Asia's Best Kept Secret

Published: November 21st 2015
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Osh is a construction site next to a giant mound of dirt stamped with UNESCO’s approval of heritage. Meeting his to do list expectations, the visitor arranged onward transport, a 4WD Pajero, to tour the Pamir Highway, a weeklong odyssey shared with a couple Aussie girls. Darniel, the driver, a Kyrgyz from Murgab, arrives at the hostel punctually, and proves most competent. Rolling hills of gold grass lead southward to taller and taller rock faces narrowing in on the road. A hundred kilometres brings the expedition to wide sloping Alay Valley cut by the Kyzyl River and fenced in by the snowy crags of Peak Lenin towering above the villages of Sary Tash and Sary Mogul. Under clear skies teams of young men build new homes of mud brick.

Beyond, tucked in the foot hills, Taktakol is summer residence to a nomad family serving up free smiles and overpriced meals. A group or young Dutch travelers make repairs to their 4x4 before moving on. An Israeli couple arrive late in the day, a long hike form anywhere. Taktakol, as yet the only destination not revealed in the visitor’s guidebook, is mezmorizing, all the more for its absence in his to do list. What seems a nearly forgotten side road leads through Kyzyl-Art Pass into the famed Pamirs. Separated by an hour of rough road, the good-humoured Kyrgyz guards contrast with their solemn Tajik counterparts, appearing from portables, young handsome exiles in this lonesome landscape. The Australians plugged into podcasts and audio books, sit mute in the backseat, except to request occasional toilet stops or photo opps, or thriftily combining the two. Darniel steers across the rocks and rifts mile after mile. Sitting shotgun, the visitor’s gaze fixes on the fantastic unfolding geography.

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