Sleeping at around 3500 meters was an interesting, if not involved exercise. The Kyrgyz woman bundled blankets and furs together to create makeshift bedrolls for us. The weight of the blankets was so much, it made it difficult to breath in the high altitude. We fell asleep to the soft flicker and glow of the dung-burning stove used for heat and cooking. The next morning, a rugged looking Kyrgyz man opened the wooden door to the yurt and was followed by a huge gust of mountain air. Standing at about 5’5’’, the man wore a leather jacket , a warm looking brown Russian style fur hat, and big black boots. With a half smile on his face, he clapped his hands, signaling it was time to wake up.
I crawled literally, under the weight, out of bed to put on my shoes and fleece, and then walked down to Lake Karakul. The water was a dark blue grayish color with areas of light blue from the phosphorous I assume – and hope. I knelled down next to the bank and stuck my hands in the water, then washed my face. The water was so cold I had never been so awake in my entire life. After returning to the yurt, we ate a quick meal of noodles and yak meat then got in the jeep and left for the day.
The jeep sped down the Karakorum Highway, passing several locals selling colored rocks they had supposedly found in the lake. As we rode for a few hours, we found ourselves in a narrow valley between two mountain ranges. Occasionally, these resembled rock canyons one may find in the Southwestern United States. At other times, massive jagged snow covered peaks jutted up into the sky resembling nothing I had ever seen…or probably ever will again. At two points during the drive, we saw massive green valleys between the mountains that looked like scenery from a fairy tale.
After about 3 hours from Lake Karakul, we arrived in the town of Tashkurgan. Tashkurgan is located in far Western China’s XinJiang Provence and borders Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and is very close to Pakistan. As we pulled into town, the Pamir Mountains (Pamirs) rose beautifully into the sky. Village women, mostly Tajik, walked around town in beautifully colored clothing and the men were dressed like shipyard workers from the 1930’s U.S. It was an amazing scene that was unlike any other parts of China I had ever seen – probably because other than the highway leading there and the electricity that came with it, it was entirely not Chinese.