Karakul Lake: The Impact Crater Lake

Karakul Lake, also known as Lake Siob, is located in the Pamir Mountains in the Tajik National Park of Tajikistan, in one of the most beautiful and remote areas in the World. It is the highest lake in the country, located at an altitude of 3900 meters, and is the highest saltwater lake in Central Asia.

Karakul Lake Stats

Lake NameKarakul Lake
Surface area397.050
Maximum depth230.0
Average depth50.6
Lake typeEndorheic crater lake
Catchment area4460.30
Shore length230.29
Residence time59117.1
Trophic stateOligotrophic
OriginMeteor impact
Average discharge3.935

Karakul Lake Accommodation


Karakul Lake is located within a circular depression recently known as a meteor impact crater, with a rim diameter of 52 kilometers. The meteor impact is said to have occurred an estimated 25 million years ago. Scientists have just recently discovered this fact through studies of imagery that were taken from space.

The lake boasts two basins separated by a peninsula on the south and an 8 kilometers long island from the north. The eastern basin’s maximum depth is 22.5 meters, whilst the Western b basin’s is 236 meters. The permanent ice fields of the Pamir Altay Range and the Pik Lenin peak (7134 meters) serve as the lake’s background. The latter is the second highest peak in the country. Although part of a national park, the lake’s immediate surroundings are used as pasture.

Karakul Lake lays in the Markansu Valley, known as the “valley of sandstorms”, “Dead Water” and even “Death Valley”. The area was probably named so because it was first seen by trawlers coming from the flourishing and fertile Alai Valley, in contrast with Markansu, which is dry and even seems lifeless.

A small village can be located on the eastern shore, with the same name as the lake, where a small community of Kyrgyz people lives a nomadic lifestyle of herding yaks, sheep and goats.


Karakul Lake is an endorheic lake, meaning that it doesn’t have any outflows, thus it is very salty. The sulphate salt found in the lake makes its water taste brackish. The lake is fed mainly by melt water coming down from the surrounding mountains, and smaller ftreams such as the Quara-Jilga, Quaraart and Muzqol. The water in these small rivers’ estuaries is reasonably fresh, so loaches can often be found in them.

The fact that the lake’s banks rest on ice for considerable length and ice covers the bottom of the lake has baffled scientists for a long time. One theory is that these happen because the lake is the remnant of an old glacier. Another theory suggests that these are the remnants of an ice shield that filled the hollow during the last Ice Age. The ice on the lakeshore melts slowly and usually creates waterfalls, straits and tiny lakes.


Since the lake is located in one of the driest places in Central Asia, and is surrounded by high mountains which block humid air masses, the annual precipitation at Karakul Lake is usually less than 30 millimeters. Temperature measurements recorded between 1933 and 1934 suggested that there were only 15 frost-free days a year at the lake. But latest measurements concluded that 67 of 100 years had no frost-free periods at all. Recently, the lake is ice-free from late May until mid-October.

Flora and Fauna

The lake, its islands, marshes and meadows along with the surrounding pebbly and sandy plains were identified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area. The region, and especially the many islands of the lake are home to a significant bird population who stop at the lake to breed. Such birds are the bar-headed geese, ruddy shelduck, saker falcon, Tibetan sandgrouse, yellow-billed coughs, brown accentors, Himalayan vultures, and the brown-headed gull. The only fish species that can be found in the lake is the stone loach. Near the water’s edge a large number of sedge, Pamiri buckwheat and saltworts can be found. The marshes and wetlands of the lake are part of the Ramsar’s Wetlands of International Importance.

Local Legend

Legend has it, that a young traveller rode to Kol Bashy, “the mouth of the lake” on a very hot day. He decided to rest and take a short nap. When he suddenly woke from his sleep he saw a pretty grey stallion in front of him, which shortly disappeared. He fetched his mare and decided to move on with his journey. His horse later gave birth to a grey foal, similar to the horse the traveller had seen earlier. The foal grew strong and became the best pacer in the region.

The owner grew proud of this young horse and wanted more fouls like him, so he returned to the place where he saw the grey stallion. After he fell asleep for a short time he woke up because of a noise. He saw the waves of the lake and the large stallion coming towards him from it. The animal drew the mare and the pacer with him and they soon disappeared into the lake, never to be seen again. The locals still believe that the horse lives in Karakul Lake.

Visit the Lake

Karakul Lake hosted the Roof of Regatta for the first time in 2014. This event replaced the Alpine Bank Dillon Open in Summit County, Colorado, as the tallest sail regatta in the World. Although the lake is in a remote location, at high altitude governing poor roads, this event attracted numerous kite-sailing and wind-surfing enthusiasts from around the World.

Small tour-operating agencies offer glacier climbing in the area, but hikers and cyclers are few in the area. Since there are no lodgings, restaurants or shops in the area, tourists usually avoid it, despite its unique landscape.

Besides the many outdoor activities the area has to offer, the Karakul region also has some impressive historic sites. Near Quaraant village, 1 kilometer from the Murghob-Osh highway, at an altitude of 3950 meters, there is an old architectural complex dating back to the 1st century, combining an observatory with the cult of animals. The southern shore hosts a viewing point at an altitude of 4314 meters. 7 kilometers north of Karakul village there are old burial mounds and geoglyphs close to the lakeshore.

Karakul Lake Map

Karakul Lake Reviews

5.0/5SuperbBased on 1 review
5.0 stars

Liz Goldsack – 2023-10-15 11:36:10

Think of the most beautiful place you can imagine, and this is better. Add to it the remoteness and challenge to get there, and inhabitants so friendly and welcoming. Two little girls gave us a superb local dancing exhibition which was riveting, I would go back in an instant,