Solo Vehicle Dependent Exploration, Travel & Adventure

Tajikistan – The Pamirs and the Wakhan Corridor Part II

 How we ended up back in the Wakhan Corridor, drove the eastern half of the Pamir highway and saw a meteorite entering the earth’s atmosphere.

The day after we returned from Afghanistan we set about reorganizing all of our gear as we had left a number of things at the Pamir Lodge including the trailer. It took a fair amount of time which was further delayed by the number of other overlanders at the lodge. Whenever groups of travellers get together, not a lot gets done other than drinking, eating, relaxing and chatting, and as usual we all went back to the Indian that night for a lot of drinking, eating and… well, chatting.

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Another Indian? ow, go on then, only if I can have half chips/half rice

Adam had the Bartang Valley on his mind but decided he would do it in reverse, meaning he would travel towards Murghab before looping back southwest to Khorog along the Bartang Valley. So once again the three of us set off south (for the third and last time) down to the Wakhan Corridor past Ishkashim and out east. As we were covering old ground we rarely stopped for photos, in fact I think we only stopped at the police checkpoint in the first 100km. Passing Ishkashim we were looking for the Bibi Fatima hot springs along with the old forts of Yamchun and Khakha.

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Yamchun Fortress ruins. Overlooking the Hindu Kush (Afghanistan)

The springs were a welcome relief and seemed a little cooler than the ones at Garam Chasma which we visited on our original route south a few days prior. After a good old wash (Lisa had a pool all to herself, but had an audience with the attendant who insisted on scrutinising her every move!) we headed back down the mountain to the remains of the Yamchun fortress. Perched on top of the hill the rocks crumbled away in almost all directions. Dated from the first century BC  it had 2m thick stone walls with several watchtowers. It is thought to have been the greatest defence fortification in the Wakhan and was strategically placed on the Silk Road leading from Pamir to Bactria, India, Iran and back controlling the traffic, cargo and security in the region.

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A photograph of two more photographs! Land Rover makes a great platform.

It was here, half way down a scree slope that we met the Aussie that is Shane Dallas (http://www.thetravelcamel.com) He was regaling stories and waxing lyrical about his time in the Afghan Pamir. Later that day we caught up with him and his guide at the Vamg Guesthouse. It seems that once you’re in the one way system that is the Wakhan Corridor, there isn’t much of a way out. We discovered that day that after about 2 pm the westerly winds come screaming down the valley like a banshee kicking up dust and sand nearly a kilometre wide and engulfing everything in sight.

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In the Wakhan Corridor

Luckily for us we came across the guesthouse just in time. The following morning the owner Aydar showed us his (reconstructed) grandfather’s Pamiri home which is now a museum (he was the famous Sufi mystic, astronomer and musician Mubarak Kadam Wakhani (1843–1903) ). Outside of the museum to the north you can see the stone that he used as a solar calendar. All of his observations are written down and recorded on display in the museum. Aydar showed us everything including the vast array of musical instruments and he even went as far as playing a few for us.

With the day wearing on we knew we needed to get moving before the winds caught up with us again. Passing ruined forts and Tajik border patrol posts we made our way east with the Hindu Kush towering alongside on our right. I would catch glimpses of hidden valleys and soaring (unclaimed) peaks in the distance, some of which I am sure were in Pakistan as when the clouds cleared I could see a fair distance into the range. I was sad to leave it behind as the Big Pamir came into view and with that we turned north into Langar.

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Hindu Kush

That night I noticed that our awning bracket was about to give way again so asked a few of the guides staying at the guesthouse that night if they knew of any. To my surprise they did (there was no electricity at the last place and Langer was also on generators). In the morning we were pleasantly surprised to find a Russian living in Langer who could ACTUALLY weld. He did a great job and whilst I was snooping around I spotted his old Ural motorbike and sidecar in the garage. When I told Adam he came bounding in and asked if he could sit on it for a photo… Cheeky.

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Our welder in Langar

As we were up early we had a long day over the first big mountain pass. Adam took a wrong turn the day before and ended up on this road so said something to the effect of ‘you may need low ratio gears on this one’ before steaming off ahead. We got to the first bend and nearly stalled where It was so steep! We got going and managed low second (L2) for a while before a group of shepherds decided to foil my plans and throw their goats in our path. We waited for them to clear before setting off again in L1 for a while. For 70km we climbed and rolled along the mountainside stopping for photos along the way, it was slow going as it was so scenic!

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Another classic lunchstop with Adam (www.Shortwayround.com)

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We reached Khargush, passed the military checkpoint and headed north towards the mountain pass passing beautiful Alpine Lakes along the way. As we neared the pass the sky clouded over and it began to snow, luckily we were up and over and on our way down in no time. Catching up with Adam we discussed that evenings camp options and decided to drive on to the lakes at Yashil-Kul and loop around to Alachur the next day.

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We found a quiet spot next to the lake but the wind was howling and bitterly cold. We sheltered the best we could and cooked up something quickly for the 3 of us before retiring to bed. The next morning we awoke to the sound of a small van, blaring Enrique Inglesias and six Tajik men inflating a small boat and preparing their nets. We got up and made breakfast when they came over and gave us three white fish. Endemic to the two lakes here in the high Pamirs these are something of a delicacy and we were very grateful. It was at this point that we bumped into a Land Rover Discovery! It turned out to be two lads from Sweden on a short trip through Central Asia. (www.swedishdiscovery.com). After a brief discussion on the finer points of Land Rover diesel engines: ‘does yours blow black smoke at this altitude?’, ‘mine didn’t start this morning’ and ‘what is your economy like?’ we were on our way.

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Lisa on the look out for Yaks

 

We went in search of the dirt track heading east but it was difficult to find. Following the GPS we crossed open land before picking up a faint track which would take us to the Ak-Jar hot springs. It was rough going following the river and it was easy to see how it would become impassible during the rains. Ak-Jar proved to be a small trickle but further down the road (whilst I was taking photos of Yaks) Adam’s bike was outside a small building. When we knocked on the door we were invited in by a shy Kyrgyz women. Adam was sat there drinking tea and eating bread! It was a great experience. We spent sometime taking photos of her and her young son and then I printed a few out on our portable printer (Canon Selphy) for her. The room was sparse, we were about 75km from the main highway and a long way from a town. Everything was run on one 12v battery but they seemed to have everything they needed. We gave a clutch of pens, pencils and notepads to her for her son before we left and from here we picked up the main Pamir Highway.

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“The plain is called Pamier, and you ride across it for twelve days together, finding nothing but desert without habitation or any green thing, so that travellers are obliged to carry with them whatever they have need of.  The region is so lofty and cold that you cannot even see any birds flying.  And I must notice also that because of the great cold, fire does not burn so bright, nor give out as much heat as usual.”

Marco Polo, Description of the World

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Well said Marco… although for us it was not 12 days as the highway is a sort of asphalt variety. We kicked ass towards Murghab with that banshee wind behind us. We stopped by some French cyclists coming the other way. They were having a tough time. At this altitude (nearly 4000m) cycling into a headwind all day everyday was not much fun. It was blowing a gale at this point and their tents were taking a beasting. We told them about the Wakhan, the winds, prevailing direction and times along with resupply points and distances. If your going to cycle the Pamirs do it Anti-clockwise from Khorog not clockwise from Murghab! We fuelled up in desolate town of Murghab before pushing on. The wind was fierce again and we needed somewhere sheltered to sleep. We took the road to Rangkul Lake near the Chinese border and found a big rock outcrop in the right place just off the road.
Old border post between the former USSR and China

Old border post between the former USSR and China

That night we cooked up the free fish from the night before with the aid of our wood burning stove while Adam tried to keep warm in his tent. It was Baltic at 3800m that night. The sky however was crystal clear so I decided to stay up and catch some photos. It was around midnight just before Lisa turned in that the sky lit up. ‘A shooting star!’ it got bigger, it got brighter and it streaked across the night sky. I glanced at Lisa and her face was lit up like someone flicked a switch. ‘What the hell was that?!’ trying to be quiet and not wake up Adam. We guessed it was a meteorite. About five minutes later we heard two loud explosions. Impact or sonic-boom? who knows. nothing turned up on Google but it looks like it landed in the remote Tien Shan region of China.
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The following morning we packed up and got back on the main Pamir Highway heading north towards Kyrgyzstan. Before that though we had to pass over the Ak Baital mountain pass. At 4655m ASL it is the highest in the Pamirs and this region of the world. The whole highway in fact is the second highest (to the Karakorum Highway just over the border in China) in the world. The pass took some time and was very cold, the views were great as usual though. It wasn’t long before we were at the turn off point with the Bartang Valley which Adam would take. We had spent our entire time in Tajikistan with him. We had only had our first and last day here without him. In the intervening three weeks we had crossed borders, camped, shared food, drank beers and generally spent a lot of time together talking about anything and everything. It was a heartfelt goodbye as we would probably not see each other again. We stopped at Lake Karakol for some photos and to hop over the broken fence into China briefly. Looking for a wildcamp spot that night proved difficult and we ended up at 4200m near the border on another mountain pass. It was another cold night. The following morning we passed the cyclists we met in Dushanbe and passed through the uneventful border.
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We had been told that Kyrgyz hospitality would rival that of the Mongolians. ‘Wow’ we thought, nobody ever talks about the Tajiks so what are we in for? Next stop, Kyrgyzstan…
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2 responses

  1. Anonymous

    Beautiful country…….. great photos !!

    02/09/2013 at 10:01

  2. Hi you two, a great write up again and cracking pics(your starting to get good at it griff 😀 )
    Till the next bit of news,take care and stay safe xx

    02/09/2013 at 09:46

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