On the Pamir Plateau
duration: 125h 44min
The road from Khorog is an easy, steady ascend through a green valley. We camped a few times close to or even in the villages, as the nicest pastures where nearby the farms.
The village people gave us bread, fruits and vegetables and invited us to dinner and breakfast. That's where we were introduced to shirçay - a variety of black tea that is flavoured with salt and butter - a bit odd at the first time, but we quickly got used to it.
Near Jelondy, shortly before the first serious pass at 4200m, Christian and Yvonne had catched up with us, who had started from Khorog two days later. We had been expecting them and it was a welcome alternation to ride by the four of us.
The air was thin, a icy wind was blowing from the nearby glacier and climbing the Koy Tezek Pass to 4272m was a challenge.
After the pass is a short downhill, followed by a second ascend called Tagarkak Pass. The wind had picked up in the afternoon and we decided to save the second pass for the next day. It was freezing cold and the heavy wind made it much worse - sweaty as we where, we still took a shower - but under the protection of the large apsis of the tent.
Cooking together was fun, with the four of us inside our tent it got considerably warmer as well.
At the crossing near Bulunkul we had to separate - the other two had a pressing deadline for the China visa and we wanted to take a day off.
We soon regretted our decision to take the detour to Bulunkul lake, as the road had a nasty corrugation and with a very strong, ice cold headwind(Which had been a tailwind before we veered of the main road) the 16km where some of the hardest on our trip, despite the road going downward(Daniela was so fed up at a point, that she threw down here bike in frustrated anger).
In Bulunkul we stayed in a Homestay, the food was simple but plenty and the hammam, which was in the courtyard, was a blessing. It was a small room with an oven with two buckets of water, one hot, the other cold. Inside of the room was a baking heat resembling a sauna. To wash you mixed the water in a bucket until it had the right temperature and dumped it over your head. We thoroughly enjoyed this bath after the chill of the previous days.
Going back to the main road after a day off proved to be the same hard work as going down - if not worse because of the ascend - and the icy wind was blowing sideways this time, throwing me off balance a few times. Daniela had given up and pushed the last 5km.
Back on the main road the hellish wind was in our back - we where flying the 26km to Alichur.
From there it would be mostly flat up to Murghab - with the strong backwind we would easily make it there on the next day!
The landscape would remain the same though and we wouldn't miss much(At that point the endless brown-grey plateau had already lost some of it's appeal). Also it was quite late in the year and we still had plans to cross the high altitude passes to Pakistan, ideally before the end of October!
We had lunch in the kafe in Alichur and lots of truck-drivers on the way to China had their supper there too. One of them offered to take us to Murghab and after a short discussion, we accepted. We would save 100km of boring cycling and shave two days off! There would still be over 400km of the Pamir Highway left after Murghab - and the more challenging parts as well!
Still it felt like having missed out when we arrived in Murghab late in the night.
Even after my experience in Romania and Bulgaria 3 years ago and having grown since then, my ego is hurt when i have to give in that i won't/can't do it all by bike(Despite that it would sometimes be just foolish and/or dull, with no gain but that unreasonable ego-boost).
A few dozen kilometers before Murghab next to the road we saw a tent with bicycles outside - Ria and Oliver, who had passed us while we stayed in Bulunkul! I asked the driver to stop, jumped off the lorry and said a short hello to the two puzzled germans(They just had dinner inside the tent and where not expecting to hear their names beeing called out in the middle of nowhere).
They arrived in Murghab the next day, staying in the same place as we where - and as they also needed a day off, we ended up staying three nights in Murghab, stocking up on noodles, vegetables and candy and celebrating my 33rd birthday with a round of Baltika. We also had to register with the police in Murghab, as we had been in the country for more than 4 weeks, a buerocratic and expensive(22 Euro) procedure.
We left Murghab together with Ria and Oliver - which made life easier in the harsh conditions we where going to face in days that followed. Our conversations where dominated by our thoughts on food - we told each other about the dishes we missed most from home or what we would like to eat right now.
It was very obvious that we all had had too little diverse and nutritient food in the past two weeks - potatoes, carrots, onions, rice and white bread are filling, but not satisfying.
The first challenge was the Ak-Baytal Pass at 4655m, the highest pass on the Pamir Highway. The steeper part of the ascend up to the pass was just a 300m climb starting at 4300m - but the thin air forced us to stop every 30m to catch our breath and it took us 3 hours to reach the top(Which itself was unimpressive without the view we had anticipated).
We camped in the valley after Ak-Baytal at 4200m with an impressive vista on the nearby glacier.
The landscape up to Karakul lake was absolutely impressive, but after the huge lake it turned to a surreal lunar scenery - at some point there was no color left at all, nothing but monochrome hills under a monochrome sky, the wind carrying fine sand, obscuring the view. Barren wasteland for kilometers, similar to the martian landscape as pictured by the Mars rovers.
The nights where freezing cold with -10°C, ice crystals from the humidity of our breath forming on the inner tent, snowing down on us when we touched it in the morning.
After the Tajik border the landscape changed drastically though - stone and sand gave way to green hills, the air warmed up significantly on the seemingly endless downhill to Sary Tash.
Looking back, a white wall of mountains was rising from the plain, the Pamir Range - unfortunately the air was full of dust from the nearby Taklamakan desert and we could only imagine how impressive the view must be on a clear day.
Despite steep roads and a height of 3600m, the remaining passes in Kyrgyzstan where easy for us - our blood saturated with oxygen we where surprised how fast we where able to climb on the chinese-built roads in Kyrgyzstan.
Most of the last day to Osh consisted of a 50km downhill, effortless cycling! In Osh we where overwhelmed by all the food that was on offer, real supermarkets full of goods, fruits in abundance(Even Bananas, which we hadn't seen for a month), a turkish bakery with a huge display full of sweet goodies. After the shortage of food in the Pamirs we stuffed ourselves beyond wellbeing - having lived on a diet of rice, potatoes and fatty mutton for weeks, Osh was an overflowing cornucopia.