Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Murgab, Tajikistan - the ends of the earth

The Eastern Pamir town of Murgab  truly feels like the ends of the earth. As a modern gauge to its remoteness not even the usual soft drink brands have made it out here, although if you bring petrol from the petrol station for the generator, it is possible to use the internet, giving contact to the outside world. The wind whips up the dust and throws it at the low buildings cowering into the hillside. Every second tourist is a cyclist doing battle with the wind. There's not much to do and, like in the Great Game days, we swap information on the road ahead, change money with people about to head to Kyrgyzstan and get tips on good places to stay and eat. There are the usual random collection of people who find themselves in a town like Murgab. The British ex-banker turned fantasy novelist travelling around the world on a motorbike, the Swiss cyclist who has been pedalling for 4 years, people heading to London, Amsterdam or Sydney by bicycle, jeep or motorbike. We try to grab a late lunch in one of the 3 cafes in town and can't work out why the waitresses are ignoring us. Even the other customers try to get their attention to no avail. When James walks into the kitchen to ask to order all becomes clear. They had run out of food but were too embarrassed to tell us.

Bikers in Murgab

Murgab is ethnically split between Kyrgyz and Tajik people. Tajiks look far more Persian and their language is also similar. Again this is the cause of some tension. The town sits on the Pamir Highway built by the Russian military back in 1934. And Murgab was an important military town even in Great Game days. It was here in 1890 that the British Army Officer, Younghusband, makes a reappearance in history, famously being expelled by the Russians soon after visiting.

A collection of ISO containers make up the market in Murgab. From above it looks like an illegal arms fair but actually they are just selling water melons and out of date chocolate bars.

Tajik/Kyrgyz  Friendship monument

Erali our cosy guest house and friendly hosts

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