© 2017 

  • Instagram - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle

Off The Beaten Track: Into The Pamirs

April 30, 2018

 

 

 

One can say that travelling along the Pamir Highway or the main M41 road is already an epic adventure. Sure, it would have been easier if we stayed on the M41 when we left Murghab and continue on the highway to the Wakhan Corridor like the normal travellers of the Pamir Highway do.

 

But we wanted more.

 

We craved for something different - to go off road, explore the vastness of the Pamirs and discover the life of the people in the remote areas of the region. And get off the beaten path is exactly what we did. We spent a couple of days off the grid venturing into places pretty much unknown to most. Was it worth doing it? Or should we have just stayed in the main highway? Read on to find out.

 

Two Roads (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/500 sec at f/8, ISO 64, 57mm

 

On the morning of our third day in Murghab, we bid goodbye to Shamil and loaded all our gear in the new 4WD with our new driver - Houdon. The new ride is a bit of a step down compared to the previous one - it's older, the window of the side where I was sitting was broken and could not be opened, and there were no pockets put stuff in - but I didn't really mind. We're good as long as it doesn't breakdown and can take us along the Pamirs safely. We won't be following the M41 and going further inland for the next couple of days, so I was a bit anxious at the start of this leg.

 

Upon leaving Murghab, it was evident that we were really getting off the beaten track. Our first stop was the town called Shaimak. Located 126km from Murghab, it is situated near the borders of Tajikistan, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you try to search for 'Shaimak, Tajikistan' online, chances are you won't be able to find a lot of information regarding it. Maybe just a couple of blogs from travellers who have also ventured into this small town and nothing more. It doesn't even show up in Google maps! Anyway, the way to Shaimak was interesting. We had some crazy roads when we entered Tajikistan but the road to this village was something else. Yes, there was a proper road built but you can see some tracks right next to it which people normally use instead of the main road. It seemed that it was much better to drive along the dirt than to drive along the gravelly road. The chance of ruining your tires is actually less than when you take the 'proper' road.

 

Strangled Lakes (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/100 sec at f/2.2, ISO 166

 

 

Shaimak Locals (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/5000 sec at f/4, ISO 640, 41mm

 

 

We finally arrived in the town of Shaimak after around three and a half hours of driving. It's definitely much smaller than the previous towns we've visited and there were only a few people when we arrived. I was wondering how they manage to live in the area given the place looks arid until I learnt that there is a river running through the town which gave them water and made the soil fertile. We had our lunch with one of Houdon's relatives whose family was living there. They were really nice and it was a great break relaxing in their home after a long drive. They also have these young kids who were curious with our gear. It was probably the first time they've seen such cameras and they were excited to have their photos taken. The looks on their faces as I handed them a print out of their photo was priceless. To this day, I still smile when I remember how happy they were as they receive the photo.

 

New Olympus Shooters (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/50 sec at f/4, ISO 640, 12mm

 

Poser (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 17mm f/1.8: 1/4000 sec at f/2.2, ISO 320, 17mm

 

When You've Never Posed for a Photo (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 17mm f/1.8: 1/250 sec at f2.2, ISO 1000, 17mm

 

Natural Model (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 640, 86mm

 

After taking a couple more photos, we bid goodbye to them and we continued our journey into the remote Pamir lands. You know that it's serious off-roading when you lose sight of the road and what you only see is the vast rugged landscape surrounding you. I was impressed on the navigation skills of our driver since it seemed like we were just going into nothingness. I have downloaded the Pamir maps, but we just looked like we were in the middle of nowhere most of the time. The landscape became more and more barren as we drove deeper in the Pamirs. The only exciting activities that we had during the drive was trying to capture photos of marmots (there were loads of them!) and the sightings of Marco Polo sheep. They said that it's rare to see Marco Polo sheep but during our drive, we saw a lot of them. They were pretty far though, so we weren't really able to capture them in their glory. Major props to our driver as he was able to spot them even if they looked like white dots in the distance. I guess if you're trained to see them, it would be easy to do it - but still, I was super impressed.

 

Minimal Earth (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/125 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

Solo(Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/400 sec at f/8, ISO 64, 29mm

 

Live another Day (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro + MC-14 Tele: 1/250 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 420mm

 

Cheeky Look Backs (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro: 1/2000 sec at f/4.5, ISO 200, 300mm

 

 

Where's the Marco Polos? (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro + MC-14 1.4x Tele: 1/400 sec at f/13, ISO 400, 420mm

 

 

Sary Gorum (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/640 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, 12mm

 

A couple more hours of driving and the scenery started to change from barren landscapes to lush green views. We stopped for a bit in the small hunting camp along the Istyk River valley called Jarty Gumbez. With a big stack of Marco Polo sheep heads and horns, it was pretty obvious that it was indeed a stop for some hunting groups. One hour from Jarty Gumbez, we have finally reached our stop for the day - the mountain yurt camp of Sary Gorum.

 

Our stay in Sary Gorum was probably one of the best moments on our entire trip. It's easily the most authentic experience that we've had, and we loved every second of it. The place was incredible. Picture this - lush green pastures nestled between rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains; goats and yaks roaming around the fields; and a handful of yurts scattered along the plains. We also had an amazing host family that made us feel at home. We had a bit of chat and I found out that they were actually a Kyrgyz family from Murghab. Like with other shepherd families, during summer when the kids are on break for three months, they head off to the mountain pastures with their livestock. I was curious on how they end up on this remote area. It was silly, but I thought they herded their livestock from Murghab to Sary Gorum. It turns out that they transport their livestock and yurt via trucks which made a lot more sense than what I was thinking.

 

Evening Herd (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 100mm

 

 

New Best Friends (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/3200 sec at f/5, ISO 400, 14mm

 

 

Young Shepherds (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/800 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 70mm

 

Matt with the Locals (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/800 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 70mm

 

Ymyt Helping With the Yaks (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/800 sec at f/5, ISO 200, 60mm

 

After settling in, Matt and I decided to go out and do our thing. We were so pumped to take photos since the place and conditions were near perfect - the sun was about to set, and we were in such a breathtaking place. It was great walking around the camp, talking to the people, observing them as they herd their yaks and goats for the day, and capturing such moments. We would have captured more but our hosts decided that it would be great for us to join them in a game of volleyball. Now, I'm not really a sporty guy and a game of 'high altitude volleyball' wasn't really in my plan when I started this trip. I was hesitant at the start but there are times where you just have to do it. How many times in my life would I be able to play volleyball in a remote yurt camp in Tajikistan? And good thing I did! Playing volleyball with Matt and the people in the community was such a memorable experience - lots of laugher, yelling and cheering from everyone. I was out of breath after a while, but I had the time of my life. These are the sort of unplanned moments that will stick with you for the rest of your life and I'm grateful that I was able to experience it.

 

For Pride and Glory (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 800, 7mm

 

 

Game Time (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/50 sec at f/4, ISO 800, 7mm


 

 

Sleep Amongst the Stars (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600, 7mm

 

Darkest Skies (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 30 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250, 7mm

 

 

Our Lovely Host Family in Sary Gorum (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 12mm

 

Houdon - Our Driver for the rest of our Trip (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 12mm

 

The next day, we left Sary Gorum and ventured on further. It's another long day of travel as the drive is around 8 hours and we plan on reaching the lake town of Bulunkul before the sun sets. On the way, we stopped by to see Zorkhul Lake - a lake near the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan - and have late lunch in the small town of Alichur. In Alichur, as luck would have it, we saw some friends that we met while we were in Osh. They were driving in a Lada and were going the same way we're going, and safe to say we pretty much saw each other for the rest of our trip and you'll definitely read and know more about them in future posts.

 

Butcher Taxi (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/6.3, ISO 200, 12mm

 

 

 

Two days of long drive is really tiring especially if you are not doing it on proper roads. By the time we reached Bulunkul, we were pretty much dead tired, and our moods weren't that great. The town of Bulunkul is situated near the alpine lake of the same name. It's known to be a mirror lake, but it was windy when we were there, so we didn't get the reflection that we wanted so that really didn't help uplift our mood. Luckily, there is another lake near the area - the beautiful Yashikul Lake. It's in a protected national park area and we had to pay to enter. And after a long day travel, we finally got rewarded with a picture-perfect view. It was super windy, but the majestic views of the lake were enough to excite us and lift our moods up. We spent the rest of our time exploring the surrounds of Yashikul Lake and taking some photos until the sun has set before heading back to our homestay in Bulunkul. It was the best way to end our two long days of travelling in the remote areas of the Pamirs.

 

 

The Lada in Yashikul (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8: 1/1600 sec at f/7.1, ISO 250, 10mm

 

Yashikul Sunset (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8: 1/1600 sec at f/7.1, ISO 250, 7mm

 

 

Lake Layers (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4: 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 500, 40mm

Tiny Little Kel (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 66mm

 

Trails of Glory (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/500 sec at f/9, ISO 200, 44mm

 

Adventure (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/9, ISO 200, 92mm

 

 

Shepherds Run (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 100mm

 

 

So, was it worth it going off road and exploring the remote places in the Pamirs? Absolutely! We wouldn't have wanted it any other way. We had one of the best (if not the best) and most authentic memories on our entire Central Asia trip. We certainly wouldn't have gotten it if we played it safe and stuck on the main highway. It can be a bit daunting heading off into the unknown not knowing what to expect. But I think that's the beauty of it - venturing into the unknown opens a lot of possibilities and yields a lot of moments you can experience that you've never even thought of.

 

 

 

 

Please reload

Please reload

November 16, 2017