Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tadjikistan, Pamir Highway

The Pamir we go!

The Pamir is a plateau at 4000 mtrs surrounded with snow capped mountains. It's a very high desert in fact, in summer there's only water from the melting glaciers. Near these streams you can find grasslands and the possibillity of life. The Kyrgyz people of Tadjikistan live up there with their yurt-tents and herding their yaks. They live a traditional but simple life. We cycle through this land and are completely taken away by it.

Cycling at this height ain't simple and right at the most difficult parts the surface of the road turns bad. There are no alternatives for this bad road and we cycle up the first pass of 4275 mtrs, gasping for air. After a long day we reach the exit to Bulunkul, a small detour to a beatiful lake. We love to go there and camp next to the lake, even though we are already tired. We go down the steep sandy road and I love it! When I stop to wait for Janneke, I see she's really unhappy about the choice we made. But there's no way back now, we're trapped because back up is to steep. The weather also changes quickly; strong head wind, a black sky and a little sand tornado next to us. We've finished our watersupply already an hour ago.....what are we doing in this place?! We keep on going without speeking for two hours and very slowely we're getting closer to Bulungkul village. We should forget about camping. The welcome in the small villages is so warm that within 15 minutes we've completely forgotten about our suffering. There's hot tea, cookies, good food and very friendly people in a warm house.

After a good night the weather is great and everything looks totally different. The ugly black lake from yesterday turned out to be magical. Even the road is not so bad when the wind is in the right direction. This is the most beautiful day of our trip! We cycle for 45 km in complete deserted area. It's unbelievably quiet and the Pamir is magnificent. When we reach the mainroad again we read the "yurt-stay" sign. We ride into the field and after a few miles we reach the camp. The yurt is nice and comfortable and the people treat us o so well. We have learned by now that sleeping in a yurt is better than in any other place.

In Murghab we have a two day "rest". We book a trip by jeep south where we are hopefully able to spot the Marco Polo sheep for it's almost extinct. We sleep in another yurt camp, they own big herds of yak, goat and sheep. We leave early in the morning to look for the famous sheep at a high pass. We don't see anything at all at first, but through the binoculars we can spot two groups of Marco Polo sheep.

In three days cycling we enter the Kyrgys border and we leave the Pamir behind us, descending to the valley of Sari-Tash. It's crowded with yurts here in the green grass, full of cows, horses and yaks. From here it is only one day cycling to the Chinese border, but we are put to the test once more: The road is the worse road so far. Going up and down on a surface of rocks and unexpecting parts of climbing, we can't go faster than 12 km/hr. In bad weather we find a great camping spot near a creek only 10 km from the border, our last obstacle to beat.

Have they closed the border? Do they even refuse travellers with visa? Do they sent cyclist straight back to Kyrgystan? We don't know anymore what stories to believe, but we are not feeling relaxed about it. In the end the Chinese officials turn out to be the most friendly of all. They even have this electronic questionaire about their service! After 6090 km by bike we have entered China!

To get the visa for China we did everything we could and booked transport to a hotel in Kashgar, just to be sure. Happy and proud as can be we drive the 250 km to our well deserved luxurious hotel!

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