No escaping the grim reaper
Jelang Travel Blog› entry 360 of 658 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.