Pamir Highway, Part 1 — Dushanbe to Khorog

* 8/13

Dear Readers, thank you for being patient with my lack of updates. In Tajikistan, there was no internet outside of Dushanbe and Khorog, and Khorog’s internet was too slow to upload pictures. I arrived in Osh, Kyrgystan a few days ago after finishing the Pamir Highway, very exhausted and a little sick. The mountains really kicked my butt!! Between the steep hills, rough road, and altitude, I developed a bad cough that won’t seem to go away. I spent the last 4 days resting in Osh to let my body fully recover and build up reserves again.

I’m finally ready to head to Bishkek [capital city of Kyrgystan] tomorrow on the main road. Even though I wanted to take a more interesting route through Kyrgystan to visit the more scenic parts, it would involve many steep uphills on rough road and take double the time.  I decided it would be best to take the easier, paved main road to Bishkek for a variety of reasons:

1) to give my body a rest after taking the more challenging routes in Tajikistan

2) my bike will also probably thank me for this, since I broke 2 spokes on the Pamir Highway, and I don’t have anymore spare ones. Once I get to Bishkek where there are proper bike shops, I can buy more.

3) I’m a bit short on time because I want to make it to Mongolia before winter hits there in mid-October. It’ll take me at least another month to get through Kazakhstan and Russia.

4) there will be plenty more bad roads in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

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There are two roads from Dushanbe to Khorog. The northern route is the official Pamir Highway–it’s shorter, but the road is crappier and the mountain pass is higher. The southern route has more paved road and follows the Afghan border from Shurobad. The cyclists I bumped into along the way had taken the southern route, so I followed suit.

It normally takes cyclists 7 days to complete this section, but it took me 10 days because the locals kept holding me hostage with their wonderful hospitality.

7/19 Dushanbe -> Nurak

I stayed an extra night in Dushanbe, as after I said goodbye to the expedition guys, I found a place to stay with couchsurfing host Martin from Germany. He works for a German organization in Dushanbe that is helping the Tajik government with doing a census this year. He’s also a fellow cycle tourist, and worked in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan before Tajikistan. He had a lot of stories to tell!

He took me to a delicious Chinese restaurant. Since this was the first time I had Chinese food on the trip, it made me so happy. I felt ready to tackle the infamous Pamir Mountains.

P1020231climbing out of Dushanbe was tiring, but had some great views

P1020234Tajikistan pride–this was the greeting to every town on the road

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7/20 Nurak -> grassy camp somewhere

P1020236lots of Chinese industry in Tajikistan. there are plenty of construction camps along the road.

P1020238Chinese-built tunnel

P1020241after hard climbs comes beautiful views

P1020248I like the sound of that!

P1020250enroute Kulob

P1020251a car stopped for me and gave me this watermelon. delicious lunch in this hot weather!

P1020252P1020253village life

P1020255brick making by the river

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7/21 grassy camp somewhere -> Vose

P1020262crazy bazaar car-park near Vose. looked a lot like Harvard football pre-game tailgating

After cycling only 15 km, I arrived in the town Vose and stopped at the store. It was still early — 9 am. A woman at the store invited me for tea; I accepted. She lived with a big family just a couple houses away. I couldn’t tell who was who and how everyone was related to each other, but they all gave me a warm welcome.

After chai, I stood up to leave, and the family asked: “Kuda? Where are you going?” I explained in some broken Russian that I was going to keep cycling. They said: “No! You need to eat first.” So I sat down again and they prepared a bowl of egg soup. After eating, I stood up again to leave, and the family again asked: “Kuda? Where are you going?” Again, I explained I was going to keep cycling. They replied: “Why don’t you rest and spend the night here?” “Oh, no, I should really keep cycling.” After some back and forth, the woman who invited me for chai clasped her hands together and begged in English: “PLEASE STAY!!” How could I refuse such a plead? So I agreed to rest the whole day there and stay the night. Where did I really need to be anyways? I remembered my favorite poem again: “Do not try to wrestle with the universe, but be like water or air. ”

I spent the day watching the family build a new home next door with homemade bricks and mud plaster, napping, and just generally hanging with the fam.

P1020267chai with Grandfather

P1020265egg soup

P1020291family in Vose

P1020270Dad is building new home

P1020271Grandfather says he is strong like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee

P1020278woman that invited me for tea and who begged me to stay the day with them

P1020275P1020284

P1020287eggplant dinner. was a lot yummier than it looks in the picture

 

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7/22 Vose -> Shurabad

P1020290shir chai for breakfast — milk steeped with tea leaves and butter. then they take dried bread and soak it inside. I ate this so many times in Tajikistan–sometimes I think this was the only thing some poor families had to eat. I didn’t mind eating it, but I didn’t think it was particularly tasty.

P1020295another big uphill climb

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7/23 Shurabad -> Khirmanjo

So many fantastic experiences with people this day that I didn’t very far on the bicycle. I felt that all the different parts of my trip (and my identity) came together in a magical way.

P1020298P1020299got to the top of the mountain pass around mid-morning and got invited to chai with this beekeeper and his son. it was really nice to have one-on-one conversations as opposed to the mobs you get in town. the beekeeper was very patient with my Russian and encouraged me to look up words. Really amazing man. He normally lives 5 km outside of Kulob, but he camps here to look after the bees. During our pleasant conversation, he fed me lots of bread, chai, watermelon, and even cooked me a bowl of noodles!

P1020301shortly after the amazing beekeeper experience, I got to a police checkpoint where these Chinese guys were also stopped. In their group were also two Tajik guys who spoke fluent Chinese; they worked as translators. The group was from a Chinese construction company, and they were driving around Tajikistan scouting out work. When I told them I was Chinese-American, and my parents are from Guangdong, they said the company (and their projects in Tajikistan) is funded by American and Hong Kong investors. Crazy how small the world is!

Two guys were from Beijing, one was from Guangdong. It was really exciting for all of us (including the Tajik guys) to speak Chinese in the middle of nowhere in Tajikistan. The guy from Guangdong said he hasn’t spoken Cantonese in a year!

They were all incredulous that I was cycling to Beijing. The guy on the left (who is from Beijing) asked if I had a place to stay in Beijing. When I said no, he said that when I arrive in Beijing, he wants to personally greet me there with all his family. Yet something else to look forward to in Beijing!

P1020304a little more cycling…

P1020307stopped again! This time, the new road is built by a Turkish company. Most of the guys were Turkish, and it was fun to speak in full-on Turkish again since the beginning of my trip. They fed me beans and rice with a nice stew, watermelon, canteloupe, and lots of tea and juice. One guy explained that in Turkey, he can only make $600 per month; in Tajikistan, he makes $2000 per month, but after living expenses and taxes, he pockets $1700. The downside is living quarters in Tajikistan are crap.

The guys insisted that it wouldn’t be safe for me to camp alone in these parts of the world (“snakes!” they said). I would stay with the family of one of the Tajik workers, which was in Khirmanjo, a village 20km away.

P1020318entering the Pyanj valley. Hello Afghanistan (on other side of river)!

P1020320the father was a Tajik guy working with the Turkish road crew. dinner and a place to stay with his family.

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7/24 Khirmanjo -> drainage culvert Rohaq

P1020323meeting the mighty Pyanj River for the first time. The Pyanj here forms the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

P1020327some sketchy bridge

P1020328first bridge to the Afghan side

P1020331P1020340P1020347crazy beautiful valley/ gorge along the Pyanj River. the next several hundred kilometers is along this river. One of the most incredible things was, in some narrow sections of the river, the kids on the Afghan side would wave and shout “Hi!” and run along with you on the opposite shore. It was incredible to observe traditional Afghan life all along the way (women and children washing down by the river, or carrying haystacks way into the mountains, or herders with their donkeys), and to see the footpaths on the Afghan side weaving up the cliffs way up into the mountains.

P1020345Iranians built the awesome new road through the rugged valley. Thanks Iran!

P1020337Afghan village on opposite bank

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7/25 Rohaq -> Kalai-Kum -> Keshvon teahouse

P1020356kids go to school

P1020357P1020384roadside propaganda

P1020359P1020360P1020363P1020365more Afghan villages and the Badakshan mountains

P1020361irrigation bridge from Tajik side to Afghan side

P1020369French installed drinking taps in the towns

P1020371P1020372

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7/26 Keshvon -> Dashtak family

P1020374P1020375P1020381P1020397crazy parts of the road: effective electrical poles, some rugged parts, and some beautiful mountains

P1020380passing village women carrying things on their heads. you can see the footpath on the Afghan side.

At around 6pm, as I passed through the village of Dashtag, a young guy waved me down “spat! spat! sleep! sleep!”; he was inviting me to rest the night with his family. Although tired, I could see from riding that day that many of these villages were poor and I didn’t want to burden the family, so I politely declined. Another hundred meters later, again I heard “spat! spat!” This time it was a group of young girls. When I stopped to say hi, they begged me to stay, so I decided to accept this time.  The courtyard was large and green–the most relaxing place you could ask for after a long day of riding! I ate dinner with the family — tomato/onion salad, a large plate of mutton, and watermelon for dinner. After dinner, I set up my tent in their yard.

After dark, I was about to fall asleep when I heard a lot of commotion. Apparently another cyclist had showed up!

P1020386P1020388P1020389

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7/27 Dashtak -> camp with Johannes @ Shidz

In the morning, I met Johannes, the (German) cyclist who had showed up the night before at Dashtag. The family also fed him and he camped in their yard. He had come through the northern route from Dushanbe, and was also headed to Khorog. Funny how cyclists you meet on the road become instant family!

P1020392cycling with Johannes

P1020393tourist jackpot day! I guess since the Pamir Highway is “famous”, we met a lot of travellers on the road. this Aussie guy was on a motorbike. He works on the gas rigs outside of Aberdeen. On his off rotations from the rigs, he takes a trip somewhere in the world on his motorbike. On his last trip through Kyrgystan, he left his motorbike in Dushanbe. So this trip, he flew to Dushanbe and spent a week in the Pamirs with a random family he met on the road. How many walks of life there are!

P1020390this valley never stops changing and being amazing

P1020394P1020396stopped in this village where we got invited for lunch:  Borj (stew of mixed grains and barley). someone was making delicious-smelling apricot jam. along this road were so many apricot trees–sometimes Johannes and I would stop and just stuff our faces with apricots

P1020398best time to ride is from 5pm-7pm, when its cool and you watch the setting sun

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7/28 Shidz-> Khorog

P1020410P1020409P1020411got invited (again) for lunch this day. Grandma, the head of the household spoke good English. She’s an English teacher in the local school. She loved studying English since high school and got a scholarship to the university in Dushanbe.

We have now officially entered the Pamirs, whose people are very different from the lowland Tajiks. They speak a completely different language (there are several dialects in the Pamirs including Wakhi, Rushani, Shugnani, Iskashimi.) In the schools they learn Tajik, Russian, English, and their local dialect. Grandma explained that culturally, they feel more similar with Russians than with Tajiks. Many of them where Western clothes and they are not as religious as the lowland Tajiks. They identify themselves as “Pamiri” and don’t like to be called “Tajik”.

Because all the villages are poor and there is no work in Tajikistan, almost every family has some relative in Russia sending money home. Grandma explained that you can earn the same money working a menial job in Moscow as working a professional job like an accountant in Dushanbe.

P1020414P1020415intimate roads through the villages. a woman washing carpets

P1020418local swimming place

P1020421

P1020422passing villagers

P1020425clear blue water meets the murky might Pyanj

P1020426P1020427entering Khorog

P1020428oh yes, another awesome picture of the president

P1020429Khorog “city” — more like town — but so beautiful set in the mountains!

P1020431staying at the Pamir Lodge in Khorog where you meet the most hardcore travellers. Many travellers were doing extended hiking trips through the most remote areas of the Pamirs and in Afghanistan along the Wakhan corridor.

There was a Kiwi guy who has seasonal work in Australia. Last year when the recession hit hard, he decided to travel because living in Australia with no job was too expensive. He travelled for several months overland from Hong Kong to London, through Pakistan, Tajikistan, and so many other places. He had amazing stories of spending a week in Wakhi Pakistan during the winter and experiencing a wedding there.

There was also an American-Greek guy, Thono, who is also biking and has a very similar trip to me. He started his bike tour in Greece and is also headed to Mongolia and China. Unfortunately, I never got his contact info.

P1020430this wonderful shop lady who gave me lots of extra goodies for my trip

 

12 Thoughts on “Pamir Highway, Part 1 — Dushanbe to Khorog

  1. The hospitality continues. Even after years and years of increasingly more cycling tourists. Speaks to the depth of their character.
    Looking forward to Part 2 and the higher passes.

  2. Amazing as always. Such views!
    I really want to know about this GREEEEEN dress. Woah.

  3. Karen L on August 14, 2013 at 5:36 pm said:

    very nice :)

  4. Such beautiful views, and such terrible looking roads! I’m glad that you’ve met many friendly people and fellow hard-core adventurers :) I hope you have had enough time to recover and you are feeling better!

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  5. Luvena on August 18, 2013 at 3:13 am said:

    Wow! It looks like you’re having an amazing, fun time. =). It looks so beautiful there.

  6. Creuza Simionatto on August 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm said:

    Wow, MinWah, you are a gutsy girl! That your success continues with you, best, C.

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