Alichur is a wide scattering of low, white washed hovels at the westernmost limit of Murgab Region’s predominantly Kyrgyz community whose occasional yurts and yak herds dot the mountain-edged plain at nearly 4000m that stretches over 300km northeast until Kara-Kul. For us it was like paradise when we entered the tiny Marco Polo homestay with its glowing tin oven that was emitting enough heat to defrost our frozen bones.
The next days we were biking through a remote, Tibetan-style high plateau scenery, occasionally populated by shepherds and stunted, low bushes, the main fire material aside from dried yak dung. The landscape is completely different from what we’ve seen in the Wakhan Valley.
The vastness of the place and the lack of any vegetation or inhabitation together with the freezing temperatures create a lunar-like atmosphere that is now and then interrupted by indigo-blue, salt lakes. It’s not surprising why this area has become known as “Roof of the World”. Being here gives you an indescribable feeling for the majesty and sublimity of our unique world.
150km without any settlement and a little pass at 4200m later, we reached Murgab, the utterly isolated regional center. The container houses and criss-crossing power lines don’t create an immediate charming atmosphere, but the hearty hospitality and delicious food at the colorful decorated Erali homestay, along with the well-deserved “bania” (a bucket of hot water in a fire heated little room) made us feel absolutely revived.
North of Murgab the high-altitude highway follows a fenced area of ‘neutral zone’ between Tajikistan and China and is slowly but constantly climbing higher. Along with the falling temperatures and oxygen saturation, our speed and energy were decreasing and simple things like pitching the tent at the end of day became quite a challenge. Temperatures at night were dropping dramatically and even fully dressed with our sleeping bags zipped together we were shivering with cold. In the morning it took a while before the solidly frozen little creek next to our camp was defrosted enough to give us water for our morning tea.
But two hard days after leaving Murgab we finally reached our long dreamed goal, we crossed the 4655m Ak-Baital (White Horse) pass, the biggest challenge on our journey on the “Roof of the World”!
Tired but proud we were tackling the last stage on our road and were rolling on a dead straight road along the photogenic blue Kara-Kul lake with an dramatic mountain panorama on our back and an stunning view on the imposing peak Lenin ahead of us until we reached the scrappy but intriguing town Kara-Kul, where one last big surprise was waiting for us.
It turned out that exactly the homestay that we had stopped at, was chosen as the central base for the “Roof of the World Regatta 2015”, the highest sailing event in the world! Most of the organization team and all participants, who were actually a lovely family from the UK with three talented Kite-Surfing daughters, were staying there and it didn’t take long until we became part of the team. Gui and his juggling show became the highlight of the opening ceremony at the local school and thanks to our comprehensive medical kit Martina was soon known as the official regatta medic after curing half of the team of the dreaded Pamiri sickness (also known as “having the runs”).
On the big race day we were all together playing games with dozens of the local families before the event reached its climax with the final regatta race and an exuberant trophy ceremony. A big success for this year’s regatta team and a perfect ending for our marvelous Tajikistan adventure!