Lake Karakul

Lake karakul in Pamir

Karakul lake was formed when a giant meteorite struck Earth, possibly some 5 million years ago in the Eastern Pamir mountains. Its diameter is about 25 kilometers and it is a hyper saline lake with no rivers leaving the lake and only receives less than 3 cm precipitation per year. In Central Asia and the Turkic-speaking world there are a large number of Karakul named (Kara-Kul, Karakol, Qarakol) destinations. 

Karakul, in this case, translates as the black lake, even though the lake is not black in color, but more a deep deep dark blue which indicates the lake being supplied from the surrounding ground waters. In addition to ground water, there are also 3 rivers feeding water to the Karakul lake. The salt covered beaches around the lake tell that the lake has been previously larger and some studies mention that it is still getting smaller, though slowly. 

The lake has 2 distinct parts, divided by a peninsula from the south and an island in the north. The island is 8 km long and 4 km wide and the  channel between the island and the peninsula is about 1 km wide. The east part is only 22,5 meters deep, while the deepest point of the west basin is 236 m.

tajikistan, karakul lake, lake
Tajikistan, Karakul village

Karakul lake location

Most of the Pamir tours pass along this lake as it is not far (50 km) from the border control point to Kyrgyzstan, in the Pamir highway (M 41) that is the only larger road in this high area. Karakul Lake’s elevation is 3 960 m above the sea level, making it one of the highest mountain lakes in the world, not taking into account the ones in Tibet area. 

The Kyrgyz and Chinese borders are not far away and one can see the Lenin peak from the shores of the lake. The lake is located inside the Tajik (Pamir) National Park where the road is mainly unpaved and it is massively damaged by erosion, earthquakes, landslides and avalanches.

Karakul lake climate

Karakul lake and its surroundings are one of the driest spots in Central Asia. The area is circled by high mountains that block humid air masses from all directions. The temperatures here reach only to maximum +16 in in average in July and august. During the winter time temperatures go well below -20 degrees. The Markansu valley in the area is famous for its constant fierce winds that are raised due to the cold mountain air meeting with the warm air masses from the Taklamakan desert in the Tarim basin. Even tornadoes are not unheard of and the stories tell of packed camels being lifted by them.

The climate is so harsh that most of the houses in Karakul are abandoned but there are still some guest houses available during the summer period.

Pamir highway near lake Karakol

What to do in Karakul

There are several archaeological sites near the lake with geoglyphs, tombs that date to the BC centuries. It is believed that Pamir and Karakul used to be a lot lower in the past and thus allowed forests to grow but it is not certain. Nevertheless, this would explain explain the remains of wooden bonfire remains and other archaeological findings in the area. Karakul area is also recognized as an important area for bird life area with more than 90 species recorded. One can also always hike around the lake, the views are breathtaking and you will not encounter many other tourists walking here.

Other Sights & destinations near Karakul lake

Page updated 25.12.2022

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