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Published: June 26th 2010
Here we are setting out from Khorog again on our second attempt to get to Murghab. This time we're taking the Pamir Highway, built by the Soviets in 1931-1934 to facilitate troop transport into the remote region. It was off-limits to travellers until recently and its still a pretty remote road mostly used by Chinese trucks. We pass a couple of large truck compounds on our way.
The first 70 miles or so is through the green Gunt Valley (sorry - no photos, they have gone missing) and then we start slowly and steadily climbing upto the Koi-Tezek Pass (4272m) and the Pamir plateau. At the top there's lots of the snow and the temperatures drop right down. But its nothing like the 'muddy pass' the other day, the road surface is good and we manage to stay upright.
Up on the plateau its all change; its now wide open, high altitude, valleys, quite barren and rocky. To either side are the Pamirs and every now and again there's a glimpse of snowy peaks in the distance. Unlike the last few days there's no villages, the plateau is populated by nomadic Kyrgyz herders and occasionally in the distance we
see yurts and herds of yak. It doesn't look like there's enough for the yaks to survive on but they seem quite happy. Marco Polo sheep, with their big curly horns, are supposed to hang out here - but all we see are the statues they like to place everywhere. We did see quite a few marmots bouncing around like bright ginger streaks on the landscape. As well as statues of sheep there are a few statues left over from Soviet times - they are just plonked in the middle of the plains and the comrades in rousing poses seem totally out of place.
Cresting one small pass there are great views of the Alichur Plains spread out below us complete with intense blue salt lakes. Up ahead there seems to be a big storm brewing - its hanging precisely over the mountains we need to get through. Its a hail storm and briefly we cant see where we are going. It seems to get worse once we are past, looking back at the mountains the sky is very black and angry looking with just one small patch of light where we got through. Now we are in the
Madiyan Valley which looks much greener and more fertile and its not long before we finally arrive at Murgab after 3 days of trying to get here.
Murgab (3576m) is a dusty little town but very friendly. The faces have changed again, they are much more Asian now. There is a large Kyrgyz population here as demonstrated by the number of tall white Kyrgyz felt hats. Its a real frontier town but has a great atmosphere and the streets are fully of activity; women and children collecting water from the wells, men sitting on corners putting the world to rights and kids playing happily with hoops and sticks. The market is the weirdest we have come across, the stalls are all old containers (as in carried on the back of trucks). There's an air of excitement round the market; there is a special concert on tonight as today is the anniversary of the Aga Khan's visit (they are still Ismaili Muslims here and he is their spiritual leader). So after our homestay supper of yak stew we head down to the concert in the village hall. Its rather like a village talent contest with everyone taking it in turns
to perform a number. Still they are all really enjoying it, clapping and singing along - even though they don't sound like it they are all religious songs that are being performed. They are all very welcoming and pleased to have us there, they even turf some youths out of their seats so we can sit down.
Having finally got to Murgab we are now headed onwards to Kyrgyzstan. There's still a hundred miles or so of the barren Pamir plateau to transverse before we get to the border. And the whole road seems to be a mass of corrugations for its entire length so we are well and truly shaken. We cross the Ak-Baital pass which at 4655m was once the highest section of road in former USSR There's snow around but thankfully not on the road. Now we are running alongside the border with China. There's a fence between the two countries but in at least 2 or 3 places the gates in the fence are wide open and there is no sign of anyone patrolling the border!! Getting closer to the border we pass Kara-kul lake apparently created by a meteor 10 million years ago. Its
supposedly the highest lake in Central Asia and at 3914m its allegedly too high to support aquatic life - we didn't have time to go pond dipping and find out if its true, I bet there's some microbes living in there, they can survive in most places. Finally we get to the Kyzyl-Art pass (4282m) and the Kyrgyz' border post. As usual that's where all the fun starts.....
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