April 27, 2009

The Karakorum Highway to Tashgurgan and back

The Karakorum Highway connects China and Pakistan. The esophagus connects the mouth and the stomach. And the connection between these sentences is that as I was passing through the incredible mountain ranges along the “highest highway in the world”, my Uyghur chicken dinner from the night before was passing through my esophagus, out my mouth and littering the majestic countryside all the way to Tashkurgan.
As my three travel companions sat ooohing and aaahing at nearly every new bend in the road, I was lying on a spare tire in the back of the jeep ooowing at every new bump in the road, only manually lifting my eyelids to weakly look out the back window when the chorus got exceptionally loud and excited.
It could have started as a piece of chicken gone awry, but any previous illness soon gave way to the extreme altitude at which we were driving. With over 10,000 feet below me, I spent the entire first day on one of the most scenic drives of my life passed out in fetal position, drooling on extra rubber and a flat tire jack. I finally came to seven hours later when we reached the town of Tashkurgan, which is a groovy mountain town in the Tajik Autonomous Region within China and 120 km from the Pakistani border.
Luckily for me, the way back was the same way we arrived. And luckily for me again, by the next morning, my body had adjusted to the altitude and I was walking and talking like a normal human being. With clear blue skies welcoming me back to the world of the living, I sat transfixed by the images that rolled past my window; green farmland slowly morphed into barren fields, which turned into sand dunes which drifted into rocky cliffs and then became tremendous snow capped mountains with heights of over 15,000 feet. Yaks, yurts, camels, and clay house villages dotted the landscape as sandstorms in one direction and snowstorms in the other clouded the distant view.
I was happy my own eyelids weren’t clouding the view any longer because even though I only caught the stunning scenery once on a two-way ride, once was all I needed to appreciate the endless beauty of the Karakorum.

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