Animals grazing in the pastures below the gently sloping west ridge of Muztagh Ata- Father of Ice Mountain in Uyghur.
It only really hit me when I arrived at Lake Karakul, after the long drive up the Karakorum Highway – the notion that I was actually here! It had taken another year, and a return trip to China, to finally be at the lake to see the magnificent Muztagh Ata’s snow capped peaks reflecting in Karakul’s cool waters. I too was all water as I shrank onto the wooden bench, head down hunched over, crying my eyes out. I couldn’t stop crying looking at the incredible natural beauty. And then – the dismal, so called yurts that I was supposed to sleep in for the next two days. I had envisioned a view on the lake, in a felt covered yurt. Instead these were concrete yurts, badly cracked from the yearly earth tremors caused by the growing “young” mountains; some of which were the tallest peaks in the world. To make matters worse, the yurts were tucked behind the massive government-run concrete Guest House. With a High Voltage Radio tower looming right overhead, like a giant steel predator. It was dreadful. I let all my tired sadness run out of me in a crying jag that even the gentle Allahbardi, my guide and translator, could not stop. The only consolation was to push on to Tashkurgan, another 2 hours drive deeper into the Pamirs. We were all exhausted especially Amdulla the driver who had been going all day and wanted to arrive before dark. I needed to gather my emotions and get back in the car.
Camels are pack animals, perfectly suited for the high altitude treks. This herd was grazing at the sparse green thicket by the side of the highway, when I jumped out of the car and scrambled down the gully, landing about 100 yards in front of them. Very curious, they gracefully wandered over to me, stopping inches from my face. I dare not move, as they soon became bored, realizing I had no food and silently strode pass me without a second glance.
A Tajik woman with traditional head covering walks through the high alpine meadow, tending to her sheep. The majority of the population of Tashkurgan are ethnic Tajiks living in the region for generations.
The town of Tashkurgan is at an average altitude above 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). The Muztagh Ata, at 7,546 metres (24,757 ft), and the Kongur Tagh, at 7,719 metres (25,325 ft), are the main peaks in the Kunlun and Pamir Mountain Ranges. The Karakoram Highway is the highest paved international road in the world, but at its peak at the China-Pakistan border it is only paved on the Chinese side. An engineering marvel started in 1959 completed in 1986 connecting Kashgar, in the Xinjiang region of China, to Abbottabad, of Pakistan. A suburb of Islamabad made recently famous as the safe haven for Osama Bin Laden.