We left Bachor and got back on the Pamir Highway, making our way into the heart of “the roof of the world” as this range, along with some others, is nicknamed. The road climbed onto the Koi-Tezek pass at 4272m, and then spilled onto the Pamir plateau: endless wide valleys surrounded by hills, almost completely barren, with rare patches of green around meandering streams. Driving through this fallow landscape, one could mistake it for our own Negev desert, until a sliver of snow appears on the northern slope of a hill or a Kyrgyz shepherd’s yurt pops up behind a road bend. Our driver stopped on the way at a friend’s house for a cup of “shirchai”, the Pamiri tea prepared with milk and salt, and a plate of delicious yoghurt. In the afternoon we reached Murgab.
Murgab is a small town of just a few thousand people, living in very basic mudbrick houses dotted around jaggy unpaved streets — it looks a bit like a refugee camp, and yet it is the capital of the province, and a major stop on the Pamir Highway. The town has little to offer to the visitor — a few homestays, and a bizarre bazaar at the edge of town where merchandise is sold from trucks and containers converted to kiosks. Since it was Friday, we joined Aviad and Ruth in preparing a Shabbat meal in our homestay’s kitchen, in a yurt in the family’s yard.
The Murgab province is predominantly Kyrgyz, and we happened to be here at a time when a national festival was taking place just outside the town. In the morning groups of people started pulling up to the compound, where yurts with stalls of food were already waiting. After them arrived the horsemen. First a horse race was performed, probably to warm up the horses and the riders. Then, after a short lunch break, the main game started. It’s called “buzkashi”, translated as “grabbing the dead goat”, indeed aptly named: it is played on horseback with a headless goat carcass. The players grab the goat and try to hold on to it while riding around a certain spot in the field. Others try to rip the goat from their grab, and often the game ends when the “ball” is shredded beyond use. It’s definitely one of the oddest sports I’ve witnessed, and not one to follow for animal lovers.
After four days in Murgab we set out on our final leg of the Pamir Highway, to Osh, Kyrgyzstan.