12 Days on the Most Storied Highway of Them All: The Silk Road

That afternoon, we moved higher into the eastern Pamirs, stopping to marvel at the shimmering freshwater lakes of Yashil Kul and Bulunkul. In the high-Pamir town of Murgab, at 12,000 feet above sea level, we met Omurbek, who had the right papers to bring us into Kyrgyzstan.

The drive was climatically jarring to say the least. Within little more than an hour, the blazing-white, snow-blanketed peaks of the Taldik pass gave way to the rolling green of Kyrgyzstan’s Alay Valley. Cows and horses grazed in the hills and occasionally wandered into the road.

The green turned greener still as we descended into the Fergana Valley, the lush ancient corridor between Greek, Chinese, Bactrian and Parthian civilizations, finally arriving in the Silk Road city of Osh. We were too early in the season to visit the extraordinary high mountain pastures, or jailoos, of Son-Kol, Kochkor or Karakol, so after a night we headed an hour out of town to the Kyrgyz-Ata National Park. There, we stayed in a yurt set high on a hill near the home of a shepherd and his family.

We spent our last days in Central Asia riding horses through dense juniper forests and up mountains, learning the Kyrgyz riding style, often left unattended to ride in the wilderness. Brambles scratched my legs, and I was so sore from riding it became difficult to walk. There was nothing to eat but plov and day-old manty, and a late spring snowfall battered the yurt, dripping down into the sides, leaving much of our bedding sodden. We woke up shivering under blankets, gazing up through the center of the yurt to the pale spring sky. It was tortuous. We hoped it would never end.

Charly Wilder is a Berlin-based writer and frequent contributor to the Travel section.

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