In Khorog I was able to carry out the most necessary repairs on the bike for the first time – improvisation was the order of the day, because spare parts or tools are in short supply. For the organisation of a welding apparatus one needs at least 2 hours despite local help, the procurement of a used screw removed from a scrap part takes at least as long – of course there are no new parts.
This situation is characteristic for the Pamirs, no matter if it is about the simple things in life like electricity, telephone, internet, fruits and vegetables or spare parts – you just can’t get them. You only get what grows and flourishes directly on the spot – i.e. various dairy products and bread, meat, maybe sometimes even potatoes.
The gasoline supply is not secured over hundreds of kilometers, you have to ask your way from place to place and house to house. After I deviate from the Pamir Highway on secondary routes and into the open country benцtigte me additional tanks. Since real petrol canisters were not available in Dushanbe either, I made do with several used oil canisters in this case.
The first route went in the south, further along the Afghan border to the Wakhan Valley and the Hindu Kush. As everywhere else in the Pamirs, motorcyclists are hunted by the dogs and cheered by the people. The friendliness here is legendary, children, teenagers, men and even old women run to the street when they hear you, shine all over your face and cheer you on.
Along the Panj, on the Afghan side of the river, a donkey trail winds for hundreds of kilometres which is not navigable. After the mountains are invincible in the back, the entire supply of the villages is done over this narrow path. In addition there are wцchentlich joint Afghan-Tajik markets in Kahle-i-kum, Khorog and Ishkashim.
One of the many Afghan villages on a bulge in the river.
Picture #2: On the left side is the Tajik road, on the right side the Afghan donkey path
A first glance at the Hindu Kush. A car full of groupies on the way to the Afghan market in the south – I was stopped because the “General” wanted to take a photo with me – I had no idea who that was at that time and had my photo taken. Days later, when I showed the photo to some Tajiks, they froze in awe at the sight. The man sitting behind me in the car is Yumit, he was the leader of the Pamiri troops in the civil war. He is in a wheelchair since a gunshot wound. Today he is the head of the Tajik mafia and controls the drug transport through the Pamir.
To visit the market in Ishkashim you have to leave Tajikstan and go to the other side – this is possible without a visa, you just hand in your passport and on your return you will get it back.
Over this “peace bridge” you can reach Afghanistan.
Afghan soldiers at the market – they are very attentive, are watching me constantly and do not let me take pictures of them. This reluctance to be photographed is understandable when you see how both Afghan and Tajik officers negotiate with “businessmen” while eating at the market. Therefore it is not surprising that Afghan farmers bring 50 kg sacks of “flour” to the market in rows and that Tajik shoppers simply carry them across the border.
It was probably possible to halve the drug smuggling to Europe at one stroke, if the markets were seriously controlled.
To photograph the officers as well as the “flour” shoppers was too dangerous, because I wanted to stay in Tajikistan.
From Ishkashim the Panj turns east – now you drive between the Hindu Kush on the Afghan/Pakistan side and the Shakhdarga Range towards Wakhan Valley. There are no more asphalt roads for a long time, the “corrugated iron” road is well passable and changes constantly between deep gravel and sand pits. The “Ruttelstrecke” requires a minimum speed of at least 80 km/h to get through halfway without concussion. Because I couldn’t see the road due to sand drifts close to the ground, I got blindly into a sand pit shortly before Langar with 100 km/h, whereupon I was decently crushed. One of my aluminium suitcases looked like a crushed coke can – Kati, the photo equipment, the computer and me got away without any scratches because of the soft ground.
After a short hike over Langar you have a wonderful view of the place where the Hindu Kush and the Wakhan Range meet. At the same time the Pamir and Wakhan rivers flow together and form the Panj from this point.
If you want to continue into the East Pamir from here you have to cross the Khargush Pass with 4350m to reach the Pamir Highway from the south. With the crossing of the pass the landscape and climate changes – instead of narrow and high gorges there are now wide plateaus at an average altitude of 4000m, temperatures regularly fall below zero degrees at night and it snows every day. Riding a motorbike now means to unpack the thermal wash again.
One of the many military checkpoints in the border area – the first soldiers to be photographed. The dog looks so hypocritical here – but the excrement has pissed on my front tire before.
Directly at the pass is a small lake, there I met a Swiss and a French couple who camped there. If you climb from the pass for about 2 hours up to the Hauslbeck viewpoint at 4900 m, you have a wonderful view of the Wakhan range and the Zor-Kul.
A first view of the plateau on the Pamir Highway before Alichur
Bulunkul is the coldest place in the Pamir – the weather station here measured minus 60 degrees for over a week this winter. Even now in mid-June it is at least -5 to -10 degrees at night.
The view of Bulunkul over the Bulunkul Lake
A typical bathroom in front of the entrance door – you will think twice about taking a shower in these outdoor temperatures.
Trout fishing with a net brings some variety to the menu. Within an hour 22 pieces were in the blue tub. My Tajik fishing colleague was clearly more skilled than me. My catch was a single small brown trout, at dinner I was the “world champion” – a welcome change after days with only milk and bread.
Catching trout is a man’s job, cleaning and cooking the fish is done by women.
While the men sit at the table and eat the fish, the women are separated in the background with bread and shir-cay – i.e. salted milk tea with butter.
Cooking is done as well as heating with dried yak dung.
Fishermen at Lake Bulunkul
Close to Bulunkul lies the Yashil-Kul, the green lake – it is considered one of the most beautiful in the Pamir. The trip there is off-road as usual in this area – the northern shore could not be reached because the current water level in the river exceeded 70 cm.
The way to Murghab, the main town in the West Pamir is again via the Pamir Highway. Even after hours of driving you hardly see any vehicles – only Chinese heavy trucks with their cheap products for the Central Asian market – the modern Silk Road to the West.
Fortunately I was able to get some gasoline in a private house on the way in Alichur. The gas station attendant and his son are Kyrgyz, like 80% of the inhabitants of the eastern Pamirs.
After crossing the Neizatash Pass in snow and minus temperatures, the plain opens up shortly before Murghab.