It was an awful night. Trapped at the border station on the Tajik side of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, my lack of acclimatization and over-exertions from the previous day had led to an intense bout of altitude sickness. I spent the night staggering from my bunk in the barracks to the pit toilet outside, alternating between squatting to relieve myself and crouching over the hole on my hands and knees as my whole body retched. With each heave, the pain in my chest flared to agonizing levels — was this what having a heart attack felt like?
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.” – Rabindranath Tagore
I spent the next day packed with the border guards into an ancient troop transport trundling along the Pamir Highway to the frontier town of Murghab. Desolate alkaline plains stretched to barren peaks — windswept and alien. Yurts and rundown shanties were few and far between, disappearing behind clouds of dusts as swiftly as they’d appeared. My chest still ached constantly, and breathing deeply sent stabs of pain through me.