Tash Rabat - the Caravanserai

Day 5 and 6: Son Kul – Tash Rabat: We left Son Kul early for a long drive to get to the Silk Road Caravanserai of Tash Rabat, through the region of the Tien Shan, the Mountains of Heaven. The road down from Son Kul was a dramatic series off hairpin bends, and to reach Tash Rabat we had to go up and down over another series of passes. Travel in this part of the world is not for softies.

Today remote and peaceful, some 15 km off the main road, Tash Rabat was once an inn on a major thoroughfare for Silk Road caravans. It was constructed in the 15th century, on the ancient trade route from Central Asia to China, and was a resting place for merchants and travellers. It is the largest structure built of stone from Central Asian architecture of that era. The building has now been restored.

We camped in the yurts right by the caravanserai .

There is a track over the hills via Tash-Rabat pass (3,968m) to Lake Chartyr Kul (just 8km away) and views of the Chinese border. The trek takes about 4 hours (one way) and this is what we did on horse the next day

Leaving after breakfast we mounted up like seasoned cowboys, and headed up the, at first gentle, valley - which proceeded to get steeper, until towards the top the track was extremely steep scree and loose stones that had to be ascended in zigzag fashion. The seasoned cowboy facade was starting to fade and luckily the horses seemed to know more about how to get to the top than we did, and the secret was just to let them get on with it.

The top was a saddle shaped pass, with views down to a lake and the Chinese border beyond. The caravans of old would have come up and down this pass loaded with merchandise. The wind whistled through the gap in the mountains, and it was cold, and I mean cold. Wearing two fleeces and a windcheater, I was still shivering after we got back to camp. The stop at the top was long enough just to take photos and admire the view, then we headed down.

Going down was (even) more frightening than going up. Going down you could see what would happen if you fell off - one was spared that going up! When we got low enough to get out of the wind, we stopped for a picnic lunch and headed on back, doing the round trip in 8 hours. Chris was so stiff, whether through fear or otherwise, that it needed several people to lift her bodily off her horse. On reflection, I was probably not a responsible adult letting her take the ride.

Click on any of the thumbnail images to get a larger photo

The dramatic road down from Son Kul. A dirt road, like most in this part of the world, with no safety barriers, but splendid views.
Down and up again via more hairpins, then down and across a river. Stopping to buy stuff for our picnic lunch.
The lunch spot had perhaps the only trees for 100 kms. Then it was up an up again through dramatic countryside.
One pass was actually marked by a monument, but most never gave any indication that you had reached the top. Turning up an even ..
..smaller road, past soaring eagles, and the odd lone horseman, we headed towards the Tash Rabat caravanserai.
Apart from a small number of yurts, the caravanserai stands in splendid isolation. We had just time to settle in before dinner.
The next morning was sunny but pleasantly cool because of the altitude. We mounted up and headed towards the mountain pass through
which merchants of old used to carry their goods from China westwards. The top of the pass at about 4000m was windswept and cold.
Before long we had to face the ride/slide back down, and 8 hours after leaving camp, we made it back to camp again.

On to Kashgar

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