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Karakul Lake

Tajikistan’s largest natural reservoir, Karakul Lake (Black lake), is located in the East Pamirs. About 3,900m above sea level. It covers about 380km2 with a maximum depth of 238m. It is 33km long and 20km wide. Large island range stretches from north to  south, dividing  lake into two parts. Shallow eastern side and the deep western side. In the late 19th century the northern part of the island was linked to the bank by a narrow isthmus. The isthmus has now disappeared. Qara-Jilga, Qaraart, and Muzqol rivers and several streams feed into Qarakul –but none flow out; the bitter and salty lake does not drain anywhere. Water in the small rivers’ estuaries is reasonably fresh, and loaches can be found there.

Karakul lake  is also remarkable in that it is the most desert-like place in the Pamirs, with the lowest level of precipitation – about 20 mm/year. Water surface of the Karakul is not actually black (as it is named) but ultramarine, dark blue, or a greenish colour. Depending on way the sunlight hits the smooth transparent water. Qarakul village is on the eastern bank of the lake near the road, and is mostly inhabited by Kyrgyz.

The famous Markansu valley is located few kilometres from the lake. Some people translate it as the “Valley of Sandstorms”, and others as “Death Valley”. It is difficult to say why the people gave it that name. Perhaps it was because it was the first area seen by travellers coming to the Pamirs from the flourishing and fertile Alai valley. And the contrast between the two places was so marked.

The internationally-known Stone Age settlement of Oshkhona (8th century. B.C.), which was a home for seasonal hunters, was discovered here. Near Qaraart village, approximately 1km from the Murghob-Osh highway, at 3,950m, there is a 1st century architectural complex which combines an observatory with the cult of animals. Qarakul region has a severe climate but it is also beautiful. It is the primitive, untouched nature due to its relative inaccessibility that attracts tourists.

Karakul Lake