After a night of good sleep at Guesthouse Sadat in Kara Kul, we set off from the lake to drive to Murghab. This was exciting for me, as Murghab was one of the main stops for me on this trip, and because this section of the road would go over Ak-Baital Pass, which, at 4655 meters above sea level, would be the highest elevation I had ever been to, even though that would change a few weeks later.
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.
Almost everyday, throughout the entire roadtrip, our various taxi drivers would pull over at what seemed like random locations, only to point out something of historical interest tucked just off the roadside. The first time this happened, our driver stopped and pointed out an old, crumbling building, and informed us that it was a Russian Military post from the “Russian Empire,” indicating that it proceeded the Soviet Union, and represented Russian military exploration during the Great Game, which is commonly romanticized by travelers in the region, including myself. It would have been hard living up here, to say the least.
From there, we ascended quickly up Ak-Baital Pass. In between snapping photos of the tremendous mountains that surrounded us, I chatted with my travel companions Svend and Helen about altitude sickness, a common occurrence for tourists on this pass. Besides the obvious beauty of Lake Kara Kul, we had slept at 4000 meters the night before in the hope that it would prevent any headaches or worse. The arrival at the top, however, was anticlimactic, as the view was less than extraordinary despite all of us being in good health.
From the top of the pass, the road was straight and straight-forward, never far from the Chinese border fence and never quite smooth. I was far from concerned about the road, however, as I was continually gaping and the never-ending enormous landscape that surrounded us all the way into Murghab.
Murghab is a pretty mellow town, full of white-walled, flat-topped homes and a modern bazaar consisting almost entirely of modified shipping containers. Svend, Helen and I explored most of the town after arranging transportation for the rest of the trip to Khorog, never walking too quickly to avoid getting winded. We split up for a bit, and I discovered the well-preserved Lenin statue at the center of town, which looked much better maintained than the nearby War Memorial. I am indifferent about the number of Lenin Statues still on display throughout the world, but I found this one impressive, mostly because it was so clean in such a dusty town.
We returned to the Erali Questhouse, where I ate the emergency ramen I had for the trip, hesitant to eat much after the prior day’s sickness. After dinner, Svend and Helen expressed their concern about the cool temperatures, and to all of our surprise, the little lady who runs the Guesthouse brought in a cast-iron stove with her husband to keep the cold at bay. I cannot recommend this guesthouse enough, and would return a week later for two nights on my way back to Osh.