Along rocky river banks

by Christian , published on November 28, 2013

distance: 685.24km
duration: 120h 47min

Clockwise: Micha, Paul, Daniela&Me, Luke, Tom, Gergana, Ria and Oliver

Veronique and Gabriel on their tandem

Véronique is probably one of the most active in the world. We where 9 cyclists residing in her house in the north of Dushanbe - and we where only one of the many groups that stayed with her throughout the summer. With us where Paul Lombard, cycling from Korea back home to England, Ria and Oliver, who we where in contact with since April(They nearly stayed in our flat in Vienna), Micha and Gergana on a world tour as well and a few days later Luke and Tom arrived, on their way to Bangladesh.

It was a great opportunity to exchange travel stories and information and Véronique and her son Gabriel where most sympathetic hosts.

Hiking near Dushanbe

Daniela and I had arrived first, but we also left as the last of the group, as we where waiting for a parcel from my parents with all our winter gear(Sleeping bags and clothing). Unfortunately, it didn't arrive and after 10 days in Dushanbe we decided it was time to move on, with the hope our stuff would arrive eventually and catch us later on the road.

Lo and behold, 2 days after we had left, Véronique called us with good news, she had information that the parcel was in Dushanbe! She would make sure we get it to Khorog(The next larger town on our route), as soon as she had the parcel in her hands.

The first day out of Dushanbe was mostly flat through green farm land, but soon after that the climbs start. There's a drastic change of the landscape after Obigarm, where the road plunges down to the Vakhsh River. From there on it's a constant up and down, mostly on dusty gravel road.

The edge of the road

At Komsomalabad the road splits - the northern fork leads directly to Sary Tash/Kyrgyzstan(Eleanor Moseman rode this route in 2012), the southern fork will bring you to Khorog and Afghanistan - and for us it marked the proper beginning of the  Pamir Highway, as shortly after the fork on the southern branch the hard part of the cycling started.

Invitation to a village celebration

After 2 days of riding along the floor of the narrow, rocky valley in dusty heat, it was a welcome change to climb up the slopes of Khaburabot Pass to 3252m. Refreshing green meadows and finally the opportunity to see farther than the next river bend.

The downhill from the pass went through a spectacular gorge, and late as we where, we set up camp halfway down.

The next day, at the end of the downhill, we encountered a broken bridge, which we already had heard rumours of back in Dushanbe of beeing impassable(This claim later repeated by a passing driver).

The bridge was gone, but at the nearby ford the ice-cold water just reached to our knees, so it was far from beeing unpassable. We where already set up and eager for the adventure of crossing by foot, having unloaded the heavy bags and barefoot i started carrying the bags towards the water. 

A few meters up from the ford, a bit too deep to cross here :-)

But then a jeep arrived on the scene and offered to take us. A moment later we where on the other side of the ford with dry feet, bikes and bags with us.

In hindsight i regretted the rather quick decision to take the jeep - crossing the river by foot would have been a fine memory!

Crossing a ford near a broken bridge
Alas, sitting on the edge of the jeeps cargo space, frantically holding on to both bikes with all my energy to keep them from falling out, the jeep rocking brutally while going through the rough river bed, it's motor roaring and sputtering in the deep water - it is a fine memory as well!

At Kalaikhum, a few kilometers down from the broken bridge, two roads from Dushanbe converge and it's where we meet the Afghan border and the Panj river, both of which we will follow 240km to Khorog.

The environment is back to what it was before the pass - a dry, narrow and rocky valley, the view obstructed by the next bend of the river, a few snowy peaks high above us, out of sight unless you look way up.

Pitched our tent in this families garden

It is adventurous cycling - the road twists and turns, rises high above the river and then plunges down again close to it's shore. Some segments of the gravel road are in awful condition, often when a nearby scree pushes material over the track, which either destroys the surface or covers it entirely(And the road is built anew on top of it, which leads to an especially rocky track).

Girls selling fresh figs - the one on the left sounded just like Boxxy

Afghans dreshing wheat on the other side of the river

On the other side of the river we see Afghans in traditional clothing threshing wheat by hand, children walking home from school on the narrow path that has been cut into the rock, kilometers from the next village, Afghan clay-houses, without windows but a satellite dish on the flat roof. Women wearing wide skirts and covering their hair with a scarf(No Burkha), men in the Shalwar Kameez and the Pakol, the traditional woolen flat hat with a thick rolled-up edge(Both of which we would later see in abundance in Pakistan).


The afghan villages are green oases in the brown-grey monotony of the valley, with neatly stacked terraces for crop and vegetables, the houses embedded within poplar trees to protect against wind and weather. Very idyllic - but also quite obviously very poor.

After 3 days of steady but unhurried cycling we decide we have to get out of the narrow valley and the monotonous ride - we start to feel locked in and are bored by the endless up and down and the tough road. Getting up earlier and riding harder, we reach Khorog on the 10th day after leaving Dushanbe, on the last 60 kilometers we have smooth tarmac, which feels like flying!

As suggested by many, we stay in the Pamir Lodge - a very simple hostel with gloomy, cold rooms furnished with cheap foam matresses, a outhouse and a single semi-hot shower(We later learned that there's a nice homestay in Khorog).

On the second day we receive a most welcome visit by a local taxi driver - Véronique has managed to get our parcel with winter gear from Dushanbe to Khorog via a 4x4 taxi - a 12h ride. There was even contemplation to deliver it by helicopter, but unfortunately the parcel was too large for the aircraft.

Up to Khorog it was still very warm, as we had barely risen above 2000m - with our subsequent climb to the high plateau of the Pamir that was apt to change soon. Without our down winter sleeping bags and warmer clothes this endeavour would have been impossible.

Alex, who together with Daniel catched up with us shortly before our arrival in Khorog

Khorog also brought a reunion with Ria and Oliver, Daniel(Who we have previously stumbled into in Tabriz/Iran and Buchara/Uzbekistan) and we meet Alex from England(Who rides with Daniel since Samarkand) and Christian and Yvonne from Switzerland.

The outhouse, which is an uncomfortable walk of 50m from the rooms, is well visited during while we are there, most of the cyclists get sick in the few days we stay in Khorog.

Eventually though we all get better and one group after the other leave towards the Pamir Plateau. This time, Daniela and I are the first one's to leave for a change.