When we crawl out of our tent in the morning, next to a lake at 4200 meters, we’re mostly curious what the world around us looks like. The night was cold, with strong winds and snow. When we see the sun is out, busy melting the snow on our tent and bicycles, what follows is the question what to wear. How many layers do we need in order to preserve the heat our bodies generated in our high-tech down sleeping bags on high-tech air mattresses?
After getting dressed, it’s time to worry about personal energy. We ignite our small cooking stove and make some tea and eggs (from egg powder mixed with water). What a luxury! Showering or washing is not on our mind. Staying warm and getting in enough energy to be able to mount another mountain pass: that’s what it’s about when you wake up in the mountains.
In the middle of high altitude plains
A day later we enter a big field after being caught by a mild rainstorm. We’re in search of some shelter with Kyrgyz nomads at the high altitude plains of Northeast Tajikistan (the Pamirs). ‘Please, come in quickly’, is what ‘the lady of the yurt’ gesticulates. It’s cold outside! She makes her body shiver to show what she means. A thick doormat that functions as a door, keeps out the wind of the plains. Once inside, temperatures are extremely comfortable. The youngest of five daughters crawls around with bare feet and a t-shirt, even though part of the roof is still open. The walls are isolated with many layers and ultimately covered with beautiful colored fabrics of some kind of wool.
Making friends with a ‘WakaWaka’
In the middle of the space a stove functions as heater or vice versa. A chimney gets rid of the smoke, which is better than some Tajik houses we visited along the way, blue of smoke. Around seven o’clock one of the girls goes outside. She makes sure a thick blanket covers the hole that let natural daylight in. A single light bulb on solar-energy lights the single space, where we now get served a delicious mix of potatoes and lentils. When the question pops up where we’ve been and where we’re going, our ‘WakaWaka’ – a small lamp on solar energy that can also serve as a charger – augments the fun. An individual source of light suddenly makes it possible to study a map or do some homework. But of course that’s not what any of the girls are interested in, as we meet them in the middle of their summer holiday.
Be careful for yak-shit!
Similarly to the night before, showering is the last thing on our mind. Going out to urinate; that’s enough of a challenge. With our headlamp we are on the look out for yak-shit. Of course that can’t really be found anywhere, for it’s carefully collected to heat the stove. Just before dinner we get served some hot water to wash our hands. We couldn’t be happier: what a nice surprise.
It seems so idyllic: how much energy does one really need? A bit of sunlight to be able to read at night – thanks to the Chinese trucks that cross the high-altitude plains most yurts in the Pamirs seem to have a small solar panel with a battery. We are able to charge our phone and GPS while cycling. And showering? Staying warm seems so much more important.
The right to shower
A day later in Murghab, the highest (3650m) and biggest city (11.203 inhabitants) in Northeast Tajikistan, we suddenly feel different. After a few days of mountain adventures a place to sleep with a warm shower is our highest priority. The hotel of the city is full. Too bad, for this was the only place in town with guaranteed electricity, implying hot shower potential. The ‘guesthouse’ where we end up also seems great. It promises us a sauna-kind of shower that runs on cow-shit*, which sounds perfect to us.
The second day of our stay the shower is suddenly not working. How can that be? That shower is what we paid for! We protest with the help of our Tajik phrasebook: heat up that cow-shit, we want to shower! In anticipation of another six days of camping in the snow and sleeping in yurts, a warm shower suddenly seems a consumer-right. We feel like taking what we can get: tomorrow we’ll go back to high altitude energy romance.
*Cow dung patties are used as fuel while cooking when wood is scarce. In India and Asia one can often see cow dung being dried and shaped into patties, which are then burnt to produce heat. Most cooking stoves in these regions are inefficient in producing heat from the cow dung. For this reason different energy efficient cooking stoves have been designed to make the cow dung give off larger amounts of heat. In the western world cow dung has recently been rediscovered as a source of energy, but mostly to produce biogas. Sources: Appropedia and Wikipedia.