You can watch the highlights of our first day on the Pamir Highway here.
Our driver Abdi picked us up from Osh around 9 to set off for the Pamirs. We first ran a few errands around town, just the essentials for the trip: exchanging currency, picking up groceries and getting Jesse a Kyrgyz hat that he could wear during pictures. We had read that as we got more remote, water and groceries would be harder to get so we did our best to stock up for the 9 days on the Pamirs. We had read mixed reviews about the food served along the way so we brought along some back up instant noodles and plenty of snacks just in case.
We also made a few stops for Abdi to pick up items including a few watermelons, fresh eggs from his uncle, and parts for his car. Abdi is from Murghab and spoke fairly good English. We learned later from another driver that he is a doctor in his home town. He has two children who we’d get to meet later in the journey. We feel like we really lucked out with him as our driver. The tape deck audio jack from our RTW packing list came into use immediately upon setting off and Abdi was a huge fan of our country music. He also kept a kind and watchful eye on us throughout the trip and had the patience of a saint each time we stopped along the way to take pictures.
As we left Osh city limits, rural village life opened up to us as we drove by yurts, horses, cows, and yaks.
Our route took us into Allay Valley with the goal of sleeping at the base of Peak Lenin (23,406 ft/7,134 meters) , the highest summit of the region, on our first night. As we made our way towards our first stop, Sary Tash, we saw the mountains get bigger and were also amazed with the variety of rock formations we saw. There were sections that looked like Red Rocks Park in Colorado. There were rolling green hills as well as large pastoral fields (Pamir actually translates from ancient Persian as “rolling pastureland”). Most amazingly there were also large white peaks that grew bigger with each hour. Our drive was about 5 hours with leisurely stops along the way for photos.
We stopped for a late lunch in Sary Tash. The town itself is not much, a few buildings surrounded by majestic white peaks. This is a popular stop because the highway splits here. Had we continued to the east we would have headed towards Kashgar in China, we instead went west towards Tajikistan. Lunch was plov, which is a vegetable fried rice and a beef stew. Every meal thus far has been served with flat bread. We learned that locals first remove the beef and potatoes from the soup and eat them as they dip the flatbread into the soup.
Shortly after departing Sary Tash, we turned off the paved road onto gravel dirt roads that cut through fields, across rivers, heading ever closer to the large white snow capped peaks we saw ahead of us. We stopped shortly in the town of Sary Mogol for Abdi to pick up some more things. There a group of kids from the village that ran out to greet us. The stickers from our packing list came in handy and we made fast friends as we gave out stickers to the village kids.
After Sary-Mogol, we went even more off road cutting through rolling hills until we arrived to Lake Tolpur. This lake is at the base of Mt Lenin (Peak Lenin) and is just a few miles from the base camp. This was home for the night in a yurt village.
This is a common stop for the Pamir Highway routes that start from Osh as it’s a good elevation acclimation before proceeding to the higher points of the Pamir Highway. For those planning a similar route, there are three options for where to sleep at this stop:
- Home stays in Sary-Mogol as well as options to rent horses to ride up to Lake Tolpur
- The yurt stays at Lake Tolpur
- Base camp of Peak Lenin which is only open in the summers and only for those that are climbing
We were very happy to end up in the yurt camp as we found Sary-Mogol a quiet dusty town. From Lake Tolpur we had sunset views on our right behind the Peak Lenin which loomed just above us and sunrise views across the Lake.
We came upon a river crossing that was gushing with the glacier melt. Jesse had no problem getting across but Quan took some coaching to jump across.
In the end we took a wrong turn and did not find base camp but instead found a beautiful spot at the head of the river with an incredible view of Peak Lenin. The photo at the top of this post was taken at this spot.
As we made our way back we encountered two other hikers who were being led by their guide to his house which was up the hill from the river then away from base camp. Jesse couldn’t take his eyes off of it and decided he’d get up early to hike up there before departure.
At this point we were both feeling the elevation as we had ascended to 3500m. It was an early dinner and right to bed for us.
We both awoke in the middle of the night to use the outhouse. We were both startled by the horse that was grazing by our yurt as well as struck by the beauty of the campground under starlight and a full moon. The moon cast a light on Peak Lenin and we could glimpse the lake just across the way.
For us this is this why we’re on Shabbatical in these moments of quiet beauty in nature – we feel the presence of God.