Karakul Lake, Tajikistan

Lake Locations:

Tajikistan -

Also known as:  Lake Karakul, Qarakul

Mysterious, remote and beautiful describes Lake Karakul in the Pamir Region of Tajikistan. The highest lake in the country and the highest saltwater lake in Central Asia, Karakul Lake formed from glacial meltwater in the crater created by a meteor strike over 25 million years ago. Sheltered by the surrounding mountain range, the area receives less than 12 inches of precipitation a year. All of the incoming water comes from small inflowing glacial streams and melting groundwater. There is no outlet so evaporation has left Karakul Lake increasingly saline. Only the stone loach fish lives in its waters. Tajikistan is bordered by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, so border-crossing problems often make reaching this remote location difficult except for the most adventurous of travelers.

In September, 2014, Lake Karakul was on the radar for the world’s most adventurous of sailors. The Roof of The World Regatta took place on the lake, replacing the Alpine Bank Dillon Open, held on Dillon Reservoir, Colorado. Borders were closed at the time of the regatta, so participants traveled at their own risk. Determined kite sailing and windsurfing enthusiasts participated in the event located at 12,800 feet. The high altitude and poor roads to the area posed additional challenges for the participants. The lake holds no permanent launch facilities, no nearby lodgings, and none of the amenities most would expect for a world-class regatta. Indeed, most of the spectators were Kyrgyz villagers from the only settlement on the lake-Karakul Village. The small population subsists as herders of yak, goats and sheep. The ultimate prize is not the annual trophy to display at the local yacht club but world records to be set for extreme altitude sail events.

The participants in the regatta prepared for cold conditions. The lake is ice-covered for eight months a year, with only late May through early October ice-free. Portions of the banks have ice cover year round. The impact crater circle is broken by a peninsula on the south shore and and several islands, creating two nearly separated lake basins. The eastern basin is considerably more shallow, with a maximum depth of only 62 feet. The larger western basin reaches depths of about 780 feet. The surface of the two basins is almost 94,000 acres.

Lake Karakul is located within the Tajik National Park, although much of the treeless grassland is still used for grazing by the sparse local population. The marshes and wetlands around the lake are named among RAMSAR’s Wetlands of International Importance. Birdlife International also works to protect the area around Lake Karakul; the lake and wetlands are important breeding and habitat areas for both native species of birds and migrating birds and waterfowl. Sometimes spelled Qarakul, Karakul means ‘Black Lake’ in the local language. The lake isn’t actually black but varying shades of dark blue. Against the stark hills, the view over Karakul Lake is extremely beautiful. A few tour buses occasionally arrive for visitors to take pictures and wander along the shore, but there are no lodgings, restaurants or shops. A few adventurous hikers bicycle to the lake and trek the mountains nearby.

Often, when Lake Karakul is part of the discussion, the lake being talked about is not Karakul in Tajikistan but another Lake Karakul in western China’s Xinjiang Province. The Chinese Lake Karakul is also remote but more easily accessed than the one in Tajikistan. Tajikistan is attempting to develop a tourism economy based on the unusual features found within this extremely rugged part of the world. Several unusual sightseeing opportunities are available in Tajikistan. The country holds over 300 petroglyph sites dating from the Bronze Age to the middle ages. The best of the petroglyph sites are located in the eastern Pamir Mountains. Also located here is the medieval mining town of Bazar Dara, built in the 11th century as a silver mining center.

The West Pamirs hold the ancient Yamchun fortress built in the third century BC. Located near the amazing fortress is a hot radon spring, used in the treatment of medical disorders. The fortress can be reached by car, but as for most roads in Tajikistan, 4-wheel drive is advisable and a bit of walking required. The best-known peak in the Pamirs is Ismoili Somoni Peak, formerly named Stalin Peak or Mount Communism. Popular with tourists and mountaineering fans, the best way to reach the peak is via a 40-minute helicopter ride from the Jirgatol airport. The mountain can also be reached by air or bus from Dushanbe. Glacier climbing in the area is available through a few touring companies catering to outdoor adventure tourists. A small tourist area has been constructed with cabin-style camping facilities, water and heat at the seasonal base camp.

Lake Karakul and Tajikistan may currently be only for the most hardy of travelers, but efforts are underway to improve the small country’s tourism offerings. Those who wish to see it soon are best advised to work with a reputable tourism operator to facilitate the sometimes tricky border issues in this area of the world. Their help will be needed to locate lodgings and transportation. Come and explore a little-known part of mysterious Asia, its unique geographical features and its people.

Things to do at Karakul Lake

  • Fishing
  • Sailing
  • Camping
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Birding
  • National Park

Karakul Lake Photo Gallery

Karakul Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 93,900 acres

Shoreline Length: 85 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 12,800 feet

Maximum Depth: 781 feet

Water Volume: 21,483,810 acre-feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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