner. After the meal, they entertained us with a “disco night”, which involved some pretty bad music from a little portable radio and some crazy dancing by the local children. Naturally some of us (by which I mean people who weren’t me) joined in. It was actually a fun time. Afterward we hired one of the local boys to make a beer run for us and when he returned, we spent the next few hours sipping cold Sinkiang beer and lying on the ground watching the incredibly clear, starry sky.
As we were lying around, our hosts kept hounding us to go to bed—it seems they are staunch supporters of the completely misguided “early to bed, early to rise…” theory, although I can’t imagine we were the first tourists to ever stay up a bit later. Nevertheless, we did soon head into our respective yurts, but that had less to do with satisfying our hosts and much more with an aversion to frost bite.
Despite daytime temperatures close to 50 degrees Celsius in this part of China, the air cools down so drastically overnight that I was shivering in my shorts and a t-shirt and even the five incredibly thick blankets they piled on top of me did little to stop that. If you decide to visit the area, bring warm clothes to sleep in, no matter how hot you feel in Kashgar. And if you’re a female traveling solo, bring some pepper spray.
Ok, maybe that’s a bit drastic, but I was staying in a single guy’s yurt with four girls and he immediately insisted I sleep on the side next to the wall, while he took a spot in between two of the girls. It wasn’t long before one of them mentioned feeling his hand on her. We warned him to stop, but he tried again, so we ended up forcing him to sleep on the other side of me away from the girls.
After three minutes of that, he went outside and didn’t return the rest of the night. I have no idea where he ended up sleeping, but he did return in the morning with a pretty pathetic apology. I suppose a better recommendation than pepper spray for solo female travelers would be to stay in a yurt belonging to a family. Basically, stay away from the single males.
The next morning, we were awoken at sunrise. Since I spent most of the night shivering, not sleeping, I didn’t mind at all and went outside to take some photos. After a light breakfast and some more unappetizing yak milk tea, we walked to the road and started trying to flag down a ride back to Kashgar. In all, around 30 people had stayed at the lake and while a few had arranged private transport and thus had a ride waiting for them, the rest of us had to find our own way back.
We knew we could probably get a seat on the bus from Tashkurgan, but it wouldn’t arrive for at least several hours (around noon Beijing time) and, according to the locals, was usually delayed a few more. Waiting around seemed pointless, since it didn’t take long for the first group to get a ride on the back of a cattle truck. Most of us were waiting for something a little more comfortable, though. In the end, I and two girls got a ride in a jeep that had been hired out by two Japanese guys coming from Pakistan. Naturally, we paid them some money and really, anyone who gives you a ride will expect some form of payment. We paid 50 RMB and that seemed to be pretty standard.
I really loved this area of China and my main regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend there. Given more time and money, I would have stayed at the lake much longer and done some trekking. I also would have gotten together with a few other travelers and hired a private vehicle, since none of the photos I shot through the window of the bus turned out.
The next time I find myself in the area—and I do hope there is a next time—I’ll skip the 75 hour journey from the east coast and just splurge on a plane ticket, too. Sadly, given the explosion of tourism in China, the next time I visit Karakul Lake, I’ll likely be enjoying the views from the deck of an overcrowded and overpriced tourist boat and the only contact I’ll have with the local Kygyz people will be when I remind them to leave two chocolates on my pillow in the new luxury resort hotel. Get here soon….