From the Wakhan Valley, we followed a steep dirt road that climbs up to the Khargush Pass. On our right, the Pamir River ran down, invisible in the bottom of its deep valley; on the far side of the valley, the mountains of Afghanistan rise dry and brown, the taller peaks capped with snow and fringed by cloud. At one point, a huge golden eagle flew close overhead, balancing on the mountain wind.
Beyond the pass, we entered high-altitude desert with low hills rising from sandy soil. From time to time we passed shallow lakes fringed with a border of white salt. The lakes seemed mostly lifeless, but as we passed by one of them I was surprised to see a small flock of russet-colored waders paddling in the shallows. The birds took flight as I got out of the car, gliding over the ruffled waters of the lake to settle on the far side, too far away to be identifiable.