Life is not easy on the Pamirs, life on these heights is something different, different with its own problems and inconveniences. Everything takes more time and cost a lot of effort. If you want tea, you need to cook water but there are loads of places where people live without electricity. Making tea means cooking water on a stove which is mostly also the heater in the house. Showers are not existing and mostly people are going to a bathhouse once a week. These bathhouses are often very far away from their homes and not easy to reach. Doing groceries is not something that goes naturally and people have to trust on the vegetables they can grow by themselves. Imagine you’re living in Murghab or Alichur, in these places nothing grows, no vegetables no fruit. It’s to high. The closest city where they can buy the stuff they need is about 500 kilometers away and these 500 kilometers aren’t an easy drive, no! The roads are bad and you can drive about 40/50 kilometers per hour. People in these villages retire at the age of 46 for women and 50 for man. Nevertheless the people living on the Pamir and in the Wakhan Valley are extremely friendly and hospitable. Every moment of the day they’re willing to share everything they have with you.
In the upcoming days we experienced what real Tajik hospitality is and we were impressed. But first we camped for another night. We drove through the biggest part of the Wakhan Valley and visited several touristic sights. Two beautiful old fortresses and the remains of a Buddha Stupa. The views were amazing at every sight and in all the villages we drove through people were enthusiastically waving at us. For that night we found a beautiful camp spot in between the sand dunes right next the Panj River. Until the sun went down behind the mountains we really enjoyed the beautiful views, Unfortunately we had to deal with very strong winds afterwards and we couldn’t even cook properly that night. While sitting in the car we ate some bread and watched the sand dancing around the car. Slowly it got dark en we hoped the wind be more calm by then, but no. Fast we prepared ourselves for the night and we climbed up into the tent. It got dark outside but with a small part of the tent open we enjoyed the beautiful sky full of stars. Our bodies were warm from our sleeping bags and our heads were cold, but it didn’t matter. This totally made up for the wind.
Small things kept coming to us from unpredictable corners and everyday was full of new surprises. In the morning there was less wind and we started preparing us for a full day of hiking. We drove to Zong, a small village which is an unknown start of the hike to the basecamp of Engels Peak. Most tourists start their hike in the bigger and better known Langar. While we decided to park our car in the middle of the village and to walk up to the start of the hiking trail, a local man was approaching us. Because of the language barrier we didn’t understand what he was trying to explain us, but we found out that he could actually bring us to the start of the hiking trail. We walked up, it was steep and not easy so before starting our hike we were already exhausted. Instead of bringing us to the start of the hiking trail he brought us to his own house for some tea. We had the time to drink a cup of tea but afterwards we actually had to start walking.
We were introduced to his wife, his daughter in law and her child, his grandchild. We drank tea, talked with each other with the help of Google Translate and tried then to explain that we really had to go. In twenty minutes lunch is ready he said, you can just wait a bit longer. It appeared that his wife was making food for us. We explained them that we still had to walk a for a long time and afterwards we should have to find a place to sleep. You can sleep here if you want, that was his reaction. We looked at each other and yes why not? We anyway wanted to find a homestay for the night and then we could as well sleep here with these friendly people. So we agreed to stay with his family for the night under the only condition that they would accept our money the next day.
After a way to oily lunch of potatoes with oil and bread with sauce we could finally start our hike. We crossed some meadows and climbed our way further up over a small path and we reached the start of our hike. It was already pretty clear that we wouldn’t make it till the end of the hiking trail, we left too late for that. But that was no problem, the sun was shining, the views were stunning and it was delightful to be outside of the car. It was a nice hike and around 18:30 we came back to Namadgut’s house. Wood was burning in a stove in the living room. They made us lovely food and we enjoyed the warmth coming from the small stove. This small room was not only the living room it was also the bedroom. Beds are think futons which they put in place before going to sleep. Everybody is laying next to each other and sleeps. For us they had a seperate room, although they had to check if we were really married. What they would’ve done if we said we weren’t married, we don’t know, but because of this little lie we were at least laying next to each other.
After a warm night under the thick blankets it was pretty hard coming out of bed knowing you had to go into the cold to the toilet. The toilet, a hut of three walls, no roof and just a hole in the ground was located far in the backyard of the family. The sun just came up but hadn’t done it’s work properly so it was cold, very cold. It was hard to imagine how these people go to the toilet in winter when there’s about a meter snow. Luckily there was no snow anymore. They made us an amazing breakfast and when we finished that it was sadly time to say goodbye. Namadgut walked us to our car to be sure we would find our way out of the village safely. It was an unforgettable experience to sleep at this family’s house, to see how they live. We’re definitely lucky to experience this.
Still full of our big family experience of the that day we slowly drove out of the Wakhan Valley. The first part of our Pamir adventure was finished. We looked for a place to have a quick stop to brush our teeths and to wash ourselves a bit. After we came back from our hike the day before it didn’t take long for us to find out that there was no running water. Not for the toilet, not to take a shower, not to wash yourself and not to brush your teeth. These people are visiting a bathhouse once a week and that’s it. We prefer the idea of feeling a bit more fresh, so that’s what we did, we used some water to fresh ourselves up and afterwards we were ready for more adventures. We were going up pretty fast in altitude and the temperatures dropped. Also the amazing views were changing into other amazing views. We left the blue river and the views over the mountains in Afghanistan made place for the snowy mountains of the Pamirs.
Fortunately driving out of the Wakhan Valley didn’t mean that this was the end of the Tajik hospitality. From now on we decided to not camp anymore, temperatures dropped extremely and there were nonstop strong winds. Good for us that it was absolutely no punishment to sleep in homestays. In Alichur we had found an super friendly family where we could stay. There was was no loads of water available in the house but at least there was a place where we could brush our teeth and wash our hands and face. Mom was speaking English and told us all about the family and their life in Alichur. At night the thick futons were taking out the back of the living room and were placed on the floor. For Tom there was the option to go to the bathhouse the next day, Sunday was the day for all the men from the village. Although we really were in need of some sort of shower, bath or water, we thanked them and left early the next morning. Today’s destination was Murghab.
Again we were extremely spoiled with amazing views and endless mountain landscapes with high mountaintops. We decided to take a side route to Murghab and visited some petroglyphes, an old Russian observatory and a crater caused by a meteor. The route was overwhelming, it was so extremely beautiful. It was a fight with ourselves to not stop every second to make a picture, every hundred meter gave a new, stunning view. At the end of the day we reached Murghab and we found a place to stay with Mansur and his family. Mansur spook a bit English and told us lots of things about Murghab, the biggest city on the Pamirs. The city was created in 1893 by the Russians as Pamirski Post, their biggest outpost in Central Asia. If we believe Mansur life was way better living in Murghab in Soviet times than now a days. In Murghab there’s no electricity since two years. Before that time there was some electricity, but absolutely not enough for the whole city. What happened is that they gave one part of the city one night electricity and the other part of the city got it the next day and so it changed every day. In times of the Soviet union there was always electricity, people had enough to eat and there was almost no poverty.
Life in Murghab is different now and specially it’s not easy, but Mansur is making the best out of it and started a Guesthouse. We were able to finally take a shower, not as in a real shower, but there was hot water and a bucket. Good enough. At night he warmed our room with a coal stove. It was so luxurious compared to what we saw in the last days. Because of a generator running on petrol from 20:00 till 23:00 we even had some electricity at night. After this kind of luxuriouss night at Mansur’s Guesthouse we left in the direction of the Kyrgyz border. Around 14:00 we arrived Kara-Kul, first we had the idea of staying here in the little village at this enormous lake. Unfortunately winds were still extremely strong and it was very cold, these things did not motivated us to stay here and go for a nice long walk, what was the initial plan. We decided to go further, to Kyrgyzstan.
A few hours later we arrived the second highest border in the world. Without any problems and seriously fast we were out of Tajikistan and although we knew there was a pretty bad road ahead of us, we didn’t expect it to be so bad. Between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan there’s 20 kilometers of nomansland and so there’s nobody responsible for that road and that’s probably the reason it’s so bad. It took us about an hour to pass this 20 kilometers, but finally and luckily safe, we arrived at the Kyrgyz border. Going in to Kyrgyzstan was even more faster than going out of Tajikistan, this was by far the fastest border crossing we did. We arrived Sary-Tash just before dark and easily found a guesthouse with working internet, a warm room and enough water to brush our teeth and wash our faces. More we didn’t need.
The next morning we woke up in a white world. That night there had felled a good layer of fresh snow and from what we understood from our phones it had been -13. We started our drive to our final destination of the Pamir Highway, to Osh, in the early morning. After an adventurous route over an high mountain pass with lots of snow we reached Osh that afternoon. We found a hostel with well deserved warm showers and western toilets, that’s luxurious! But no, it got better the restaurant next to the hostel served pizzas, salads and delicious french fries. And while we were waiting for a mouthwatering pizza we realized our Pamir adventure was over. In a weird way this idea gave us a quite empty feeling, as if our trip ended with this too. Of course that’s not the case, but all this time we were looking forward to our roadtrip over the Pamir Highway and through the Wakhan Valley and now it’s over. We’re fortunate with the most amazing memories of this trip and also the pictures and videos which will take us back for a split second to that unforgettable adventure.