I was just about finished with Kyrgyzstan, but I still needed to find a group of people to do the Pamir Highway with in Tajikistan. It turned out to be pretty easy finding a group in Osh. We assembled a rag tag selection of all solo travellers, five of us in all; one British guy, a British girl, an American girl, an Aussie girl, and myself. Our car was a Toyota Landcruiser with a flip up seat in the back to accommodate six passengers and our driver was fearless 15 year old Tajik boy named Kushbai, who spoke limited English. Ok he wasn’t 15, but he looked like it. He said he was 23, but I was skeptical.
After loading up on cash, food, and water, we were finally off. We stopped for lunch in southern Kyrgyzstan at a town called Sary Tash. They had one dish, the national dish: plov! It’s just pilaf with spices and usually some veggies and meat. Plov was perfectly fine for the three of that were meat eaters, but Chaz (the Aussie) was vegetarian, and Stas (the Brit) was vegan, so they needed no meat. But they weren’t sure if the plov was cooked in just one large bowl with the meat and then the meat would just be taken out for their orders(that would be unacceptable), and turns out it was. So Plov is out. The server was a bit confused and ended up bring out eggs instead, which was fine for Chaz, but not fine for Stas, who had to send hers back. She ended up ordering hot water, to mix with a soup packet. So this was the first of many in the vegetarian/vegan food ordering song and dance.
We then paid the bill with people debating whether or not they should pay for the communal bread if they didn’t eat any (comes to about 5c per person) and making sure they paid the EXACT amount they owed on this ~ $1.50 meal. Shockingly it was short and I just threw in extra 50 som (70c) to cover it, the generous guy I am. I could already tell this trip was going to include a few eye rolls and exasperated grimaces.
After lunch we entered a gravel track leading up into the mountains. Our final destination was a yurt camp somewhere near the base of Lenin Peak, a 7,000m giant on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The scene was gorgeous, green rolling hills dotted with little lakes with mountain looming in the background (when it wasn’t behind the clouds). Kyrgyzstan never disappoints in the scenery department. They threw down some sleeping pads and impossibly thick blankets for us in the yurt and our accommodation was ready.
After some light hiking and vegetarian meal of potatoes and cabbage we were about ready to settle in. Early to bed, early to rise in this part of the world! I kind of like sleeping in the yurts. They’re surprisingly good at keeping the wind and the cold out. Plus many of them have stoves, which run on cowpies for fuel, to get the yurt really nice and toasty. Although its tricky, they load in too much and the place becomes a sauna real quick. They’re also really dark, which is nice. The only thing I don’t like is the blankets. They’re too thick! You always need to poke out and arm or a leg or something to get the equilibrium right. Plus the yurts are also fairly cheap and efficient to build, they can put one up in a day. Makes building log cabins seem a bit silly. Oh and fun fact: wood pattern at the very top of the yurts is what makes the Kyrgyzstan flag, which is pretty awesome!
The next day was the Tajikistan border crossing. It’s up in the mountains a bit, sitting on a high pass. We all had our Tajik e-visas printed out, with GBAO permits as well. GBAO stands for Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, which is basically all of eastern Tajikistan, and it’s technically its own self governing region, so you need a special permit to go there, separate from the Tajikistan permit. But its all done easily online. And the border crossing was a breeze.
You notice right when you get into Tajikistan how much the scenery changes. It goes from nice green valleys and white capped mountains to dry, red, rugged peaks with interesting striations. The ground is just desert-like gravel and rocks, not the most hospitable place. And not a soul on the road. It really does feel like another planet at times. The place of interest we made it to was Karakul, a little village on a bright blue shimmering lake. Now villages in eastern Tajikistan are far romantic. Houses are made of clay bricks, and strewn about the streets are random broken down cars, rusty oil drums, and other forms of industrial waste. Walking around town you hardly see any people. It’s a got a creepy post-apocalyptic feel to it. I liked it. It would make a good set for a horror movie.
So we ate lunch there and then continued onwards for another few hours towards Murghab, the hub of Gorno-Bakhshan! It was a few hours before we even saw another car, which meant we were getting close. Eventually we could see lots of little white dots at the foot of the dusty red mountains, that was the town, Murghab. We made it! A real gem in the middle of nowhere. Eh, not exactly...