Friday, March 4

Tien Shan And Pamir Alay

The Pamir mountains – Roof of the World – are geologically young, the result of the Indian sub-continent pushing up against Asia. The Pamir-Alay ridge separates the other Pamir regions from the Tien Shan. Its six districts - Alai, Hissar, Zarafshan, Turkestan and Karategin - contain more than a hundred peaks over 5000m, thousands of glaciers (that number shrinking rapidly), many lakes and even more unexplored valleys. The southern slopes of the range drain into the Vakhsh River which becomes the Oxus or Amu Darya; the northern parts contribute snow melt to the streams coming down the Tien Shan to give rise to the Jaxartes or Syr Darya.

The Tien Shan, the Celestial Mountains of the Chinese, sweep across Western Kyrgyzstan and Eastern China, its northern and far western ranges located in Kazakhstan, the south-western extremity joining up with the Pamir-Alay in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It is bordered to the north by the Ili valley, and to the south by the Ferghana depression. The Tien Shan's highest summit is Pik Pobeda, 7439m, discovered in 1943, the most northern of 7000-ers. Not far rises Khan Tengri, the Lord of the Skies, 7010m including glacial cap. (The Pamir schematic is from here.)

We set our alarms for 4 am. Nosir looms out of the fog, as ever ready to load our bags heavy with dried fruit. We bump our way to AZN. It is good that we arrive early, the flight time has been advanced by 30 minutes from what we had found on the web-site. Mr. M sleepily makes friends with a bevy of Uzbek children, they go off to look at several Tupolevs and Yaks on the tarmac. Astonishingly, our transport is an immaculate 757 – no broken seats, no cracks in the windows – she will proceed to Moscow after dropping us off in Tashkent. As we take off, the sun is rising over the mountains, flooding Ferghana with light.


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