I call the section between Kyrgyz border and Wakhan Valley “The high part of Pamirs”. This is the part that I would not cycle if I picked a shortcut via Qoolma Pass. This was the most demanding and rewarding cycling time I had in Central Asia. For a few reasons:
Pamir Highway is called a highway mainly due to its location high in the mountains. The road surface is either average or bad. I do not remember even 1km of a good asphalt. And this is perfect. If I wanted to have a good surface, I would cycle in Europe. The surface on most parts is asphalt but it has many potholes and is uneven. There is no tarmac on most of the passes. It is a challenge when you get over 4200masl, you feel lack of air and additionally have to deal with gravel. On rare occasions, I had to push my bike up the hills. It is also a challenge on downhills when you try to control 45kg bike cycling 45km/h on gravel. The gravel is not flat. It has a shape of waves made by breaking trucks. Imagine that you are sitting on the drill. This is exactly the experience of cycling in Pamir.
The wild camping site
You can sleep wherever you want. You see a nice spot, you stop, pitch your tent and go to sleep. There are no wild animals, at least not close to the road. There are almost no people. The only users of the road in May where truck drivers, motorcyclists, few inhabitants and me. The trucks are transporting, among others, wood from Kyrgyzstan, because there are no trees in Pamir (fuel for heating). It is easy to hide from the road because it’s built above the terrain level. Finally, it’s flat. Pamir is the roof of the road. It is the wast plain cut by mountain passes and surrounded by mountain chains.
Cycling through Tajikistan
After crossing the border on Kyzyl-Art Pass, I cycled down and hit the road deformed by breaking trucks. Cycling was very hard. Suspension and wider tires are recommended in this part of the world. The road took me through the next small pass and straight down to the Karakul Lake.
On the western bank lays village Karakul. I arrived there in the evening and found only one scarcely stocked shop. I was still happy they had some European food. I ate a pretty cheap, tasty and big dinner at the homestay.
The owner encouraged me to stay for the night. You can expect to pay ca. 10 dollars per night pre-season. I refused as wild camping was for me the best part of cycling through Pamir. I pitched my tent just 3kms south to the village, near the frozen lake.
The next day, I met the first motorcyclists on the climb to the Ak-Baital Pass (4655masl), the highest Pass on Pamir Highway. I was forced to push my bike on the parts of the climb. I was followed by the small truck which was moving only a bit faster than me and overtook me maybe 40 minutes after the first eye-contact😉
The top was covered with ice. I stopped for a quick photo session and started descending to the warmer plain. In total, I had ca. 80kms of constant downhill. After the descent from the pass, it was a very smooth road with 1-2% gradient. Other motorcyclists from Lithuania passed by me. It was the most pleasant cycling section of Pamir HWY. While cycling, you either suffer for satisfaction afterward, or you enjoy.
In the evening, I met inhabitants in a truck. Shortly after, I enjoyed the sunset while cycling. I arrived in Murghab in night. Murghab is the biggest town in high Pamirs, it is a place where you can make a turn and, through Qoolma Pass, get to Tashkurgan, a Chinese border city at the Pakistani border. I was there 10 days earlier. The last 10 days were so amazing that I was again grateful for not taking a shortcut vi Qoolma.
I passed by an airport on the way to the town. If it was not described on the map, I would never guess there is an airport there 😀
In the Murghab hotel, I met two Polish guys. There were Jehova Witnesses and one of them was on a mission in this Muslim country. Brave guy. 😉 I finally could speak Polish.
Simple life in Tajikistan
Jehova missionaries told the story of an old man from a small Tajik village that they have met. He had a wife. The wife got heart disease. He decided that it is not worth it for him to keep her as a wife. He took a divorce. He was complaining that he had lost a lot of money on the wedding with her. Now, he has a romance with another young girl, but will not accept her as a wife, because she is not a virgin. She lost her virginity with him. Next summer, he will go to Russia to earn money and then he will afford a new wife. No feelings. Cold calculation. Crazy.
End of Simple Life story
The next day, I planned to cycle further. First, I bought a local SIM card and, then, it turned out my family made a lot of mess because there was no contact with me in China. I had to stay in Murghab for another day to explain to the world that I am alive… Always remember to set up a VPN while in China, otherwise, you may end your trip quicker than you thought…
The next day, I could finally cycle out of Murghab. It was the hardest day in Pamir, if not the hardest day of the trip. I started cycling with pleasure through beautiful Pamir. At some point, I began climbing a small Pass. 100m below the Pass, the weather was wonderful. A few minutes later, I faced a very strong front wind. My speed dropped to 3kmh (it was hard to keep the balance). The temperature dropped to sub-zero level while I was in short sleeves. I decided to open my panniers to change to warm clothes. Bad idea. Soon I was running to catch my clothes flying everywhere. Shortly after cycling down the Pass, I pitched my tent, cooked something and felt asleep. It was a great feeling to be warm again! In the morning, it turned out that I pitched the tent on a very wet ground. It sank. My sleeping mattress saved me.
The following day was much easier. I followed Pamir HWY with a surprisingly good surface in that section. At some point, I passed a small village, Alichur. I stopped there for lunch. There was no choice, I could either eat what they prepared or nothing. Pamir is not Paris. There were few truck drivers at the restaurant who admired my dynamo USB charger, calling it “advanced technology”. Maybe… I was approached a few times by people asking if I want a homestay. There are no tourists in Pamir in early May, so they had free rooms. Wild camping rules!
Shortly after leaving Alichur, I passed by a beautiful lake called Sasykkul. It looked awesome, especially that the weather was turning into bad again.
I cycled over a few passes with a snowfall. This time I was prepared for the wind and frost. Soon, I arrived at the turn into Wakhan Valley. Here, I decided to pitch a tent. It was a bad idea. If I cycled 500m further behind the turn into Wakhan, I would sleep in silence. It was the windiest night of my life. It took me 20 minutes to find out how to pitch my tent, which behaved like a big kite. In the night I woke up at least 7 times, or maybe I did not fall asleep at all. It is hard to realize what is going on while a 100kmh wind tries to fold your tent😉
The next morning, I turned to Wakhan valley and maybe 30 minutes later saw a beautiful lake surrounded by slopes. Sleeping here would be so much better…
The 40kms section connects Pamir HWY and Wakhan Valley. It is a gravel climb after which you can see Afghanistan. This name makes an impression 😉 The entry to the Valley is controlled by a police check-post. It was empty when I arrived. I was happy as many cyclsts reported threats and requests for bribes at this post. Shortly after, I met the first inhabitants – lambs with a dog watching after them.
Wakhan Valley in the next episode…