After leaving the villages behind, the next section of the trip took us through Badakhshan National Park, which is close to the Tajik border with China. Although it had a much more remote and deserted feel, we saw many transport trucks along this section of the highway bringing goods from China into Central Asia and beyond.
Our plan for the night was to stay with a family in a village near Lake Bulunkul. This freshwater lake was an amazing oasis among the muted colours of the desert. We were the only ones there other than a couple sunbathing much further down the beach.
Steve burns easily so his version of a “beach day” is very different than mine. It was also pretty windy and not ideal for swimming so, after a bit of beach walking, we were ready to continue to the village.
This was our first chance to see real yurts up close. We didn’t actually stay in the yurt but the locals were more than happy to show us inside and let us take photos. There was not much English spoken other than by a few drivers but it didn’t matter since everyone was very friendly.
The village had a mix of building types, not just yurts. It seemed like yurts were mainly used for cooking or to hang out during the day. They were really for sleeping unless tourists were in town in which case the guesthouse bedrooms were rented out (to people like us).
Steve and I stayed in one of the daughters’ bedrooms. Ashraf and Conor stayed in another bedroom of similar size and then a large French group that arrived later in the day ended up staying in a makeshift lounge area. Our guide had organized our accommodations ahead of time and was a lifesaver. He clearly knew all the families well and had negotiated the best places for us ahead of time. Some of the other travelers we met simply showed up and had to take whatever accommodations were left. This can work in some places but, in the Pamir, tourism infrastructure is very minimal and if you have any kind of timeline you need to stick to, you can easily get held up if you don’t have a plan (more to come on the stranded Belgian couple we met in the next post…). Steve found it very amusing that our room had a real wolf pelt on the mirror. It was very creepy and made it hard to sleep!
The actual vibe of the village was very interesting. You could describe it as a large, flat open space with small one-story buildings, yurts, and cars (working and non-working) spread haphazardly throughout. There was a basketball net along with other structures where the local kids were playing. It definitely had a more remote feel than the other villages. The locals were clearly very self-sufficient.
In the evening, we went out to stargaze. We did see lots of stars but there was a strange white light coming from the direction of the lake that captured our attention. No one seemed to know what it was and the locals didn’t seem bothered. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere with no other villages nearby. It remains a mystery!