Endless roads to the edges of the world

To get here we have gone down an uncountable number of roads in vehicles of many different constellations. From slow churning train wagons across the Kazak desert, hitch hiking with a tourist bus in a pouring Georgia, high speed trains in Ukraine, too many people crammed in a marshrutka in Azerbaijan, slid down on our bum from a snow covered peak at 3900 meters, and now, a private 4W drive along the famous Pamir Highway – the second highest road in the world. Five days along the broken gravel roads where the driver laughs out a ”massage” every time the pot holed road sends us jumping in the air. Mind you, this is still a highway with lots of traffic in the summer. Thankfully arriving out of season we are one of the few vehicles on the winding roads where there’s really no room for a meeting car.
On the Kyrgy side of the road even the smaller towns had all the commodities needed, ATMs, Sim card sellers, pharmacies en masse. Bishkek is a sprawling modern city where we even managed to find an organic vegetarian up scale restaurant – moderately priced! Crossing the 4600 meter high pass into Tajikistan reflects the threshold between the two countries. On the Tajiki side of the border a big nothingness greets you. Endless stretches of magnificent mountains, views, snow capped peaks and a moonlike landscape that makes you wonder how the world really was created. The anticipated ”towns” visible on the map turns out to be tiny villages with a couple of hundred people living there. Goats, donkeys, dogs and a some children listlessly throwing rocks at the huge container trucks driving by.
While riding in all the different vehicles from Sweden to Central Asia, hour in, hour out, listening to local tunes, languages I’ve never heard before, making my point in a broken AngloRussian, one has time to think. Along the broken roads of the worlds second highest road we’re passing through villages where the people live surrounded by magnificent untouched beauty like in a very few places around the world and I start questioning normality. In country after country I have seen the towns, met their inhabitants and shared meals and sleeping space with them, living in an endless nothingness from day to day with whatever possible resources they can gather. Shepherds are watching over their peacefully grazing herds to the sound of a powerful silence, farmers sawing vegetables that will grow in the hard soils of 4500 meter altitude, and a few things can be collected from the truck drivers passing by. During the winter up in the Pamirs it gets a whopping 45 minus Celsius. Though we see the same kind of cold in Sweden, we have all the commodities we need to stay warm and safe during the harshest days of winter. Here, there’s no electric heating you can turn on and off. No hot water running whenever you need to warm up with a long and friendly shower. No snow dozers cleaning the roads after a night of heavy snowfall, no snow scooters to facilitate travelling between the villages. Most of them doesn’t even have a petrol station for the cars driving by. In the Wakhan Corridor, there’s habitations beyond where cars can go, for God knows what reason. Even in the tiny towns we stayed in along the route, Alichkor, Langar and Murghab, it is indeed hard to understand what motivates people living out here. The roads are long, winding and cut to pieces, during the winter they are even unusable. Camels and donkeys do the trick though, sturdy animals as they are. The kids speak a bit of English, learned from school which comes in handy for us communicating with the adults. And all along the staggering peaks, endless stretches of eternal beauty, untouched, rugged and powerful, I press my face against the window with tears in my eyes. Both nature and civilisation is so beautiful beyond the limits we just have crossed. Not that much of the worlds population is confided to make a living above 4000 metres. Though funny is, however marginalised these people seem to be, I can’t help but connect them to so many other families and villages I have come across during my travels. Though conditions around the world may not be as unfriendly as they are here, I have seen so many people live day to day in just as remote rural areas. Making do with whatever they have in Africa, Central America and South East Asia – I think it is us Western Europeans, Scandinavians in particular, who are actually the oddities. Not the people living ”off the grid”. We, with our insulation, our two cars per household, our 500 (5000?) dollar watches and bluetooth sound system in every room of the house, we are the oddities. We are the ones fighting to isolate ourselves from mother nature and not living with her. Not listening to the roaring rivers at night, not using her natural fuel (dung) to warm up our yurt, constructed of wood and animal hides. Not eating what can be grown around us, not using our clothes until they actually have served their purpose fully.
Society has many advantages, and I am still forever grateful to have been born in a country where we are being taken care of, with low corruption, good education, personal freedom, women’s rights, health care and all that. But just as we ”feel” we have a lot to teach ”them”, ”they” also have a lot to teach us.

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