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Murghab: Life in Isolation

February 20, 2018

 

 

It's impossible to fully understand a culture without immersing your mind, body and soul into their way of life. How can one truly appreciate the minimalistic lifestyle of a nomad if they confine themselves to the comfort of a 5-star hotel? How can you understand the unbreakable bond of family members who each play a pivotal role in providing for one another if you are viewing their life from a tour bus? The answer? It's simple. You can't. 

 

Shamil took great pride in his hometown of Murghab. It was evident that he missed his young family dearly and probably couldn't wait to have a break from us.

 

 

Tajik Ubers (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/14, ISO 800, 12mm

 

 

Golden Mountains (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/400 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 100mm

 

 

Entrance to Murghab (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 100mm

 

 

Mountain Textures (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/500 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 70mm

 

 

Dust Storms (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 38mm

 

 

Fixing the Mud House (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 34mm

 

 

Yurt Layers (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/00 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 75mm

 

 

We were at a stage in our trip where I was craving the nutrients of fruit and vegetables. Alas, a large town in the middle of a desert wasn't precisely the lifeblood of fertile soils. To my dismay the all to familiar site of meat soup, bread and Plov were all that was available on our arrival. 

 

We did however, have the choice of where we wanted to stay during our time here, with our first pick, the infamous "Pamir Hotel" perched high and overlooking Murghab. The hotel was a favourite amongst travellers and passers-by. So popular in fact that it was entirely booked out by the time we arrived. Instead, Shamil took us to a small homestay, hidden within the confines of an elaborate maze of backstreets that made up the town. In the end, this homestay proved to be ideal as we were the only people staying here ensuring peace, and relative safety for all our camera gear. 

 

Murghab is by no means a sprawling metropolis, but it was undoubtedly the most significant town we had come across since departing Osh, with a population of around 4000. It is the capital of Murghab District and is also the highest town in Tajikistan.  

 

 

Murghab (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/10, ISO 400, 41mm

 

 

Market Day (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/400 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 100mm

 

 

Market Day (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1250, 17mm

 

 

Young kids taunting another child (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/10, ISO 400, 41mm

 

 

Wandering Home (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/50 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 50mm

 

 

Kel and I set off to explore the town separately as we often did, which I believe is essential for any travellers restricted to being together 24/7. Everyone needs their 'me time'. 

 

It was immediately apparent that Murghab was very different from Karakul. People lined every street, and there seemed to be a lot more laughter and life running through the town. It was still school holidays, so there were kids everywhere. Naturally, they were drawn to the funny western guy with expensive camera gear. 

 

 

New Best Friends (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Jumping Into Life (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/4.5, ISO 250, 9mm

 

 

Murghab Bandits (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

 

Family Friends (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

 

Shamil had scheduled us for a day hike in the Prishart Valley that would see us climb a pass and down into Murghab. Kel and I liked the idea, however, were keen for a less physically intensive day. Instead, we suggested we visit the Ak Bura meteor crater that was a couple of hours from Murghab. 

 

The long and dusty road to the crater was insane. We passed through some of the aridest and most inhospitable valleys imaginable. Often we would drive parallel to the rubble-filled tarmac as funnily enough; conditions were better than the main route. Broken power lines lay strewn across the road with abandoned mining sites scattered along the cliffs. It was reminiscent of scenes straight out of Mad Max. 

 

The crater was literally in the middle of nowhere, around 40+m wide and 15m deep. We were surprised to find a woman and her young son sitting near the crater. Confused as there was no car, yurt or any sign of life nearby. The two seemed unphased at our arrival, watched us for a half an hour then disappeared. 

 

 

Ak Bura Crater from Above (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/180 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

Ak Bura Crater From a High Vantage Point (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/40 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 23mm

 

 

 

One of the Giant Mosquitos that Infiltrated out Vehicle (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/10, ISO 1000, 7mm

 

 

Kel wasn't fond of joining me as I ascended the scree cliffs that surrounded the crater and instead opted for ground-level time lapses. The light was harsh, and the temperature was stinking hot. No shade out here apart from the rolling clouds which cast large shadows over the valleys. 

 

 

It was unfortunate that we were to lose Shamil and gain a new driver before departing Murghab. We had formed a close bond with our smiling chaperone, and he openly admitted that he wished he could stay with us as we were a lot more fun than his regular clients.   And he was sure that we would be more entertaining than the older family he had committed to taking along the highway over the next few days. 

 

 

That afternoon we ventured off to visit our the new driver Houdon and his family who lived deep in the Prishart Valley. Houdon's with yurt was located at the base of some stunning snow-capped mountains. He spoke as much English as we did Tajik, sported a toothless grin and drove a beat-up old Pajero.  

 

 

Yurts in Pshart (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/400 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 50mm

 

 

Houdon's Family (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/25 sec at f/9, ISO 1600, 9mm

 

 

Next Olympus Visionary (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/125 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

 

Welcome Smiles (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/40 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Hello there! (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/125 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 13mm

 

 

Mountain Streams at Houdon's Yurt (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8mm Pro: 1/320 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Pshart Valley (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/5.6 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 54mm

 

 

Shamil had assured us that Houdon was a 'very experienced driver'. This may have been the case, but experienced does not always go hand in hand with safety as we would soon find out. 

 

That afternoon we suggested to Shamil that we have some fun and locate any dry, dusty roads that we could film a speeding car scene. He was so excited that he insisted we drive through a strangled river system and get some hero shots for him to use as an advertisement for his company. On the way back to Murghab he continued to shake his head in disappointment at the fact he would no longer get to stay with us. The feeling was mutual. 

 

 

Adventure Fun (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200, 18mm

 

 

Stopping to Admire the Light (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 29mm

 

 

Messing Around (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/2000 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 40mm

 

 

Customary 4WD Shot (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1000 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 7mm

 

Saying Goodbye to Shamil (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/400 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 12mm

 

 

NOTE: During our stay in Karakul, Shamil had asked us how much we paid Osh Guest House to organise our trip. He nearly fell off his seat at the price we paid (which didn't seem all that much to us). He was quite upset as this occurred a lot where tourists pay a lot of money to middlemen back in Kyrgyzstan. These middlemen often take a large cut, leaving the tour operators in Tajikistan with very little. For the same price, Shamil ensured us that he could have offered twice the experience, length of time and locations to what we had at present had we dealt directly with him. While we understood his frustration, I explained that it is difficult to locate quality tour operators for Tajikistan on the internet and that the services offered at the guest house were very convenient and relatively trustworthy. If you have more time than we did, I urge you to shop around through word of mouth and reviews. It could make or break your experience and support the locals in that country. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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