(35) Wakhan Valley to Bulunkul, Tajikistan: Miracle by Jeep

(Note: I’m posting this 3.5 years after the fact. My notes are variable in quality, so what I give up in narrative quality, I get back in just getting this damn thing posted).

The driver arrives early that morning. He’s pissed. There is a flat tire. We sort out costs with our new route (i.e. him dropping us off at the washout, driving back to Khorog with the French women). The French women are also pissed off, but OK over all. The hosts where we are stay are not all that friendly in the morning. We finally leave, but the old jeep battery dead. We stop for chocolate, cigarettes, watermelon.

The drive is still lovely. We pick up two local girls for a ride part of the way. Are they thankful, or does this just mean two more hours of working when they get to their destination? Maybe walking with a sister/friend is more enjoyable than the alternative.

Then, we pick up Polish couple. They hadvwalked from Langar that morning, expecting to walk the rest of the valley, knowing the road was closed.

We get to the washout, and our jeep is waiting on the other side. We ready ourselves for a traverse of the river. The local men help us out with hands and backs. We give them some dollars for their help. It’s much easier than we expected. Nic and I lament on the lack of adventure. It was all too easy. We got a ride. The crossing was quick, the other jeep was waiting. The Polish describe it all as a miracle.

The road continues along a beautiful, broad, high valley with river in a canyon below. We stop for lots of photos. I spot a bird of prey soaring, the ends of its wings tipped up.

We run into a jeep coming our way with tourists in the back. We explain the situation. The tourists are obviously surprised, but the guide and driver less so. Not sure what they are planning, but they continue on.

The Russian Jeep is surprisingly comfortable, even with 4 across the back. The road is a fairly great gravel road, the seats are well cushioned, the valley is broad enough that views exist for everyone.

The road descends into valley, and we are so close to Afghanistan. I throw a few rocks to the other side of the river, just so I can say something I touched went to Afghanistan. Just a stone’s throw from Afghanistan. Seriously. I threw a rock. It hit Afghanistan.We consider finding a place to cross if the river widens, as we expect it to.

Swiss Nick and I consider whether anything bad would happen to us if cross. Would we be shot at? Where from? There aren’t any buildings to hide in on the others side. Do they have snipers? This is not Taliban territory. If there is Afghan army presence, I’m sure NATO forces would not leave them instructions to shoot. Maybe shoot near as a warning, but not actually shoot.

The valley descends to meet the river, and we spot some Bactrian (two humped) camels. We stop for picnic, as no villages or services for lunch. We share everything we have. Old tomato and cucumber. Old bread. Left over bulgur wheat. Dried fruit. Almonds. Chocolate. A watermelon. 

We see ground animals. Marmots? Huge yellow things.

The river seems broad enough to maybe cross, but it’s very cold, very fast moving, and probably above the knee. I dip my toe and retreat. I would only attempt to cross for a sure thing, and this is not it.

We finally leave the riverside, and the road starts to ascend. We approach a checkpoint and have to honk and honk to get someone to come from the nearby base. Not much traffic today. I play with a base dog, and pee behind a stone traffic-calming barrier.

We leave the Afghan border, and climb a pass to meet the Pamir highway. I expect a pass, but there isn’t one, just a very broad and high altitude valley. A stinking salty lake.

We descend to meet a paved highway. The Pamir Highway. Highway is a strong word, but it’s more than a gravel road.

We stop in Bulunkul for the evening. The light at this time of day is beautify. The village is haphazard. The polish get their military maps and head off by foot with their huge bags.

We take a quick trip to the lake, were apparently there is a hot spring in a little makeshift building. Turns out the “hot” spring is only warm. The shack has a bathtub to catch the spring water. With frogs. We take a walk down to the lake. It’s reasonably warm.

Back in Bulunkul some young kids are playing with tin lid and sick, shards of glass. We play volleyball. Older boys come and only want to spike. We and the kids leave the game.

The kids play a game with a cloth ball. Cardboard numbers get flipped over, and it seems the goal is to not get hit with ball.

We talk about hiking a valley and meeting up with the Jeep at the other end. Too many unknowns. I consider going back to Khorog. I can’t decide what the fuck to do. Murgab or back to Khorog? In the end I continue with the guys.