A rough ride, but well worth it!
Karakul Travel Blog› entry 359 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sigrid (Belgium), David (Canada), Wouter (Holland), Remy (Belgium), Karol (Slovakia)
Excitement lingered amongst sleepy eyes, as Julia, Sigrid, David and myself congregated outside Osh Guest House at 06.30 on Sunday morning. What lay ahead was a trip into the unknown, well at least from my perspective. Stories of breathtaking landscapes, remote yurt stays and welcoming locals had served as ample motivation to explore this forgotten corner of the globe. Our mode of transport was to be a Russian Jeep, which a local Kyrgyz man called Kamchabek would be driving for us. When we were introduced, his gold teeth glimmered, as he broke out his first of many smiles for the day. By 06.50 the jeep was loaded with our gear and what we hoped would be enough petrol to last us for the next three days, at which point we were scheduled to arrive in Murgab.
The Pamir Highway is one of the World's highest stretches of road and thus it comes as little surprise to see that many sections are in poor condition. However, I hadn't banked on the first portion from Osh to Sary Tash been little more than a gravel track. Bumping up and down for hours on end would be a large part of our life, so we settled in as best as possible and enjoyed the scenery that was jumping in front of our eyes.
The first stop of the day came at 10.00, when we had a late breakfast of pelmeni, in a run down roadside cafe. On the bright side, the outdoor seating area was pleasant and the surrounding mountains were radiating fabulous colours in the bright morning sun. The next leg of the journey took us up a snaking mountain pass, where our jeep broke down at regular intervals.
The town of Sary Tash serves as a crossroads that links Kyrgyzstan, China and Tajikistan and we opted for the right hand road that would take us to the latter. The scenery here was spectacular, towering mountains were coated with snow, whilst a few yurts appeared on the horizon, with horses grazing around them. Driving onwards toward the border, the feeling of solitude grew as the grass thinned out and we became the only vehicle for as far as the eye could see.
The Kyrgyzstan border crossing took an hour, as we had to go to four separate offices to gain approval to leave the country. It was a chilly wait, as we were now at 4000m (13,200ft), so to speed along the process Kamchabek had brought bread, toilet paper and other random gifts to bribe the guards. There was one edgy moment when David tried to look at a flag in one of the offices and the guard got pretty annoyed, as he found it disrespectful to touch the flag.
The Tajikistan checkpoints followed suit, although i must say that all the people we dealt with had a smile on their face and treated us well. One guard chatted away to Julia, trying to get information on working possibilities in Russia. Another guard spoke some English and joked around with us, as he processed our papers.
The road improved somewhat from the border to Karakul, as it was almost entirely asphalt. From what i could gather, the road from Osh to Sary Tash had been chewed up due to the Chinese trucks carrying four times more cargo than the road had been designed to take. Crossing the 4282m (14,130ft) Kyzyl-Art Pass posed further problems for the jeep, as it constantly overheated, but the views were fantastic and certainly worth the toil.
It wasn't long before we got our first sighting of Karakul Lake, a spectacular body of water dotted with small islands and the place where we would spend the first night of our journey.
META (Murgab Eco-Tourism Association) seems to dictate tourism in the Pamirs, and with Lousy Planet giving them rave reviews, most travellers will come across this organisation during their trip along the Pamir Highway.
Our home stay for the first night was to be in META accommodation, but we were not keen at first, as they were trying to charge $14 for bed, breakfast and evening meal. When it was put forward that this amount seemed an awful lot, considering there was no shower, an outside squat toilet, limited electricity and just a blanket on the floor that would be our bed, the owner of the house agreed that she also thought the price to be unfair, but it was META that dictated this.
The day was drawing to a close, so whilst there was still some decent light, we decided to walk down to the Lake and take a closer look. The colours were stunning, as the blue of the Lake were complimented by the salty white ground, the looming mountains were dusted with snow, and tufts of green plants and grey rocks scattered the earth. The wind was whipping up dust from the ground and creating ripples on the water, so after half an hour we made our way back to the house.
Kara-kul was a desolate village, which had been deserted for the summer, as herders took their flocks to riper pastures in the valleys. The only signs of life were three Kyrgyz men wearing their Kara-Kolpaks walking into the Mosque and two small children running through the empty streets. It seemed hard to believe that the land could support any form of life, as we didn't spot any animals during our walk.
Back at the house we settled into the cozy living area, which had rugs adorning the walls and a photo of the Dad in his army uniform, hanging proudly above the dining area. We were joined by an elderly Italian man and shortly afterwards Wouter, Karol and Remy turned up. Sitting on the floor around a large table was where we would consume our communal evening meal.
I had a decent nights sleep, although the room did get pretty hot at times, as the family kept stoking the fire in our room. Fried eggs and bread were served for breakfast and by 08.30 we were ready to get back on the road again. We went down to the Lake for one final look, before leaving Kara-kul behind, like those who had passed before us had also done. Visiting in summer had been bearable, but it seemed ludicrous that a town located at 3900m (12,870ft) would fill up for the winter time. If this was more preferable to where the locals spent their summer, then God forbid the poor shepherds who chose to remain up in the valleys!