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I am writing one more post about the remainder of our time in Tajikistan, there are a few things that are worth writing about.  After our climb described in the previous post was over, there was sadly no time left over to climb anything else – especially given that the walk out to base camp from our climb took 2 days due to the need to cross the Bozbaital river very early on to avoid mishap.  A pity, but the reality is that attempting to climb a 6,000m peak without acclimatizing to roughly 5,500m first would have been foolish.  Better safe than sorry.

After arriving back at basecamp to find everything intact we had a few days to pack up and carry everything back to where we had arranged to be picked up, and have a closer look at the Kokuybel mudflats.  Our lift back to Murgab turned up early (they arrived at 10am-ish, when we hadn’t been expecting them until 1pm).  Several minor breakdowns later, we arrived back in Murgab mid-afternoon.  We spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking tea and the evening eating plov.  Plov is the national dish of Tajikistan (and Uzbekistan), it is very good and is also very cheap to make.  It is steamed rice with some meat, carrots and onions, all fairly spicy and usually with a few condiments.  http://tinyurl.com/ondza6m is a representative selection of images of this delicious dish!  After our time in the wilderness we were certainly in the mood for eating.

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Minor breakdown on Pamir plateau.  A very long way from anywhere.

Next morning we were ready to visit the area in town where vehicles driving to Khorog depart and negotiate the first stage of our journey home.  We shared with a French couple but still did not get that good a price.  Getting a good price for journey from Murgab – Khorog seems much harder than for the journey from Khorog – Dushanbe.  For the latter journey we got a good price on both outward and return trips.  We sat down to yet another day of stunning scenery, interspersed with long waits at military checkpoints, as we crossed the Pamir plateau back to Khorog.  Our driver demonstrated his proficiency at multi-tasking by getting out a passport-sized photo of the Aga Khan IV and wedging the photo in place by the sun visor so that he could do his prayers while he was driving.

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Some good hills overlooking the Gunt river en-route back to Khorog.

Our driver, like most people in Gorno-Badakhshan province (except maybe the Kyrgyz in Murgab and the north) was part of the Nizari Shia Ismaili denomination of Islam.  The Nizari Shia Ismailis are a fascinating group.  There are about 15 million Nizari Shia Ismailis worldwide, with particularly large numbers in parts of central Asia and Africa.  The Nizari Shia Ismailis worship the Aga Khan IV, a descendant of the prophet Mohammed.  The Aga Khan IV is a business magnate living in France, who founded and operates the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a large NGO providing healthcare, education, and other development work in those parts of the world where the Nizari Shia Ismailis live. 

Gorno-Badakhshan appears heavily dependent on the activities of the AKDN, for instance in running the health service there, and in opening the University in Khorog.  It is hard not to be impressed by how they have a functioning society in Gorno-Badakhshan despite so many obstacles – a government that cares little for them, proximity to Afghanistan, the legacy of the civil war and other conflicts, a harsh environment (especially in winter) and poor transport links.  That they have achieved this appears (to the non-expert outside observer, at least) to be a testament to their shared religious beliefs and the work of the AKDN.

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Heavy traffic near Shurabad.

We arrived in Khorog in good time and returned to Dushanbe the following day.  Staying with friends in Dushanbe (thanks!), we were able to weigh ourselves.  I had lost about 7 kg on the expedition, Jonny wasn’t sure how much he weighed before we started out.  We ate quite a lot of shashlik to try and rectify the weight loss, and went for a ride on an extremely old ferris wheel to gain an aerial view of the world’s largest teahouse (http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67218) under construction.

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The world’s largest teahouse under construction in Dushanbe.

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Jonny eating shashlik in Dushanbe.

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Jonny drinking SimSim in Dushanbe.

All photos copyright © John Proctor and Jonathan Davey

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