11th September 2017
We have finally entered the Pamirs! After great anticipation and build up (thanks to Dave’s bike creating some much-appreciated suspense) we have arrived in Khorog - the first and final major town in the Pamir region.
It's taken us 3 days to get here from Dushanbe, and asides from the ever-growing mountains and epic scenery, we’ve had some really great small little experiences on the way too.
Coming to the end of our first day, we realised we had slightly misjudged how early the sun would set and were left in the twilight entering a village in need of water before we could pitch our tents somewhere just off the road. We found a little shop and some water flowing from a spring, but instead of being on our way the tiny little Tajik owner insisted that we came and stayed at his house.
We followed Ahdod to his home 3km away, where he sat us down in his spare room and got his wife (who we side hi to but weren’t really introduced to) to cook us a delicious meal of soup, bread, honey, yoghurt and a tomato/pepper/onion relish. We shared almost no common language whatsoever, and despite being quite tired, we persevered through the world’s longest game of Cherades. He spoke at us all night with no respite, even if I was looking at him straight in the eyes, he would still poke me in the knee or arm about once a minute to make sure he had my full undivided attention. I found it quite irritating, Dave found it hilarious - we spent a lot of time stifling our laughs. We finally conveyed that we were ready for bed, but just as we had settled down into the first page of our books before sleeping, Ahdod walks in, gets undressed, turns the lights off and sleeps on the floor next to us!
We were woken up at 6 am sharp the next morning for warm milk (one of the few things I can’t stand), bread and honey and set off on the road again after a cheery goodbye. Because we were up so early we had time to stop off at a ‘packed’ stadium where we were told a wrestling competition was taking place. We stayed for an hour or so through some speeches I'm sure I would have been bored by even if I could have understood them. There was then a lot of traditional music and dancing (including a huge dancing flag parade around a picture of their president) but no wrestling seemed to be taking place anytime soon so we left.
The night before coming into Khorog, we rode past a game of football taking place, so decided to go and watch hoping to get called in for some game time. It was a slightly more intense and serious game than we thought so weren’t included but we enjoyed watching on the sideline with all the local kids who are all psychos and love a good scrap. After the game, we found some trees to camp underneath. It turns out we were relatively close to the local English teacher's house, he invited us in for some tea and ended up feeding us too which is a very quick way to Dave’s and my heart.
Hospitality in Tajikistan is second to none, such an amazing people who are so keen to help you in any way possible and make sure your time in their country is as special as they can make it.
We were supposed to be entering Afghanistan tomorrow, but sadly the Visa and permit costs are too high so we will have to make do with waving from the Tajikistan side of the river.
15th September 2017
What an amazing four days we've had, I apologise this post will be a little longer but it'll be hard to condense what we've been up to.
As we set about looking for a camping spot after leaving Khorog for the Wakhan Valley, the steep valley left us with no choice but to sleep next to the river which separated Tajikistan and Afghanistan. As we spotted a potential spot where some other bikers had taken refuge, we soon noticed they were being moved on by Tajik soldiers as there was a Taliban sniper outpost just across the river! Unknown to us at the time, Fred and I carried on a mere 5km and found a spot with a small stream that had been dammed up, which we begrudgingly accepted we needed as it had been a while since our last wash. It wasn't until after dark that we realised it was a hot spring which someone had made into a mini infinity pool. Despite the freezing wind, we realised these opportunities don't come around often so treated ourselves to a warm bath under the vivid milky way.
Setting off the following day after another swim, we soon arrived at the Wakhan Valley. All descriptions proved true as this vast valley with snow-capped mountains sat in front of us. As we continued road conditions worsened as the scenery improved. We came across a small car loaded with a whole family crammed in the back stuck in the sand. We heroically jumped off our bikes and set about helping to push the car out. A short while later the car was free and we were able to continue.
Realising fuel stops would be rare, at the next opportunity we filled up and given my inferior tank, I was forced into purchasing a 20-litre barrel which after some re-arranging, we strapped onto the back of my bike. Soon after we climbed up the valley towards Khargush where we decided to camp. Being our first high altitude camping spot we were caught by surprise at the drop in temperature, so much so that our water froze during the night.
My bike provided another brief moment of stress in the morning by not starting (due to the choke deciding not to work so the battery was soon drained), however after some feeble attempts to bump start it and eventually being saved by a rare passing car jump starting it we were back on the move. We soon came into Zorkul Strict Nature Reserve. This was exactly what we'd been searching for, untravelled and vast plains all to ourselves. Still feeling annoyed we couldn't go to Afghanistan properly due to extortionate visa and permit costs, we attempted to cross the border in secret at the now small river. As we waded halfway through and about knee deep in the water, we realised the current was too strong to continue and we accepted standing on Afghanistan soil was not to be. With wet boots, we carried on along the plains admiring the epic scenery and feeling of true isolation. With a lack of infrastructure came poor roads. Frustratingly this meant I had my first fall much to Fred's satisfaction. Luckily there was no serious damage to my bike or myself (except for my pride).
In the middle of nowhere, we came across a family who eagerly invited us into their home. I believe we'll never meet such remote people again, who despite their basic standard of living, treated us to an array of food. This included unfermented goats milk (had a tangy/fizzy taste to it), a lump of cheese (I thought it was bread it was so dry), dried fish (surprisingly good), crusty bread and tea. It wasn't the most appetising combination but we appreciated their hospitality and given our supplies had been reduced to super noodles at this point a change in diet was welcome. We made it out of the reserve by the evening and set up camp in a sheep shelter as there were some dark clouds looming in the distance. Thinking we were about to endure a snow storm we created a den out of tarpaulin sheets, the bikes and the stone wall to provide shelter for cooking. The storm missed us completely so our efforts were pointless.
The next day gave us more empty plains to explore but now resembled a Martian landscape with little to no vegetation. We continued alone finding the occasional river crossing, some deeper than expected and using just a map and a compass to locate the next settlement. By lunchtime, we found ourselves next to the Chinese border and back on a bigger road. We were now just a couple hours from Murghab where we'd take the main highway back to Khorog to start our next adventure. As we headed that way another night in the freezing temperatures beckoned. We were forced to camp in the windy Alichur Plains, but using our tarpaulins as an extra layer in the tent and cooking in the porch section of the tent we survived.
Now we head for the Bartang Valley and then Kyrgyzstan, hoping for some more epic adventures on the way.
19th September 2017
Our latest (mis)adventure is a journey of two stories. Despite an epic ending, like any good story its best to start from the beginning.
We set off from Khorog relatively early on Friday morning after stocking up on supplies to last us three days. Our aim was to take a route straight across the Pamirs through the Bartang valley. It's a relatively untravelled road, and to be honest we weren’t entirely sure it was possible. We had met some people who said that the river can be too high and impossible to cross - but all it took was one person to say it could be done. Sometimes the best part of these mini-adventures is the uncertainty. There's something exciting about not knowing if you can reach your end goal. In fact, a failed attempt would have meant backtracking about 600km or so, so there was a fair bit at stake! We knew the first half should be simple, with villages dotted every 10-20km for the first 150km, the next 150km was uninhabited, and we had no idea what to expect - oh how true this turned out to be!
The Bartang valley route is described as the most varied scenery you can experience in the Pamirs, and we can really attest to this being true. After filling up our bikes with petrol and Dave with enough grub to keep him happy for a few hours, we broke off from the main road and tore through the beginning section.
Quickly the valley walls closed in on us. They are huge, monstrous slabs of bare rock that soar into the sky above you. The road itself is single track, and most of the time we'd have a cliff to one side of us, and the roaring Bartang river on the other. The quality of road varied, but a large amount of the time we were riding along compounded rubble that had fallen from above. This often meant for quite tricky riding as larger rocks can throw you off balance a little - not perfect considering the torrent we were riding next to. These types of roads were tyre-killers, and even though we both had our tyre pressures as low as possible, every bump was hit with baited breath. We’d also quite often pass huge boulders the size of small houses, and we prayed we never learnt how they got there!
As night closed in, rain clouds gathered and we decided to seek shelter (for the second time this trip) in an unfinished building site. With heavy arms from a day of constantly controlling our bikes from careering us off to a watery end, we climbed a ladder onto the roof of our new temporary home and set up camp.
It was an early rise again the next morning, partly because we go to bed super early now after reading our books like a super cute old married couple, and partly because we didn’t want to face the awkward situation of meeting the builders.
We had a nice chai break mid-morning when we were asked in by a village to join them watching some UFC. Although we were thoroughly enjoying our tea and biscuits I had to drag Dave away when the La Liga highlights came on, otherwise, winter might have set in before we got away.
We carried on and eventually came to Ghudara, the final village on our route for another 150km. We refilled our water bottles and set off. The route immediately started to climb in altitude and it wasn’t long before we were at 4000m. Dark clouds were gathering so we knuckled down for some much-anticipated grub. Much to the surprise of many of you I imagine, we currently have a very veggie diet, with most meals consisting of curried/stewed veg with pasta or cous-cous. Our lunchtime meals buck this trend though, and are probably much more in line with most peoples assumption of our diets - hot dogs in noodles!
As we set off, the dark clouds carried out their threat, and for the first time in the trip, it started snowing!! Bloody odd for mid-September, got me thinking about Christmas roasts, but that's neither here nor there. We’d reached a plain where the valleys had opened up and we were treated to an absolutely mesmerising panorama of dark mountains shrouded in blue and white clouds. We spent a lot of time taking photos and biking about rather aimlessly before we decided to ‘crack on’.
It was this decision that started off a sequence of events that led to our greatest moment of the trip so far. Riding along a dusty track at quite (too) high speeds, Dave’s bike, like a land-lubbing Titanic, hit a rock hiding beneath the sandy surface. This rock hit Dave’s drain bolt in such a perfect way, that it split that part of the sump and sent oil gushing forth. This was a serious ‘oh fuck’ moment, and at the time it really felt like game over. We were 50km away from any semblance of civilisation, and even they wouldn’t be able to fix the bike.
However, in the face of adversity, we remained positive, and as the snow came down around us we used Dave’s luggage cords to try and tow him the rest of the way. These, much to our abjection, snapped after a measly 2 metres. But our Dave stepped up with his boldest and best idea yet and whipped out his legendary bootcut Tesco jeans to be used as a rope. I followed this up with the less outrageous idea of cutting a spare tyre tube and tying them together. What would you know, it worked a bloody treat! We set off along the track, my brave KLR600 pulling the heavier and larger DR650 with little effort. We rode through wind, rain, snow, and even through rivers for two hours before we reached the main road. For some reason, despite the crappy situation we were in, this was one of the most ecstatic rides we have had yet!
Not long after we made it to Karakol, a small village where we stayed with a small Tajik family. We were so grateful for some hot food and a warm ‘bed’.We woke up to about 4 inches of snow and ate a carb heavy breakfast of bread, pasta, and potatoes. "We’re just going off to Kyrgyzstan” we shouted over our shoulders as we rode off - “we may be some time”.
My hero of a bike proceeded to pull dave the next 220km or so, which included 4 mountain passes, and a country border. At one point the road turned into a mud and snow slush puppy, and Dave’s suzi was dropped twice as we both slid about trying to get through 20km of no-mans land from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan. It took us a whole day, but we finally arrived in Osh where we checked into a hotel, had a lovely warm shower and treated ourselves to a few beers and a pizza.
Today we went straight to the mechanic and found that it was actually quite a quick fix, but required a very skilled welder. So the Suzi lives on! We now ride to Bishkek to meet Dave’s sister and her husband. There is a chance we might swap our 2 wheels for four legs, as we might go on a horse trek!
Special mentions to the KLR, Dave's bootcut jeans (RIP), Fred's Handlebar heaters, Tajikistan, Noodles and hotdogs