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Published: January 9th 2022
Alichur to Bashgumbez to Ak Zoo Lake Yurt Stay
Sleeping Altitude 4210m, 35km driving distance.
Snow fall on the distant Pamirs greets me this morning, very scenic. A solo breakfast in the little kitchen room while the Dutch guys are having their breakfast in the lounge. My bf is huge(!) and consists of tea, coffee, butter, yoghurt, cream, 3 fried eggs, bread and jams- so delicious- I wonder what the Dutch are having, maybe something different to me? I seem to be getting amazing attention. I gave some gifts to Aunty yesterday as well as a tip (she waved the money away but I leave it with her anyway, she seemed really happy with the clothing, I had an extra merino tee and long sleeve tee that I thought would be great through the cold winter here. I gave Ben some more muselei bars and some Australian Bird playing cards). It's a leisurely pace this morning, I even read my book for an hour or so before Mohammed's Mum and the rest of the family all come to visit. Some more gifts are exchanged, I give M's mum my yellow scarf (I
loved that scarf, I bought it in Iran, I think of it often!) and a bag, the pins and pens seem to go down well with the others. Big family farewell, lots of photos and we are off. Fantastic stay, I feel really energised, so pleased that M got to visit with his family and it was nice to drift for a day.
We drive 15 minutes before making a stop at the holy lake- Ak Balik, it is a seriously deep blue clear beautiful sight. Apparently excellent for fish throughout summer. M gives me 3 coins to toss into a rocky section on the side and then instructs me to plunge my arm in to search for treasure- the locals throw in coins, jewellery and keepsakes, I come up empty handed but with a frozen arm. M says- "pity, you're not lucky", I disagree- I feel so incredibly lucky. More photos and we leave as a small group of dignitary types arrive. As we are driving there is a lone cyclist ahead- I'm pretty sure it's Dave! It is, I introduce M and B to "my friend", Dave. They are a little bit surprised about how much I
Those jams are so delicious, I could just eat them with the spoon.
seemed to do on my rest day.
Next stop according to the paper itinerary is the very ancient Chinese temple near Bashgumbez, about 9km off the Pamir Highway. It is fenced off but accessible (M's secret spot), the caravanserai is silk road ancient with tombs and burial sites dotted around it. From here we drive back to Bashgumbez village to see a large abandoned observatory structure, Russian built, it looks to be built out of asbestos. Its current use seems to be as a volley ball court. Certainly stands out against today's vividly blue sky. Back in the car we head off road heading upward to the Kara Seky Pass (4500m). By 1030 we are very
off road and into the land of the marmots- big, fat, honey brown rodenty things that pop up out of burrows before making a beeline for the next burrow. Cue David Attenborough voice-over and appearance of large raptors ready to pluck them from the sky... "but all is well with the marmots today, the raptors fly away... empty beaked"... M tells me about the many uses for dead marmots:
• they are skinned for their fur
• the fat from the flanks is
trimmed for making oil for the skin or used in a tonic
• the meat is given to the shepherd dogs- it keeps them strong and healthy, and lastly,
• the tails are sold for decoration
Forty minutes later we have driven through 4400m. The landscapes are stunning- massive sweeping plains, the mountains and the intense blue sky, some distant snow on the peaks. Ten minutes later and we're at 4660m. We stop to take photos - we have reached the pinnacle of the Kara Seky Pass... A sense of euphoria descends on the three of us (maybe it's the altitude) and we decide that high altitude on such a beautiful day should be celebrated with some Pamiri high altitude dancing (HAD). It's fun but breathtakingly tiring at an extra 800m up from yesterday. It is all nicely captured on all 3 of our mobile phones (that HAD video gets dragged out almost daily for the rest of our trip, it is a great source of amusement to Bakaar). We mess around for nearly an hour to the Pamiri tunes on M's phone and the Russian pop on B's (my music- the song, "Shake, Shake" by Metro Station has
Ak-Balik Holy Lake
Ak-Balik translates to White Fish Pond, today however no fish
been deemed un-danceable by Mohammed!). With ever so slight headaches we resume the journey, heading down the other side of the pass to Ak Zoo where we will stay in a yurt camp for the night.
We pass a summer pasture camp with a couple of yurts, a couple of families and a large herd of yak of all colours and ages. The grey ones are particularly striking. We pick up a kalpak (traditional Kyrgyz hat) topped passenger and drive him to our Ak Zoo yurt- he is the brother in law of the yurt stay place. We drive and drive and drive over bumpy, rocky ground on barely discernable trails. Bakaar LOVES this sort of driving- me too. Bang. We get our 2nd puncture. Very quickly fixed and we are off again. A low rooved mud brick houses and 2 yurts just after Lake Koluchkol signal our destination. We have arrived! This feels so remote. The most in the sticks stop so far. The woman, Jilal, sets about getting us into a yurt. It's old and super dusty- a more nomadic, less touristed one than Aunty's. It has the charm though that a Westerner like me appreciates. The
Ak-Balik Holy Lake
AKA Ak Balyk, so many alternate spellings
son, Rustam, gets the lid off the yurt to let in some light and Jilal lights the small central stove. It very quickly warms up with slabs of yak poo and a goat pellet poo combo. Lunch emerges at 2pm- yak yoghurt, yak cream with a kind of hard ashy dry bread, and tea. Always tea. Rustam stays and pours us endless cups. Jilal reemerges to clean up and explains dinner will be bigger, she asks whether I am vegetarian- no, i am not- my answer is met with visible relief.
M fades, he has developed a full blown cold and falls asleep. I decide to head off for a walk, I let Bakaar know I'm off, I figure if I'm not back in a couple of hours at least someone will know which direction that I've headed. He smiles and shakes his head- he thinks I should rest. It is super windy and pretty cold. Rug up and follow the river back down towards the lake. I figure it'll all help with acclimatisation and it gives me an opportunity to pee in nature v peeing in the largely open toilet back at the camp. Lots of birds as
I make my way back to the camp. M is still asleep so I decide to head in the other direction towards a distant goat herd. I approach very cautiously as there are 2 dogs (luckily there is also a shepherd). I eventually get close enough to this mahogany skinned man for him to realise I'd like to walk back in with the herd. The herd that is currently being led by a donkey (!). The herd are all sorts of yellows, browns and blacks. It's extremely surreal, the rams are headbutting , the sheep are jumping over river-lets and I'm amongst it all. The kalpak man appears with a bunch of small fragrant dry flowers (to be used to make tea or as a skin tonic), as I sit with the shepherd and his 3 kids for a while. Back at the yurt M sleeps on. I read the last of my book by the stove, it's a cosy spot to sit in the cold late afternoon.
Just before 7pm we get called down to the main house for dinner. It consists of 3 rooms, we're set up in the large back room. The house smells of mutton
Ak-Balik Holy Lake
Stunning clear blue/green waters
fat. Dinner is a great surprise- lamb/mutton. 2 large plates of hunks of lamb on spiral pasta arrive, it is completely delicious. At the back of my mind is the whole hygiene thing but I figure that I have been very lucky so far (well, lucky apart the episode of first few days - a distant memory now!) and the lunch hasn't struck me down so I just get stuck in. This is our first meal that the family have joined us- well most of the family... Jilal and the kids are in the kitchen. Two other older men arrive. Kalpak man deftly slices up the rest of the lamb hunks with his hands and his big knife, afterwards he rubs his hands together, presumably to evenly distribute the lamb fat. Lots of family style double dipping but it is really delicious. Discussion ensues amongst the men, we talk a little about Australia, a little about healthcare, I inwardly channel a message to Mohammed not to tell them that I am a nurse. They tell me they will move back to the village in October when it is too cold to stay. They go on to a more animated discussion.
I peel off and leave them to it. Cross the paddock back to the yurt under an intensely starry black sky. B will sleep in the house. M will sleep in the yurt with me. Quilts appear, there is perpetual worry that I will perish in my sleeping bag, they urge me to put a quilt on top of it. I acquiesce but end up with it under me once they leave. Start a new book under the single bulb generator driven light. It's efficient but I don't last long before succumbing to sleep.
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