The High Pamirs
After leaving Langar and the Whakan corrdor we drove over the Khargush Pass (4344m) to rejoin the Pamir Highway (M41), about 20km south-east of Alichur. Just after the Khargush Pass we came across Chukur-Kul lake, one of may lakes we visited that day. Once you are over the pass you arrive on the Murghab plateau, basically a high-altitude desert. The scenery opens up and the first thing you see is another small blue-whitish lake, more brine than water, called Tuss-Kul, I believe. The scenery up there is stunning if a bit bleak and desolated. Having just rejoined the M41, we immediately left it again to and drove to the lakes Bulunkul and Yashikul.
The hike from Bash-Gumbez to Zorkul lake was stunning and although we crossed three high passes it was not to strenuous. There were lots of breaks along the way and plenty of snacks to keep me going. At midday we either stopped for lunch at a yurt or picknicked. I have to say that my guides were excellent and that the whole trip so far was very well organised. The first day we hiked from Bash-Gumbez to Akzoo Lake were we stayed overnight in a yurt. The next day, our driver having joined us, we drove to the fourth Chinese mausoleum, before starting our hike to Belairik Yurt. This was a relatively short and easy hike, which was very appreciated, since the day after we hiked to Zorkul Lake, a 20 to 25km hike which passes over the Belairik Pass at about 5000m. The views from Belairik Pass where fabulous as the air was crystal clear, not a hint of haze to be seen anywhere. The mountains on the Afghan site appeared as on HD television. After descending the pass on the other side we had some trouble finding our car due to the undulating nature of the terrain, but eventually we spotted it parked on a dirt track next to some abandoned buildings. From there we drove to the Karajilg Yurts to rest for the night. It looked like one of the best cooks of the Pamirs stayed there as we had very nice pasta for dinner and there were pancakes for breakfast rather than the standard fried eggs or rice porridge.
The day afte, on our way to Murghab, we stopped at the Jarti-Gumbez hot springs for another relaxing hot bath before going to see the neolithic rock paintings at Shakty Rock. The scenery here is very barren and dry but in the sunlight the mountains took on all hues of yellow, orange and red – just amazing!! Just passed Shakty Rock the gear box of our SUV developed a small fault but nothing very serious as we made it to Murghab without any major disaster. However, the day after the driver turned up with a different car and I just wondered where that car came from. Like I said before these guys were very well organised. In Murghab I had a welcome change from the typical Tajik breakfast, namely pancakes with sugar. Yummy!! Although every thing would have tased nice after a week or two of eggs or rice-porridge.
The following day we walked up the Pishart Valley, climbed up the Gumbezdikol Pass (4300m) and on the other side descended into the Madian Valley. If the ascend was already was very steep, it was nothing compared to the descend down into the Madian Vallez. My guide Bakir just run down the steep scree-slope while I took a slighty more careful approach. I took one step, slid down for a few meters before the stones stopped slidding, then took another step, slid down and so on. Although, it took me a while and I was a bit tired in the end, I got there without braking a bone, which I was quite chaffed about.
The next day, one of the few days were the sky was actually not blue, we drove to Lake Karakul. On the way we had another puncture which they fixed as quickly as the previous time. However, my driver wanted to take to spare tires into the Bartang Valley because of the road conditions and now we only had one spare tire left. So they stopped an oncoming car and swapped our bust tire for their good, spare tire. When, I asked whether they payed for the new tire they said: ‘No, they know were Turad the driver lives and they will just pick up a new tire’. Apparently there is aslo a Tajik Proverb that says ‘A100 friends are better than a 100 dollars.’
Around late afternoon we arrived at Lake Karakul, just in time for a short walk and to watch the locals having a game of volleyball. The town of Karakul is not particularly attractive although the lake was quite pretty in the afternoon sunshine, after the clouds had lifted.