We were feeling pretty sluggish leaving Korough. Youri and Yedidyah left after only one night. Jo-an and Jordi put in a 105k day to arrive in Korough in the evening on the same day we got there, to our surprise. Jordi was feeling much better, on the mend, but his brother was crashing and they had elected to weather the sickness in a nice warm bed with facilities and made it happen. Korough is a strange place. We spent our time eating food that was not rice, searching the bazaars fruitlessly for cold weather gear- like gloves, hats, boots, pants- with almost no success. I have no idea how these people survive the winter. It is absurd how difficult it is to get anything of even middling quality this far out.
As I write this, we are camping outside of the last town we will see until Murghab, called Langar. We should be there in 5 days. I was planning to make a loop out to lake Zurkul, but we met some motorcyclists just now whom we had met in Korough and they say that the route contains a good 30 kilometer stretch of snow already. It is a remote 173k loop with no villages, no stores, no nothing. I was going to do it alone, as no one else picked up the permit, but I think it is prudent to stick with the group. I had to deal with a bumptious though very well informed employee at the tourism office to get that permit too, but the weather is dictating our route at this point. We all want to explore Kyrgyzstan too, but it is just so darned late in the year, getting cold.
Sep. 15th: 78k
2,450 meters (8,036 feet)
Getting outside of Khorok. Cold morning in the valley. First glimpses of the Hindu Kush mountains, snow-capped.
Picture of the dorms in Khorok
Sep 16th: 81k
2,705 meters (8,872 feet)
Another day along the border of Afghanistan. Jo-an and I are looking for a place to camp near the river. We stop to inspect a place, when out of nowhere a white guy emerges from the bushes: “No camping down there, maps.me is full of shit.” Our jaws dropped. A Tajik shepherd would not have surprised me, but this was an Australian hitchhiker emerging from the foliage along the river that separates Tajikistan and Afghanistan, far from anywhere even within these countries. We chat for a while and look for camping together. He finds a nice place, but there are heaps of thorn bushes to get there and, afraid for our tires, we camp a little ways down the way. We invite him along, but he is already set-up and cooking, and bids us a casual farewell. We find a nice spot and make a fire.
I have come to realize how rustic the West coast of the United States is. When you mention “backpacking” anywhere abroad, people immediately think of taking buses and trains between hostels. “Trekking” is the international term for backwoods backpacking. I also grew up with a wood stove and am fairly “woodsy” or “outdoorsy” by American standards, which translates into “mountain man” status over here. France, I am told, is impossible to get lost in, (aside from the Pyrenees) because there is a village every 5 kilometers. We have big swaths of wilderness yet in the Western U.S. The point is, I was elected to build a fire, and to my surprise it lit up the first try with only a tiny bit of toilet paper. I usually let others build it, but this time I thoroughly designed a fine pyramid. We enjoyed its warmth over dinner, and my status as a mountain man was sustained.
Sep. 17th: 47k
2,770 meters (9,085 feet)
Another rough day. We discover Aleix’s back rack is broken when we get to camp:
“Better than it was before!”:
Sep 18th: 33k
3,350 meters (10,988 feet)
Langar. Start the climb along the Walkan proper. Road is horrible, sand and large rocks. We begin to push our bikes off and on.
Sep. 19th: 39k
3,700 meters (12,136 feet)
Only occasional shepherds out here, road is terrible, we are very fatigued. We stop for lunch by a confluence of a local creek with the Pamir river where some shepherds are living. There is an abandoned building walled in by an old engine block and other debris. Upon further inspection, we discovered a massive dog happily gorging itself on the carcass of a donkey in an advanced stage of decomposition. We watched, mesmerized, a bit horrified, as it plunged its head into some region of the neck and tore stringy bits of flesh out of the stinking corpse. Put us off a bit for lunch, but only a bit. Stefan not feeling so hot, not eating much. Note that we only made 33 kilometers. Camped in an old building sometimes frequented by shepherds. I don’t like the air quality or the vibes, but everyone else was happy for the warm room. I camped outside. I have no sleeping pad, remember. Getting cold, but I have a system:
Sep. 20th: 54k
Finish day at 3815 meters (12,513 feet)
Climb to 4,300 meters to cross the Kargush pass (14,104 feet), highest I’ve ever been…. after the tough gravelly climb, with oxygen pronouncedly lacking, we smash a downhill until it becomes too sandy and we have to push our bikes downhill. We continue down after a lunch break and level out on some terrible washboard rutted road. As the sun sets we come to the end of the Walkan, hit the M-41 and return happily to the asphalt. There is a house at the junction and we go down to check it out. It is inhabited, but marked as a homestay. We find the occupant and ask how much to stay, to which he replies, “Neznayu,” shrugging his shoulders (“I don’t know” in Russian). We deliberate a bit and offer him ten dollars for the 5 of us. He shows us the other half of his house, which consists of a big room for eating and a back room full of mattresses, pillows, and blankets. We are invited to tea, without any conversation offered, which was excellent because this is difficult with no common language, and we were very tired. We have bread, butter, candy, and tea with sugar and gorge ourselves, chatting away in his warm home before retiring to comfortable beds. I slept with two thick blankets. In the morning everybody chipped in a little extra and we paid about 16 dollars for his gracious hospitality.
View from our homestay
Sep. 21st: 130k
Hanging out at 4000 meters all day (13,120 feet), drop to 3,623 (11,883) into Murghab.
In the morning we savor the asphalt. Alichur lies a mere 20 kilometers ahead, our first opportunity to grab groceries in five days. We arrive early and among the handful of white-washed buildings find the best store in town, we have our pick of three. It is small, but sufficient. We beg some bread of the owner’s household and as we pack it begins to snow. As we ride out of town, a wind rises up, and with it the snow. We race out of town, attempting to outstrip the clouds, to no avail. Wind and snow assail us for a couple hours. I stop at last and put on my tights. Soon we are descending through a lovely valley. We glimpse our first yaks and herd some sheep out of the road to get past. We take advantage of the descent and the asphalt and arrive in Murghab, a relatively proper town, where we find ourselves some warm beds in an excellent little guesthouse with a hot solar shower.
Sep. 22nd: Rest day in Murghab.
We paid 6 dollars a piece to stay, which included a magnificent breakfast: bread, butter, jam, tea, rice porridge, an an omelette. This little town is a lot less interesting than people make it out to be. Last week they were connected to the power grid for the first time, before they were using solar systems for electricity and hot water along with generators. The place is a lot quieter now, I should think. There is a bazaar, which consists of a neighborhood of converted shipping containers. Thi excites people, but all I see are people being resourceful with what they have available. I have lived this way myself before and do not find it novel, but there is a certain charm to it, it feels real.
Continue to Part 2.
(There are pictures of Alichur and Murghab, I just haven’t acquired them yet)