Mysteries of the Pamir
Things are all small, complicated and on the brink of survival,
in the Pamir, - just like on the fantasy planet described by Sent-Exupery.
And only Mountains are limitlessly grand here.
Mysteries of the Pamir
(Through the eyes of motorcycle tour leader.)
The idea to once more return to Pamir came to me after I left the region in my teenage years. Before that, we lived in the Murgab kishlak (Village) of Nagorny Badaqshan, the heart of Pamir (1987- 88-89). It’s been a long time, likewise has the many things, that curbed the implementation of my dream to meet Pamir again. I communicated the idea of the Pamir biking venture to friends that were with me on the Uzbekistan tour last year. The idea enjoyed unanimous approval and support.
In general, all was ready by the set start time, 15th of May – Acerbis boosted tank hooked to bike, as well as flip bags and GPS Garmin. Before that date, another person willing to visit Pamir joined us. Acquaintance on the Internet.) It was a certain Adri from Holland, who was going to take my newly bought Honda XR650L and conquer sky trails. The first Force Majeur happened just one month prior to take-off. Kyrgyz borders got sealed-off for indefinite time. We decided to run through Uzbekistan. I retailored the route and Adri promptly got new visas and retuned himself accordingly. The paramount thing was that the trip would happen. The second, and the SNEAKIEST nuisance, just one week prior to departure, was the collective refusal to go. One of my friends suddenly got head over hills exploited at work by his new boss, the second fell ill, the third just said “I won’t go”. It was only Adri, who was struggling his way through the masses of the Icelandic volcano ash to finally see what Central Asia was like.
Adri – earlier unknown friend from far.
One last luggage inspection – all got settled in a nice and tidy manner, like seen from Photo
I had plenty of room left. Keeping in mind personal knowledge of the hard life, the Pamir kids have to live, I decided to take some gifts – some toys. My wife helped me select things from the toy-deposits of our children. She chose toys in good shape (cars, soldiers, dolls and necklaces) and divided them in two lots – for girls and boys. Eventually, I had two more fat toy sacks. Now we can go!
I has a clear picture of what I wanted to acquire from the trip:
1. Main target – make it to Murgab, visit “old glory” sites related to my wonderful childhood there
2. Recon interesting tourist route for our motorcycle travel club SilkOffRoad (customs and frontier guards checkpoints, roads, tour operators, hotels, motels and others).
3. Visit Fan Mountains and, namely, in the Vertical-Allaudin International Mountaineering Camp, - the place that no wheel of the bike ever touched before. Leave our Logotype there.
4. Find the mountain cave nearby Murgab, where the mysterious light shines.
5. Visit Lake Rongkol.
6. Find a ruby like size a dino egg and become rich and prosperous)).
7. Find the meteorite crater in the Murgab vicinity – the one I found in Google Earth .
8. Give toys to Pamir’s children.
9. And, of course , have fun and make it back safe.
19 May. Almaty-Shymkent. 690 kilos.
Woke up at 6-00 and took off. Today’s section is the longest. So, we just drove like locomotives – without stops.
West Europe-West China new road construction is aggressively underway between Dzhambul and Chimkent southern town of Kazakhstan. long 8 445 km.
Chimkent’s attractions - Noah's Ark
In café near the border.
Mysteries of the Pamir.
20 May. Chimkent-Jizzakh. 350 kilos
We made to Uzbek border by lunch and spent three hours clearing ourselves through border checks. This is a very tedious process. Staff don’t speak English. If you do not know Russian or local language, it may be a very long time. Uzbekistan met us with dull landscape, but fairly good roads, broad ones with concrete dividers and rare vehicles.
Street's exchange money. Black rate is more favorable.
We drove into Jizaq at night. Found ourselves a place to sleep and decided to go eat something. Somebody advised to visit Café Nafisa. There we tried to real Jizaq samsa. Spiced meat rolled into pastry and baked in special clay ovens. I heard about it back in Almaty. Its size is the first thing that makes it famous. Half an A-4 sheet size. Needless to try to describe its taste – I got no words to try, just saline. Adri bit one and saw the fat and said they did not eat fat back in Holland, for it was harmful and he was one of those who did not eat fat either. When he finished his first one, he did not say anything more about fat – he just ate it all. He had his mouth and palms burning but he ate it all. Each of us had three and we wanted some more but could not))
21 May. Jizaq – Samarkand – Pejikent (Tajikistan) 170 kilos
We got Tajikistan waiting for us today. We woke up early and took off.
On the roads of Uzbekistan
Mountain pass before Samarkant. Three-car high altitude passenger train.
Road to Samarkand. Local sight – the Timur’s Gate, vandalism and may be graffiti.
Route ran though Samrakand for I wanted Adri to see its sights
Samarkand. Gur-Emir Mausoleum in the backgrounds.
We chose not to linger in Samarkand cause we wanted to make it to Tajikistan as soon as possible. We passed Uzbek checkpoint easily, people there did their jobs like robots – without a single word.
But I liked the Tajik post more. Its commander first treated us t some tea in his office and only then did they check our credentials. They helped us to promptly complete documents and wished us good luck.
Penjikent was nearby – just some 10 kilos away from border. Drastic change in landscape. Uzbek flatlands got changed by mountains who appeared suddenly.
Penjikent Town Gate
That day, the starts brought together under the roof of our guest house three Adri’s fellow countrymen on a 4WD, one Infantry German and an Indian. In the evening, we had a party. We treated all of the, to Vodka and had fun communicating. Interesting momentums from any trip – you get to meet people from other countries and tomorrow we all will bide our last Byes and we all are same people, moving towards some place just to see something new.
In Penjikent’s guesthouse.
Mysteries of the Pamir
22 May. Penjikent – Vertical Mountaineering Camp – Allaudin (Fun Mts.) – 80 kilos
Morning take off was taking place under heavy rain. Checked the new Can-am rain coat. 100% polyethylene. Works wll!
Zaravshan River Bridges
For some fifty kilos of the road, the asphalt was all in big holes filled with rain water. That made them not well seen. Was not nice to run into those biker traps. We just left that water minefield when a mudflood suddenly went down right in front of us. I tell you, we were lucky not to have been washed away)
Mudflood settled in the form of a 30-meter cow mine. Its depth was some one half meters – clay, water and crushed rocks. Can’t drive it around. Tajik roads have one common problem – mountains on one side and you can’t walk there and abyss on the other, so the situation was a May Day type.
Mudflood sealing road off
Surprisingly, the mud level was going down pretty fast and the water was separating itself from rocks and making its ways down to the river. By that time, many vehicles got accumulated on both sides. Some Balls of Steel was probably rushing somewhere, so he decided to cut through it and got stock in the middle, thus double shutting the road for the rest.
I happened to be the only man in that crown to have the tagging rope (I always do) and we dragged the Balls from mud. Then we called in heavy arty support – bulk trucks pulverized the mass into something thinner and the traffic resumed in a fast manner.
Shorcha Village in the backgrounds.
Road got better. Sun came our. Mood got really elevated.
Tajik mountains showed up. Unbelievable! Eyes don’t understand at once what it is there – theatrical decorations or never before seen magnitude of reality. Those are not Kyrgyz and more than that – not Kazakh mountains. You just drive between two walls without a chance to ever see their tops. Me GarminGPS was helplessly SOSing about not signal from satellite!
Mysteries of the Pamir
We left the main and took the other pass in the heart of Fan Mountains. We were on our way to the International Mountaineering and Tourism Center “Vertical-Alaudin”. Road is not asphalted. Runs thru very exotic local villages. Everything is green and there are even Birches growing in the middle of snowy peaks.
Fun Mountains. Road to Vertical-Allaudin
When we aliens appeared, local girls would turn their backs on us or hide their eyes – that is how local traditions are like. Local dudes however love to make photos
Fan Mountains – Mecca for mountaineers. Altitude is relatively not high, there are Xmas trees, Birches and other species of vegetation, but you are surrounded with masses of five thousand meter peaks offering various complexity climbing routes.
We were just driving and hoping to see a lot of interesting people and arrange an international event. There was an iron bar to meet us at the checkpoint. We signaled. Silence. Then suddenly a man virtually hopped up right out from a rock and began to ask questions about who we were and what we wanted. We said we wanted to get inside but he said camp would start in two weeks. He is a Tajik lad and his name is Akram. He is a sheepherder and a camp security guard. He was shocked. In their stories we were the first who went up to him on a motorcycle.
"You can stay if you want. I will give you keys for any cottage" - he said.
Of course we will. We chose a shack with big windows and beautiful scenery of cliffy horizon. Together with keys, Akram brought us milk, bread and two fast heated noodle packs. We opened those windows and had the most unforgettable panoramic supper throughout the term of the whole trip. There were beautiful mountains and there was the Moon …
Window view. Two noodle packs and Mount Chimtarga (5,489 meters)
Fan Mountains left some funny and very kind impressions. I want to get back there for a week or two
to be continued...
I love a good Tajikistan story. Has to be one of my top 'dream ride' adventures. Cant wait to see how your trip goes!!
Dont know if you remember us but we met you in Kyrgyzstan. My wife and I were going to Tajikistan (opposite way to you guys) and if I remember right there was some visa expiration issues...
We were on a honda transalp 650 and a suzuki drz 400. Our trip is done now and were back in the UK, but we ended up doing Australia and Africa after this. As I was going through little bits of memorabilia I rediscovered the business card you gave us that day. I tried to upload the pic we took, but i'm doing something wrong, doh!
Looking forward to this trip! Let rip bud.
Awesome. Keep those great photos coming, please.
those mountains ...
... absolutely awesome! ... and a great RR. Reminds me of the Himalayas. Looking forward to more pics and reports. Ride safe.
wow great pictures great report. Thank you and keep it coming
Mysteries of the Pamir
23 May. Allaudin-Dushanbe 160 km
We reached the mountain asphalt road running to Dushanbe and savored the giant mountain sights. That day, I was looking forward to seeing the Anzob tunnel.
Brief info from Internet:
Anzob Pass of the Gissar Moutain Range plays the key role in the western section of the Transtajik motor vehicle road. The pass lies 3,372 meters above sea. It will take 1.5-2 hrs to ascend it by means of a serpentine road. The most frustrating thing is that weather conditions seal off the road for vehicles November thru May, implying full stoppage of movements on the Tashkent-Dushanbe road. One resolution for this problem is the construction of a 5-kilometer tunnel beneath the rock. It was commenced in 1989 but ceased in four years, for instability in the country. Operations were resumed in 1999, but funding problems kept construction pace under constraints.
One of my biker buddies described the tunnel as follows: no lights, blackness all around and water up to knees, water dropping from above, cold, rotten or no ventilation at all, as well as bulk truck soot. Locals close car windows and breath through wet napkins, so make sure you grab as much air as you see, breath slow and may pretty well eventually see the light in the end of the tunnel.))
Anzob Tunnel Entrance. Smoke floating outside
And that’s no kidding. People were really suffocating there. I had some thrills before entry too. That bad, I was thinking to bring respirators from Almaty. Tunnel turned out really gloomy – chilly air with smell of dampness and fuel oil. Bulk truck engines sounded like air jets before take off. Some lights in the beginning, darkness all the way through afterwards, so gotta watch out so not to run into some road construction device, like a drilling machine, camouflaged under dust.
Tunnel is 5 kilos long.
More joyous and impressing picture waits for you on the exit from the catacomb, especially long-waited fresh air and giant mountains, of course.
Anzob Tunnel Exit.
Descent from tunnel offers luxury road pavement all the way onwards to Dushanbe. Serpentine turns have exterior concrete tunnels that protect roads from mudfloods and rock collapses. After serpentine road ran through a beautiful valet – river, mountains, respectable looking cafes and recreation centersа. Dushanbe, a not so peculiar community was hot. Took us some time to seek out our guest house address. Locals looked puzzled, cab drivers were noisy but useless. Later, we found it they gave us the old name of the street, as the latter changed its name recently. So, we finally found it. Guest house is owned by Mrs. Maqhbooba and the place is clean, tidy and cozy. First class service!!
We were about to finish lunch when the sun left and rain and hail began.
Rain stopped same way it started, sun came out, and likewise did we, for a tour of the city. City has mainly old soviet five-floors and no newly builts. Found exhibition of Soviet War Photographers in one of the parks. It was dedicated to the Great Victory jubilee celebration. Adri stopped and began to carefully watch those photos. Those photos were strong, like really strong. I felt touched when I thought of the price paid for victory. I did not make any comments. Adri, supposedly, knows all about it and who knows, what if his Father was a Nazi trooper. I felt embarrassed to ask. Adri seemed to have heard my thoughts. He took his glasses off and said: “ My Dad was a member of a popular diversion force, then he spent a long time running away from Gestapo and SS… let us go drink… to victory”.
If you decided to find a place in Dushanbe to eat, drink and have some really good time – go to Rakhat Chaykhana. There, we did not just drink, we got pissed - Hitler Caput!
Rakhat Chaykhana. Dushanbe
Mysteries of the Pamir
24 May. Dushanbe- Kalaikhum. 360km
Left Dushanbe during lunch. I had a problem with my permit to enter Nagorno Badaqshan. There are only two roads from Dushanbe to Pamir – one thru Tavildara, i.e. the northern route or Route M41 and second through Kuliab, the south route. We initially planned to run thru Kuliab, but a disaster happened there in May. A powerful mudflood caused by non-stop rain washed several streets away and killed many people. The principal vehicle bridge collapsed, too. So, we went thru Tavildara.
After Dushanbe, some 60 kilos are good road, asphalt, good mountain sceneries, vegetation and River Vaqsh.
“Careful! Dancing Little Men” Sign )
Asphalts end here, now we turn to obstacle course. It was raining here just one day prior to our arrival and now the water runs in mud springs from each valley.
Plus herds of sheep directed by their sheepherders on a not so broad road.
It is rather challenging to drive by them, as I already told how Tajik roads are like. The nerdiest thing in the world is when those herds walk in the same direction as you, so passing lasts forever.
Later, we made our ways through trenches left by bulk trucks and settled masses of mud. That was some torture, I should tell you.
By 12 o'clock the night, soaked to the skin, hungry, brutally stilled by the cold, we stood on top of the pass Shaburabat (3300m). Smoked cigarettes with hands shaking from cold. And some psychedelic fairy tale around us – full moon, snowy mountain tops and sky full of alluvial deposits of stars and starlets. That particular moment, for some reason, got engraved in my soul and will keep returning back to it. Unfortunately our camera soaked and frozen battery no keep this moment..
Shaboorabat road with snow walls
Pass descent was funnier and warm air was blowing in our faces. Frontier rangers gave us some hot tea at the checkpoint, registered our credentials and checked our permits to enter (first and only time during journey) and wished us good luck. We entered Kalikhum at three. The village was asleep. A knew the name of the guest house owner and it took us a long time to find it. Then we found some convenience store where people helped us to find our ways and sold us a mobile SIM we used all the time for necessary and not so expensive calls.
In half an hour, guest house owners met us, took us inside, put us in the warm environment and gave us food and put us to bed beneath mattress fat duvets.
Have you report after your trip?
Mysteries of the Pamir
25 May. Kalikhum - hot springs Garmchashma. 320km
Kalikhum. Morning in the guest house.
A classical guest house breakfast. Fried eggs, tea, bread and nuts.
The great Tajik Tetris. Fence without a drop of cement. Takes a bulldozer and not collapse it.
Kalikhum. Gas re-fill from buckets – normal local practice (USD2 for 1 liter of A-80)
Kalikhumb’s shopping small
In the morning, Adri complained about aching in his left leg. He had his surae sore and feet scarcely able to move making it tough to switch gears. He must have caught cold on the muscle in one of those mountain rivers. “I can make it” – Adri said and off we went.
Finally, we reached the Pamir road running parallel to Piandj River and Afghanistan.
Abridged by “Pamir” book:
“Pamir tract has a long history. In the 30-s, the road only connected Osh and Khorog and ended in near Piandj River. One would have to take walking tours or caravan trails to reach the capital and other urban communites and that could last for months”.
Pamir Road. 30-s of the 20th Century.
In the 40-s the construction of the new road quaked the whole Tajikistan. Construction was planned to take five years. There was nothing in the world to challenge its complexity and heights, as well as rock solidity. The 567km road was built in 104 days – five kilos a day and those were some kilos! Peasants were making fires high in the mountains. When rocks heated, they would pour cold water and the rocks would go in fractures. Peasants would put sticks in those fractures and make brushwood flooring. Thus, they fought off each meter of upright cliffs, where they would also have to lift boxes with explosives.
Construction of Newpamirsky Tract to Tajikistan Capital. 1940.
Unbelievable , but then, communists of Tajikistan organized a bicycle journey in celebration of the road construction fulfillment!!! 29 Sep. Stalinobad, the present Dushanbe – Horog – Stalinobad – 1,090 kilos in 181 hrs and 11 mins!!
Afghan settlements on the other side of Piandj River. They do not have vehicle roads running parallel to river to connect villages, only ovring, so they really live at the edge of the world”.
Afghan ovring on the other side. Its width varies from 0.5 to 2 meters. No transports. So, you can take a tour on the donkey, in the best case.
Afghanis refurbishing their overings (Rarmchamshy Area)
Along Piandj River.
Different Piandj River some 60 kilos before Khorog. River bed expands to several hundred meters and water looks almost still.
Coasts now are all flat and broad, so villages follow one another and the biggest is Rushan. All villages are located along one main alley – the Pamir Tract M41. You gotta be very attentive while driving through those villages, especially in the evening when people come outdoors to chat with neighbors and stay on the road
We reached Khorog by night and decided not to stay and proceed onwards to Gamrchashma. It is a unique hot springs place 40 kilos away from Khorog. Locals advise to take a hot bath and go to sleep before going to highlands - for faster acclimatization. We went up early and postponed the bath until morning. Spent a night in a good guest house.
to be continued......
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