No escaping the grim reaper

Jelang Travel Blog

 › entry 360 of 658 › view all entries
Kyrgyz family that invited us for some food in their yurt

People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sigrid (Belgium), David (Canada), Kamchabek (Kyrgyzstan)

The paved road leading out of Kara-kul was in decent condition and the first section of our journey to Jelang seemed to fly by. An hour down the road though and it was time to go off road, as Kamchabek swerved the jeep onto a barely recognisable track. Thankfully the terrain wasn't too severe and i think that this road was actually preferable to the one that we had encountered in Kyrgyzstan, at the start of the trip from Osh.

Our first problematic encounter came when we reached a river crossing, which had some stones left by the waters edge. The water seemed pretty high and fast flowing and Kamchabek told us that the stones get left by a driver when he has got stuck at that particular point, and serve as a warning that the section can be impassable.

Mum lays out some freshly cooked bread
The jeep was therefore turned around and we began looking for an alternative route.

Having driven up and down the side of the river for 20 minutes, there didn't seem to be a better area at which to cross, so Kamchabek made the decision to change the car over to 4 wheel drive and give it a shot at crossing the river at the first place that we had arrived at. Now if this had been my car and therefore my decision, i don't think i would have dared and i could see in his face that he wasn't overly keen to make the crossing, but there didn't seem to be any other options. He drove the jeep cautiously into the river, the wheels picked up some traction on the stones and a few seconds later we exited on the far side. Gold teeth began to glimmer in Kamchabek's mouth, as a smile broke out across his face.
Sigrid, David, Julia and Kamchabek enjoy lunch
He talked in excited tones to Julia and this was a clear sign of his relief that we had made it across. Later in the journey, we heard a story of a driver been stuck in the river for more than 3 days, so maybe we got a bit lucky here!

The closer to Jelang we got, the worse the road became and soon we were rocking from side to side as we navigated our way along the ridged track. The suspension was squeaking and the engine purring softly, which became almost therapeutic after some time. Our route took us past some wonderful landscapes, containing beautiful peaks, canyons, rivers and lakes, until out of nowhere civilisation suddenly appeared - well, if you call two yurts civilisation!

The sight of other humans was an unexpected treat and Kamchabek exited the jeep to seek some directions.
Kyrgyz family outside their yurt
I was also keen to get out of the vehicle, desperate to take some photos, but at the same time not wanting to intrude. The family were Kyrgyz herders, and the flamboyant clothes that they were wearing were sensational. The Mum was stood in the yurt entrance with a couple of kids, so i showed my camera and said “photo”? Within a split second the scene came to life, with every living being scrambling to get into the shot. Small children were desperate to see what their image looked like, as were some of the older people. It was fun to take their pictures and then look at the reactions on their faces when they saw what they looked like.

The Mum and eldest daughter were keen to show us into their yurt, and sat us down with a cloth full of food and drinks.
Yurts in Jelang
The Mum was in the process of cooking some bread and it tasted absolutely delicious. Other yummy treats included yogurt and cheese, which we washed down with some tea. Children gathered around to get a closer look at us, so we went to the jeep to get some sweets and other small gifts to offer around, in return for the kind hospitality that they were showing us.

Leaving the first yurt, one of the daughters took me down to the second yurt, which was beautifully decorated. Outside, a pot was bubbling with sheep intestines, and some of the older members of the family were sat around chatting amongst themselves. Greetings of “Salam Aleykom” (God be with you) were exchanged, at the same time as shaking hands, with the other hand placed on your heart.
Petroglyph at Jelang
I was really taken aback by the warmness of the people and this meeting was to be my most memorable of the Pamirs.

I felt a little disappointed when we left, as it would have been nice to have stayed longer, but there were still things on the agenda for the day, so it was only practical to move on. Fifteen minutes further on, we reached the community of Jalang, where a village elder wearing a Kara-Kolpak (traditional white felt hat), rode out on his donkey to greet us.

Our bags were unloaded at the META home stay, where once again they agreed to charge us normal prices and not register us, so accommodation with full board came to $8 per person. The Mum was cooking some food with the daughter of the family, whilst the little boy was tormenting the pet cat and a two week old baby called Rai lay wrapped up on some blankets on the floor.
Grazing donkeys at Jelang


Kamchabek had to take some villagers to a neighbouring community, so he left us with the young son and a teenager, who together took us to the nearby petroglyph's. It was a thirty minute walk there and back and this was the first time when i felt the altitude have an effect on me. The petroglyph's themselves were a complete disappointment, as there were only two stones with very faded images. The valley was beautiful though, with grazing yak, sheep and donkeys, including one incredibly hairy donkey, which was jumping around the field like a crazed maniac!

Back at the yurt we sat down and enjoyed some lunch, which was the standard fare of bread, yogurt, cheese and tea. Once we had finished this, i went for a stroll around the fields to watch the people at work.
Women milking goats at Jelang
One lady was weaving a carpet, whilst others made butter by the river and the goats were collected into a pen to be milked. It seemed that the villagers had as much interest in me as i had in them, and we stared at each other and exchanged smiles at regular intervals. All the people seemed keen to have their photos taken and i was only too happy to oblige.

The four of us waited for Kamchabek to take us to Kok Jar solar calendar, but he didn't return from the other village for hours, which became a little frustrating. By the time he did get back it was nearly 17.00, so there was no way we could make it there and back in time. In the mean time, i got my computer out to write a bit of my blog, and this created an immediate interest with the kids, who gathered around me.
Kyrgyz men in their traditional kolpak hats
I decided that the blog could wait and instead loaded up two games for them to play. They were instantly enthralled and sat happily for hours, taking it in turns to guide a penguin down a ski slope!

In the evening the Dad of the family played host to us and i enjoyed his company. He told us how once a year he walked their animals all the way to Osh bazaar to sell them, which took a week in both directions. When they returned to Kara-kul, they had to cross the border at night, so as the guards could not take their money. We also discussed META and he really didn't have much good to say about them. He told us that they chose two families in each community and only these houses were allowed to take foreigners. He complained that very little of the profits were put to any use within the community and when they did try to help, it was often misguided.
A yak in the field at Jelang
One example was that they built a well in Kara-kul, even though the village already had three wells. He said it sometimes came in use during the winter, as it normally didn't freeze over, but that was only when the pump was working, which wasn't often!

Some noodle soup with bread was for Dinner, which was decent enough, but i was really beginning to miss something more substantial. The fire in the yurt was kept burning with yak dung, as there were no trees and thus no wood to fuel the stove. The four of us were left to our own devices at 21.00, so Julia and I wracked our brains doing sudoku puzzles, before calling it a night and crawling into our blankets on the floor of the yurt.

On Tuesday morning we awoke looking forward to the day that lay ahead, but this mood of optimism wasn't to last for long.
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
At first everything seemed normal, but once breakfast was finished, it was clear that something wasn't quite right. Kamchabek came into the yurt to tell us that baby Rai, which means heaven in Russian, had died during the night. At 05.00 they had driven to the priest in the neighbouring village and they had buried him soon after. It was a gut wrenching moment and one that just didn't seem fair.

The previous day we had actually been talking about infant mortality in this region and what would happen if someone got sick, as the nearest hospital was over a weeks walk away and cars and petrol were at a premium. It was hard to know what to say or do, what can you say to somebody that has just lost a child in the last few hours? Julia offered some words of condolence, and the Dad said it was God's will.
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
At times like this i hope that religion offers some solace to people.

It had been planned that the Dad would act as our guide to Kok Jar, as he was the only person who knew where it was and incredibly he still volunteered his services. Even in such a state of misery, he was still thinking about our best interests, and that really sums up the mentality of these incredibly generous and loving people. Obviously we declined his offer and left alone. I had a lump in my throat as we departed the village, it had an effect on me that will doubtless live me with me for some time.

The trip to Kok Jar passed by in silence, i don't think anyone could quite grasp what had happened. The valley we were travelling through was spectacular, huge mountains, a flowing stream, rabbits and suslik (gophers) darting around and birds swooping in front of the car.
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
It was the most vibrant of all the places that we had so far seen and yet at the same time it now felt the most lifeless.

Kamchabek drove for 90 minutes in the direction that we knew the solar calendar was situated, but the area was so vast, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. We were looking for stone formations that totaled the size of a basketball court, but in the endless nothingness that we were in, it proved fruitless. Finally we conceded defeat and began to make our way back to the main Pamir Highway.

When we got back to the asphalt road it was nearly 14.00, so we stopped at a yurt by the side of the road to get some tea. Within minutes a cloth had been laid and filled with food and drink. None of us were particularly hungry, and they were also serving Marco Polo sheep, which is an endangered species.
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
When Julia asked if they knew this, they said they did, but people from Europe came over to hunt them every year for their horns. Its hard to condemn someone who genuinely needs the meat to eat, when rich gits from my own country come and kill them for fun.

The road that took us to Murgab was simply breathtaking, in all meanings. The Ak Baital pass proved to be the highest point of the journey, climbing to an incredible 4655m (15,360ft), and for my money had the most impressive scenery that we had encountered so far. From here the road descended 1079m (3560ft) to the Andean looking town of Murgab, set at 3576m (11800ft) above sea level.

cmgervais says:
Wonderful.
Posted on: Aug 12, 2008
Deats says:
Thanks pal :)
Posted on: Aug 08, 2008
Eric says:
Incredible story and photos...
Posted on: Aug 08, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Kyrgyz family that invited us for …
Kyrgyz family that invited us for…
Mum lays out some freshly cooked b…
Mum lays out some freshly cooked …
Sigrid, David, Julia and Kamchabek…
Sigrid, David, Julia and Kamchabe…
Kyrgyz family outside their yurt
Kyrgyz family outside their yurt
Yurts in Jelang
Yurts in Jelang
Petroglyph at Jelang
Petroglyph at Jelang
Grazing donkeys at Jelang
Grazing donkeys at Jelang
Women milking goats at Jelang
Women milking goats at Jelang
Kyrgyz men in their traditional ko…
Kyrgyz men in their traditional k…
A yak in the field at Jelang
A yak in the field at Jelang
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
Crossing the Ak Baital Pass (4655m)
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
The river we had to cross between …
The river we had to cross between…
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Flowers sprout in unhospitable cli…
Flowers sprout in unhospitable cl…
Kamchabek changes us onto 4 wheel …
Kamchabek changes us onto 4 wheel…
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Julia with a patch of flowers
Julia with a patch of flowers
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Scenery between Kara-kul and Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Nomadic yurts
Nomadic yurts
Kyrgyz children near Jelang
Kyrgyz children near Jelang
Kyrgyz children near Jelang
Kyrgyz children near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Kyrgyz family near Jelang
Mum bakes some fresh bread
Mum bakes some fresh bread
Sitting around eating in the yurt
Sitting around eating in the yurt
Mum bakes some fresh bread
Mum bakes some fresh bread
Our trusty jeep
Our trusty jeep
Boiling sheep intestines
Boiling sheep intestines
Inside of the yurt
Inside of the yurt
The arse end of nowhere!
The arse end of nowhere!
Kyrgyz yurts
Kyrgyz yurts
Kamchabek with a Jelang local on h…
Kamchabek with a Jelang local on …
Kamchabek with a Jelang local on h…
Kamchabek with a Jelang local on …
Locals in Jelang on a donkey
Locals in Jelang on a donkey
Sheep skins
Sheep skins
A truck is converted into a clothe…
A truck is converted into a cloth…
Yak poo for burning, in front of 2…
Yak poo for burning, in front of …
Jelang
Jelang
Scenery at Jelang
Scenery at Jelang
Small boys with cats at Jelang
Small boys with cats at Jelang
Petroglyph at Jelang
Petroglyph at Jelang
Scenery at Jelang
Scenery at Jelang
Jelang
Jelang
Woman weaving a carpet
Woman weaving a carpet
Bird circles the sky
Bird circles the sky
Hairy donkey!
Hairy donkey!
Stream running through Jelang
Stream running through Jelang
Donkeys at Jelang
Donkeys at Jelang
Donkeys grazing by the stream at J…
Donkeys grazing by the stream at …
Pen full of goats
Pen full of goats
Women milking the goats
Women milking the goats
Women milking the goats
Women milking the goats
Kids playing on my computer in the…
Kids playing on my computer in th…
Yak at Jelang
Yak at Jelang
Yak at Jelang
Yak at Jelang
Yak at Jelang
Yak at Jelang
Scenery at Jelang
Scenery at Jelang
Yaks at Jelang
Yaks at Jelang
Our van parkeed outside the yurt w…
Our van parkeed outside the yurt …
Smoke coming from our yurt in Jela…
Smoke coming from our yurt in Jel…
Kyrgyz men wearing their kara-kolp…
Kyrgyz men wearing their kara-kol…
Roof of the yurt
Roof of the yurt
Inside of the yurt
Inside of the yurt
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar…
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Ja…
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Our jeep parked for a rest, betwee…
Our jeep parked for a rest, betwe…
Our jeep parked for a rest, betwee…
Our jeep parked for a rest, betwe…
Our jeep parked for a rest, betwee…
Our jeep parked for a rest, betwe…
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Scenery between Jelang and Kok Jar
Colourful flowers, seen in sporadi…
Colourful flowers, seen in sporad…
Colourful flowers, seen in sporadi…
Colourful flowers, seen in sporad…
Yurt on the road to Murgab
Yurt on the road to Murgab
2 homes just off the Pamir Highway
2 homes just off the Pamir Highway
2 children where we stopped for lu…
2 children where we stopped for l…
An old Russian garrison
An old Russian garrison
An old Russian garrison
An old Russian garrison
The Pamir Highway between Kara-kul…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-ku…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-kul…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-ku…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-kul…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-ku…
Our jeep takes another breather!
Our jeep takes another breather!
The Pamir Highway between Kara-kul…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-ku…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-kul…
The Pamir Highway between Kara-ku…
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Wire fence left from Russian occup…
Wire fence left from Russian occu…
Wire fence left from Russian occup…
Wire fence left from Russian occu…
Our jeep parked in stunning scenery
Our jeep parked in stunning scenery
Wire fence left from Russian occup…
Wire fence left from Russian occu…
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Crossing the 4655m Ak Baital pass
Jelang
photo by: Deats