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. 

TAJIKISTAN and the start of The Pamirs!!!

We stayed in Sary-Tash for our final night in Kyrgysztan. To our pleasant surprise Leonie and Peter, a lovely Dutch couple who are traveling by motorbike and who we met briefly on the road from Song-Kol Lake, arrived at our guesthouse late in the afternoon and we spent a pleasant evening with them over dinner in our guesthouse.

Matching jackets!!

The next morning wasn’t a particularly early start, a mistake perhaps in light of what lay ahead – a significant climb up to the Tajik border post. 

From there we would wind our way down to Karakol, climb back up to complete what is the highest peak of the Pamir, before finally reaching Murghab. We were banking on reaching Murghab in 3 days where we would enjoy a rest day before continuing on down towards the Wakhan valley.

It would end up being a gruelling three days….

Day 1: Sary-Tash to Tajik border post

Distance: 56.3km / Ride Time: 5:35

A cruel headwind greeted us as we set out that morning and it got colder as we gradually climbed up.


By lunchtime we had left the asphalt behind us and had already been forced to push the tandem barefoot through a river due to a collapsed bridge.

The prospect of reaching country no.7 that evening was keeping us both happy however and the scenery was pretty nice too. 


We reached the Kyrgyz border post where a nice guard stamps us out, checks we’re OK with the oncoming altitude and reminds us to look out for the famous Marco Polo sheep. We’ll miss this kind of friendliness – bye bye Kyrgyzstan!


A 20km stretch of no mans land was now ahead of us before we would reach Tajikistan. 

Just before the beginning of the pass proper we meet a bunch of cyclists coming the other way who warn us of a muddy and snowy climb.

As it happened, more from luck than good planning, we reach the top late in the afternoon when most of the mud had dried in the sun. Nevertheless it was a hard climb complete with some stiff switchback at the end and we were greeted by a howling wind at the top. A weather front closed in behind us and we wouldn’t be surprised if it had snowed again on that side of the pass that night.


We reach the Tajik post at 6pm (apparently it is open 24 hours) and are away again by 6:15. Not wanting to go much further, we set up camp just a few kilometres down from the border post, managing to hide from most of the wind by pitching our tent in a sheltered dip. It’s pretty desolate and dessert like up here and we huddle together in the tent while a thin layer of sand settles on our sleeping bag. 

Day 2: Tajik border to 20km beyond Karakol

Distance: 79km / Ride Time: 4:57

An early and very cold start – our water bottles were half frozen! We shake the sand out of everything before packing up and we’re soon back on the road which turns back into asphalt. 


A few minor climbs but the overall outlook is downhill. After the last pass we catch our first glimpses of Karakol Lake and can spot the small town perched on the shore on the opposite side. Its very beautiful and we spend some time lapping up the view. 


We meet a friendly Russian cyclist who hands over a sticker of his own design for our bike. He points out Paddy’s Robbie Keene sticker and asks why I don’t have one of Gareth Bale! Wales’ recent success in the football has certainly put my little country on the international map! 


We stop at a friendly homestay for lunch who also exchange the remainder of our Kyrgyz com into Tajik somoni, and then battle with a very strong side wind as we skirt around the lake. 

We reach the valley on the far side and manage a few more kilometres of climbing before finding a suitable spot to shelter from the wind again. It’s a bit early but I’m really not feeling the best and I’m forced to lie in the tent while paddy cooks dinner. The longer I lie there the worse I feel. Paddy also starts to feel pretty rough at this point too. It’s definitely a stomach bug but I also wonder if the altitude is also having an effect. We’re at around 4200, probably the highest we’ve camped…

Day 3: Final stretch to Murghab

Distance: 105km / Ride Time: 6:22

After a frustratingly sleepless night we are both feeling in tatters the next morning. I’m marginally better than Paddy so pack up the tent while he slumps in a chair. It’s incredibly dusty and all our stuff is covered in the same grey filth.

We get on the bike without cooking breakfast, neither of us can stomach eating. 

We’re both desperate to reach Murghab but with 105km and a very tough climb ahead, neither of us could see how we were going to make it. All we wanted was a bed!!


Fortunately as soon as we’re on the bike we both start to feel a little better. It’s a stunning morning, the road is good and we cycle through a vast open valley, the morning sun pouring down on a beautiful mountain range to our left. 

Here we stock up on water and pass some abandoned farm buildings and houses. A short while later the road, to our dismay, turns back into a stony, sandy, washboard mess. It’s very hard going, and slow, and we’re both too tired and washed out to keep up a positive attitude. 

My ankle around my achilles has started to really ache and Paddy’s shoulders are painful too.


By 12:30 we’ve reached the bottom of the pass which starts with a stiff climb which we struggle up at 3km an hour. We’re feeling too rotten to take in much of the view and as we reach the final climb we both end up cursing at this poor German guy who is taking lots of photos of us from his jeep as we struggle pass. 

Despite having only eaten 2 iced buns and a handful of nuts each somehow we manage to reach the top by 2pm.

We still had 80km to Murghab, mostly down and flat, but we were both wrecked. Near the top of the other side we’re greeted by a cheery group of cyclists. With the news that the road would soon turn back into asphalt we spur ourselves on.


At 3pm I decide I can stomach a cheese sandwich so we stop and I convince Paddy to have some too.

We both feel much better for eating and thankfully the remainder of the journey is all paved if a bit bumpy in places. It’s pretty flat with a slight incline in our favour – exactly the kind of road where the tandem can really eat up miles and despite a strong headwind, with great effort, we manage to maintain a steady 25-27km for a good 90 minutes.

By 6pm we’re having to stop every 15 minutes. Our bodies are giving up on us. I pat Paddy’s back and wave the swarms of mosquitos away as he leans over his handlebars with a horrible headache. 

At each stop we lie on the hot Tarmac getting ready for the next leg.


We finally roll into Murghab at 7.30pm and luckily meet two English cyclist who tell us about an affordable homestay. It’s a lovely place and we manage to bag their old room for just 30s each.

After a home cooked meal and a hot shower we’re both feeling very content and are super glad that we were able to make it to a bed! Bring on that lie in!