One of the largest drainless lakes in the Pamirs is Karakul. It is located in the foothills of the Zaalai range. Karakul is translated from Turkic as "Black Lake". It got its name due to the black tint of its water surface at certain times of the day. In reality, the water of the lake is crystal clear like all-mountain lakes. This incredibly large and surprisingly local body of water attracts travellers from all over the world. But not without reason, as it looks magnificent in the embrace of snow-covered mountains, even in spite of the scarcity of nature: ice, snow, rocks and desert areas. The scenery is almost Martian.
The salty lake water has a bitter taste and remains quite cold throughout the year. The locals call it dead water because of its high salt ratio. The water is very clean and clear, with a visibility of 9 metres.
The flat basin of Lake Karakul is situated at an altitude of 3,914 metres, which is quite a high point. The world-famous Titicaca in the Andes, for example, is as much as 100 metres lower. Outside of this altitude, Karakul also proudly bears the title of one of the largest tectonic glacial lakes with a total area of about 380 km² and a depth of almost 240 m. The lake is surrounded by ridges of rock and only to the east, it has access to a small valley with a picturesque view.
In winter, Karakul ices up completely. In summer, the absolute transparency of the lake is sometimes mixed with the black colour of the water from the waves in the strong mountain winds. As late as May, you may catch Karakul frozen. The best time for a comfortable visit in July and August. In midsummer, the air temperature can sometimes reach 35°C, but the water is so cold that you will hardly be able to swim in it. Most travellers refuse to swim. The temperature is no more than 12°C on the sunniest days.
There is an ongoing debate among scientists about the origin of the Karakul ice. A huge stretch of shoreline is held up by this ice. Even in summer, a huge mass of ice lies at the bottom of the lake. Many believe that it is a remnant of the solid ice sheet that covered the Karakul pit during the Ice Age. Some researchers argue that the ice is quite modern, as evidenced by all the samples taken. In modern times, the ice of the Karakul gradually begins to melt, resulting in a permanent change in the shape of the lake.
Another phenomenal feature of the Karakul Basin is the woefully low annual rainfall. About 20 mm per year makes it one of the most arid and desolate places in the entire Eastern Pamirs. But despite this, Lake Karakul is famous for its almost pristine natural beauty, which attracts many tourists from all corners of the globe.
One of the most amazing water competitions on earth takes place every year on the largest Tajik lake, Lake Karakul, hidden among the snowy peaks of the Northern Pamirs. For most sailing enthusiasts, the idea of organising a regatta in one of the world's most remote bodies of water would seem utter madness. But an international team of desperate enthusiasts could prove that a regatta 3,690 metres above sea level can offer its competitors truly fantastic opportunities. The interclass Roof of the World Regatta was first held in 2014 near the village of Karakul, situated on the shores of alpine Lake Karakul in Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan region near the Chinese border.
You can reach Karakul by private car, taxi or hitchhiking. It is also possible to book an excursion at travel agencies of Tajikistan. The easiest option is by car. You have to drive 130 kilometres from Murghab village along M41 Osha-Khorog highway. It is not possible to drive around the lake due to the lack of a roadway and the proximity of mountains, but it is possible to drive around the right side of the lake from the islands.