Aug 24 2006

To Murgab

Category: TravelRandall Kelley @ 13:25

I’m writing this in Murgab, Tajikistan, high in the mountains of the G.B.A.O. at the home of a family who rent rooms fro the night. Fortunately, all was as it should be with the authorities here, and the registration process was painless (and Somony-less).

Then it took a while to locate a place to stay. But, while we waited we found a theater with folk musicians performing.


That was actually our second cultural event of the day, as early in the afternoon the new driver of the Lada, who replaced Rustan and his Honda (that was making a strange noise), stopped at a small house on the side of the road. There was a sign in Chinese on the front of it, but it was a nice Kyrgyz family who fried us fish and served us bread and some kind of yogurt dish.


This was in an area with many Yurts. In Mongolia they are Gers but actually here they are Yurtos (no idea of spelling). They apparently pasture many Yaks and sheep for the summer, and return to lower elevations in November.

When I say Murgab is high, I mean high. The pass outside town is over 13,000 feet, and the town is at around 11 or 12. I can actually notice the lack of oxygen when breathing. The town itself is more old Soviet than village. Most of the people here appear to be Kyrgyz.

Between 5 of us, and perhaps our drivers as well, we have two rooms. The one we’re in is about 18 by 25, the other a bit smaller. I see bedding piled up against a wall, so I think we get some padding, otherwise, it’s just carpeted floor. Here is dinner in one of the two rooms, with the bedding still piled at the side of the room.


The road today was quite good, and we arrived late afternoon. We could see some high peaks, but we were so high ourselves, and the valley so wide, they didn’t seem all that high. They reminded me of the mountains of Nevada, but with ranges much closer together.


The worst day for road and the nights stay was Tuesday, right out of Dushanbe. They told us 8 hours and we took 12. Serious four wheeling and just one good break. I even got to take a short swim on the break.

It got dark before we crossed the last pass of the day, and when we hit the guard station, they decided to demand Zhenya’s visa. The only problem is, Kazaks don’t need, nor would one be issued if wanted.

Fortunately Rustan was very good at clearing up any misunderstandings. Reportedly some Somony (The currency of Tajikistan) changed hands. And reportedly it was so small an amount that it should have embarrassed the guard.

We arrived in Kalaikhumb late and we spent the night in some sort of dormitory building, where Sheila and Rita got to bunk on a separate floor from the boys. I shared a room with Aziz, and Marat and Zhenya had the other. The drivers were taken elsewhere. It was about a hundred degrees in the room, no fan, and a busted screen on the window. Fortunately for me (not for him) Aziz seemed to draw all the mosquitoes!

Some of the areas we passed were marked to warn people to stay out, and at one point we passed a de-mining detail. This is leftovers from the civil war that ended 5 or 6 years ago.


The next day was much better (shorter), but the roads were still bad and Rustan starting worrying about a mystery noise coming from his front tire or suspension. We arrived in Khorog early in the afternoon, and found we were stay in in a really nice hotel. Well, nice for here. After 20 minutes when they got the generator fired up it got better with a fan, though I was quite disappointed to find the AC was “not functioning yet”.

We were at the edge of town, so we were driven and did a little walk in town and through the market. Everyone wanted to walk back, as the hotel was just a few miles and they were ready to stretch. But I had to cut my participation short as my stomach went south on me. They flagged me a ride, as everyone here does, and I was back at the hotel about an hour before the rest. The flag a rid system is sort of a cross between hitch hiking and a taxi, as you contribute some Somony to the driver. It seems efficient, and it must be fairly safe as women and children do it all the time.

I don’t think it was food or bad water that got my stomach, I think it was drinking about a gallon and a half of bottled water “with gas”. But, it did warrant some Imodium before the night was up. I do feel pretty good today, so I guess it wasn’t that bad.

Then we had appetizers on the lawn, and then dinner inside as it was both dark by then, and the Mosquitoes had found us.

After dinner it was off to the room to download a couple of days worth of pictures. Pretty hot, but at least it was nothing near the night before. Still no screens on the windows, but luckily the mosquitoes all hit Zhenya in his room, and not us in ours. Again, fortunate for us, not him.

That brings us to tomorrow’s plan, which starts early as they want us out by 6 AM. Actually, they wanted 4 Am but were talked out of it. We will head out and drive all the way to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, but it’s only about 400 kilometers, and the roads are much better.

We will pass a high mountain lake, Kara Kul, and we are told we will be able to see the highest peak from there. However, it is behind another range and so I don’t expect much view. More about that in the next post.


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