Mountains, Goats, and Camels

Hello, from Urumqi.  The past couple of days have been exciting, but now I’m taking a much needed break for a night before my flight to Kyrkyzstan in the morning.  Urumqi is said to be the most land-locked city on earth (meaning that it’s further away from any ocean than any other city).  I’m not sure that it feels all that different, but when in the land of superlatives, it’s important to have something to distinguish one city from another.  It’s a bustling city of 3 million people that was really just a small town for most of its history.  I’m not going to have much of a chance to explore it today, but from what I could tell on the ride in from the airport, I won’t be missing too much.

My last two days in Kashgar involved a trip to the night market, where I took the plunge, and ate the goat’s head stew, and a trip up into the mountains.  Both events were memorable for different reasons, and I would have loved to spend more time in the mountains, but hope I never have to see goat’s head stew again.

We left early for the trip up the Karakoram Highway, the legendary route to Pakistan and the rest of Central Asia from Kashgar.  We made it as far as Lake Karakul, about 50 miles from the Pakistani boarder, which is up on the Khunjerab Pass.  According to my guidebook, “Khungerab” means “Valley of Blood,” and it was given that name because bandits would hide out in the rugged terrain, and murder the merchants who passed through in order to plunder the goods from their caravans.  We didn’t have any problems, but it did seem like a good spot to do some caravan plundering.  Unfortunately, after two days in Kashgar with stunningly beautiful weather, yesterday was hazy and foggy on the lower elevations, and we had no view to speak of for the first part of our trip.  We passed through a stunning gorge, but only got to glimpse it on the way down.  Up at the lake, though, it was mostly clear, so it was still worth the trip.

Here are all of the photos (remember to click to enlarge):

The Old Town is full of these market streets.

These meat pies looked pretty good, though I didn't try them.

Hhhmm. Everyone's an electrician.

Late for dinner.

The infamous goat's head stew. I took the plunge, and I would not recommend that you do the same. For 6 RMB, the proprietor of this stand gave me a quarter of a goat's head, with all it's associated anatomy, and a cup of the soup in which it was cooked. Out of respect for my vegetarian readers, I'll leave out the details, but let me say that the taste was fine, but as the cliche goes, it was a textural thing. The piece de resistance, the great delicacy that I won't name, was particularly troubling, and I'm a little shocked that I was able to keep everything down without making a scene. I will see more of this dish over the next couple of weeks, but not by choice. After I ate it, I quickly found a kebab stand, and thinking that a nice spicy skewer was the only thing around that would kill the taste in my mouth, I quickly bought one. It turned out to be all organ meat, a few different kinds, and was the last thing that I needed or wanted. Troubled, I found the closest watermelon stand, and quickly downed two slices.

For those of you who were wondering, this is how the nan is made. That hole just below the man's hand is the oven.

Our driver takes a break for a smoke during a photo stop. We would take full advantage of the 4-wheel drive that his jeep provided. The pavement simply ended in parts, and gave way to miles of unpaved bumpy roads.

In terms of awe-inspiring landscape, this highway beats any other that I've travelled.

After we ascended through a gorge, we came to this lake, which was surrounded by dunes. Down below, you can see a bunch of sheep. I have absolutely no idea on what they were grazing

We arrived at Lake Karakul, and made our way through a small yurt village. You'll notice that the yurt on the left has a satellite dish.

The lake has the most pristine turquoise water that I have ever seen.


Shepherds graze their livestock on the green fields around the lake.

There were tiny fish in this stream, which snakes down from the lake towards the valley through which we had travelled.


Finally, I captured a photo of a camel. This guy was part of a herd, which seemed pretty wild, and they were all shedding their winter coats. We found clumps of their hair all over the foothills surrounding the lake.

The mighty Pamir mountains are located to the east of the lake. They are formed at the junction of the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush ranges.

I think this camel tried to eat me.

Alex, a junior at Harvard, joined me for the trip up here. Alex is studying genetics and linguistics, and is out here brushing up on his Uighur. We were able to split the cost of the journey, which was a big help.

It was a pretty steep ascent to the summit of this foothill.

I lugged this watermelon all the way up the ascent, and it made a good snack at the summit.

Uighur bagels make the best mountain food.

This area was dubbed "The Roof of the World" by British Explorers.

An incredibly hospitable Kyrgyz shepherd invited us into his hut (a seasonal concrete yurt) for tea, but he insisted that we eat and sleep there, too. It was getting cold and windy out, the tea was warm, and the thought of spending the night there was looking pretty good, but we forced ourselves to make it back to our waiting Jeep for the long trip down the mountains after just one cup of tea.

The shepherd who invited us to tea, and his hard-working family in their hut

This was a quick shot out the windshield on our descent. It turned out that the gorge through which we had passed on the ascent was bright red without the fog.





10 thoughts on “Mountains, Goats, and Camels

  1. Wow Tad, amazing pictures. This is some of the most beautiful landscape I have seen in a long time. And the man eating camels look surprisingly friendly. Keep the images and commentary coming.

  2. awesome! glad you got a little intro to kyrgyz hospitality (and what a handsome family – what eyes!) i agree with andrew – keep it coming, loving it.

  3. It looked really beautiful up there, especially around the lake. I’m so glad you got a chance to hang out in the yurt with the shepherd and his family. Just out of curiousity, were there any sheepdog relatives of Cleo up there? Looks like perfect herding territory!

  4. I think their camels are even more ugly than our mangy moose in NH.
    The picture of the shepherd and his family is great. He must be the Grandfather.
    How cold was the water in the lake?

  5. wow, these pictures really transport you to another world! I love seeing the camels, it was such a nice contrast up against those beautiful mountains and lake. Was the water warm? Glad to see you in another photo! And I can’t believe you ate a goat’s head, there’s a story you’ll have forever! I can’t wait to see Kyrgyzstan!

  6. Best pictures! You better publish a book when you get home! Love the camel that tried to eat you – it was worth it for the photo.

  7. Hi Tad, Just stumbled upon your blog, seems you’re only a few days ahead of us on a similar trip. I’m dead jealous of your photos, they’re incredible – my point and shoot ceased to function as soon as I arrived in Hong Kong. I’m blogging too if you’re interested:
    All the best for the rest of your trip,

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