We Raced a Tank in the Pamirs
Pamir Highway, Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan
The next morning brought hope, but we were a ragged crew. After a dip and dish-washing in a mountain stream we hit the road.
Fortunately soon after our start, the road conditions improved from the 15 km/hr speed we had been doing much of the previous day. The road flattened out and we followed the river along a giant open steppe (still 3000+ meters up) surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains on all sides and this cool abandoned car....
Along the road, we encountered some locals… riding a tank. We managed to get around the wide treads to continue on. This may have been a mistake. A race was on. They gunned it. We were now being pursued by a tank on the Pamirs. Eventually the roads were too rough and our Polo had to pull over. The tank would fly on by. We met up with them a small town ahead and took pictures and Josiah gave one of them his flashlight….no one really knows why…
We spent the day on flat (but still rough) roads going through small towns and fording little rivers. The people hear all wore loose fitting colorful batik clothing and resembled Turkish or Baltic people often with skin tones similar to my own. We were overcome with hunger as we had eaten very little in the last 24 hours and were running low on prepared (no cooking involved) food. After stopping in a few towns we managed to find an old lady who was willing to cook us some food. She made us eggs and sausage served with heard bread and butter and we finished 4 pots of tea.
We were in heaven.
After the amazing rest stop we continued along this steppe. As the late afternoon hit, the road suddenly turned more rugged and much more vertical. Our little Polo sputtered (but succeeded!) up a series of rough cutbacks as we quickly climbed another 1000 meters onto a mountain pass. After 2 hours and multiple push attempts, we decided to pitch camp for the night. We chose a picturesque spot surrounded by mountain streams with an amazing view of Afghanistan. We managed to pitch camp and make dinner with considerably less (but still some) puking and dysentery and got a good, but freezing, night’s sleep.
We had wanted to attempt the “Yaks Marathon” the next morning but the combination of sickness and lack of oxygen rebuffed us. It was for the best, as the next few hours consisted of extremely rough roads which often required us to get out and push.
We also soon suffered our 2nd blown tire which required us to fix it on a single lane dirt/rock road with a 1000 meter canyon on one side and a handful of trucks stuck behind us. After a record breaking tire change, we continued on and immediately had to ford a stream with trucks behind us and death on one side. Fortunately the pass came to an end soon and we were back on a flat open steppe for a bit.
Soon we parted ways with the river and Afghan border (which we had followed for 3 days) and began another mountain pass. Soon the roads began to change and stretches of concrete began to appear as we approached the town of Murghab. The landscape became (if possible) more desolate with no trees and very little vegetation, however, herds of goats, sheep and horses were everywhere. The people immediately began to resemble Mongolian or other steppe people. We stopped briefly in Murgab for some gas, a few sickly fruits and vegetables and an awesome hat before staring the long road to Osh.
Immediately after leaving down we came upon the first (of a few) washed out bridges. Thankfully, since it was dry season, we could go off-road around in the dried out river basin. The mountains seemed to grow larger and the elevation increased as we continued towards Osh, seemingly the only car on the road.
We pitched camp on the sandy bank of a river and hastily ate our horrible attempt at soup as the temperature plummeted towards freezing. Those without a decent sleeping bag (everyone, but Jon) put every piece of clothing on and shivered in the tents and car until morning, only leaving to sprint for the latrines in the middle of the night. All of the cold weather gear from Cold Pruf and Elevate might have saved our lives, but couldn’t prevent it from being the most miserable night of the trip.
As soon as the sun came up, we packed the car and sped off towards Osh. We passed our highest point on the Pamir Highway at 4655 meters and stopped at the breathtaking Karakul lake at an altitude of 3,600 meters. We drove through the first snow of the season and were soon at the border to Kyrgyzstan, a bleak outpost at the top of a mountain pass. The border guards were (as always) extremely nice and soon we were descending the muddy roads down into Kyrgyzstan.
After another relatively painless border crossing (all told maybe 3 hours for both crossings which is very good) we were truly on our way to Osh. Soon the road quality improved and it was clear we were truly out of the Pamir highway. On the road to Osh we began to see more Yurts and even our first (wait for it) Yak sightings!!! We reached Osh (the New York of Kyrgyzstan) with daylight to spare and found a hostel to pass out in but not before a hot meal and a chance meeting with team Karmakar!