Rivers and lakes of Tajikistan
Kara-Kul or Qarokul is a 25-kilometer (16-mile) diameter lake in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, which lies at an altitude of 3,900 meters (13,000 feet) above mean sea level. A peninsula projecting from the south shore and an island off the north shore divide the lake into two basins, a smaller eastern one which is relatively shallow, between 13 to 19 meters, and a larger western one, with depths of 221 to 230 meters. It has no drainage outlet.
Kara-Kul lake lies within a circular depression interpreted as a meteorite impact crater with a rim diameter of 45 kilometers (28 miles). The impact event occurred less than 5 million years ago. The Kara-Kul impact structure remained unidentified until it was discovered though studies of imagery taken from space.
Tajikistan's largest natural reservoir, Qarakul Lake (Black lake), is located in the East Pamirs, about 3,900 m above sea level. It covers about 380 sq.km, with a maximum depth of 238 m. It is 33 km long and 23 km wide. A large island range stretches from the north to the south, dividing the lake into two parts: the shallow eastern side and the deep western side. In the late 19th century the northern part of the island was linked to the bank by a narrow isthmus. The isthmus has now disappeared. The small Qara-Jilga, Qaraart, and Muzqol rivers and several streams feed into Qarakul - but none flow out; the bitter and salty lake does not drain anywhere. The water in the small rivers' estuaries is reasonably fresh, and loaches can be found there. Settlements of brown-headed seagulls and Tibetan terns nest on the islands. The bank of the lake is typical of high-mountain desert, and only near the water's edge can one find sedge, Pamiri buckwheat, and some saltworts.
A curious feature of Qarakul is that its banks rest on ice for a considerable length, and ice also covers the bottom of the lake. Scientists do not agree on the source of this ice. Some think that these are the remnants of ancient glaciers, and some explain it as the remains of an ice shield that filled the hollow during the ice age. Others suppose that the ice is a modern formation. However it got there, the ice on the banks melts slowly, creating waterfalls, straits, tiny lakes, and small islands separated from the banks. The lake itself constantly changes in size. The Qarakul hollow is also remarkable in that it is the most desert-like place in the Pamirs, with the lowest level of precipitation - about 20 mm/year.
The water surface of the Qarakul is not actually black (as it is named) but ultramarine, dark blue, or a greenish colour, depending on way the sunlight hits the smooth transparent water. Qarakul village is on the eastern bank of the lake near the road, and is mostly inhabited by Kyrgyz. The famous Markansu valley is located few kilometres from the lake. Some people translate it as the "Valley of Sandstorms", and others as "Death Valley". The most common translation is "Dead Water". It is difficult to say why the people gave it that name. Perhaps it was because it was the first area seen by travellers coming to the Pamirs from the flourishing and fertile Alai valley, and the contrast between the two places was so marked.
The internationally-known Stone Age settlement of Oshhona (8th century. B.C.), which was a home for seasonal hunters, was discovered here. Near Qaraart village, approximately 1km from the Murghob-Osh highway, at 3,950 m, there is a 1st century architectural complex which combines an observatory with the cult of animals. Qarakul region has a severe climate but it is also beautiful. It is its primitive, untouched nature due to its relative inaccessibility that attracts travelers.