Kalakuli Lake

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2017/2/4

Lake Kalakuli, near the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, a medium-sized city of some 60000 inhabitants and located about 1500 kilometers southwest of the capital, Urumqi, is situated at the foot of Muztagh Ata (Muztagh Mountain) - or Muztagata ("father of all ice mountains"), as it is sometime written - in the Kunlun Mountains of northwestern China, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region ("Xinjiang" for short).

The Kunlun Mountains form a part of the so-called Pamirs, the nexus where a number of the world's highest mountain ranges intersect (these include the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Kunlun and Tian Shan mountain ranges), an area dubbed the "Roof of the World". Muztagh Glacier sits atop Muztagh Mountain, hence the reference to "ice mountain". Lake Kalakuli itself lies at an altitude of about 3600 meters above sea level, and covers some 10 square kilometers. The lake is quite deep, with an average depth of roughly 30 meters.

The name "kalakuli" stems from the Kyrgyz language (cf. the language of Kyrgyzstan, which borders Xinjiang on the east and the north) and means "dark lake", though equally in a figurative as well as a literal sense, given the lake's immense depth. The literal meaning surely stems from the fact that after a heavy, sustained downpour, the runoff waters that enter the lake, whose waters are normally a dark, semi-transparent bluish-green (aka jade green), instantly color the lake a dark, opaque grey.

When not perturbed by runoff water, the lake offers a stunning "light show" each morning at sunrise, where the lake's surface initially looks like a blackish-green mirror, then goes through a series of color changes as the sun rises, from a mauve (pale lavendar) to a creamy golden tint to a creamy pink, before it eventually assumes its usual jade green hue. The daily color transformation of the lake (the color changes are surely owing to the sun's rays catching particles in the lake at different angles, causing a prism effect) adds to the mystical allure of this deep lake.

Muztagh Glacier, at 7546 meters in altitude (compared with 3600 meters for the lake), lies east of Lake Kalakuli, while to the west of the lake extends the serpentine Surkuler mountain chain. South of Lake Kalakuli lies a large grasslands area where cattle and sheep graze. This is truly "Big Sky" country, composed of few but large landscapes: the mountains, the glacier, the lake and the extensive grasslands. The yurts of the nomads typically dot the lush green grasslands, their white canvases contrasting with the ocean of dark green grass like bright stars against the dark night sky.

Standing at the shores of Lake Kalakuli watching the wild ducks swimming about as the eye also takes in the mountains, the glacier and the vast sea of grass dotted with yurts and livestock, a Chinaman is prone to recall the line from an ancient, unknown Chinese poem which goes: "the wind blows, grass bends, and cattle come into sight". S/he might also recall that it is recorded in the ancient annals that the 5th King of Zhou, Zhou Mu Wang (he reigned from BCE 976-922) of the Western Zhou (BCE 1027-771) Dynasty, also loved to come to this place, where also he witnessed the same mountains, the same glacier and the same lake and grasslands, albeit, populated by different exemplars of the same humans, livestock and birds.

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How to Get There?

From Urumqi you can take a flight to the city of Kashi or the city of Artux, from whence you can take a special touring bus to Lake Kalakuli.

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Though there are no 5-star hotels at Lake Kalakuli, visitors are received at the Pamir Mountain Villa hotel. As elsewhere in Xinjiang, overnighting in a yurt with a Uyghur family is also possible.

Camel safaris are also available - check locally.

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