Wednesday, June 8, 2011

TAJIKISTAN - Hindu Kush and Wakhan Valley

Khargush to Khorog via Pamir/Wakhan valleys
May 27- June 3
Distance: 302kms
Sealed: 152kms  Dirt:150kms
Elevation gain: 450m
Odometer: 3169kms

A wonderful ride down the two river systems (Pamir and Wakhan/Pyang) in the shadow of the Wakhan and Hindu Kush ranges. A rough dusty road, headwinds and cloaking duststorms couldn't spoil the visual delights of this region. Very hospitable Wakhi people invited me for cups of tea and bowls of yoghurt. Hot springs, ancient fortesses and a Buddhist stupa were interesting distractions from the rough riding.

After leaving the military checkpoint (and paying my 50 somoni 'permit fine'), I headed down the Pamir valley, fighting the afternoon headwind and the bumpy dusty road.

After a long hard day a welcoming campsite on the grassy banks of the Pamir river. Lots of rufous-tanned marmots popping hteir heads from their holes to investigate the interloper.

Early morning views of the
Hindu Kush range to the south

Sidling high above the Pamir river, the Wakhan range to the west.

Next day I made camp high above the Pamir river and above the road to get views of the Hindu Kush. I went for an afternoon stroll into the hills and met a Wahki family living in this remote area. Their stone house was indistinguishable from their animal enclosures.

One of the young daughters outside her house.

Mother and daughter at the entrance to the house

In the goat enclosure

The simple stone dwelling with stove and kitchen. Sleeping quarters for 6 people were in the same space.

Their dog, Simba resting out of the wind

The matriarch of the family, who served me a pot of tea with bread, yoghurt and sweets.

Milking the cows was an ordeal with wind howling, dust scattering.

Next morning, perfect weather with clear views of the Hindu Kush, beyond the Wakhan valley 

As I descended towards the Wakhan valley many Langar villagers were climbing into the Pamirs to take their stock to the green pastures. The women wore iridescent fabrics, contrasting sharply with the harsh bare tones of the landscape.

This poor donkey was braying loudly as he hauled his cargo up the steep road.

The village of Langar, on the confluence of the Pamir and Wakhan rivers.
Very few vehicles plied this road and I encountered scores of people walking long distances, including one shy fellow who was walking to Ishkashim 110 kms from Langar. At times I thought I was on the set of 'Arabian Nights'  with the glittering veiled women in the fields and along the road and later with the cast from 'Last of the Summer Wine', meeting men sporting flat caps and cheery but sun-hardened faces.

Three Wakhi women on their way to Langar (a 15km walk) to do their shopping.

And two brothers Palang (56) and Sarfabek (59) cycling to Langar.

Rocks, sand, water, and the Hindu Kush.

The Buddhist stupa at Vrang, with wonderful views over the Wakhan valley

Three lads who showed me the way up to the stupa.

In Yachum I was invited to a school graduation ceremony. Schoolkids put on a great show with music and dance and parents were into the action.  Eventually the foreign visitor was coaxed out of his chair to join the dancing (to huge applause). Never good on my feet, I must have looked something like a drunk Cossack with wobbly knees crossed with an unwhirling dervish.

The duststorms of the Wakhan valley were like biblical maelstroms, hurling the gritty dust everywhere.I had to don this apparatus to see and breathe. 'El Bandito de Los Pamiris' or a cycling dandy cowboy a la 'Brokeback Mountain'. Take your pick.

2 more Wakhi cyclists, riding 70 kms from Langar to Shitharv, on a stony sandy road.

Kirgizbek (63) and Holdobek (59) - the 2 cycling brothers and wonderful characters, full of humour and grace.

They invited me to their Pamiri home for lunch - bread, yoghurt and shir chay (salty tea with butter).

In Voegs, a woman invited me to her choykana (outdoor tea house). 3 generations of a Tajik family.

A captured marmot. The poor animal was very stressed and was shortly after in the pot for dinner.

After Ishkashim, the Pyanj river narrowed into a gorge and the Afghan frontier was very near.

Here the road on the Afghan side is cut into a rockface.


  1. wow pete this is incredible. really enjoying following your travels!

  2. Hi Pete, that`s great to find your blog and be able to read it now in Japan. We hope your trip is good over all these mountains! we did not get our extension in China and are now in Japan, arrived today. Green, warm and rainy!
    Gunda and Wolfgang