One cheap night in a yurt, on the banks of Karakul Lake, China.
China is a massive country. All the way from Shanghai, the Eastern 23 million- inhabited hectic city, to Kashgar, the extreme Western Uyghur millenary centre of the old Silk Road, lost at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, the differences are incommensurable. Xinjiang, the most western Chinese province, is far away from the traditional picture we can have from China. Its people are closer to Turkish in physical and linguistic matters, and its sceneries recall something from Kazakhstan or Afghanistan rather than the classical rice fields you encounter in the deep Yunnan.
To experience another China, totally opposed to the one you may know, you definitely need to go to Xinjiang Province! It is dominated by the Taklamakan Desert, AKA the Sea of Death, and surrounded by the Pamir Mountains in the north and the Himalayan mountain range in the south. Its climate is as extreme as its sceneries. It incorporates Urumqi – the furthest city from any sea or ocean on Earth – and the Turpan Depression – at 154m below sea level, the third lowest point on Earth after the Dead Sea and Lake Assal).
Further south east in the Province and almost at the country’s borders, the Himalayan Mountains rise up like an incredible wall separating the Chinese Xinjiang Province from Afghanistan and Pakistan. From Kashgar, the ancient Uyghur settlement and millenary city, only one road leads to the south – the world famous Karakoram Highway. Sometimes described as the most beautiful road on earth, the Karakoram Highway snakes its way up amongst the Karakoram Mountains and its numerous peaks overlooking the road from more than 8000m high.
Driving half way up from Kashgar to Pakistan will lead you directly to a small lake situated on the left hand side of the road. Karakul Lake, 3600m altitude, is a perfect mirror to the deep blue cloudless sky of Central Asia. In between mixed cultures, at the very heart of a very low tourist density region, Karakul Lake offers a unique view upon the Kirgiz, Uygur, Pakistani and Afghan ways of life.
Settled on the banks of the lake are a couple of round yurts and a small restaurant, just enough to grab a bite and sleep under the protection of the cold. For no more than $2, experience a night at 3600m, on the shore of one of the most magical lakes in the world. During your day, explore the banks of Karakul Lake to meet yaks grazing and eagles patrolling the sky, and try to get invited for a local meal by one of the few Uyghur guys who will try to sell you a hat or some piece of craft. For the night, have a rest all covered with a heavy wool bed cover and warmed up by the light fire in the yurt.
The feeling of being on the banks of Karakul Lake will go far beyond the only visit of a site. It will make you feel like being far away from everything, almost at the mercy of the elements, in a very remote region of the globe, surrounded by impressive sceneries, in the purest spirit of travelling.
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