The Infamous Pamir Highway – Part 1

23 August – 8 September, 2015 – As the Pamir Highway has been an important milestone of our journey you’ll find below our diary entries with the highlights of every day presented in four different parts.

293km, altitude gain: 5224m (1121km and 15107m altitude gain in total)
293km, altitude gain: 5224m (1,121km and 15,107m altitude gain in total)

Day 1: Osh – Gulcha: 85km, altitude gain 1436m
We’re in doubts if we should leave as heavy rainfalls are forecast. We anyway leave as we are on a tight schedule given our expiring Tajikistan visas and are happy we did as it doesn’t rain all day. It’s a climbing day through desolate landscapes with small villages in a bad state, a pass of 2,389m and little tailwind. On our way we are given apples and carrots and meet an Irish-American cycling couple. We are grateful for the guesthouse in Gulcha as we don’t have to cook ourselves as we are shattered after a long days’ cycling.

Arriving at the guesthouse with well prepared owners
Preparation at its best!

Day 2: Gulcha – Ak Bosoga: 77km, altitude gain 1369m
Early start on a beautiful day with clear blue sky and no wind. We continue on undulating roads through the Gulcha valley. High mountains to the left and right, the valley narrows and opens up again to make room for another small village. Later the landscape reminds us on the deserts of California. We are cycling into a strong headwind – one tailwind day had been too good for us. At the end of the afternoon we ask in the village for a place to sleep and the family invites us in. We get chai, cookies, fresh melon and soup and our own room to sleep. We love Kyrgyz hospitality.

An unexpected coffee break
An unexpected coffee break

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And another break
And another break

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The wind is picking up
The wind is picking up
Almost there...
Almost there…
The Kyrgyz family we stayed with
The Kyrgyz family we stayed with

Day 3: Ak Bosoga – Sary Tash: 30km, altitude gain 922m
Another early start and with heavy legs we are climbing up another pass, again against the wind. Gradients are tough, most of the time at around 8%. After four hours we reach the top at 3615m, annoyed with the wind and the kids who are touching everything. For the first time we see snow-capped Peak Lenin, the second highest mountain in Kyrgyzstan at 7134m. Later, Sary Tash offers superb views over a dazzling mountain horizon. We finally go down, but only for three kilometers, then the road climbs for another two kilometers to the second peak at 3550m. What a deception!  We arrive early, have lunch at our guesthouse, do the necessary shopping at one of the two shops that also serves as the local bar, money changer and telecom outlet. We are lucky as the shop owner’s husband seems to be shopping in Osh and every time we are asking for something that’s missing she is bellowing our order into her phone. We can pick it up the next morning at 7am.

Ascending the first pass before Sary Tash
Ascending the first pass before Sary Tash
Our first 1000 kilometers cycled
Our first 1000 kilometers cycled
Summit #1
Summit #1
Summit #2
Summit #2

Day 4: Sary Tash
Another rest day at 3200m as it doesn’t look inviting to fight against the heavy storm and rain outside. I don’t mind as it gives us more time to get adjusted to the altitude. The coming days we’ll be at over 4000m.

Downtown Sary Tash
Downtown Sary Tash: Left turn goes to China, right turn to Tajikistan
Locals
Locals

Day 5: Sary Tash – Karakul: 101km, altitude gain 1497m
A beautiful day with a clear blue sky and rested legs – ideal to tackle two passes in one day. For about 20km we cycle with a view of the dazzling snow-capped mountain chain, to the right Peak Lenin. We pass the first border at 10:30 am without problems and shortly after start the climb of today’s first pass through 20km of no man’s land. Around us are red mountains, marmots and a few eagles are circling in the air. Other than that there is silence. Shortly before the border we meet an Australian motorcyclist warning us that there are issues with customs at the Tajik border. Two French tourists are held by not returning their passports as they don’t want to pay a 10 $ fee for hoax-fumigation.
Arriving at the closed border gate a soldier walks slowly towards us asking for cigarettes. As we have none he walks away without opening the gate. Five minutes later he comes back, opens the gate, guides us to the customs office ( a sea container at an elevation of over 4100m), takes our passports and asks us to wait. Another five minutes later we get our stamped passports back and are officially welcomed to Tajikistan. We slowly cycle through another gate, always waiting for the fumigation-men, but nothing happens. We’re lucky again. We are now on a short downhill – just before the border we passed our ninth and last pass in Kyrgyzstan at 4336m – and cycle through a moon-like landscape with rough mountains around us, along an almost dried-out riverbed and dust storms that resemble thermal activities. We are even luckier as we are by now flying with a very strong tailwind making it easier for us to tackle today’s pass number two. At around 6pm we reach the summit with a fantastic view of lake Karakul. As from now it’s only downhill – 30km! However, the wind decides to change and the last 10km are a fight against it. Right before dark we arrive. Shattered but happy about our achievement – especially as we learned the next day, that we overtook a Scottish couple on their lightweight bikes!

Leaving Sary Tash
Leaving Sary Tash
Photo session with Peak Lenin as a backdrop
Is this an eagle?
Photo session with Peak Lenin as a backdrop
Photo session with Peak Lenin as a backdrop
The first Yaks we see
The first Yaks we see

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Lunch break right before the Kyrgyz border crossing
Lunch break right before the Kyrgyz border crossing
If an old R4 can do the Pamir Highway we should be able to do so, too!
If an old R4 can do the Pamir Highway we should be able to do so, too!
The beginning of the first pass in no man's land between the borders
The beginning of the first pass in no man’s land between the borders
Getting closer to the top
Getting closer to the top

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A fluffy marmot
A fluffy marmot
Highest point ever by bike at 4336m
Highest point ever by bike at 4336m
We can Selfie :-)
We can Selfie 🙂
Dust storms
Dust storms
Final destination: Karakol
Final destination: Karakul
And from here it's only: downhill, downhill, downhill
And from here it’s only: downhill, downhill, downhill
Arrived!
Arrived!

7 thoughts on “The Infamous Pamir Highway – Part 1

  1. Amazing…and such a great achievement…Your blogs leave me breathless and in awe and also a little sad that I havn’t adventured out to see some of the wonders of the world for myself..Thanks for bringing it to me..

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  2. Hallo Baerbel und Johan.
    Danke für die tollen Fotos. Wie hoch wollt ihr noch hinaus? Unglaublich 4300 m?
    Ich hätte nicht den Mut. Danke daß ich teilhaben kann. Freue mich schon auf euren Besuch.
    Ganz liebe Grüße Hans . Sorry für mein Deutsch.

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