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On a nice day along the Murghab

Marjolein Katsma

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Share this page Photo © 2009 Marjolein Katsma | Text © 2010 Marjolein Katsma


Tags for this photograph:
danger, meltwater, tajikistan, murghab, mud stream, snow, road, hole, river


How naive we were…

We had spent the night in Murghab, high (3630m) in the Pamirs in Tajikistan. This day we’d follow the river Murghab upriver and then up the valley of a tributary to the West to visit hot-water springs at a village called Eli-Su. The weather was splendid, blue skies with white clouds, the sun shining on the mountains which had received a fresh dusting of snow overnight – it is still spring in early June, after all.

The higher we came, the more snow there was on the mountains – this we saw. The higher we came, the stronger the radiation from the sun – this we did not realise, even though we did see there were brown streaks appearing in the otherwise clear water of the river. We did see practically nothing grew here anymore – we were above the treeline anyway, but up here (the road hugging the mountains quite a bit above the river) only a few tufts of grass grew along the road; along the river there was some real grass (here and there a few yaks grazing) and an occasional struggling willow. A landscape like this is essentially a desert: a mountainous desert. But it was so beautiful – we only saw the beauty.

When we had just crossed the river and were turning into the side valley, a car came from up the valley and stopped us: they had tried to get through, but returned, it was too dangerous… That nice sun was melting the beautiful snow; the meltwater was taking bits of mud with it, bits of mud that were taking little stones with it, little stones that had been holding larger rocks into place. Those rocks were now rolling down the mountains on both sides – with a sickening thud-thud-thud sound: you don’t want a rock like that falling on your car while passing! So, we stopped, and our drivers deliberated. Two drivers and one guide went up the road a bit to see for themselves but returned quite soon: “no way”. So back we went, over the (sturdy) bridge, to the tiny village at the other side (so tiny it’s not even on my detailed map, just a few houses and a tiny mosque). There we had lunch, the drivers cooking our meal using our food and using the kitchen in one of the houses. And then we left, to go back to Murghab.

The change was scary. Pretty soon we recognized the car of that family that had stopped us – standing still, everyone out of the car. What had been a road, had turned into a fast-flowing river of mud, which in turn had taken half the road with it finding the fastest route to the river below, leaving a gaping hole. We were all ordered out of the cars, and told to not walk over the road turned into mud river: it was deep enough to give you wet feet, slippery, treacherous. Our drivers deliberated with the driver of the family car: all were scared that as soon as a car went over the narrow bit that was left of the road, that would trigger more collapse… All cars emptied, the family car went over first, hugging the left side of the road (the end of a little mountain ridge), of which a little bit more collapsed, but not too much. Then our jeep. Then our two busses. They stopped a bit further on, near another big hole in the road, but at least there was no mud river there.

Now all of us passengers still had to scramble over that little ridge, and somehow cross that mud river – away from that gaping hole. I took a whole series of photos of the whole process (of course); this is the moment where the family were starting to cross the mud stream (you can see our cars a bit further on).

The plan for the next day had been to go up another tributary of the Murghab in the East; that plan was scrapped, as more snow was expected overnight, and nice weather the next day: in other words, it would have been just as dangerous. We had been lucky today.

Taken East of Murghab, along the river Murghab, Tajikistan 2009
Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1
 

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