Pamir 4: Khorog to Qal’ai Khumb – stomach bugs, checkpoint vodka drinking and wallet losing 

Khorog was a nice town to hang out in before moving on. There is an excellent Indian restaurant in the middle of town where we ate both nights as well as a number of excellent local cafes.

It felt amazing to eat some different tasting meals as we have largely been living off the same tomato based dish when camping. We were also able to draw cash (although ended up using our debit visa AGAIN after our Caxton MasterCard wouldn’t work in any of the machines….) and spent the best part of our day off lazing in the towns lovely park, swimming in the lido, playing cards and drinking lots of beer.

We were able to stock up on all the essentials at the market which including the normal hunt for porridge oats… We weren’t going to carry as much food with us from now on as there would be many more towns and shops on the forthcoming road.

So we set off out of Khorog the next morning. We had stayed at the Pamir Lodge which is where most other tourists, especially cycle tourers end up. We had an OK stay but in some ways it was a mistake for us to go there mainly because we both caught an ugly stomach bug which didn’t manifest itself until we were back on the road.

We didn’t cover as many kilometres as we wanted the first day only managing 72km before camping outside the town of Rushon.

The bug hit me first (the next morning) and we managed 30km before I admitted defeat and told Paddy I couldn’t go on. We set up camp in a lovely spot along the shores of the river and I spent the majority of the afternoon sleeping, waiting for the Imodium and antibiotics to kick in. 

Afghan children playing across the river directly opposite our camping spot

By the evening I was feeling pretty good at which point the same bug hit Paddy who was up half the night being violently sick…

Despite the bad night we managed to set off the next morning and did a good day of cycling. 

At 4ish we’re stopped at a checkpoint and got chatting to the friendly army guys manning the post. This friendly chat ended up with us being invited into their office for vodka shots (I say ‘shots’ it was more like large glasses). 

By the time we left I was rather tipsy (as was Paddy) and we’re not ashamed to admit that we had a little stop overlooking the river and sang along to Elton John for a while at the top of our lungs. Half way through Paddy’s passionate performance of ‘Don’t let the sun go down on me‘ a guy pulls up in a silver car and despite out cheery waves flashes an official looking government card. Clearly we’re meant to be highly intimidated by this although we have no idea what the card means or who this random person is. Nevertheless we act all meek and he drives off after telling us to move on.

The wind had seriously picked up at this point and we struggled onto the next village where a nice family and their huge turkeys let us camp in their garden.

We want to reach Qal’ai Khumb by the next evening but the road – which had largely been decent asphalt since Khorog – turned back into a stony potholed nightmare.

We stop at a cafe to have an early lunch and met some other cyclists, one of whom has just had a small bag stolen from his bike… 

We keep a watchful eye over the bike at lunch. 

We continue on for another 22km where we discover our wallet is missing… Not understanding quite how this happened, as I had had it moments before getting on the bike, we discuss whether it’s worth cycling back in case it’s somewhere in the cafe.

Fortunately, it only contained about £5 worth of cash and one bank card (Paddy’s) so we decide it’s not the end of the world – the wallet itself is probably the biggest loss.

Amazingly, we manage to call the card company over Skype via our Tajik SIM card and have it cancelled there and then! The world is an amazing place…

While getting back on the bike I realise that I have also lost my new cotton shirt – scatter brain comes to mind… 

After a long day in the saddle – six and a half hours! – we reach the extremely modern town of Qal’ai Khumb where there are modern facilities such as street lamps and late night restaurants! We find a lovely homestay and have our first hot shower in five days. It turns out we weren’t as tanned as we thought – just filthy!

Tomorrow is Monday and we need to get to Dushanbe as quickly as possible to start the Turkmen visa process so we will take a shared taxi from here to the capital. 

Pamir 3: The Wakhan corridor – Khargush to Khorog

Day 1: Just past Khargush to the little hamlet of Langar

Distance: 60.2km / Ride Time: 5:18

A long day sees us reach the village of Langar. There’s a fair amount of climing despite us following the river downstream and the road is frustratingly bad in some places. 

To make up for the rough road however the views across the valley are pretty spectacular and throughout the whole day we have a great sight of the Hindu Kush mountain range situated just over the border in Afghanistan.

The first part takes us close along the riverbank before a long climb up where we stay for the rest of the afternoon. The wind gets stronger and stronger as the afternoon progresses and we fear that we will have to put up with this pattern for the majority of our cycle through the valley.

Finally we drop down and suddenly find ourselves cycling through a green oasis. The road is lined with charming stone walls and we pass stray goats and donkeys munching their way through green hedgerows.

Traditional white Pamiri houses with their pyramid sky windows cling to the hillside while streams and small canals wind their way down between the buildings feeding the flower beds and fruit trees. Langar is a beautiful place, and compared to the the dry, dusty moonscapes we’ve become accustomed to, it feels like a pastoral paradise! 

We find a nice, albeit simple, homestay with a local family who’s house is set along a small river, their garden filled with apricot trees. 

The dad takes us to the local shop, a higgledy-piggledy walk up through the stone walls and across little streams. 

The whole place feels like we could be in a small Mediterranean village somewhere.

There’s not much in the way of food in the shop but we manage to get some noodles, and more importantly, 2 litres of beer!


Day 2: Langar to Yamg
Distance: 38.3km / Ride Time: 3:20

From Langar there are villages almost every 5km or so along the valley each with at least one homestay. We planned a short day as we were in need of a decent rest and were craving a proper bed and hot shower after five nights of washing in a stream.

We headed for the village of Yamg where we had heard there was a little museum dedicated to a 20th century musician, philosopher and astronomer called Mubarak Kadam Wakhani. 

Our progress was delayed an hour due to more front rack problems – another sheared bolt. We fear we’re going to need to replace the whole rack soon, there is only so many cable ties and bolts we can go through!

We had a beautiful ride through the small villages which are all surrounded by green fields of tall grass. It’s fairly hazy but we can still make out the Hindu Kush mountains. 

Tall poplar trees and a strong head breeze keep the heat at bay and we arrive at the village by 3pm before finding a lovely homestay where we get fed to our hearts content!

We take the next day off and spend the morning visiting the museum which is set in a reconstructed traditional Pamiri home. 

Our guide (Mubarak’s great grandson) even plays us some tunes from the musicians own string instruments and explains about the various inventions and philosophies of his great grandfather. 

Traditional pamiri sky light with beautful interlocking wooden beams. Each level represents one of the five elements

It’s an interesting morning and we both enjoy some time off the bike.

After the museum we cycle just 7km up the road to Yamchun where there are the famous Bibi Fatima hot springs and some impressive 12th century castle ruins. Both the fort and hot spring are situated 11km up a steep track so we leave the tandem in the local roadside shop and organise a lift (in a very old Lada Land Rover) up to the top. 

To our surprise we eat an excellent lunch of stuffed peppers in the cafe nearby (experience has taught us not get too excited over the cooking in Tajikistan) and then each get a turn in the hot spring separately – it’s a nice way to relax and meet some locals. 

It’s a gorgeous walk back down to the road and we stop off at the fort on the way back which boasts some very impressive views up the valley. 

12th century fort

Just after the fort there is a footpath which takes you through a countryside short cut back down to the road. 

You can find trees dripping with apricots all over the Wakhan

We don’t go far after this excellent rest day – just a short half a kilometre from the village where we pitch the tent next to a makeshift volleyball court. Some local boys come and watch us getting set up before being called away to bring their goats home who are grazing nearby. 

Day 3 – Yamchung to Ishkashim

Distance: 78km

Today was one of those days which passed without much happening. The scenery remained the same but the wind seriously picked up and we had it bashing in our faces all day long. Thankfully, after our first 30km we were back on paved road which was simply bliss after nearly 7 days of bumps, pot holes, washboards and sand!

It was a long day in the saddle but we rolled into Ishkashim by 7pm. This small town acts as the central hub of the Wakhan valley and there is a weekly exchange market with neighbouring Afghanistan.

Finally we would be able to restock on food properly – the shops between here and Langar have been woefully bare and we’ve had to rely on mostly homestays for lunch and dinner. (Our huge reserves of porridge oats and the abundance of apricot trees have meant breakfast hasn’t been a problem!)

Once arrived we duly turn our clocks back by one hour. (The eastern Pamirs work on the same time as Kyrgysztan but Western Tajikistan sets its clocks an hour behind… )

Our hostel allows us to pitch our tent in the garden but we get fed and are allowed to use the hot shower which thankfully still has a full tank despite the lack of electricity in the town that evening.

Only 100km to Khorog!

Day 4/5 – Ishkashim to Khorog

Total Distance: 73km followed by a half day of 39km 

After replenishing our diesel and food stores we hit the road and eat up 40km by lunchtime. 

The valley is so steep here that we are close enough to wave to the people on the Afghan side

The road is good even though the valley is much narrower here. Thankfully the wind isn’t so bad, in fact there were times where it pushed us along a bit! 

We reach the village of Andarob where some local guys invite us to sleep in their garden, the stars are amazing that night and we sleep with the fly sheet off. 

Next morning we complete the 39km to Khorog and arrive by lunchtime. The road on this stretch isn’t the best and by the time we arrive and struggle up the very steep hill towards the town I’m done.

After a delicious lunch by the river we, like every other traveller in Khorog, head out to the Pamir Lodge and spend the afternoon lounging in the sun.