Pamir Horse Adventure, based in Bachor in the central Pamirs, has won the prestigious UIAA Mountain Protection Award. This excellent news for the horse trekking company, as well as for the Tajik Pamirs as a destination. Community based tourism is on the right track in Tajikistan. Hopefully this will have a positive impact on the number of visitors to this stunning mountain region.
We decide to head back to Wuzed and approach the Big Pamir plateau from there. The Sargaz Pass is over 4800m and the team is not acclimatised enough. Our first day up the Wuzed Pass will be a 1000m ascend, which is also far from ideal. But with three nights at around 2900m we should manage. Malang already ordered our pack animals and Luca and I are taking care of the weighing of the cargo (892kg…!).
Our cook/river cabbie Inayat
The next three days on the plateau are tougher than I thought. There are no long climbs along this part of the route, but the subtle ups and downs do drain the energy levels slowly. Every day we cross a few rivers (all are possible to wade, but most choose yak or horse). The team stays partly in tents, and a few nights in the village yurts. This part of the Wakhan is dry and desert like. Looking south the roof of the Big Pamir is visible with massive glaciers. I wonder how many of these peaks actually have been climbed. Now we're in Kyrgyz territory and horses seem to have taken over as pack animals. The highest point on this expedition is getting closer: the 4895m Showr Pass.
Sunset over the Tajik Pamirs
A delay during an expedition is normally something undesirable. However, if a game of buzkashi is the reason, you can't complain really! We extend our stay in the settlement of Mula a bit longer. All the horses are participating in the buzkashi game, drawing players from the villages around Mula. For those who don't know this game: a couple of dozen horses and men play a game that aims to sink a dead headless goat's/sheep's corpse into a hole in the ground. It's each on their own, and it is rough. Horsemen try to steal the corpse from a competitor and score a point. There is no real pitch boundaries so occasionally the crowd has to run for their lives to avoid being trampled. We are lucky to bump into a buzkashi game. It is spectacular, thrilling and at times pretty scary as a spectator.
Two horsemen pulling a sheep's corpse
The following day we are heading for the foot of the Showr Pass. After a false start and some re-negotiating with the Kyrgyz pack animal manager, we are on our way. The valley is fantastic and the pass is already visible. We make it a short day and pitch our tents at a beautiful aylaq with a blue-green mountain lake. Tonight we'll make an early start so we'll reach the top of the pass before it's too hot. Getting up at night to tackle a mountain pass or summit is magical: the anticipation and the incoming morning light are worth getting up for at 3am. The team huddles together at a yak dung fire and tries to down some breakfast (lucky for me no porridge today!).
Getting ready for the Showr Pass
The approach to the pass seems impenetrable. The only thing you can see is massive boulders, scree and snow. But a little goat path winds its way all the way to the top, and again it's surprisingly easy going. 5 hours later we're on the top. I instantly fall in love with the nameless mountain on the side of the pass (gotta climb it!!).
Crossing the glacier just after the Showr Pass
We spend an hour on the pass and prepare ourselves mentally for the long way down to Chapdara, our next camp. The terrain is easy, the views are out of this world but the distances are deceptive. It takes us almost another 8 hours to reach camp. The team is knackered and we buy a sheep to celebrate. Two days and a 4700m pass ahead of us to reach Sarhad-e-Broghil. The next day disaster strikes. One of our local guys, Azim, gets stuck in one of the yak's stirrups. The yak gets a scare and starts running, dragging Azim on the rocky ground after him. Everybody is in shock. After 100 metres he's released from the stirrups but initially it looks very bad. He's still conscience, and we try to calm him down. With the next medical facility days away from where we are, this could be a very dangerous situation. We treat his wounds and hope he doesn't suffer any concussion. He seems to have escaped with minor injuries, but we keep an eye on him.
Picture perfect mountain lake
The final day of the trek. Just 300 vertical metres and we're on the top of the last pass, the 4700m high Dara Bik Pass. Reaching the top this pass feels more of an achievement than getting up the Showr Pass. We watch the Hindu Kush, extending into Pakistan in awe. Now it's just down!! 1600 metres lower is Sarhad-e-Broghil. Apart from some tricky path sections it's smooth sailing all the way down. The hot spring and guesthouse are awaiting us!
Team member Monique riding
GPS data Yagnob Valley Trek
GPS data 7 Lakes Trek
GPS data Bachor Trek
On the Khargush Pass (4344m)
This website this aimed at hikers, but discovering the beauty of Tajikistan all started with a fantastic bicycle ride in October 2009. For those who want to do an independent cycle tour for around 8-12 days, the circumnavigation of the Shakhdara Range in the Southern Pamirs is probably one of the best options. There's no need to arrange additional transport apart from getting to Khorog and away again. The loop is about 650km (including a side trip to Bulunkul) and gives you everything the Pamirs has to offer. Great vistas of iconic mountains (Pik Engels and Pik Karl Marx), high mountain passes on one of the most spectacular roads in the world and a peek in the life of the people living in this harsh environment. Below I'll give you an idea how to organise it yourself.
The best map to use is the map "The Pamirs" by Markus Hauser. From Dushanbe you can either try to fly to Khorog (this can take, like in our case, many days as the plane only flies when the weather is perfect). We chose to arrange a jeep for the two of us. The price changes almost every day. The last time I took a jeep from Khorog in 2012 it was around 350 Tajik Somini, about US$75. We paid for 5 people, as this was the only way to get a car exclusively. The trip takes normally around 16 hours, but many things can happen along the way that makes the journey a lot longer. In Khorog we stayed in Pamir Lodge, run by a nice family. The lodge is pretty basic (they were building at the time so maybe they have more comfy accommodation). The garden is great to prepare your bike and equipment.
Pamir Lodge, Khorog
Hit the road that's headed in the direction of Roshtqala. Just outside there's a check post where you will have to register and show your GBAO permit. The road is still surfaced and the incline is not too steep. The first night we stayed in the home stay in Vezdara (camp 0), because it is still populated here and to help the local economy a little bit. Shortly after Vezdara the road becomes a dirt track that follows the Shakhdara River. We set up camp 1 close to the hot spring between Jarajand and Nimos (which is for some reason not on the new Pamir map by Markus Hauser). Be prepared for some curious kids checking out the tent, as there are not many cyclists coming through. After Rubot the valley opens and you enter a spectacular plateau with great views of Pik Engels. It is easy to find a camp spot all along this stretch of road.
The upper Shakhdara Valley
At the end of the valley a steep, rough climb up the Maisara Pass which is almost 4300m. 17km took us 3 hours... The descent on the other side towards the Pamir Highway is exhilarating, proper downhill mountain biking! We went down on a smooth road to Jelondy because they have a hotel and hot spring there (a very very hot hot spring). The next day we had to go back up with Bulunkul as the next destination. It is hard work climbing the Koitezek Pass (4271m), but once up the world of mountains here is stunning. Snowy peaks all around, hardly any cars apart from the odd Chinese lorry. We decided to stay in the lovely home stay in Bulunkul. This is a great place to stay a bit longer for walks near Yashikul and the mountains around it.
Back track the road towards the Pamir Highway and just a few kilometres after entering it turn right on the dirt/sand track up the Kargush Pass (4344m). This is a tough section, obviously because it's high altitude and going up but the road is very sandy at places. Sometimes you just have to get off your bike and hike for a bit. After this pass it is essentially a 100km downhill (only a few small climbing sections). We set up camp along the Pamir River, which is the border with Afghanistan. We could see herds of yak going down to lower altitudes for the winter. Next stop Langar, a great little place and a good location to walk up to the base of Pik Engels (see trekking descriptions).
Camp along the Tajik/Afghan frontier
We did the stretch Langar to Ishkashim in two days, stopping over near Vrang. There are a couple of home stays here and again, a good base to see the archaeological sites. The cycling was hard going: lot's of sand on the road and in fact in the air. The wind was brutal. After Ishkahim where we stayed in the local hotel, we headed for Garm Chasma. Every Tajik knows this place and is raving about it. In 2009 it was a village under construction, but it lacked a bit of charm. The hot spring is pretty cool, well worth the 6km up the hill from the Ishkashim-Khorog road. After that is was straight to Khorog to enjoy the great hamburgers in the restaurant on the banks of the Ghund river.
The Hindukush in the Wakhan Corridor and the Afghan market near Ishkashim