Sarez…the dam was stable enough, but we almost died 74 times anyways.

It was Friday, and a holiday, so we set out relatively early (after a short stint at the office) to Rushan. No tourists were able to get the special Sarez pass this year, because it was deemed too unstable by the Tajik State (I secretly think that they were just trying to add allure to the place.) We had some good connections.
It truly is an amazing result of one of the greatest natural disasters of all time…where 2.2 million metric tons of rock came crashing to the valley floor to obstruct the entire valley, crush a village and create the largest natural dam of the world.
Right, back to Rushan. Here we picked up supplies (vodka, bread, candy, rice, 10 kg of apples, carrots, potatoes….etc.) We then had tea at a friends house, and lunch at a local café. OK, so by now its raining, its already 2 o’clock and we’re getting anxious to leave. Problem. Two tourists joined us, and we now don’t have enough room in the Russian Jeep. We pile into the Russian Jeep and an old Jigoli. By 3 o’clock we’re on the road. We figure we’ll reach our destination shortly after nightfall. Two hours in, it’s pitch black, we’ve dug the Jigoli out of half a foot of sand, driven across multiple rivers, and moved numerous obstructions from the road. At 7 we stop at a random house and we’re ushered into a spare room. We’re served tea, meat and potatoes along with the usual array of cookies, nuts, dried fruits and bonbons. We quickly realize that this is where we’ll be spending the night. So the 8 of us line up along the floor and roll out our sleeping bags. I was unlucky enough to be squeezed between a smelly wall and a lewd French tourist…
The next morning we get an early start, only to have a broken down jeep within 20 minutes. No worries! It was fixed after a half hour. Bam! First landslide. Dig out of it. Boom! Second landslide. Drive over it. Swoooosh. Stuck in the river. Push. Sizzle, radiator or something (I’m not good with cars) is overheating. Push the car up a hill and over a bridge. Stop, let the radiator cool. Pour water on the radiator. OK—we get to Barchedev shortly after noon. OF COURSE we have to take tea before heading to the lake. The white-haired old man in traditional Pamiri clothes and a baby on his back, calls up to the ‘weather-men’ and asks if it’s ok that we come. Approved! Fueled with some choy and white bread, we pack on our bags, and head off on the adventure! The first part is steep, and dusty, and we’ve already broken a sweat through our many layers. Take off some of the layers! Oh, we have a guide (our savior), he quickly starts carrying the Aussie’s bag, who’s suffering from a bad knee. 2 hours in, we’re hopping from stone to stone, over a part of the river. Splash. Allison falls in. Wet socks, wet shoes…she continues to walk with plastic bags on her feet. We fill up on water, but falsely assume that we’ll have future opportunities to do so.
4 hours in, we stop at a cave, also known as a choy khona. We make a fire, boil some water, drink tea. It’s getting dark. 5 o’clock. The guide is worried and says we should get moving. He tells us that this is where is gets steep. Great. I expected the dam to be—well—a dam. You know, a wall of rock starting abruptly. Nusoi dam is not like this. No. It’s 3 km of rocks, with 6 peaks. After an hour of walking along the river, hurrying to warnings of the guide like “keep moving, a lot of rocks are falling…” we get to our first mound of rocks as the sun sets. Here we go. Up. Up. Up. The first big climb is only about half an hour. By the time we’re at the top it’s dark, we pull on our headlamps (those of us who were smart enough to bring them…) Well, what do our headlamps show? Snow. Snow! Not only will we be climbing the next 5 peaks in the dark, but it’s also snowing.
Push on! By this time, some others are lagging behind, I’m somehow feeling great and offer to carry the heavier packs. So the guide and I are both loaded with two packs each, I take up the rear and shine light on the path for the hurt/light-less/pack-less sneaker-clad Aussie.
Peak 2.
Peak 3.
Peak 4.
Peak 5.
We’re not going to make it. The French guy sways to and fro and collapses. After some candy he’s doing better.
I’m thirsty. No more water. Damn overheating radiator. I pick up some snow and stuff it in my water bottle.
Peak 6.
We see a light! We’re saved. The light seems to stay fixed in one spot rather than become bigger or closer, until it disappears completely. The weathermen don’t want us to find them!
No, that’ a lie. The light was hiding behind a mound of rock. We find them. It’s 10 o’clock. We enter the weather station. It’s warm from a Teresken fire. The weathermen cook us a meal. It’s delicious, but we’re too exhausted to eat much. We haven’t seen Lake Sarez yet. It’s dark.
In the morning we could see the lake. Sort of. There is thick fog. After a short trip down to the water, and after checking out some of the meteorological equipment (they power the shelter with PV!) we head off. We have a long day ahead of us. After a 17km hike the day before, and 17km ahead + a 10 hour drive, we’re still determined to make it to Khorog that night. We have to work the next day!
Ok, so the hike was incredible and exhilarating, peering over the ledges, we marvel at the fact that we’re all still alive after hiking this path in the dark and snow the night before. We see 14 Marco polo sheep (but they’re far away). We finally stumble back to Barchadev, and the people have magically prepared us a meal just in time of meat and potatoes: greasy, meaty—everything I usually DON’T want in a meal, but it was the best thing ever. We quickly set off in the car. 4 hours later, and after driving through an active landslide where the men screamed at us to get out of the way as they proceeded to push the car over the rocks… we’re in the village where we spent the night before. We insist to keep driving. I’m in the Russian jeep tailing the Jigalo, and we don’t’ have headlights. Three flat tires, it’s cold, they’re popping out the inner tube or something… I don’t know what’s going on exactly. But I make myself useful by fetching some water in the roaring river, and then huddle in my sleeping bag on the road for the next hour.
At 2 am we roll into Rushan. I must be delirious, Khush’s wife serves us tea in bed at 2 am. Pamiri hospitality.
Three hours of sleep, 5 am. Here we go. Why is it still dark? We pile into one last vehicle and make the drive to Khorog. Shower. Work.
34 km hike, 20 hour drive later. The end.


One Response to Sarez…the dam was stable enough, but we almost died 74 times anyways.

  1. fireandrain says:

    Jamila! Hilarious story. It seems that developing nations have certain things in common – hospitality and constant feeding, and terrible transportation difficulties.

    Missing you! Love the blog.

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