Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan



It was good to have a bed to rest in last night, although at these high altitudes, it is almost impossible to have a sound sleep.  I decided to dress for warmer weather today as the altitudes of the drive would be lower and as I was so hot yesterday wearing so many layers of clothing.  Dressing more simply posed a big issue for my packing though, as I had to fit more clothes into the backpack that had been my hand luggage on the plane.  Consequently, packing this morning was a long and challenging task, somewhat akin to a backpack version of Tetris.

We had a simple breakfast at 7:00am of fried eggs, bread (that so hard it must have been a week old), and tea (useful for dipping the bread to soften it).  Breakfast didn’t take long to eat, so I had half an hour to walk around Murgab, taking in the sights in the beautiful clear morning light.  Sadly, I didn’t find any new sights beyond my discoveries last night, and the town was even less lively in the morning than it had been the previous evening, although the morning light did add a beautiful glow to the Lenin statue.

We set off at 8:00am for what turned out to be a drive of almost 11 hours.  Immediately after leaving Murgab, it became obvious that this was going to be a day of extraordinary landscapes – attested to at the end of the drive by a total of 465 photos taken for the day.  Most of the photo-worthy sights were the region’s spectacular landscapes and landforms; there were very few places where human activity could be observed because there was so little of it in this harsh, high-altitude environment.  We spent the day hovering at altitudes that were a little below and a little above 4,000 metres, heights that were well and truly above the tree line – not a single tree was to be seen on today’s drive, and most of the ground away from the river beds didn’t even have any grass cover.

Much of the area in the High Pamirs is heavily eroded, largely during the spring rains and snow melt period.  The result is a succession of eroded features that are truly huge in scale, together with some gigantic outwash slopes, talus slopes, braided streams with coarse gravel beds, and fluvial canyons.

At a little after 11:00am, we stopped at a yak breeder’s house.  This was no ‘tourist special’ – such things don’t exist in this remote eastern part of Tajikistan.  When we arrived, the farmer’s wife was drawing water from a crystal-clear lake in an anabranch of the Alitchur River, a small braided stream that drains into Lake Yashi-kul to the west.  The water was so clear that it was easy to see the schools of fish swimming in it.  A few minutes’ walk brought us the farmhouse, near the pace on the banks of the stream where the farmer was tending two baby yak calves while the herd of adult yaks grazed on the lush grass of the river bed.

A short drive of just a couple of kilometres brought us to Alitchur, one of only two towns we passed through on the day’s drive.  We stopped for lunch, after which we spent a while exploring the town, the population of which is just a few hundred people.  The town was not a pretty urban centre, comprising low, flat-roofed dwellings arranged in rows that were separated by linear gaps so wide a small aircraft to land in them.  Punctuating the skyline – indeed dominating it – were rows of concrete poles with tall wooden extensions carrying electric wires.  Within the town, there were a couple of yurts, which we visited when we were invited inside.

A few kilometres beyond Alitchur we came to a large lake beside the road called Lake Sasyk-kul, a water body with beautiful blue water surrounded by a bright white ring of evaporated salt.  Another few kilometres brought us to our turnoff from the M41, a road that headed south towards the Afghan border. This road, which doesn’t have a specific name as far as I am aware, was unsealed, bumpy, and extremely dusty, making our progress for the rest of the day much slower.

The road climbed steadily past mountain lakes and arid lunar landscapes until we reached Khargush Pass at an altitude of 4,344 metres.  Unlike the passes we had crossed yesterday, this one was relatively gentle, and indeed the pass resembled a high plain rather than the crest of a range of mountains.  The road continued southwards to the hamlet of Khargush, where the road turned right towards the west and a police check-point marked the beginning of the Wakhan Valley, which runs for about 350km sandwiched between the Pamir's and the Karakorum mountain range. The valley supports around 12,000 inhabitants in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Our drive for the rest of the day followed the Panj River, the turbulent waters of which serves as the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The views across the river into Afghanistan were riveting, not just because Afghanistan is ‘forbidden territory’, but because of the stark beauty of the mountainous landscape.

A few kilometres west of Khargush we stopped where a red, white and green concrete marker was set back from the Panj River to mark Tajik territory to Afghans on the other side of the river.  There was a flurry of activity there as two small boys brought a large herd of goats to graze on the grass in the narrow floodplain of the river.  Our last stop for the day was beside the road where we were able to look down the Wakhan Valley and see part of the Hindu Kush, the mountain range that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan (which was on the other side of the ridge we could see).

At a little before 7:00pm, we arrived at Langar village, which is on the confluence of two rivers, the Panj and the Wakhan.  Accommodation for the group was in two guesthouses.  I can only speak at this stage about the one where I am staying, but it seems better than most of us were expecting – hot water in shared bathrooms, 24-hour electricity, beds above floor level, but sadly no internet access.  After today’s long drive, and an even longer one planned for tomorrow, I am hoping for a good night’s sleep at this lower altitude of “just” 2,890 metres.

Day 6

Murgab to Langar


21 August 2018