Tajikistan

Our original plan for Tajikistan was to ride the Pamir Highway to the turn off west of Alichur to the Wakhan Valley. This would take us south and follow the Panj River through Ishkasim and end up back on the Pamir at Khorog. From there we were going to ride to Dushanbe and then take a direct route back to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. However, no where in our research did we find that the border crossing on this route was closed to foreigners! We therefore decided to ride the Pamir west to Khorog and then return via the Wakhan Valley and retrace our route to Osh. At least this way we were able to ride both the Pamir Highway and the Wakhan Valley.

After passing painlessly through Kyrgyzstan customs and immigration it was time to see what awaited us in ‘no man’s land’ before the Tajikistan border. We had been told to expect a very rough go of it and virtually impassable if wet. We were lucky as the weather cooperated and we could set aside our concerns of not making it….. but once through there was a little seed of worry tucked away about the possibility of rain on our return. We would have to deal with that if it happened.

Once through no man’s land it was on to the Tajikstan crossing….no pictures allowed….but it was in worse condition than the ‘no man’s land’, and definitely debatable if it was rideable in wet conditions.

Across the border and we are on our way.

Spectacular scenery welcomed us.

Stretches of washboard appear.
We skirt the Chinese border.

Then we lite upon Lake Karakul.

Karakul Lake

 

Home stays available.

We were running into Mogol Rally participants quite regularly now.  This was a surprise to us as we thought it was late in the Rally.  But the end date was actually mid September.

We climbed Ak-Baital Pass reaching 4655m and were becoming aware of the affects of altitude.  Walking a very short distance was exhausting.

Ak – Baital Pass 4,655m (15,272′)

But then,and what was becoming a norm and never failed to impress us, was this at the top of the Pass.

 

Murghab is the last “city” on the Pamir before the 300km stretch to Khorog. After looking at two places we found the East Pamir Eco GuestHouse. The beautiful women that greeted us upon our arrival.

After being welcomed and settling in, the first order of business was to acquire cold beer. The proprietor of the guest house hospitably took Marian and Tracy to the local market to pick up snacks for the road and then on to a pub to pick up the beer…..not really cold as all electricity in Murgab is provided by generator, so most homes and establishments only have electricity for reduced hours…..our guest house had electricity from 8-11pm…just enough to get all the esentials charged.

Standard guest house shared quarters.

We were joined at our dinner of fried rice with bits of mutton, tomato and cucumber salad, dry bread,fresh fruit, black tea and beer by two Russian Mongol Rally participants who arrived exhausted and disgruntled as they were having huge mobility problems due to low clearance capabilities.

 

Night falls.

Most guest houses have their toilet facilities in an outside situation, and the Eco House was no different.  The one positive it afforded us was a walk outside into a night sky with not a hint of artificial light.  It allowed a look at the milky way and the constellations as ancient astronomers would have experienced.  Every element crystal clear.

The following morning we bid farewell to the Ralliers…..

and our hostess

fuel up the old fashioned way…..

 

And leave Murgab.

and to a check point for our Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region permit before continuing.

The Pamir Highway is paved for the most part however, in many cases the gravel portions are better than the asphalt. The riding is tedious as you must continuously scan the road ahead for potholes etc. Leaving Murgab the first 100km is rough pavemet, the next 120 km are generally rough gravel and pot holed pavement, then about 80km out of Khorog was good road….comparatively…..until about the last 10km where the road was being recreated due to a dam construction.

Often the gravel road is better than asphalt. When waved to pass by a trucker on a blind corner you have to have faith!

A beautiful spring in the otherwise barren desert.

A well earned break after having climbed another pass.

About 80 kms from Khorog the road started descending from the 3,000m + that it had been at. Villages started to appear along side the Gunt River and the occassional wildlife sighting.

 

Children greeting us.
Some sketchy looking bridges!
Old technology!
Making good use of the road.
Last break before Khorog.
Outskirts of Khorog.

We arrived in Khorog with the name of a hotel recommended to us by the “Alberta Guys” that Tom and Lindsay had met in Inuvik and again in Russia …. the Pamir Alibaba Hotel. It was difficult to find as we did not have the coordinates and Lindsay was falling ill rapidly.  After much searching and going in cirlcles we found our way from passers by. We had missed a turn off the main highway.  So back we went.

The hotel was a welcome site and the owner was an amazing host.

Lindsay disappeared for two days and Tom for 24 hours, and it turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing, as we extended our stay to three days, by which time everybody was rested and ready to ride the Wakhon. Because the hotel had been so difficult to find Tracy offered to help Jusef update his booking.com site adding coordinates and helping organize the booking system.  Jusef went out of his way to make sure we were well taken care of taking us into town as needed for groceries, and at the end of our stay joining us out for dinner and dance at his brother’s cafe.

 

Juseph’s daughter taking us around the market.
Enjoying Tajik music and culture.

Time to say good bye after a great visit.

Goodbye to Yusef our excellent host.

We left for the Wakhan Valley due south of Khorog in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.   The road follows the Panj River which separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

We were on our way to Hisor for the night via Ishkashim.  Jusef has booked a guesthouse there for us. The scenery was spectacular. The track on the Afghan side of the river was in stark contrast to the relatively good road on the Tajik side.

Dirt road across the river in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan across the Panj River.
Afghanistan was often only a stone’s throw away.

 

We reached Kozideh feeling pretty positive about the riding conditions.  We stopped at a roadside cafe/ hotel for a cold drink and were immediately scouted out by a young girl. We offered to buy her a drink, but she was just interested in seeing us.  Shortly, her younger sister joined her, and as they interacted with us the youngest girl started to enjoy the music the hotel was playing.  Just the night before we had danced with locals and recognized the intricate hand movements.

About an hour after Kozideh the road conditions changed, welcoming us to what the Wakhon had waiting for us. First we hit lots of loose gravel, followed a bit further on by sand drifts, washboard and more gravel.  This was to be the ride for the rest of the day to Hisor.  To complicate matters, the wind was very strong at our backs and sand was blowing everywhere.

Sandstorm chasing us.
Then loose gravel all the way to the guesthouse.
Are we there yet?

We’re finally near Hisor.

As night is falling.

We ask for directions from two young men, one with a cell phone, who calls the guesthouse and the hostess comes across a field to meet us. Tracy and Marian walk back to the house with her as Lindsay and Tom find their way by road.The guesthouse was very comfortable and although the four of us had to share a room with four single beds, the washroom was basically western, such a change from what we had become accustomed to. Unfortunately there was only a litre of beer to share amongst us.

The next morning we are off.

Take our picture…..let me see!

 

The morning did not start well as we discovered there was no gas in Langar so Tom and Lindsay returned six kilometres and found a fuel pump beside a scary looking tank with 92  Octane. We filled up.

Hope they find fuel.

 

Then it was back to pick up Tracy and Marian and start the ascent out of the valley. On the very first corner of the rough road Lindsay wiped out. No damage done except to reputation and we were on our way. This was to be a very trying day as the road condition was not good, but worse, both bikes were overheating and we had to stop repeatedly to let them cool down. This was a result of high elevation (3,000+m), a tailwind not letting the radiator fans do their job and continuous climbing.  Then came the never ending washboard which rattled the bikes to no end. Luckily the scenery was still amazing.

Climbing out of the valley.
Some humanity!
Looking back.

Bike over heating – grin or grimace??
Total focus required.

After one last pass (Hargush at 4,344m )

We descend down to the Pamir Highway and asphalt.

Back on the Pamir asphalt.

Now it was time to get back to Murgab before night fall.  We had already booked a room back in at the East Pamir Eco Guesthouse. It is so nice to be riding imperfect asphalt again, and even though we have ridden this road, we get a different impression seeing it from the opposite direction.  Still amazing.

 

We arrive in Murgab and we have lost light.

We need to fuel up before locating the guest house as we are leaving by 7:30 am next morning as we have two border crossings and the worry of what is awaiting us in no man’s land……praying for clear skies!

We are lucky, the station where we fueled up last time seemed to have a resident owner.  So bikes filled, and then off in the dark of night to find our guest house.  We managed to find our way into the center of town but from there couldn’t quite figure out where we were.  Marian and Tracy got off the bikes to have a look around when they were approached by a young boy.  He pointed to the house, a stones throw away, whew!   Turns out the boy was from the house and the owners had sent him out when they heard our bikes approaching.  Nice!

A good night sleep and we were off as planned.  The day started off alright, but then it seemed like impending doom. First we stopped on our climb out of Murgab (3600m) heading up the Ak-Baytal pass (4655m) to suit up into our electrics.  It was cold….it felt like snow.  We dropped back down to 3900m at Lake Karakul and encountered a tempest in a teapot over the lake.

Then we hit snow….a blizzard….at the top of the Pass.

But as we rode through….

The Gods were with us.

Now it is time once again to say good bye to pavement for the remainder of our ride to the Tajikistan border.

We arrive at the Tajik border, it is not busy, and we cross relatively quickly…..without any money changing hands.

Waiting to get across.

We leave Tajikistan and are now in ‘no man’s land’.  We are keeping our eyes on the possibilities

 

Looking better.

We make it through with no rain…..and we are back in Kyrgyzstan!

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