Robb and I decided to get an early start by waking up at 07:00 to see the Karakul Lake minus the snow and haze. Luckily for us, we got lucky with clear skies!
After packing our things, we quickly said goodbye to our hosts at Homestay Sadat and headed off.
On paper (or Maps.me), it should have been an easy 126km drive to Sary-Mogol. Maps.me had no clue about Kyzyl-art Pass.
We arrived at the Tajik border half an hour after leaving Karakul. While Talaay took care of the police formalities and bribing them with non (Tajik bread), a Tajik soldier came out from a building and came to the car. “I’ve been here for two months and I can’t practice my English! Can I talk with you? I’m like Robinson Crusoe here!” said the soldier. It was hard not to sympathize with him.
Once we were all stamped out of Tajikistan, the real driving began. Talaay told us that he had been at Kyzyl-art Pass a week prior doing a taxi run from Murghab to Osh. He ended up being stuck at the pass for 24 hours with eight other cars. Because Kyzyl-art Pass lies in no-man’s land between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both countries do not feel responsible to care for the road. Sitting at 4,280 m (14,042 ft) above sea level, there was a lot of snow. Talaay and the other people had to shovel the snow themselves to keep moving. While in Murghab, he picked up a shovel, just in case.
Talaay said the main reason why he asked his brother to join was because of this road. I had to applaud him afterwards because I don’t know how he did it. Our advantage was that we were heading down into Kyrgyzstan while cars going the opposite direction needed to head up to Tajikistan. Drivers heading the other direction would stop our car and asked about the road conditions. Some of these cars were just packed full of supplies, so top-heavy they teetered as they went.
It took almost three hours of driving through windy, icy roads to reach the Kyrgyz border checkpoint. And it was a proper border checkpoint with an immigration officer sitting in a booth with a sliding tray.
Eventually, we got to Sary-Tash, the first Kyrgyz city from the border and had lunch. Unfortunately, at Sary-Tash, there was no way we could have changed our Tajik somoni into Kyrgyz som. (Isn’t it a bit logical to put a money exchange somewhere at the first town outside the border?) Thankfully, after some cajoling, Talaay was able to spot us until we got into Osh.
After lunch, we drove 30km west to Sary-Mogol, a village that sits right in front of Lenin Peak, the highest mountain in the Trans-Alay Mountains at 7,134m (23,406ft). While it was still too packed with snow to climb, the village offered us a good view of the mountain range.
It took us a while to find a guesthouse that was actually opened. The owners of the usual guesthouse that Talaay went to was deserted. The second guesthouse which was advertised on the road was still being built. Luckily, a lady saw us and said we could stay at her house for a nominal fee.
After settling in, our host offered us copious amounts of bread and homemade yak yogurt. Surprisingly, the yogurt was tart and very yummy. It was unfortunate that Robb and I had downed full plates of manti (meat dumplings) an hour before.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the village. Since it was a Sunday, there were kids everywhere: playing football, riding bikes and donkeys and having fun. When they saw us, we were pretty much surrounded.
As Robb played football with the boys, I chatted with some girls. They had excellent English. One girl even went into her home to get her homework to show me. They told me that the village had a population of 2,000. I asked if they knew everyone’s name and I put them to the test. They had names for everyone, even the puppies. Some other boys asked me to take photos of them.
As the sun went down, it got really cold, so we headed back to our homestay. We asked to stay for 1,400KGS ($20.82) for the both of us, minus meals. After we had our last instant noodle dinner with canned peas, our host brought us dinner of stewed potatoes, bread and homemade cherry jam.
We were in bed by 21:00, stomachs full of food from our two dinners.
- Number of kilometers driven: 126
- Number of checkpoints: 4
- Number of roadblocks: Does Kyzyl-art Pass count?
- Number of bribes: 1, a loaf of Tajik bread