We were excited the day had come Martin was feeling better from the Giardia Lamblia infection and it was our 8 months anniversary for the journey. We had to go and get on the road out of Khorog and cycle onwards to the Wakhan valley. The Wakhan valley we had heard from many people should be a great place to cycle, with great mountain views and interesting people.
In Khorog we had met up with other cyclists which we would meet again along the way while cycling the pamir highway. The day we set off 5 other cyclists (Bertrand, Jules, Marianne, David and Holly) also set off in the same direction as us, they had already decided to cycle together as we felt that being a group of 7 would be too much, we went off on our own all though agreeing to meet up along the way which proved more difficult than we thought.
After 45km we met the 5 other cyclists cycling the pamir highway at a check point which was just near a hot spring named Garm Chasma which David and Holly had been recommended. We all agreed to go and check it out, what we didn’t know was that it was a 7km climb up there with a few steep parts. As we were still recovering from our stomach issues and having been off the bikes it was a challenge to get up there. We camped at the sanatorium with the 7 of us, cooked dinner and shared some stories. Finally we went to sleep to gain some energy for the next day while the rest went for the hot spring bath.
Ishkashim, a place you would know about if going to cycle the Wakhan valley, as this is the place where there is a market for Tajik and Afghan people to cross trade. This has become a main tourist attraction of the Wakhan valley. Well we made it to Ishkashim on the second day out of Khorog and stayed at a pretty okay guest house called “Hanis guesthouse”. There were rumours of the Afghan market to be closed due to a disease outbreak on the Afghan side so not sure if there would be a market. Next morning we spoke with some people backpacking along the valley and they were also planning on going to the Afghan market if it would be open. We had a feeling it would be closed as we had passed the border the day before and everything was closed so we cycled out of Ishkashim. Soon after we were passed by a motorcyclist we had met in the guest house as well and he said that there would be no market. We were glad with our choice of cycling on but no good for the people who rely on this trade.
The next days we cycled through the valley passing villages along the road in most rural villages where people are busy with surviving. This meaning that people are in the fields for the harvest and busy with sorting the harvest. We were always welcomed by 4-10 kids yelling “Whats your name, Hello, How are you” which is nice but sometimes when this is repeated 10-20 times a day it becomes a bit annoying. While the grownups always are very kind and many smiles were shared. In the valley there is of course a trace of the soviet, positive and negative and old traces of fortresses. We did not have/take time to really understand the history but did our best to interact with people, this was mainly due to the visa constraint of 30days in Tajikistan.
On the 4th day we got to the last village in the Wakhan valley, Langar, a village we had thought would be a place to get some extra supplies. This was not the case (previous villages like Vrang offered more in the local shop), anyhow we had enough food for the next days where just hoping to find some extras. We cycle up this village and were soon met by a man who offered that he had a home stay which we had all ready decided on that Langar should be a place where we wanted to stay in a home stay. We spoke a bit with him and decided to have a look further up the road which turned into more of a track than a road, all right this was really the last stop before climbing out of Langar. We stayed with the mans family and they treated us really well with plenty of food and fresh apricots.
We woke up the morning of the day where we knew we were going up up up. Langar is located at 2800m and first steep uphill would take us to 3200m and then rough gravel road would keep on climbing until Khargush at 4000m. We left the home stay well fed and a bit nervous of the days ahead as there is little traffic and no villages. The road was rough and we would only make 40km before it was time to find shelter as the wind was picking up its strength, there it was a small shelter for the sheep and the herder. This provided a spot with more to it than we thought as we looked across the Pamir river to the Afghan side we saw a camel caravan sheltering as well they invited us but we turned down the invite as that would mean crossing the border illegal and it was getting cold so we opted for our own peace and quiet. Next morning as we were getting ready so was the caravan and Martin walked down to the river and got some interesting views of a completely different lifestyle and culture. Just 40m away what a great experience, let the photos talk for them selves.
We got to 4150m up the Khargush pass when the sky changed and became very dark and temperature dropped fast soon we had snow and a strong head wind. We changed clothes fast and got ready to fight the storm but we still had to top the pass and go down, Martin walked up the pass to see how the following km would look like and if we could find shelter for the wind, this was not a great success and Susanne was tired. Taking all into account Susanne came with the idea to go down to find shelter, we both agreed and went down. Luckily there was an abandoned house where we could shelter and stay for the night. At the house a nice dog was living we shared some food with him and became friends 🙂
Crossing the pass was fine next morning only a bit cold although the sun was shining. We made it up and over the pass where we passed so mountain lakes with great views and down again all on gravel and rocks. Downhill was slow and long stretches of washboard roads 3km before we would reach the M41 we had some candy and Martin says out loud “Shit”, broken tooth 1/4 had come off and a part of the filling. Now what.. well somehow we were prepared for this as Martin had bought a “Dentanurse kit”. So there on the road we packed out our first aid and mixed the glue which proved difficult due to wind and cold. We managed and could continue. We got to the paved pamir highway M41 and a great tail wind pushed us hard and we pushed past Alicur a small village and before dark we asked the only house if we could set up our tent some where.
We got invited in by Oruzbek a funny guy. He says he is alone and we can stay. Inside it is nice and warm. We drink tea and eat bread and watch Kyrgyz folk singing on a small device he has attached to a huge battery. One lamp lights the whole room. The oven is being fired with yak dung. He offers dinner and we offer our vegetables. Although it is not ethically sound we eat Marco Polo sheep. Who are we to judge his traditions and he is proud he can offer us food. Suddenly his wife and two of his four children come in from a nearby village. We have a cosy evening chatting English/Russian but his children are not feeling well and we hear them coughing and crying during the night. The next morning we ask to prepare noodles. We have a big cycling day ahead and need enough food to keep our engine going. Oruzbek and his wife also offer us bread, yak butter, lovely yak cream and milk tea.
We can barely set foot out of the room because it is so nice and warm and very chilly outside with still strong wind in the right direction. We start cycling and before 12:30 we have ticked off 75 km and we are in Murgab. This town is a really one of a kind at 3600m and people have to import most food. In Murgab we took a rest day, we also met Anne and Nico again after they had repaired their trikes in Khorog they were able to cycle the M41 pamir highway. Next to that we again met up with Mark and Jules who had left one day ahead of us from Khorog and on our rest day the 5 other cyclists showed up as well with whom we cycled out of Khorog. Everybody had a tough time cycling pamir highway and over the Khargush pass, was happy to get a shower and some different food and new groceries in Murgab. From Murgab the road goes over the highest pass on the M41, read about how that went in our next blog post.
Info for other cyclist cycling the pamir highway on the same route as us:
Below you see a detailed GPX track including elevation profile of the Wakhan valley and the Pamir highway which you can download.