The Infamous Pamir Highway – Part 2

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 parts.

137km, 1047 meters altitude gain (1258km and 16,155 m altitude gain in total)
137km, 1047 meters altitude gain (1258km and 16,155 m altitude gain in total)

Day 6: Karakul – bottom of pass Akbaital: 48km, altitude gain 503m
A late start and a tremendous headwind prevents us from making any progress. We meet two Austrian cyclists and Eddy (not Merckx) from Belgium who are today’s lucky ones. We get updates on the road and continue. Extreme washboard after 40km doesn’t help us and I get weaker and weaker and even start walking at times as it is easier than cycling against this wind. Right before the pass we see a farmer’s camp and decide to call it a day. Johan and I agree to pitch the tent and cook ourselves and five minutes later Johan ‘books’ us into the hut including half-board for around 7 EUR. At first happy to be be done for the day, we would soon regret it. The people are very hospitable, prepare chai for us which is served with bread, kefir and butter. We relax in the overheated hut at temperatures of around 30 degrees but almost suffocate from the exhaust of the little oven used for cooking and heating. We can’t wash ourselves so we endure and soon dinner is served. Again chai and bread and a kind of ravioli filled with meat and onions. A tasty but greasy dish. Right after dinner our bed is being prepared next to the dining table. The 10-year-old daughter lays out many thick blankets and pillows on the floor and indicates that we now can go to sleep. The whole family is still sitting around the table eating and drinking and we feel a bit odd to go to bed, especially as we are still dressed in our cycling clothes and not keen on keeping them on all night. Not being able to wash has already been hard enough. We are being told another time to go to sleep and we finally obey. With low voices the family continues eating and firing the heating. After dinner the father lits a few cigarettes, farts with Johan laying right next to him and us almost dying with all our clothes on under two heavy blankets. About a sleepless hour later the family starts making their own sleeping arrangements, now stumbling over us as their bedding is right behind us. Finally ready, the daughter begins to talk endlessly for at least another hour, us still fully awake, but in the meantime secretly undressed under our blankets. No way I could sleep in my sports bra and cycling shorts as our clothes pannier stands on the other side of the hut. Now I am only wearing my sweaty tee. Johan had been smart enough to bring his pyjama with him. My challenge now is to keep my naked bottom under the blanket and to get dressed on time the next morning. When the talking finally stops we hear another strange noise – the girl is peeing into a bowl right next to the beds. This procedure is being repeated several times and in the morning we get up more shattered than the evening before. An altitude of 4100m and my beginning stomach problems most likely didn’t really help either.

Our nice little homestay
Our nice little homestay

Leaving Sary Tash

Leaving Sary Tash
Leaving Sary Tash
Lake Karakul
Lake Karakul
Eddy from Belgium
Eddy from Belgium

Day 7: Pass Akbaital – Murghab: 89km, altitude gain 544m
Today we would traverse our highest pass ever at an altitude of 4655m. As we leave early we start cycling without any wind. I feel very bad with stomach cramps and have to relieve myself right before the pass for the first time. The climb is very difficult with very steep gradients and we walk several times. The altitude adds to the difficulty and we often only manage to cycle 50m before we rest again. The landscape is surreal, red mountains that change colours with the light, hardly any vegetation and besides the funny whistles from the marmots that curiously watch us an eerie silence. After 12.5 km we happily reach the summit and as from now it would only go down – altitude and health-wise. I start feeling like a dog as I leave a mark every few kilometers. After lunch we have our first strange encounter. About 500m ahead I see people standing on the road, there is nothing else close-by and I get a little worried not knowing what to expect. We both take out our pepper spray and cycle next to each other. Only a maximum of 10 to 20 cars are passing us each day and we know we are on our own. Getting closer we recognize two soldiers armed with machine guns standing and another man sitting on the road. As we approach, the sitting man gets up to let us pass. Johan greets ‚Salam’, they are all greeting back and we are gone with the wind.  At around 3pm the wind picks up again and again it is headwind. I am very exhausted as my diarrhoea is getting worse by the minute and knowing I still have to cycle at least 10km against the strong wind makes me break down for the first time on this trip. I can’t stop crying not knowing how to get to the next village. Johan tries to comfort me and we continue slowly with me cycling in his slipstream. When we finally see the village after the last bend in a valley tears keep running again. This time they are tears of joy. We are nearly there. This night I spend mostly on the loo – another sleepless night!

Leaving our camp early in the morning
Leaving our camp early in the morning
Washboard!
Washboard!
First toilet break
First toilet break
Ascending the highest pass
Ascending the highest pass
Confident to be able to make it
Confident to be able to make it
Ha - we made it...
Ha – we made it…
...but we definitely didn't fly
…but we definitely didn’t fly
The beginning of a very long downhill
The beginning of a very long downhill
Sand storms
Sand storms
This was more or less the population between the pass and Murghab
This was more or less the population between the pass and Murghab
Happily arrived in Murghab
Happily arrived in Murghab

Days 8 and 9: Murghab
Long cycling days, food I should not have eaten, maybe contaminated water, headwinds, sleepless nights due to the altitude, the most demanding cycling ever on bad roads and a heavy bike had taken its toll. I am down with fever and the worst diarrhoea ever and we need to take two days off of cycling. My symptoms correspond with the traveller’s diarrhoea and I start taking antibiotics which make me feel much better the second day and confident to be able to continue our journey tomorrow.

A typical townhouse in the Pamirs
A typical townhouse in the Pamirs
The desolate township of Murghab
The desolate township of Murghab
Lenin welcomes us in the smallest village
Lenin welcomes us in the smallest village
Market time
Market time

4 thoughts on “The Infamous Pamir Highway – Part 2

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