Osh to Kara Kul: A Misunderstanding, A Sick Start, & A Closed Road

Posted on July 21, 2014

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The only frame from a timelapse attempt on Lake Kara Kul worth seeing

The only frame from a timelapse attempt on Lake Kara Kul worth seeing

A Misunderstanding

The absolute best class I took at anytime during my studies at Universities in North America, Europe, and Asia was an intercultural communications course at Karlstad University in Sweden. This course taught me, among many other things, that when there are two people from different cultures attempting to make a business transaction, what one sees as an emotional pitch might be offensive to the other.

This lesson was brought into full effect when a travel coordinator from Kyrgyzstan was working hard to sell a Pamir Highway travel package to a Western traveler at a guesthouse in Osh in front of several other international travelers, including myself. The two men had a mutual friend who had contacted the coordinator, and the Kyrgyzstani man had arranged for what I considered to be a pretty well-priced package, including English speaking drivers and insurance in case of car failure. The coordinator even said that he would take a cut in his commission to provide this price.

The Western traveler, however, had done some investigation at the taxi stand in Osh, and discovered that the price the coordinator was asking for was the price he had been quoted by some other drivers. He was hesitant to agree to the package, believing it was just a standard estimate and a simple quote that most people would get if they asked this particular Kyrgyzstani businessman or any Kyrgyzstani business person. Also, it was a little expensive without another traveler to split the cost.

Author’s Note: This post is a part of many associated with my trip on the Pamir Highway in June, 2014. For a complete overview of this trip, please click this link.

Three rad mountains in the Tien Shan before Taldyk Pass in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Three rad mountains in the Tien Shan before Taldyk Pass in Southern Kyrgyzstan

I am still quite sure that the coordinator made an emotional last effort to pitch the sale of the package by over-emphasizing his personal investment in arranging the trip. He was perhaps a little overly expressive with his personal emotions, and he made this final effort in the middle of the guesthouse with an audience of other travelers.

The Western Traveler, somewhat dumbfounded by the emotion of the coordinator for what he saw as a price estimate, and slightly embarrassed it happened with a crowd watching, decided that the sale attempt made by the Kyrgyzstani man had been offensive. He angrily expressed his feelings to the foreign audience after the coordinator had left, but still well within earshot of the coordinator’s coworkers in the next room. I was not staying at this particular guesthouse, so I returned to my bed for the evening, nervous that my first realistic opportunity to travel south might be in jeopardy.

On board before the snow on Taldyk Pass

On board before the snow on Taldyk Pass

The next morning, as I sat on the front porch of a tea house snacking on some bread and tea, one of the tiny Daewoo vehicles endemic to the streets of Uzbekistan and southern Kyrgyzstan pulled up. The Kyrgyzstani coordinator rolled down his window and beckoned me to talk to him. He was on his way back to the other guesthouse and was very concerned about the Western Traveler, as he had heard about the Westerner’s rant the night before. I told him that the Western traveler was probably very tired, as he had been traveling throughout China for over a month, and that he will probably say some things to the coordinator that the Kyrgyzstani man should not take personally, as the Westerner probably just misinterpreted the sales pitch from the night before.

“But what if he writes bad things about me on Facebook?” the Kyrgyzstani man said, quite seriously. I assured him that the Westerner, who was in his mid- to upper-fifties, probably doesn’t even know how to use Facebook, and once again stressed the importance of just listening and not taking anything said personally.

There is not much to the town of Sary Tash, but it is a critical junction in southern Kyrgyzstan I will forever associate with Sprite.

There is not much to the town of Sary Tash, but it is a critical junction in southern Kyrgyzstan I will forever associate with Sprite.

I will never know what was said between the two after my chat with the travel coordinator, but I hope my advice helped. The two came to an agreement for a vehicle to Murghab, the only “major” village in Eastern Tajikistan, and it would depart the next morning. I was going to go with the Westerner and his wife, which meant I could finally, finally, leave Osh.

A Sick Start

I was super excited, and returned to my guesthouse that evening to prepare for the trip with my hopes high. I found a German fellow, recently arrived from somewhere north of Osh, who was looking for advice on how to get to western China. In exchange for advice, he had bags of cherries and apricots to snack on while we chatted and I packed. I ate a sizable amount of apricots, and before long I went to sleep, excited and nervous about the next day.

The road and moraine in the uncontrolled border zone between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is apparent neither side takes responsibility for maintaining the road.

The road at moraine in the 21 kilometer-long border zone between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It is apparent neither side takes responsibility for maintaining the road.

I awoke too early, with a feeling I had not felt since the summer before, when I had been camping on the Bogdonavitch Glacier above Almaty after skiing Komsomol Peak. It was a feeling of pure panic, completely unreasonable and unexplainable. I found myself standing over the guesthouse’s squatty potty only seconds later, as the pizza, cherries, and apricots I had consumed the night before decided to exit the way they entered.

Not a good start to a week in Eastern Tajikistan, but at least I discovered the culprit from the time I got sick on a glacier: I am allergic to apricots.

A Closed Road

I took some stomach medicine, put my metaphorical Storm Trooper suit on, and pushed through the pain to arrive at the waiting Mitsubish Pajero five hours after I first woke up. The Westerner and his wife joined soon after, and we were off on the M41 Highway headed south. Not two hours after departing Osh, just past the town of Glucha, we came to the “problem town.” The problem town, Sopu Korgon, was a village right at a crucial point on the highway where they had built a road block out of rocks, earth, and yurts in protest of their mayor being arrested in Bishkek, or something along those lines. Actually, the reasons for the protest were never clear the three times I ended up crossing it, all that was really recognizable was that it was political in nature, and they were doing a good job of preventing Chinese trucks from being able to go north.

This photo is out of chronological order if you are just following the pictures up to this point. It is a political protest in Sopu Korgon, which was before the ascent of Taldyk Pass. Here my friend Paolo is pushing his motorbike through on the way to Tajikistan.

This photo is out of chronological order if you are just following the pictures up to this point. It is a political protest in Sopu Korgon, which was before the ascent of Taldyk Pass. Here my friend Paolo is pushing his motorbike through on the way to Tajikistan.

Anyhow, we got around the road block by walking right through it, and found another Mitsubishi Pajero waiting on the other side. This would be the ride we would take all the way to Murghab, but only after driving through a snow storm on Taldyk Pass and seeing the last of the Tien Shan mountains before crossing into the Pamirs.

We stopped in Sary Tash, a crucial point in Southern Kyrgyzstan as it is the junction for the road to Tajikistan, China, and the only way to access southwestern Kyrgyzstan, including Peak Lenin’s basecamp. This was also the place where my stomach had its final fight against the last of the contents consumed the day before, thanks to an involuntary olfactory response to the rather rural smell of a shop. The first and only thing I consumed that day was a liter of Sprite from Sary Tash, and I can assure you it was the best Sprite of all time.

Lake Kara Kul during the descent from the border

Lake Kara Kul during the descent from the border

The rest of the drive was without issue, and after the 21 kilometer drive between the border check points of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, we arrived at a guesthouse in the tiny town of Kara-Kul, on the shores of a massive salt lake at about 4000 meters above sea level that shares the same name.

The view from the frigid, windy beach

The view from the frigid, windy beach

A poorly stitched panorama of Lake Kara Kul. For a 360-degree view, click on this photo.

A poorly stitched panorama of Lake Kara Kul. For a 360-degree view, click on this photo.

Here was the place I would take dozens of photos, thinking to myself that it was a lot different than Lake Dillon in Summit County. The brisk winds made me turn tail soon enough, however, and we called it a night as the last rays of the sun began to disappear in the sky.

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