Along the Pamir Hwy 2 – Tajikistan # 9 – July 2014

February 17, 2018

Just as we were packing up and getting on the road to Khorog, a young girl and her brother came to invite us to visit their home just across the highway. We really wanted to move on, but how could we refuse? The mother was a delightful lady who insisted we stay for lunch. As we sat in their modest house, her three children gave us some great “I love you Mom” photos. Even grandma welcomed these strangers. The hostess was a talented knitter. Using a unique slip stitch crochet technique, she made beautiful traditional socks for sale. They are called “jurab”.

Our lovely hostess and her daughter in an intimate moment.

Our lovely hostess and her daughter in a tender moment.

Meanwhile, mom stoked the wood-burning stove that appeared to be their only source of heat and cooking. In this treeless land, wood was precious. We had seen one man carrying a load to the village. Fresh whole-wheat pasta was made, rolled and hand cut into noodles. It was cooked in a creamy sauce that was seasoned with goat cheese (we think). It may have been a special dish the way the kids dove into it. With cooking chores done, grandma was back at work spinning wool. Dishes were taken outside to wash. Their only source of water seemed to be a small spring out behind the house.

The experience reminded us that although Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, (GBAO) is the poorest in the country, these people were happy and generous. Obviously, “poverty” is often in the eyes of the beholder. We gave the kids little stuffed bears named Bertrand, the mascot of Eberspaecher, the company that manufactures our diesel-powered air and coolant heaters. Bertrand brought smiles to everyone.

A short distance down the road we spotted an interesting bridge crossing the roaring Gunt river. Of course, Swiss mountain goat Monika had to walk across and I watched from a safe distance, hoping it was stronger than it looked as it bowed under her weight. Was it really built for people, or maybe just for goats?

Obviously, the kids love their grandma.

Obviously, the kids love their grandma.

As we slowly dropped a little altitude, wide floodplains showed the path of winter storms. One section of the highway had been washed away by spring melt. We had seen very few foreign travelers since we left Uzbekistan, so it was a real treat to meet a Swiss couple in their Mercedes van, (now on their second transmission), two motorcycle adventure riders from Sweden and three Swiss mountain bikers all at once. We all dug our maps out to share information.

The traffic of Khorog was a shock after days on the Wakhan Corridor and the Pamir Highway. We made use of the great market to restock our supplies, including a little fresh yak meat. The internet was welcome at the American Corner and we even found a car wash and convinced the owner that we would rather do it ourselves.

Khorog is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Situated 2,100 meters, (6,889 ft.), above sea level in the heart of the Pamir Mountains on the border with Afghanistan, it is a beautiful town with a clean river running down the center. Some have called it “the valley of trees” because groves of popular, alder and other deciduous varieties line the streets and walkways. With a population of 28,000, it is the center of the trekking and home-stay tourism, and not the easiest place to get to. Though there is an airport, flights are very dependent to weather coming from the capital of Dushanbe. A 14-hour 4X4 road trip is the alternative.

Swiss mountain goat Monika had to cross this bridge - twice.

Swiss mountain goat Monika had to cross this bridge – twice.

During our visit, and we don’t know why, half the town did not have running water.  Every morning and evening, people were lining up to fill their buckets from faucets along the main street. Sometimes the water was pretty sandy. The locals dressed traditionally but we were just as likely to see girls in California tight jeans and men with the standard baseball cap. Weather permitting, slip-off sandals were the norm. Most homes have a no-shoes tradition. With trucks coming in from China, the selection of cheap everything was interesting. I guess we can see the same collection in Dollar Stores or Walmart back home.

Clean and fully stocked, our last stop was at the gas station to top up all the tanks. At $4.60 a gallon it was a bite, but when you consider the cost of getting it to Khorog, well, it was a seller’s market! We had driven this route just a few days before, but the snowcapped mountains were equally impressive from a new direction. The highway had not changed. After crossing Koitezek Pass and the eastern turn-off for the Wakhan Corridor there were good parts and horrible potholes. In places the asphalt had been pushed up into a six-inch center ridge by the overloaded Chinese trucks. Villages were few, sometimes just a couple of yurts and a repair ramp where vehicles could drive up for an underside inspection.

Majestic scenes were changing at every bend in the road.

Majestic scenes were changing at every bend in the road.

The treeless land had its own stark beauty and finding places to stop for the night was easy. Clear running creeks were great places to refill our water tank, one bucket at a time and wash a few clothes before crossing the border. Some crazy Swiss guys saw our camp and joined us. We are still not sure how they all slept in their little van.

Crossing the Ak-Baytal Pass at 4,655 meters, (15,272 feet), we camped near Karakul Lake and prepared for our crossing into Kyrgyzstan on top of the Kyzyl-Art Pass at 4,336 meters, (14,226 feet). It would be all downhill from the Customs & Immigration post. We still needed to get our Chinese visa in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, over 1,000 miles away.

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