02/11/2016

New Pamir trekking route: Bulunkul - Bardara

In 2012 I did a loop in the Southern Pamirs around Bachor, passing some amazing alpine lakes. In the late summer of 2016 I came back to the same area, this time to guide a group of trekkers. The route would be linear rather than circular and I had a feeling this route could be a world class adventure.

After a brilliant detour through the Shakhdara Valley our jeeps crossed the Koitezek Pass, the highest point on the Pamir Highway and the regional border between the Khorog and the Murghab administrations. A couple of hours later we arrived at the starting point of our trek, Bulunkul at around 3750m. This village is said to be the coldest inhabitable place in Central Asia (once the mercury plummeted down to minus 63 Celsius!!). The dusty hamlet has two home stays and a few yurts to stay at and a couple of shops where basic supplies can be bought.

The following day we hit the easy trail towards Sumantash, a historical site with an ancient caravanserai and a shrine. After three hours we arrived at Sumantash, although to our surprise we first had to wade the Alichur river. In September the water levels are usually at the lowest, not this time! We ferried all equipment across and decided to set up camp. It is possible to push on a couple of hours more for another good camp spot at Marjanay, later more about this.



View from a ridge near the camp spot at Sumantash

Day 2: From Sumantash we follow the dirt track that runs parallel to the north shore of Yashilkul, a beautiful and fairly large lake (4th largest lake in Tajikistan). We plan a lunch break at the Marjanay Valley, a wide typical Pamir valley with good water sources and camp grounds. Higher up the valley you can find pre-historic stone circles. After crossing the Marjanay River (you probably have to wade it in summer) we rejoin the route which is now a  well-worn walking path. It almost touches the chilly waters of Yashilkul. Just before our second camp we have to overcome a small cliff. The sections to overcome the steeper parts of the cliff are a bit technical but it's clear where to go. After a final climb we can see the stream where we will camp at. But we first have to wade through the ice cold water. We set up camp on the sandy part which is basically on an island in the small delta. The soil on the far end of the delta is all wet (and likely to be all trekking season).




Trying to find the shallowest part of the stream to reach camp 2

First thing in the morning we have to find the shallowest part of the stream, which isn't easy. Walk a few minutes upstream where the stream bends left (going up). Right at the end of the bend you start wading, walking downstream on a shallow part of the stream bottom. Gradually you traverse to the other side. The water is cold. Good luck! Once you've done the crossing it's easy cruising to the end of Yashilkul. Approximately one kilometre before the natural dam there is an excellent camp spot that shepherds use. Shortly after this point we start the climb to a small pass that leads us to the Langar Valley. We pitch our tents at 3960m where we have stunning views of the Shugnan Range in the south.



Trekkers heading up the small pass that is the gateway to Langar Valley

The next day we aim for the Langar Pass (4630m). The climb is gradual while staying on the true left (so right as you go up) side of the river. Every now and then there are little stone markers along the trail. As we approach the pass the trail sometimes fades away to appear again a few hundred metres further. On your left you can see some stunning icy peaks of over 5000 metres. After reaching the pass we descend to our next camp at 4570m on the shores of the little turquoise lake, just below the pass. The ground and water sources are not great but the views are absolutely amazing and the tents are in the sun for a large part of the day. If you still have some energy left you could go for the 3 hour return side trip to Chapdar Kul.



Our camp just below the Langar Pass

We are leaving camp with the prospect of thicker air. First we drop 200 vertical metres on our way to Uchkul, a series of three amazing lakes with the glaciated peak of Mt Kulin in the distance. We pass a massive herd of yaks, who are apparently owned by our local guide Aliq. We revisit the family I met in 2012 and they treat us to a lovely lunch of fresh yoghurt and bread. It's good to hear that the eldest son has been accepted for an education program funded by the Aga Khan Foundation. After lunch we continue walking towards the end of Uchkul where we descend a further 150 metres towards the confluence of several rivers that drain into Lake Sarez. We set up camp near another shepherds settlement.



Crossing a typical Pamiri bridge

The following morning we're moving on in the direction of our highlight of this trek. The magical Zarojkul. An easy climb takes us to a series of four alpine lakes, each of them different in colour and located in a different landscape. It takes four hours to reach Zarojkul. What a place! We are treated to snowy showers, which adds drama to the place. This will be our base for the next two days, to rest and explore the direct surroundings.



Zarojkul in all its glory. Yes, that's the real colour!




Trekkers taking in the view of a 6000m+ peak soaring above Zarojkul

To see Zarojkul at its best, try to hike up a high point so you can see it from above. A whole different perspective!

After a few days enjoying Zarojkul we geared up for the toughest day of the trek. The crossing of the 4840m Shtik Lazar pass. We backtrack our footsteps for half an hour to the foot of the pass. A steep, rocky path zigzags up the narrow valley on the left. After an hour we reach the glacier that covers Shtik Lazar. In September there is no snow, there will be in early trekking season. Crampons and axe are not required in our case, but this might be the case in other months. We keep to the right, avoiding the big crevasses that are clearly visible. The actual highest point of Shtik Lazar is just after the glacier on the moraines. The descent to the Bardara Valley is long and the walking is hard-going. Lots of loose scree, steep angles and slippery slopes. Despite this don't forget to look around! Impressive hanging glaciers and mountain faces make the trip a bit more bearable. As we finally reach the Bardara valley we cross the river (wading, this could be deep in early season) and head downstream where you can find several campsites within a couple of kilometres.



Crossing the Bardara River. From here it's down!

The walk from the top of the Bardara Valley to the village of Bardrara is long (20km) but lovely. There is only one river crossing and it's the deepest one on the trek. You might end up walking upstream to find a suitable place to cross. We used donkeys for the crossing.

Gradually trees appear in the landscape and cultivated land. When we approach Bardara it feels like we enter Shangri-La. It's such a peaceful place. We could stick around for a while!

This trip was organised by UK based Untamed Borders.


1 comment:

  1. This looks like a very nice trek! Which map did you use for planning? Kind regards

    ReplyDelete