To The Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Haft (7): Alichur to Murghab to Jarty Gumbez.
Had I really put some effort into it and had better researched the Pamirs I could have saved myself some time and kilometers (money)… But I didn’t, oh well. I of course wanted to see some Marco Polo sheep while I was in eastern Tajikistan, I figured I’d try to see them maybe more towards Ak-Baital Pass further north. Apparently a better place to see them is a little further south in the Badakshan toward the Afghanistan border near Jarty Gumbez and Keng Shibur. So now that I got that little preface outta the way….
We left Alichur for Murghab early in the morning dodging potholes on the M41. Of course Horsand kept shaking his head and saying ‘nyochen hrusha doroga’ and giggling.
Our first stop was Ak-Balik. I glanced over and saw this crystal clear pond off the road and I was pretty sure it was Ak-Balik as it was marked on my map of the Pamirs. So naturally we came to a screeching halt.
This spring of water was so unfuckingbelievably clear all the way to the bottom. And in usual Tajikistan style the mountains were even reflecting off the top of it’s glassy surface. The sting is sacred to the people who live around here. DON’T PEE IN IT.
After my little photo break we continued back on the Pamir Highway, of course taking 10x longer than it should to get to Murghab seeing that I have to stop and take photos every 10 feet.
Then Horsand slams on the breaks and yells YURT! And we drift off the road and follow a little track a short distance.
That’s the yurt in question. I’d never seen someone so excited to show someone a yurt before. But, no one was home.
So those little buildings you see off in the distance? That’s the beginning of Murghab- container city. The main bazaar (okay, let’s face it, it’s got to be the ONLY bazaar this side of the Badaskhan) is made up of shipping containers. Murghab bringin it home for an Alaskan. Most the rest of the buildings are rectangular shaped. It’s not much to look at, but it reminded me of home and the surrounding area is quite scenic.
We reached Murghab by the early afternoon and stopped at a chaikhana for some greasy plov and tea. We kept talking about Marco Polo sheep during lunch. Horsand said if I wanted to see some sheep, my best bet would be to hire a guide and that we would have to head back south for the best chances to see them up closer. Horsing was really concerned over the cost for me getting out there as it would tack on an extra 100 kilometers each way. I told him it was okay, after all I had planned to have enough cash with how I like to deviate from the normal path. After lunch we headed over to the Murghab bazaar and after talking to a few people we found someone to accompany us out there. I really wished I had wrote down his name because I’ve already forgotten it. He was a really nice Kyrgyz man who knew the Jarty Gumbez area well.
So back south out of Murghab we headed. We were in route to Jarty Gumbez.
I thought I’d said my goodbye to Afghan scenery the morning prior when we left Langar but I was wrong. Here we were headed back down toward the southeast corner of Tajikistan, right on the border with Afghanistan and near to the point where Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China all come together. If you are into the old spy stories of the Great Game- this was an important location for the British and Russians watching each other’s moves across their expanses of Central Asia.
We all got to the sheep camp at Jarty Gumbez in the afternoon. It’s the off season for sheep hunts so everyone was just kind of hanging out. The camp has a hot spring pool, which they insisted I go jump in before I headed out searching for sheep. I won’t lie, it was nice. Especially after the shower contraption I got to use in Alichur (it wasn’t bad but it consisted of a wood stove and a bucket of boiling hot water. You then mixed the hot water with the cold water bucket in the shower until it was the temperature you wanted and then you just sort of dumped water over yourself. Like I said, not bad, just a little effort).
As we headed off to go search for sheep in drove Bertril and the Australians I had run int several times in the preceding few days. We kept on seeming to spend the night in the same homestays. They were stopping off for the evening to carry on to Shimak the next day. By late afternoon we spotted a pretty big group of Marco Polo quite a ways away and by sundown we headed back to the hunting camp at Jasty Gumbez for the night.
The camp was a nice stop of the night. Of course they invited me in for dinner with the whole group of them and kept bringing out plate after plate heaped with food. Then not only is there a hotspring to go sit in, there’s also indoor heating. Heating systems haven’t exactly taken off in this part of the world. Plus, it’s not exactly warm here as you’re over 14,000 feet in elevation. But at 14,000 feet and little light pollution, other than the rising, near full moon the star gazing out here is phenomenal. Two of the sons of the owner came out to see the photos I was taking and both couldn’t believe it when they asked how old I was and I told them I was about to turn 30. They were 19 and 21.