Friday, October 06, 2006

The Roof of the World

Eventually we reach the end of the valley and we climb up a pass at 4300m that gives access to the Pamir plateau itself, between 3600 and 4000 meters. The temperature drops dramatically, and we have to put the warm clothes on. The pass leads us to the Pamir highway near lake Yashil-Kul. According to my excellent Pamir map there is a village near the lake, so we ride there and we end up in a settlement in the middle of nowhere, in a moon-like landscape where only sheep and yaks can survive. We’re welcome by a few people who argue over where we should spend the night. The winners (three brothers) install us in their house, start up the generator and sit and watch TV while their sister is cooking and serving us dinner. We’re of course a bit surprised to see in that remote place a satellite dish hooked to a nice TV, but unfortunately most of these people don't have much to do and TV is the only entertainment that they can get.

In the morning we find out it had been snowing a little during the night, not enough to stop us though, and by midday it has mostly thawed. We ride along the lake for some sightseeing, before carrying on to Murgab, main town of the East Pamir, populated mainly by Kyrgyz in majority. Unfortunately at that time of the year most herders have left the high plateau for lower valleys, so we see no yurts on our way in the desert-like landscape.

In Murgab we register at the police again (free this time) and get us a permit to go to Rang-Kul lake. This area is very close to the Chinese border, so any side road apart from the main highway needs a permit. We've been told that the area beyond Rangkul is prohibited altogether, but we decide to go as close as possible until we're turned down by a military check point. Arriving in Rangkul we stop and just see a deserted watchtower but no gate or fence of any kind so we keep going, at which time somebody far away comes waving and yelling at us. We fake not to see him and carry on, bringing us along the Chinese border with very fine views of Muztagata (7400m) in China, knowing that we will ride down the road just 10 km away in China a few days later.

Finally we reach a military camp and a gate guarded by a soldier. He's very surprised to see those funny guys in this restricted area and doesn't quite know what to do, so he runs away to fetch the commanding officer. He arrives wearing sweat pants, sneakers and a lose sweater and instead of lecturing us on restricted areas he gives us a warm welcome, telling us to ride into the camp for a cup of tea. There are only 11 people manning what was used to be a big soviet military post, at the time when the relations between the Soviet Union and China were very bad.

And with the tea comes a plate of very tasty fried pieces of meat, and the officer explains us proudly that this is from a Marco Polo sheep. And indeed he shows us the whole severed head with the long curly horns. So much for protecting an endangered species, but what can you do against bored militaries? But I have to admit it's the best meat I have eaten for 3 months!
Before leaving, he gives us a piece of paper where he’s written something for his colleague down the road in Rangkul, probably (it’s in Tajik) telling him that we’re nice guys and he should let us go without hassle. Good for us, because as we reach Rangkul, the soldier who was waving at us a couple hours ago is now standing in the middle of the road with his Kalashnikov well in sight. No way to ignore him, so we stop and he leads us to his officer, this time wearing an impeccable suit with shiny shoes. He gives us the bad eye and starts yelling at us but we immediately show him the paper, and after careful reading he lightens up and become almost friendly (but still a bit pissed to realize he’s function is totally useless as a couple funky bikers just pass through his guards without any problem). He must be the only one military that we’ve crossed (and we’ve seen a lot in all those check points) really believing in his function, but his soldiers of course don’t have a clue what they’re doing here in what seems the end of the world.


Blogger jollynut said...

Good to meet you guys on the highway. All the best for the rest of your trip.

Rob Thomson
On a recumbent from Japan to England

7:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home