Bulunkul is a tiny village in the High Pamirs of Tajikistan near the lakes of Bulunkul and Yashilkul. It is known as one of the coldest inhabited places in the former Soviet Union, with a record minimum temperature of -63 degrees Celsius recorded. Even in summer, you should dress warm once the sun goes down.
Alex Pflaum gives you an idea of what it’s like to stay in Bulunkul.
Bulunkul is known for its fish. Quoting Till Mostowlansky in Azan on the Moon:
Kudaibergen Ata and Nursultan started a conversation about the origins of the lake. As it turned out, there used to be a town where the lake is now. The town was inundated by the lake because the inhabitants were not willing to treat a wandering oluia, a man close to God, respectfully. Only one elderly lady invited the oluia to her house as God’s guest (Kudai konok) and was subsequently spared by the flood. As a result of welcoming the oluia, she had developed the ability to walk on water.
Kudaibergen Ata and Nursultan agreed that skills like the one given to the elderly lady by the oluia have not been preserved. During the Soviet period, state agencies turned the lake into a fishpond and, to supplement the small number of existing indigenous species, stocked it with breeds introduced from abroad. The new fish flourished and eventually made it to other bodies of water in the region. The fishpond has since become famous for its tasty fish. Yet as a consequence, its religious significance has been overshadowed by gourmet interests.
Yashilkul and Sumantash hot springs
The lake of Bulunkul is beautiful, but the large expanse of Yashilkul (Green Lake) outshines her sister thanks to its clear waters and wide surroundings. It was formed like Lake Sarez – although much earlier – by a natural dam created by a landslide.
Bulunkul lake is not very far from the village, while Yashilkul is a 1-hour walk one-way (not very steep).
Robert Middleton has the following to say in Tajikistan and the High Pamirs:
On the north shore of Yashil Kul, close to the mouth of the Great Marjonai river, there are prehistoric stone circles and several Saka (Scythian) burial sites a little further up the valley. Traces of ancient mining settlements (probably from the 11th century) can be found in the area. At the eastern end of the lake are the remains of a caravanserai (or tombs) and a hot spring at Sumantash (Bekbulat).
Sumantash is the site of two brief – but important – military skirmishes in the past: the first, in 1759, ended with the rout by the Chinese of the Khoja (Muslim) rulers of Kashgar, who fled to Afghan Badakhshan. (…) The second skirmish took place between Russian and Afghan soldiers on 12 july 1892, and effectively ended Afghan (and Chinese) presence in the Eastern Pamirs.
Find out more in the Guide to the Principal Archaeological Sites of the Eastern Pamirs from PHIP.
Trekking and horse riding
An easy trekking route follows the north shore of Yashil Kul – crossing the Alichur river at the entrance to the lake can be difficult in spring and early summer when the water level is high. Along the left bank, from the western end of the lake, the trail continues to Bachor and the Ghunt Valley, or north via more difficult trekking routes via the Langar pass (4629 m) or Chapdar lake (4529m) to Lake Sarez.
From the eastern end of Yashil Kul you can walk or drive to Alichur past a small geyser.
There are several families who welcome guests in simple homestays.
Sharaf and Nisso have 2 big shared rooms that can sleep up to 5 people each, and a separate double room. You can take their yak for a spin around the village. The banya is very basic but it does the trick.
Ablyaz does not have a banya but his house is clean and the food gets good reviews.
Homestays tend to serve the local fish to guests whenever it is available. More accommodation reports are welcome in the Bulunkul forum Q&A.
Transport and onward travel
See the Pamir Highway transport section for an overview of your options in getting to Bulunkul.
Just beyond the Bulunkul turn-off in the direction of Alichur, you pass Tuz Kul (salty lake) and Sassyk Kul (stinky lake). You can check for yourself if those are valid names. Continuing on the Pamir Highway, you pass Murghab and Karakul.
Beyond the Pamir Highway lie the wilds of Lake Zorkul and the Great Pamir.