As we were eating breakfast, we learned our hostess' mother was in the hospital in Khorog. Rowshan asked her if she wanted a ride to Khorog. She shyly declined saying she hadn't had a shower. Rowshan responded that it wasn't a problem since we all hadn't bathed in days and we'd be stopping by the hot springs at Jelandy. She went to check with her father and he encouraged her to go saying they needed supplies (all their supplies came from monthly trips to either Khorog or Murgab). So it was agreed she'd go with us. She quickly got ready while Zaher tried to get the car started-- a difficult feat since the oil was frozen.
The guys moved the car out to a sunny spot and we waited. Eventually everything was warm enough that the car would run. We headed back up the road to the Pamir Highway. Once on the highway, the enticing semi-smooth stretch of pavement ended and we were on crumbled broken pavement and gravel. The landscape was shades of beige against a bright blue sky. Some of the highest peaks had glaciers sparkling on their tops. There were a few small streams running next to the road but all were mostly frozen. The landscape was desert dry. It seemed lifeless except for large flocks of tiny birds which wheeled across the road.
We once again drove on pavement but to our dismay, it was rougher than the gravel roads we'd been driving on in previous days. Zaher would sometimes follow tire tracks off the road and drive along side the highway because the dirt road was smoother.
The hot springs were rather unexciting. The women's bath had a pool and showers. All the showers were broken so only produced scalding sulfury water and no cold or warm. Ironically, a sign at the entrance requested people to shower before getting into the pool. The faucets for the pool worked so eventually I filled a plastic tub with cold water to mix with the scalding water so I could wash. The hot spring pool itself looked kind of grungy.
From Jelandy we progressed to the Gunt River Valley. The river was Caribbean blue against white rocks. Along the river, trees were a flurry of bright green and yellow leaves. The valley began to become more populated as we got closer to Khorog. Even though the Pamir highway is the largest road in the region, it still resembles a country road and occasionally we had to steer off the road to avoid flocks of sheep and goats.
Eventually we stopped for gas at a fuel truck parked by the side of the road “Benzin” written on a tiny sign. (signage and advertising aren't really developed concepts in the Pamirs... quite a contrast to California where aside from obvious signage, the gas station itself would be showing ads on monitors at the pumps). It was the first “gas station” we'd seen on the highway. The attendant sat in the front seat of the fuel truck puffing on a cigarette. When we stopped, he put it out and climbed out of the vehicle. About a block down the street we passed another fuel truck with a sign visible from the opposite direction.
As we continued, we came to a striking landslide of huge boulders as if a mountain had fallen into the valley. The river became a torrent of rapids and cascades. Once through this obstacle course of giant boulders, the river widened. There were fantastic golden leafed forests. The sun filtered through the leaves and reflected off the leaves which had fallen on the ground. It seemed like an echo of Tolkein's Lothlorian.
Beyond the forests were harsh gray mountains with gussets of scree from previous landslides. It is strange to think of how active these seemingly solid and still mountains actually are. Sometimes these walls of mountains were broken by unexpected glimpses of taller snow capped peaks.
We had a narrow escape from an accident when as a truck going the opposite direction passed us, a donkey came barreling out of the yard of a house on our side--chasing after the truck as if he thought he was a dog. Zaher slammed on his breaks to avoid hitting it.
We felt that we were returning to civilization as we got closer to Khorog and drove past the site of the future University of Central Asia and the monument to the first vehicle which drove the Pamir Highway from Osh to Khorog. (Did it last much longer after that or did they immediately make it into a monument?)