The permit for the Pamir was in place, the registration with the police took place, the Tajik visa was extended for 2 weeks and the entry permit for Kyrgyzstan was granted.
The journey from Dushanbe to the Pamirs is normally done via two routes – the 100 km shorter one via the north was unfortunately closed due to a military operation, various rumours spoke of fights with Taliban terrorists who are said to be in this region. So there is no other choice than to take the longer route via the south.
Just before Kulob I met Helga and Karsten from Erlangen again, we decided to camp together before we went down into the Panj valley to the afqhanian border.
The Panj is nourished by the glaciers and streams of the Pamir Mountains and forms the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan for several hundred kilometres on its way from the south. Further west, it joins with the Vakhsh coming from Dushanbe to form the Armu-Darya (former Oxus) and flows into Lake Aral.
On the opposite shore, a stone’s throw away are Afghan villages that are connected by a donkey trail for several hundred kilometres without road.
The Tajik bank is mined throughout – here you should not leave the road to the river.
The surveillance of the approximately 2000 km long border swallows up 40% of the Tajik state budget. Nevertheless, Tajikistan is the preferred transit country for the smuggling of opium and heroin from Afghanistan to Russia and Europe.
The route along the banks of the Panj to just before Kahlei-Khum is only used by four-wheel drive vehicles – narrow gorges and raging rivers have to be crossed, mud holes and scree slopes have to be crossed, waterfalls and sand passages have to be negotiated.
If the bottom is half dry, then it just comes from above…
Shortly after the bad part of 100 kilometres I met Vincent from France, who was on his way to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India with his old BMW including the sidecar made in Kazakhstan. The first motorcyclist since Tbilisi / Georgia. After a conversation, we both felt that he could not possibly manage the rivers and mud holes with his street bike and the wrong tires. Nevertheless he had to try, because he had only 36 hours to leave the country. Maybe he found a truck that could take him piggyback over the bad passages. I wish him good luck for his venture – even if he made it here – at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan he will definitely need it.
At some point, the road will live up to its name again and will be halfway passable – that was also the time when I gradually met cyclists from different nations. All of them had the same goal – to overcome the Pamir Highway all the way to Kyrgyzstan. From there I went on in different directions.
I had already met the two Viennese Kathi and Sandro briefly at Iskander-Kul before – they are on their way via China, South-East Asia to Singapore and will probably take 14 months for this.
The destination of Herb and Leisha from Holland is Australia – Herb has already been on a big tour by bike once – 6 years for a round-the-world trip – up and down every continent.
Greg from Canada is travelling alone and has less time at 6 weeks – but his ambitions are by no means less – from Dushanbe through the Pamir to Kyrgyzstan, from there through the Taklamakan Desert to Urumchi in China.
Aitor and Inigo from the Basque Country started in Cairo and hope to be in Bangkok after one year. They also have a photoblog at the following address:
My first stop was at the entrance to the Vanj Valley with the aim of riding the 100 kilometres to its end to the Fedchenko Glacier, at the foot of Tajikistan’s highest mountain, the Ismoil Somoni Peak with almost 7,500 m. It was a real hard enduro passage – about 10 river crossings and steep slopes were already standard, but kilometres of off-road passages and about 30 kilometres in the river bed – of which maybe 5 kilometres in the water were something new. On this de-tour my journey could have already come to an end – after I had torn out my left aluminium suitcase while trying to cross a torrent I wanted to turn back and got stuck on a rock on the other side while crossing a slope – the fall was half as tragic, but the path was narrower than the bike was wide – luckily Kati is somehow stuck on a rock while lying on the slope. If she would have slipped the 50 meters into the riverbed, I would never have been able to rescue her from there in one piece – the only possibility would have been to disassemble her into her individual parts on the spot and carry her back up again piece by piece – but whether this would have been possible because of the freezing cold water is questionable.
This passage was unfortunately insurmountable for me alone. Provisionally I had fastened the suitcase to the carrier. With the help of the 3 young men I could pass this critical point after all.
The view back to the last 10 kilometers before the glacier, which I had not tackled after the snowfields.
The second tour led me along the Batang valley towards Lake Sarez. Sarez is a huge dam which can only be visited with a special permit. Normally it is possible without a little Bakhshish – unfortunately I was unlucky, because at the same time civil defence exercises were held with the officials from Dushanbe present – no entry was allowed.
Halfway to the lake lies Basid – a green island in the middle of rocky gorges. From Basid you can walk 7 kilometres up a side valley, where you finally reach a shepherd village – Devlokh.
To get to the panoramic view, I had to cross this swinging bridge – Anwar who accompanied me told me that at high tide people have to crawl over on all fours. The way up to Devlokh.
The young man quickly carries 2 tree trunks into the valley and the school of Devlokh – a blackboard and 3 chairs…
The bridges are getting smaller and smaller and shakier and with my weight I had serious doubts if it would let me across…
One kilometre above Devlokh Gundushar, a shepherdess, lives in a cave for 6 months a year. She gets 2 somoni per month for each sheep – after 6 months she makes a total income of about 25 Euro. The food – sheep’s milk and bread is free.
The shepherdess’ cave. Here she lives and sleeps from May to September. But like everybody in Tajikistan she is especially hospitable – her homemade kefir was excellent…
.. and despite her meager life she does not seem unhappy alone in the wilderness, the conversation was very relaxed and funny.
Now follows two or three days of rest and repair in Khorog, the capital of the Pamir.
On the way there, I heard helicopters and detonations from an Afghan valley – sounded as if I had witnessed an air strike – goosebumps factor = 100%
After my trip to Vanj Kati is more upset, this time it takes a little longer.
This was probably also the last chance for 2 or 3 weeks to get an internet connection again.
My next stop is the south, the Wakhan corridor, with a short detour over the border and then it’s uphill, up to over 4000m in the cold and loneliness.
I am really looking forward to it.
Have a good time until next time.