Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway

May 23. Osh Kyrgyzstan to Karakul Tajikistan. 359 km
After a night of drinking a few to many балтика (Baltika beer) I was slow to get on the road. I left Osh about 1 in the afternoon and had some shashlik about 50 km out of town. The road to Sary Tash winds up a river valley and over a couple of passes, the higher about 3600 m. About 11,790 feet. This was just the beginning of my altitude training. Kyrgyzstan is so great to ride in because the scenery seems to change every 30 seconds. 1 minute you are riding in desert and the next you are in lush green hills and the next you are riding between snow covered peaks. You eyes are never bored. In Sary Tash, the fuel station only had 80 octane. I was not about to ride the Pamir highway on 80 octane so I went 30km to Sary Moghul where I had heard there was 93 octane. I am learning never to trust a local with distance in these countries. The gas station attendant said 16 km.. luckily I had enough fuel to cover the 30. The Kyrgyz post was easy and quick to get through. 20 km later of no mans land, a few water crossings and a muddy pass, you come to the Tajik border crossing. After about 30 minutes I was on my way toward Karakul. The lake was still 100% covered by Ice. After a quick noodle dinner I was in bed. I slept so well in the cold covered by many heavy blankets.

Cliffs look like an old fortress...

The town of Sary-Tash looking toward Tajikistan

Some sort of old military installment. 

Water crossing in "no mans" land. 

Crazy tandem bike. 

One of the crazy tandem bike pilots. 

Broken down Soviet moto. 20 km from anything. 

The little one wanted to watch me eat. 

May 24 Karakul to Near Murgab. 320 km
Quick breakfast of fried eggs and bread then on the road. It was a brisk morning with not much sunshine. There was not much wind so I was feeling good. Soon I was climbing what is the highest elevation I have ever been at.. on moto or on foot. The sign said 4666 meters. My GPS said 4635. Some maps say 4655. Regardless of the actual height, it is up there.. Just over 15,200 ft. Previously the highest I had been was 14,300 feet climbing in Colorado. I rode about 130 km before getting to Murgab. There were 3 peddle bikes next to a hotel and I had a funny feeling that I recognized one of them. I went inside to find my friend Raf who I had met in Greece months earlier. Since we had separated in Greece, he had been through Iran and a handful of other countries. We wanted to share some stories, but they wanted to keep riding. We agreed to meet up later in the day to camp. I had some tracks out by the Chinese border so I went exploring. For the first bit I eating the dust of chinese trucks every couple of minutes but soon I turned onto a road.. more like a track.. that went north through some beautiful territory. The trave varied between highspeed smooth gravel to muddy/grass/melted snow/stream crossing to rocky no road but the gps track I had recieved from my friends at Muztoo in Osh. (I'll talk about them later on). I made it back to the main road and found an arrow made of rocks point me north. About 6:00 in the evening I found the other 3 setting up camp. It was perfect timing because they had been there for about 10 minutes. We shared stories, food, a bit of Kyrg cognac and wisdom of the road. Soon the moon came up and the whole valley was lit up. A beautiful night. We were camping at about 4000 m, about 13,000 ft. It was a cold night and combined with the altitude, I did not sleep very well with a headache. The cognac probably didn't help. I am glad I put my water filter in my sleeping bag with me because the stream was frozen when we woke up. My ceramic filter surely would have been ruined since I used it earlier that day.

Raf and friends. 

Nice 2 track near the Chinese border. 

In my element. 

Bust out the Cognac.

May 25 Near Murgab to Langar in Wakhan Valley. 318 km
We woke up and broke down camp. I didn't eat any food but drank lots of water and some tea. I knew I'd be going down in elevation all day. The ride into Murgab was quick. I fueled up at the same station I was at the day before. The attendant was quite surprised to see me. I rode for a while then found a cafe. By this time it was around noon and I was getting quite hungry. I had some nice meat dumplings and conversation with a couple from the UK on push bikes. I have seen way more push bikes then motos. I'm either early or its just easier to fly in and ride pushers. Shortly after I headed on some offroad track in search of good views, hot springs and geysers. The geyser was quite small but I'm glad I found it. It was an excuse to ride some technical stuff. I found a "hot spring" near Yashil Kul but I use the term hot loosely. They were lukewarm at best. If it wasn't so windy I would have taken the chance to bath but I knew a storm was coming. I headed toward the Wakhan valley and climbing the pass I was hit by snow. None was sticking but it was still snow. I soon got my first look at Afghanistan and the Pamir river. There was a quick military checkpoint with no one manning it. A few minutes later I saw a man walking from a barracks about 1 km away. He looked at my passport and shook my hand. I was on my way. I will admit, I was a bit nervous about this part of the world. Especially being so close to Afghanistan. Misha from Russia had told me he did not do the Wakhan Corridor because he was told it was unsafe and I should not do it. I did my own research and decided not to listen to the rumors. I am so glad I didn't. The riding was so amazing. I saw more goat herds than cars by a factor of about 10 to 1. I saw no other foreigners. I never felt in danger. I never ever regretted my decision. For the most part I was 100 to 500 meters above the river. I found a homestay in Langar and after healthy portion of plov I went to bed.



"hot" springs. 

Bridge in Afghanistan. Not sure if was wood or rock. 

How they keep the roads passable. 
Huge landslide across the river in Afghanistan. 

Border crossing to Afghanistan anyone?
May 26 Langar to Garm Chasma hot springs.198 km
It was raining in the morning but I was on the road by 10:00 after catching up on some journal entries. Unlike the previous day I was riding along the river in and out of pockets of population. The traffic was still nonexistent. The people are so nice. Children wave when they see you a mile away. Men wave when you wave to them with a huge smile on their face. Woman wave if they are outside of town. Otherwise they make eye contact, smile and blush. You share a moment for a split second and you know nothing and everything about that person. I continued on the Garm Chasma and found a hotel. It was 30 sumis for a simple room, about $7. The hot springs is "modern" meaning it flows into 2 pools. One for men and one for woman. I relaxed the large pool for about a half hour with 10 or so other naked dudes.

Effective way to make a fence. 

Everyone wants water. 

May 27 Garm Chasma to Kalaikhum. 292 km
The road to Qualaikum was shitty pavement or gravel. I would be up against a cliff or in lush green agricultural towns. If it was green on the Tajik side, there was probably a cliff on the Afghan side and visa versa. I found an ATM in Khorog and pulled out a couple hundred US worth of Sumis. Up until now I had only spent about $100 in Tajikistan. Chicken shashlik for lunch. There was a nice girl and her mom sitting next to me. I find it funny when I ask if someone speaks english and the reply is "yes, of course". They act like it is no big deal. Its either "No", or "a little" or "yes of course" She had a brother in the US studying to be a doctor. Just as the sun was getting low, I was entering a small village.. more like a restaurant with 2 houses. I slowed like I normally do and stood up to look around. A huge dog ran out from my left and started biting at my heals. I knew there was a kid further up on the left also. I accelerated a bit to try to get rid of the dog and the kid went sprinting across the street in front of me. I locked up the rear tire and braked hard on the front. If I missed him by 20 feet it felt like 3. Adrenaline pumping, trying to figure out what just happened I slowed to a stop and looked back. 2 Truck drivers were throwing rocks at the dog. I went back to make sure everything was ok. The mother was hysterical and yelling at me. I tried to explain that the dog was biting at me and the kid ran right in front of me. The truck drivers helped and after a minute we all calmed down. I kept telling her I am sorry and we both agreed that it was good no one was hurt. Now that my nerves were paper thin the games kids play to "block the street" or try to give you high five were not fun anymore. I just wanted to park the bike. In Kalaikhum I found a homestay. They did not have a garage but I was able to put the bike in a neighbors garage for $2. The fed me salad and dumplings. Beer was a necessity to calm my nerves. I watched a movie on my laptop and went to bed.

The lady on the right was having a good time. I promise. 

School Uniforms. 

Gotta watch out for the Chinese trucks running the Pamir. 

Green = Water. 

The only person I have ever let ride my moto who didn't have one for me to ride in return. 

May 28 Kalaikhum to Dushanbe. 381 km

I got fuel in Kalaikhum then headed out. The road was potholed gravel for a while and I stopped to take a picture and noticed the dry bag with my Tent, sleeping bag and camp pad had fallen off my moto. I turned around and started backtracking. Soon I saw the military trucks that I had passed earlier. I flagged them down and tried to explain what I was looking for. They laughed at me for about a minute then one guy jumped out the cab and handed it to me. I thanked them all with candy bars. Soon after that there is road construction for about 120 km. It was either smooth rolled gravel with small rocks making it like riding on marbles or it was brand new pavement. Soon the canyon opened up and I was riding on a shit gravel/mud/clay/dusty road along the river. They were building bridges over the rivers that flow into the Pamir so there were a few rocky water crossings but nothing horrible. Later as you are climbing away from the Pamir valley toward Dushanbe, the road is all clay. You are either in rockhard dusty ruts or nasty red mud. There is no in between. The moto started to give me an FI fault code (as discussed earlier). By the time I made it to Dushanbe I was very frustrated. About 50 times that day I had to turn the moto on and off to reset the problem. It would last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 hours without problem again. I found the Adventurers Inn Guesthouse just as it was starting to get dark. A few people on bikes, a few backpackers and some guys in a landrover were all there. It was nice to be around travelers again.

Brand new road. 

Cool guy. Ski instructor in wintertime. Adventure travel in the summer. 

My last view of Afghanistan for a while. 

Watch out for the washout. 
May 29 and 30 Dushanbe
On the 29th I spent most of the day getting caught up some writing, video editing and journal entries. Later in the day I took a spin on the moto. I connected the multimeter to the regulator/rectifier to see if that was the problem. Sure enough, when the FI light started flashing and the bike went into limp mode (running like shit) the voltage jumped from 14.4v to 19v. I tired to find an auto bazaar to see if I could source replacement parts. It seems Motos are very uncommon in Tajikistan so no luck. That night I met a guy who knows a guy. If you have problems with your moto in Dushanbe, there is only one guy who can help you. His name is Andrew (sounds like Andre) and he speaks about as much english as I speak russian. I brought my bike to his garage (a container full of tools and scooter parts) and I showed him what I needed. He had some Reg/Recs from chinese scooters but they were 2 phase charging not 3 phase like the bigger bikes. I was thinking I was totally screwed and would have to wait for parts to come in. I asked if he knew of anyone with a big bike that had been crashed. His friend had a 95 yamaha 600 that was not running. Within 20 minutes I had a direct bolt up replacement of the reg/rec on the KTM. We spliced the wires and I was again charging at 14.4 v. 200 sumis later, about $50, and I was in business. That night we celebrated with many beers and shashlik. Note to self: Chicken wings on shashlik skewers are amazing. There was a girl from Singapore at the Adventurer's Inn was talking about going north to Iskandar lake by share taxi. She didn't know if she could get the 24km back to the lake from the main road. I told her I was heading up that way and if she needed I could get her to the lake if needed....

Old and New.

May 31 Dushanbe to Iskander Lake. 155 km
I woke up early to finalise plans for meeting up with Shanaz. She left around 7 to go find a share taxi. Then go to work putting all the luggage back on the bike. By about 11:00 I was on the road headed north toward the dreaded "Iranian made tunnel". The road getting there was beautiful twisting along a river then into green mountains with white snow. The tunnel itself is 7km long and although it is total shite, I still had fun. There were only 3 large trucks in the tunnel when I went through so the smog was not so bad. There is a small light about every 100 m or so. I counted 3 broken down cars. Cars and trucks will take what ever path they think will be the best for them.. just like most roads in central Asia. Centerlines are just a pipedream. There is lots of water which is not a problem. You need to be careful for the rebar that is protruding from the concrete in the holes and from the walls. You don't want to become shashlik. I turned on the gopro and got some footage for later. The best part about the tunnel is the temperature. Nice and cold. On the north side of the tunnel there was almost no grass. It was not green and lush like the other side. Soon I was riding on gravel toward Iskandar and I arrived at a checkpoint. There was a BMW 650 Dakar with Swiss plates parked at the gate. This belonged to my new friend Kim. He has been riding for a few months, has a fishing pole and is planning on going to Magadan around the same time. It seems the wolfpack might have grown. Kim, Shanaz and I did some hiking to a waterfall and another lake, enjoying the nice view. Later we tried fishing with no luck. We tried to walk up to a smaller lake to do some fishing but we were stopped by locals. Apparently it is a private lake for the Tajik president and you will get a $120 fine for fishing there. Oh well, it would have made a good story. We shared some stories and all went to bed when it got dark.

These guys wouldn't let me pay for water. They said you are our friend, it is on us. 

Inside Aznob tunnel

I wasn't about to go out on that platform. 

June 1 Iskandar to Isfarna. 366 km
Shanaz decided not to stay in Iskandar longer then 1 night so she rode on my moto back to the road and Kim strapped her bag to his. She got a share taxi back to Dushanbe within 5 minutes of hitting the main road. I went north and Kim went south toward Dushanbe to ride the Pamir. Soon I was riding switchbacks up a mountain to the "Chinese built tunnel". The road to the tunnel had been cracking up so they were removing pavement in sections in preparation for the fix. This meant there was 6 inch drops or ledges in random places all over the road. I was doing lots of stand up riding and 2nd gear wheelies to get up and down these ledges. Cars and trucks were crawling along and I must have passed at least 100 cars. The tunnel is well lit, has ventilation and there is no water. Soon after the tunnel I met a guy from Germany on a brand new BMW 1200. I told him about the tunnel and the southern route along the Pamir. He said he would skip the southern route because he is not confident in his ability with this heavy bike. I wanted to ask him why? Why have a big bike if it will limit your trip? I bit my tongue. Soon after I saw the Swiss couple in the Landrover who were on the ferry to Auktau with me. They had some clutch problems in Uzbek but now were back in business. It really is crazy in this part of the world. Its a bottleneck for overlanders. There are limited routes and you keep seeing the same people. The day dragged on after I left the mountains. It was hot there was a crazy sidewind. When I got to Isfarna, the rain and lightning started just as I found a hotel.

Looks a bit to clean :)

Good luck guys! You rule!

Didn't notice the mold on the ceiling until the next day. :/
June 2 Isfarna Tajikistan to Osh Kyrgyzstan. 266 km
The night before I just wanted a shower and bed. I did not notice half the ceiling was covered in black mold. I would have requested a different room. I got out of there quickly. The place where my moto was parked inside had a cherry tree and they insisted I climb the tree and fill a bag of cherries. I'm glad I did. They were amazing and I got about 3 pounds for free. The crossing into Kyrgyzstan was one of the quickest I have had so far. It was 20 minutes max for both Tajik and Kyrgyz customs. This part of Kyrgyzstan has some "islands" of Uzbek that the main road goes through. You have to avoid these by riding on gravel for some of the way. They are trying to rebuild the roads that go around but its nowhere close to being done. I got into Osh about 3 in the afternoon and checked into the Tes Guesthouse for the 3rd time. The shower was amazing.

One of the roads you get to take to avoid the Uzbek "islands" in Kyrgyzstan

1 comment:

  1. Raffaele SimeoneJuly 23, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Thanks for posting. It's like being there.