In which I mention briefly my (JP) plans for this year. North face of Muz-Tok (pictured here in 2009 American Alpine Journal, gentle bedtime reading on these cold winter nights). I’ll be with Ed Lemon (who I climbed with in Tajikistan in 2012) and Martin Jones. Muz-Tok is in south-west Kyrgyzstan, not far from the triple point between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Access may be complex, involving incursions into Tajikistan and/or Uzbekistan but that will all be part of the adventure. Thanks for reading everyone!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The world’s largest teahouse under construction in Dushanbe.
Jonny eating shashlik in Dushanbe.
Jonny drinking SimSim in Dushanbe.
All photos copyright © John Proctor and Jonathan Davey
So where are you going?
It’s between Afghanistan, China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Oh, ok… Is it safe there?
Yeah it is hopefully. I mean there was a civil war for much of the ’90s, and last year it all kicked off again, but we’re pretty optimistic we can get in, get up, and get out in one piece.
So why are you going?
A few reasons, exploring a culturally alien country, the lure of unclimbed mountains, but mainly the massive boost our egos will get from the subsequent publicity.
Isn’t it going to be really hot there?
Yep, it’s high summer, in Dushanbe it’ll be around 35 degrees in the shade.
Isn’t it going to be really cold there?
Probably, we can’t say how cold for sure but the mountains reach over 6000m, they are snow covered all year and there are glaciers in the valleys nearby.
You’ll be hiring Sherpas then?
Sherpas live in Nepal, so no, unless any of them are holidaying nearby.
What about porters, to carry all your things?
Unlikely. We hope to hire a horse or donkey off local nomads to help with the walk in to base camp, but it’s quite possible the terrain will be totally unsuitable and we’ll end up with all the weight on our backs.
This all sounds like hard work.
You’re not wrong, but pain is weakness leaving the body. Well, according to all PE teachers anyway.
Hmm, when are you home again?
Thursday 15th August, though we will be finished in the mountains a week before that.
While you have been reading about previous trips, the state of Tajikistan and our shiny new attire, you may have been wondering “Just who are these people?” and “Why would they want to go all that way when there isn’t even wifi or a Starbucks to reward them?”.
Well the truth is that John lives (for the time being) in Hull, and Jonathan lives in semi-rural West Yorkshire. Neither are too bad, but both fill you with the desire to get out there and see snowier, pointier, and generally more exciting parts of the world.
For most of the time walking, running and climbing in Snowdonia, The English Lakes or the Cairngorms will suffice, but success on these modest peaks only leads to ambition for higher targets!
There aren’t many places left which are genuinely unexplored, but the greater ranges of south and central Asia are one of them. Of course, there are people who live there all year round, so to actually explore and tread new ground you must go of the beaten track and search hard for those places so far untrodden by man.
The Muzkol Pamir lie 30 miles north west of Murghab, the only settlement of any size in the mountainous east of the country. These peaks have been visited in the past by several Russian expeditions, and in the late ’90s by half a dozen EWP trips. These climbed many virgin summits, but left a few still to be claimed…