Monday, May 9, 2011
THE KARAKORUM HIGHWAY TO THE WESTERN EDGE OF CHINA
It was time for us, as mountain people, to see the high country near China's western border. We headed up the Karakorum Highway to Karakul Lake, at 11,999 ft (38°26'N), said to be the most beautiful lake in China. The weather cooperated providing a majestic view of Muztagh Ata beyond the lake, rising to 24,757 feet above sea level.
Enroute, we made a side trip to Oytagh Glacier, which is melting fast in a hanging valley with a viewpoint at 9,500 feet. The valley community was raising crops and livestock at this high elevation in small green fields along the river, backed by towering mountains.
Yaks, camels, yurts and Kyrgyz hats and dress appeared here, so close to the border of Kyrgyzstan.
Our final destination was the city of Tashkorgan, near the border with Tajikistan and Pakistan. Along the way, we stopped where the highway crossed 38°00'N, and took a photo in front of a mud- walled mosque. Traditional dress changed again, with the women wearing a kind of pillbox hat covered with a scarf. The stone castle ruins above the town date to 500 years before Marco Polo's arrival in the 13th century. A waitress at our hotel told us that the townsfolk prefer to bring water in jugs from the local river, as the water in city pipes carries too much sediment.
We had crossed all of China, these final days on routes that were used by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Marco Polo. Our guide Abdul introduced us to Uighur culture and explained that Alexander the Great coined that name, which means “united” people. It was a pleasure to dine with Abdul's family at their farm outside Kashgar. His mother seemed thrilled to receive a Mono Lake Committee shopping bag!
Our next stop: Turkmenistan, half-way around the world from Mono Lake.