I live in a winter wonderland.
Having grown up in Canada – I know snow. But never have I experienced the immense amount of snow that has fallen in the past two weeks. It’s non-stop and it’s everywhere.
And it’s spectacular!
The temperature in the mountains is much warmer than I had expected. Montreal gets a lot colder than Khorog. I don’t think we’ve experienced a day much colder than -15 (yesterday it was +5) and with no wind chill that’s fairly comfortable. Khorog is very well insulated from wind with mountains on every side. So, you can actually walk around and enjoy the beauty of it all. The trees especially beautiful, weighted down by all the snow. In some places the snow on the ground reaches a couple of meters.
On the downside, this much snow causes a lot of avalanches. So far, there have been 5 or so. And in some cases the avalanches have reached homes and the main road. Sadly, there have already been a couple of fatalities.
Avalanches are difficult to predict. Although, they generally occur after a few heavy snow falls and certain places are prone to them on a yearly basis. So, driving around at this time of year is a bit stressful. Last week, I spent a few days evaluating an emergency response training program that we are conducting in one of the villages. The idea is to build the capacity of community members to respond to natural disasters (to evacuate and provide medical assistance to victims until help can arrive). These types of trainings are very important in an area as isolated as GBAO. Getting to the scene of a disaster can take hours and people usually don’t have that long….
Part of our evaluation required visiting former participants in the villages. The route crosses the path of a common avalanche zone. In fact, an avalanche had happened in that spot the week before.
The Road Maintenance department had cleared a path for cars through the mountain of snow that covered the road. Driving through the path, I could see the walls of snow on either side of the vehicle. It was a fairly small avalanche….But seeing it, I could easily imagine how an avalanche could wipe out vehicles, homes, and everything/anything in its path…
In any case, the drive through the zone was pretty uneventful . I was on avalanche watch, which basically entailed sticking my head out the window and looking up. Don’t ask me what I was supposed to do if an avalanche actually came hurling down the mountain….But having my head out the window seemed to make Roxy and the driver feel better so I obliged.
So why all this talk of avalanches? Well, we are getting ready to head back to Dushanbe and the 18 hr drive through avalanche hot spots has us all a bit stressed out. It’s a treacherous trip in the summer let alone in the winter time. The mountain road is slippery, there are no lights, sheer 1000 m drops on either side and of course the constant threat of avalanches and rock falls. Couple that with the fact that we’ve all had some pretty interesting journeys on that road….
I got stuck once in the absolute middle of nowhere at 3am (22 hrs after I’d left Dushanbe:) in a car with no windshield wipers and a battery that refused to work for longer than 30 minute intervals. Luckily, we were close to a village and someone in the village had a car and jumper cables.
On our way back from our trip to Uzbekistan, Rachel, Allison, Persia and I had to spend the night in a small town about 6 hours from Khorog because a 5.3 earthquake had struck the region and caused a huge rockfall that had blocked the road. Thankfully, no cars were driving in that spot when it happened. But the earthquake caused some very serious damage to homes in the Vanj District of GBAO, with over 6000 people negatively impacted by the disaster.
Long story short, people avoid traveling to/from this region if at all possible. But, our time is up and we’ve got flights to catch Everyone’s got their fingers crossed that the helicopter will fly the day we leave (the heli can only fly if the weather is PERFECT – which happens a couple times a month in the winter). Admittedly, I didn’t love the helicopter ride here – I’m glad I did it but I really wasn’t planning on doing it again….However, I’d rather take the 45 minute ride of terror through the mountains than face the 18hr drive at the foot of them….
On a happier note, I am getting pretty excited about leaving. It’s time to go! There is no question that I will miss the friends that I’ve made here and the projects that I’ve been involved with….
But most of all…. I’ll miss the mountains. No matter what kind of a day I am having, no matter what is going on in my life, I look up and around at the glorious mountains and I can’t help but feel their magic. I see them everyday. And every single day I am in awe of them.