After our (more or less) successful repairs during the last days, we felt ready to conquer the mighty Pamir. Even though, Chris hadn’t been able to replace his steering head bearings, he at least got them fixed so they felt like new (for the moment).
In order to reach the Pamir from Dushanbe, two routes exist. The northern and the southern route. Based on our research and also from discussions with other travellers, we got the impression that the northern route seems to be the route chosen by the majority. So, we decided to do the same.
At the beginning the ride was pretty nice. Good road condition, curves through the mountains and in the distance we could see snow covered mountain peaks. During the ride, Fabi discovered an unfixable, major problem with her bike: The center stand is mounted in a way that it touches the ground already at not too extreme (her words) lean angles. So, she will have to be a little careful during cornering – at least during left turns.
Soon we left the big main roads and were soon on smaller roads. Here, we encountered our first checkpoints. Checkpoints exist at fixed points along the main roads of the Pamir Highway and serve the purpose of registering people travelling on the road. You have to stop, get off the bike and get registered. For the registration, a police officer writes down time, date, your name, vehicle, visa number etc. in a big booklet. As everything is written by hand and no computer system is used, it is presumably pretty hard (read impossible) to gain helpful information in a timely manner.
With the checkpoint out of the way, we turned off the main road to Osh and onto the “true” northern route. As noted above, the road had been pretty nice so far. This was no longer the case. Almost instantly, the road surface was a dirt track with occasional rocks and potholes, but nothing too bad. This road was supposed to take us through a valley, then over a pass and finally down into the valley along which the river separating Tadjikistan and Afghanistan flows. Multiple times, we encountered small trickles running across the road which we crossed without any problems. Further down the roads, these got more serious. At the first bigger crossing, a car was stuck in the middle, but several cars were already there to provide assistance. Curiously we watched the guys working on freeing the car when one of the guys portended us to just pass on the side. Driving through deeper water is a strange feeling. You cannot see where you are driving. Instead, you have to give a direction and let the bike do the rest (supported by lots of gas). Nothing too serious if the water isn’t too deep but still..
Chris went first and crossed without any big problems. Fabi stopped in the middle and couldn’t find any rocks to stand on, so she dropped her bike on the left side. Thanks to the panniers, the Beauty did not get submerged and with the help of the other guys, as upright again quickly.
This continued for the rest of the day. There were several villages along the valley with kids who got very excited by us passing by. During the afternoon, we decided that we wanted to camp tonight. So, in one of the villages we bought supplies and continued on our way.
Finding a suitable campspot in a narrow valley isn’t that easy, so we continued on our way. In late afternoon, we arrived at a big river crossing where once had been a bridge. You could clearly see where it once had been with the concrete start and end points still being in place – but the in between was missing. Alternatively, a small track led down to the water on the side of the bridge. On the other side of the river was a checkpoint – the police officer waiting there guestured to signal that this was indeed the way to go. The crossing itself was two-piece. At first a smaller one, then a bigger, deeper one. From the locals, we got the tip to remove our luggage, carry it over by foot and then to ride the biker over without the extra weight. The luggage part was easy, but riding the bikes (Chris rode both) was scary and stressful, especially on the second part. The first crossing was comparable to the previous ones. The second was deeper than anything we had done previously. While carrying the luggage, water was running into our boots, giving us the nice feeling of wet feet. But with the mantra “GAS GAS GAS” in mind, both bikes made it through both crossings without any problems.
On the other side we got registered at the checkpoint and continued along the road. By now it was round 6pm, we were exhausted and still no suitable campsite in sight. Soon after the checkpoint, we saw a single headlight coming our way. The biker stopped next to us and the first thing we heard was “Do you speak English?”. We didn’t know these words would ever make us that happy. But not for long. Mike, as he introduced himself, gave us bad news: Only ten kilometers down the road, the way was completely blocked by a landslide! Also, the bulldozer which was supposedly there to remove it was broken right next to the dirt.
The meant one thing: Using this route wouldn’t get us to Pamir anytime soon. The only option was turning back all the way to Dushanbe and taking the southern route. In the best case, this would cost us two days. Not the best news to get in our situation. But it got worse, as Mike told us that the weather forecast had announced rain for tomorrow! With the additional water from the rain, the crossing we had just crossed would be even more difficult to cross.
So, the only option was to turn back and cross the river again. This pulled down our mood even further than it already was – but there was no alternative. At least, not everything was bad: Mike had found a guesthouse in his navigation app! So, there was at least a chance for a bed instead of a tent tonight! Not that we don’t like camping, but packing the tent in the rain tomorrow was not something we were looking forward to.
We returned to the crossing and began the same procedure again: Take luggage off, carry luggage over, ride bike over. As we were arriving, it became apparent that the crossing really wasn’t that easy: A tractor was just pulling an old Mercedes through the deep bit. As we were unstrapping our luggage, Mike got into a discussion with the guard from the checkpoint. The guard insistet that there was a way around the landslide while Mike was fed up with him and just wanted to get to some place with a roof for the night.
It took some time to get all three bikes over the two crossing and by the time our luggage was on the bikes again, dusk was almost over – and we still had 10km to go. So, our small group was riding through the dark with only our headlights illuminating the way. But we made it and soon reached the village which was supposed to have some kind of accomodation. There were no street lights but at least the village itself had tarmac roads. After some searching, a small boy led us to his home which was also a “gostinica ” – the russian word for hotel.
It wasn’t really a hotel but rather a small house next to the main house and the rooms looked like the kids rooms. But there was running hot water in the shower and we had nice beds (albeit they were a little short for Mike and Chris). The toilet was across the garden but we really did not care. Even if we did – what were the options?
With our bikes parked we got inside and out of our wet clothes. There was no chance that our boots would be dry until tomorrow. So, the perspective was: A day of riding over muddy roads through the rain in wet boots leading us back to where we had started today. So, the mood of our small group wasn’t exactly the best. It got a little better when the landlady knocked on the door and presented us with dinner which we did not hope for at all. It wasn’t anything fancy: Fried potatoes and some vegetables – but considering the circumstances we were more than thankful. After dinner, we dropped in our beds exhausted and definitely not looking forward for tomorrow. As we fell asleep, we could head the first raindrops falling on the roof of the house…