Bicycle touring in Tajikistan is a dream of many. Riding the Pamir Highway at 3000 to 4000 meters altitude surrounded by the Pamir mountains with 7000+ peaks at the edge of the Himalayas is insane. Tajikistan was playing in our minds since we left home on the bicycle because it would be the first time we would be cycling at such altitude and in such remote area. We entered the country on the 15th of September 2014 from Denau in Uzbekistan and left the country on the 14th of October 2014. We have cycled 1279 km and ascended 12930 meters.

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cycled in Tajikistan

Our impressions of Tajikistan

We still longingly dream of Tajikistan because our time spent there was just too short. We were planning to follow most of the M41, also called the Pamir highway, not because of its speed but because of its altitude. This road was mainly constructed in the 1930 as a military road during strategic economic and political rivalry between the British empire and the Russian empire for the power in Central Asia. The terrain in which the road is built is very challenging and the upkeep of the road has been a challenge. This means that some parts are paved but most is unpaved gravel road varying in quality. Long section of the road are used by Chinese trucks who transport their goods through Tajikistan, so it is not unlikely to encounter large trucks with an additional trailer on these exciting roads.

Tajikistan is not only known for its mountains but also for its hospitality and that makes cycling these roads even more special. The Tajik will not be shy in inviting you in for tea or they might even make a delicious plov for lunch. We came across a stranded truck driver who really wanted to gift us his bag of bread, while bread is a sought after item on these roads. And one evening a friendly guy named Oruzbek invited us into his home and was very proud to share his Marco Polo sheep with us, although we were hesitant to accept this very kind offer. Although the country is challenging for its people they are humble and friendly and like to know more of these strange travellers that have come to visit them.

A great thing about Tajikistan is that you’re not alone cycling these tough roads. If you are travelling in season between May and October you are very likely to encounter cyclists going in both direction (although most will be heading from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan). We enjoyed sharing company, pushing our bicycle up the hill together, talking about being sick in the most uncomfortable way (because many get sick in this country) and finding great camp spots together where we share food and a view. 

Practical (Russian) words: Hello = Zdrávstvujte, Goodbye = Da svidanija, Thank you = Spasiba, Water = Voda, Where’re you from? = Otkuda

Oats index 75
Hospitality 88
Scenery 99
Road surface 42

We cycled the north road from Dushanbe via Obigarm and Tavildara to Kalaikhum cycling up the 3258 meter high Khaburabot pass and down the tough road. The road was hard going but the excitement and scenery was well worth it. There is less traffic on this section because faster traffic will likely take the better paved south road to Kalaikhum. In Kalaikhum it is possible to stock up on some essentials, but we have also found the towns in the valleys to have shops and some small restaurants along the way. From Kalaikhum it is a bit harder to camp because there is only space for the river and the road and sometimes the towns, so be wise in choosing your camp spot! We had actually taking this part of the route for granted, because the Pamir highway would, in our expectation, start later after Khorog. But, don’t underestimate this section, because it is beautiful!! From Kalaikhum it is the only section where the mountains will be standing so tall around you. You will share the border with Afghanistan for the first time across from the Panj river. So appreciate where you are and not live towards the next section while you are here. We cycled from Dushanbe to Khorog in 9 days. We were delayed because of the Giardia parasite. So be sure to filter your water or treat it well before drinking! Almost directly after leaving Dushanbe you won’t find bottled water so make sure you have something to filter and treat water with.

From Khorog we chose the Wakhan valley as we had heard many good things about it. The section along the valley until Langar is not as remote as we expected. Many sections are dotted with villages and you will frequently come across people and homestays. Ishkashim is a decent sized town where you will find some shops. In Langar we found a homestay but the shops were very basic, in one of the towns before there were some better shops with more choice. A common thing you will find is that everything will be past by its sell-by date. We found some Snicker bars but always they were passed the date. Until Langar the road goes up and down frequently but the elevation rises gradually. The roads in the villages are of better quality (sometimes even tarmac) than the roads on the sections in between.

From Langar upwards you really realise you are in the Pamir mountains. The road is quiet, deserted, dry and the only thing accompanying us was the Pamir river. Only 1 car passed us during the day. It is a good idea to break up this road in parts because the climb is quite long and quite tough because of the rocky surface. The wind was cold so we found a small sheep shed to sleep while a camel caravan was on the other side of the river in Afghanistan. There is a shelter just passed the military station at Khargush where several cyclists we know of have stayed the night before pushing over the pass. The pass is not that hard but the corrugated road afterwards to reach the Pamir highway is quite a challenge due to road surface. We really had a feeling of being so close an yet so far…

Reaching the Pamir highway was a highlight for us. The tarmac and the tailwind sent us flying! We reached Murgab in a day-and-a-half because of the strong tailwind and the very very gradual pass. Murgab was the first settlement with more facilities in a while. It has the famous container bazar which emphasises the feeling of being a wild west town of the east. At this bazar most things we were looking to stock up can be found, such as oatmeal, pasta, raisins, Snickers, etc. Also the duck shashlik had been recommended to us, but when we were there apparently the ducks were out of season… From Murgab the next pass waiting for us would be the highest of the Pamir highway, Ak Baital at 4655 meters. We cycled there in a day and a half, camping just before the steep part of the climb at a temperature of -14! The climb was tough but we had adjusted to the altitude well and made it! Looking back down we could see spots appear and it were 5 other cyclists with who we had the pleasure to meet a few times before on the Pamir highway. We cycled down the next 30-ish kilometres hoping the road would be better soon and it sure did. Cycling close behind each other we pushed on towards Karakul and enjoyed a homestay there where we took a rest day.

We only had a couple of days left on our visa so we were under a bit of time stress to reach the border. Even though we had a strong headwind and the road was corrugated again we made it up to the border post on the Tajik side and camped there in an empty building after we had received our stamp out of the country. We were ready for the 25 kilometers downhill from the Kyzyl Art pass in no-mansland between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Read our travel stories from Tajikistan

Our route

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Highlights!

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Our images from Tajikistan

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