A Yurt on the wind swept plains of the Pamirs
The town of Khorog, encases a barrage of chocolate coloured snow melt and natural debris, and served as our gateway to the Pamirs.
Once a blanket of calm smothered the embattled country in the late 1990's, His Highness, the Aga Khan provided invaluable support to the Ismail faith based people of the Pamir’s. The visual side of this support takes the form of a well manicured community park in the centre of Khorog, but the recognition and reach for the not-so-visual is demonstrated by the display of his portrait in the remote households of the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast.
Khorog has a gentle relaxed bustle reflected from its people. We wandered into the stadium to watch the local football game, meandered through the park and market, perused the few shops and clambered around the Botanical Gardens gorging on apricots and slightly sour apples. The melancholic feel originates by the acceptance of the force de nature. Even in the height of the summer months the road to the North (10km) and the road to the South (4km) were flooded due to rains in the high echelons of the mountain ranges. So, with nature directing us to the East we headed along the Pamir highway to the vast open plateau of rock, stone, moss and glacial lakes.
The road meanders through the richly vegetative villages, splitting from the river as it starts its ascent over the 3800m pass to the plateau. The Niva, in need of acclimatisation rocked to halt at 3000m, so we pitched our tents in the kitchen garden of some slightly bewildered village folk, and strolled up an adjoining river valley only to retreat when we realised a 3000m climb kept us from the icy summit.
The family’s house is typically Pamiry. The light and airy construction is centred around five wooden columns representative of the five core pillars of Islam, with a central skylight and adjoining rooms in all directions. The family welcomed us with bread, yogurt, and chips before escorting us to the roof to show us the solar powered battery and emergency alarm signal connected to the flood warning device 2km further up the river. Nature is never far away.
Alichur is a bleak dusty town defending the other side of the pass and guarding the salt lakes. In the restaurant we re-discovered our appetites and gorged on imported eggs. The town’s people hardened by the severe winter conditions provide key supplies of water, benzene and chocolate to travellers, and place to rest for the crawling convoys of Chinese lorry drivers.
The vast openness of the scenery serves only to make you feel insignificant, and in search of the populous we headed to Lake Bulunkul, a bumpy 16km detour from the main highway. The town, a film set for a Tajik Spaghetti western, is consumed by the imposing rock faces and endless plains. Space is no issue. The toilet block is strategically located 50m from the home stay resulting in a treacherous venture in the moonless night in a pair of boxers, with hounds of the night bidding for a feast. Thankfully, the howling woke the village slumber and the landlord came to the rescue of our cross legged traveller.
After a couple of hours of oxygen deficient ambling you reach the lake, a sea preserved, nestled into land man has yet to scar. The icy glow of the windswept water allows for a quick toe-dip, and in the far depths you imagine species yet to be discovered by the masses, but befriended by the indigenous.