Published: September 17th 2010August 14th 2010
At the taxi stand a woman already in the 4wd jeep spoke perfect English and encourage us to join them 2 more person and they are off, we were lucky for they had been waiting for 2 hours to fill the taxi, but as usual it actually takes about 1/2 hour before we actually get on our way, we stop for gas, a few police stops, pick up some parcels etc. The police are in full force stopping everyone to the annoyance of the locals in the taxi, they told us, since these guys don't get paid well they make extra money by stopping cars and asking for bribes, average 5 somonis each time you get stopped apparently, poor driver, well poor us, the fare probably is now at 200 somonis to cover police bribes! We got stopped maybe a dozen times before leaving Dushanbe proper and more on the highway, if you don't give them money they will find fault in your car and will fine you heavily. I hate this system, such an annoyance but nothing we can do really. The roads are mixed paved and dirt, some areas are being constructed or maintained, dust fly everywhere and it's
so hot I feel suffocated everytime we shut the windows. We stopped briefly in some town to wait for some guy to hand a package bound for Khorog. Mitch was so uncomfortable out back so when we had lunch we switched. Lunch for me was good, I had this tandoor something, a slow grilled meat oh so good, I saw the oven where they cooked it and it's like the bread oven only they have hooks to hang the meat. Even in the heat I had the best meal.
The woman who speaks English has a young daughter who finished her course majoring in Korean language, she spoke some English and quite friendly, she is good looking but too young for me. Anyway the uncomfortable trip got worse as the road got worse,and the driver stopped to help a fellow driver with a flat tire. We also stopped a lot to buy fruits and water. Finally we arrived at our first check point about 4 hours into the trip, at first the driver just gave them our passports, but we were told to come in the office, where we found an arrogant young man, talking only in Tajik, asking
something about our documents, we showed our visa and GBAO permit but he wasn't happy, he was asking for a piece of paper that a couple of Chinese nationals have on their passports turned out to be a registration card which as the new rule says tourists only need if they decide to stay more than 30 days in the country, I told him we don't have that kind we have a stamp in our passport for permits, then the driver of our jeep came and told us our paper is in order but maybe we should give something to the soldier to get things faster, you know a bribe,we said no! And Mitch lost it when the idiot soldier keeps stalling us, finally the driver got fed up and went back to our jeep and asked the English speaking woman and one guy with us to come and help us, turns out the man is a security officer in Khorog, he shouted at the stupid soldier after showing him his badge, they were talking in Tajik and the woman later told me, the soldier was asking for a visa to Gorno Badakshan because he claimed it's another country! The
view of Afghanistan from a hill
security officer dude, shouted at him more and the woman told him he should learn more about his own country, GBAO is still Tajikistan and no visa needed only permits which we had. Anyway he meekly wrote our names down in the manifest, can't even spell it right, the man and woman who helped us were a bit embarassed at how inept their soldiers are manning checkpoints, they dont know what they are doing she claimed or really was hoping they could get a bribe by pretending our papers are not in order.
Another checkpoint a minute later! The man took my passport, he could not find my visa and permit so he gave up and let us go. The scenery is spectacular, dry and arid but colorful hills, then we started to follow the Pyanj river and got a glimpse of Afghanistan for the 1st time and from now on all the way to Khorog it will be just across the river on our right. We saw locals going about their business in the Afghan Badakshan which turned into the Pamirs at some point, the river is slightly higher and raging ferociously in some areas, we were told
a certain road is flooded a few days ago and depending on how it is now we may make a crossing or not. We had dinner at Darvaz a nice restaurant with a gaudy Las Vegas type neon sign outside, food was good, we wanted tea but the waiter said none, I pointed to the porcelain tea kettle on the other table, what is that then if not tea? he whispered to me with a grin, it's vodka! After dinner the group had a meeting, our driver said we will drive 30 kms more to this village where the flooded roads are and we shall see if we make the crossing tonight or tomorrow morning. We saw the flooded road, and the river is churning and making loud noises, me and Mitch were a bit worried, we rather stay the night there and cross in daylight, thank goodness the drivers relented.
The women slept in the car while us men were directed to this house, a dude from Ishkashim from the other jeep walked us to the house then we realized he does not speak English at all despite him pretending to be helping, luckily one of the drivers
sorted things for us, we found a room with one bed available, Mitch slept on the floor on a mattress, our roomate was a middle aged man from Dushanbe whose car stalled while making the crossing in the flooded road and had to wait out another day as his car is dead, poor man. Sleep was soso but we were able to rest at least. In the morning we made the crossing, regular cars being towed by jeeps and trucks to avoid stalling, then off we go again rough roads as usual up and down passes, Afghanistan side is beautiful, we saw locals walking the path from village to village, where here in Taj is a wide road albeit unpaved, they have in the Afghan side a narrow path that winds around the mountains following the Pyanj river. Brown, churning ferociously Pyanj river failed to impress me but we have it in view all the way down to Khorog. We dropped off some passengers in a small village 10 kms from Khorog then we got dropped off at Pamir lodge, nice place, big grassy area for people with tents, also you can sleep in the balcony of the main building
for $5 but for $6 one buck more you can sleep in a room so we chose the latter.
A Swiss couple in the balcony beds befriended us, nice people they told us about the recent Wakhan corridor excursion they made and gave us the contact number for the driver. We also walked down to town with them and showed us where to eat, town is about 15 minutes walk downhill, they showed us a short cut. The lunch was sashylik, ok but gave me the runs, I have to hurry back to the lodge and stop short my trip to town. I fell asleep, well Mitch as well, both very tired and exhausted from the 20 plus hours of travel from Dushanbe. I went to find bottled water downhill and every store sell only sparkling water no regular, I have to walk 15 minutes towards the Afghan consul before finding a store that sells them, I was annoyed. Then I came back up the Pamir lodge only for Mitch to tell me we have to head to town as they are not serving dinner at the lodge!
Another trek down and it is dark the streets are
not well lit, dinner at the same place near the river, I had sashylik again and had the runs again when we got back to the lodge! Noisy Polish dudes arrived and staying next door to us, I greeted them but ignored me, hmm so far I haven't met a friendly backpacker from Poland. Some people started to sleep in the balcony and the Polish guys are quite loud chatting with equally annoying American girls from Kansas, we heard shush from people, eventually they shut up and went to bed.
No water in the Pamir lodge the next morning everybody is annoyed, the owners can't give us an explanation why and when it will come back up, the toilets wreak and mingy they have no emergency plan what to do in this situations, no water to flush toilets, to shower, really irritating. I want to do my laundry and obviously not possible. I decided to go down to town to do some errands. First I went looking for OVIR office to register, took me awhile to figure out which one it was, next to Amonat bank like LP says, the guard won't let me in the building so have
to wait outside for 45 minutes? for some reason he could not get hold of the officer, when he finally do, the guy met me at the gate not even inside the building, had a thorough look at my passport and visa and asked me if I am bound for Murgab I said eventually, then do it there! the new rule is if you stay in the country more than 30 days you should have registered before 3o days is up, but he wants me to do it on the 30th day, I cannot since I will be trekking, I explained to him, he relented but instructed me to photocopy my passport info page and the visa and GBAO permit, found at the post office a place to do that easy enough, the hard part came when I have to pay at Amonat bank, I went and people were pointing me to different directions where to pay, I found it and one guy helped me fill up a form, all in Cyrillic so he did it for me but took 15 minutes to finish it and then he had to do it in duplicate. 30 minutes later still not done,
a woman took over and had to do it over again! Then to the cashier, so an hour later I hurried back to the OVIR but the guard says it's lunch time! I insisted so he called the officer and he took my papers and told me to wait, 10 minutes later he came back telling me I have to go back to the bank as they made a mistake it should be 90 somonis not 40! I was so angry by this time, the bank is so inept, the guard blocked me from going in, lunch time, I shoved him and told him I don't care this is emergency, I found the person who did my wrong paperwork and he referred me to another man! This guy had to re do the form then have to queue up again at the cashier, such a headache, good thing the OVIR office waited for me and got it finally, after 3 hours of hard work, I hate red tape and this is the perfect example of it!
Went to the bazaar but could not find anything suitable to eat so I went back to the big park next to the
river and ate at this chic restaurant there, and surprise surprise sashylik again! nothing else! After a long wait for lunch as I was about to leave my table, I saw 2 young men jump off the bridge into the ferocious water and they swam to the shore near the restaurant, brave and foolish I thought, their pals congratulating them in the shore. There is a pool within the park and is very busy because it was hot and only men are swimming. I struggled to find the Pamir tourist office, everyone I asked points me to a different direction, I decided to go to MSDSP office but I was referred back to the tourist office which I can't find! Finally in the end a young man walked me to the place, it's within the park near the restaurant I have just been! I complained to the woman there Rohila how difficult to find their place, apparently if you come from Lenina St. there is a sign which I did not see. I got all infos about possible 4wd hires its expensive, average is $.70 per kilometer, guide per day is $25! I told her to write my name on
a wait list and if backpackers are looking for people to share the costs to contact me ASAP.
Tired, hot and bothered I slowly walked my way up back to the lodge, I bought water, the woman said no gas when I opened it it fizzled!grrr. kids were shouting hellos to me I wasn't in a good mood, I ignored them, then I arrived back in the hostel still no water and Mitch was just sat there reading a book while I did all the inquiry the whole time, I was annoyed, I went for a brief nap then we spoke to the Japanese bikers, about possibly renting 4wd to Bartang valley, I called the guide/driver referred by the Swiss couple and he promised to call me back tomorrow for details, new people arrived, Polish, and they were noisy bunch, we ordered dinner but it was crap, LP said they serve good food here, not true! I asked the lady owner about water and the answer was we don't know what is going on, the whole neighborhood is out of water, they have about 20 people in the lodge with no water to even flush the toilets! We contemplated
going to another hostel tomorrow, to think they are building new additions next door, how do they handle it when water is scarce at times?
To make a long story short the next day I found groups of people to share a 4wd to do the Wakhan corridor, Mitch the Korean opted out, he does not like to hike and we planned on doing some excursions away from the truck every once in awhile, so it's me, a Swiss couple, Petra and Alex, and 2 German friends, Julie and Thomas, we head off the next day so we stopped at the bazaar to do some shopping for food and whatever nots.
And so the next day at the Pamir lodge, Kevin(kukanboy) our driver/guide picked us up and dropped us off at the PECTA office inside the Park where we finalized everything that is related to the trip, then we stopped for gas and the bazaar once again to get some freshly baked bread and fresh fruits for some snacks. One last stop is at Kevin's house on a hill overlooking Afghanistan, he picked up his sleeping bag then we are on the road, our first major town is
Rostqala, there were no checkpoint like we were told, we passed the town quickly and made our way to Paded, roads here are rough but scenery quite spectacular. We asked around for directions until we found ourselves in Chongdin, we got off here and left Kevin to do some trekking at Oykul lake about 5 hours away, it is past 1pm now and we wanted to get there before dark so we hurriedly packed the things we needed for 2 days camping. The locals gave us 2 big breads but I left it in the car thinking we have enough already which I later regretted. We started slowly steep hill right off the bat but then was rewarded by a beautiful stream where along it's banks we had lunch and got some water. We continued on it is so hot and there is no shade to be found, We stopped several times to rest, passing some greeneries which the map calls Outstanding forest which to us was funny, it's everything but. Anyway we crossed 3 bridges, gushing waterfalls here and there, followed the river for most of the time. On our last bridge crossing we encountered some locals who gave
us a plastic bag full of fresh fish from the lake, I hesitated to accept it but the boy said free so I took it. Such nice people here. It seems like the trail is never ending we are all tired and just want to get there, finally we caught a glimpse of the lake as we made a turn on the trail and we followed it near its banks which was a mistake, it's quite slippery and no proper paths, we realized later the trail is at the top of the hill.We saw the trail eventually but we have to get past boulders to get up it, Alex and Petra followed the shores and they said it was a crap path so we continued on to the trail and eventually found a flat surface in which to pitch our tent.
There was no trees all flat and grasses on the periphery of the river/lake Oykul but its boggy and wet. We surveyed the area and decided to pitch tent where it is far from the water and the cliffs to avoid landslide in case.. We have to be quick as it is getting dark soon, I wanted to
trek to Lake Oykul, Chongdin
Thomas at one of the river crossings
cook with firewood so I gathered bits of wood and dead shrubs to use as firewood, but it was not enough so I started to pick up dung as well. Eventually we settled to use the gas stove Petra and Alex brought, we cooked the small fish that was given to us and it was so good, it was already gutted and ready to cook. We can't use all of it so Petra put it in the cold river and weighted it with stones, our own fridge, nature style. We were all tired so we went to bed early, it was a little cold and windy but we all slept well. we had a lazy day, late breakfast then we decided to stay here and do a day trip instead further up the valley. Local shepherds found us and 2 of them just sat atop a rock 500 meters from us and observed us with a binocular! we were a bit concerned about leaving our things in the tent but we decided to risk it. The sheeps and goats and donkeys are by now near our campsite, we just hope they don't trample our tents, we followed the river and
decided to climb one hill, Julie wasn't feeling well so she decided to go back down to camp while the rest of us climbed further up, I was ahead and did some surveying before the rest went on and I found a nice waterfall amongst the cliffs, it was so beautiful, we tried to follow it further but it ends under huge boulders, a landslide must have covered it before. Nevertheless we went up the boulder forest some as big as a 2 storey building, I love climbing boulders, at least they are more stable than scree. Eventually got to a point we cant continue anymore so we headed back slowly and along the way I picked up dry wood and shrubs and dung for fire later on for cooking.
Arriving in our camp Julie was sleeping and we were relieved to find out nothing was taken from our tents, no one is here but the shepherds and they don't steal things. Thomas and I decided to go for a swim, as it was a bit windy and chilly we chased the sun following the river and settled to where it is still shining, a good 10 minutes from
the camp, we skinny dipped and cleaned ourselves, 2 minutes later sun is gone, that quick! Water is freezing cold but very refreshing. That night we cooked up a storm and had the cognac and vodka. The next morning the pots were so black it was too difficult to clean, we found fine sand along the river banks and used it to clean the pots and it worked, just took time. We got ready to depart, a long 5 hour walk back, we followed the trail out of the lake this time, it went up the ridge, great view of the green lake. IT was very hot and we keep stopping in every stream we cross to gather some water. the trail winds up to a few valleys and it seems never ending, nearing Chongdin, we approached an area where locals were camping, they were calling us so we waved but they beckon us to come closer, we decided to ignore it as we are quite late getting back, but they chased us with bread and soup! When they caught up they laid down a cloth on the path and served bread and soup, watermelon and vodka! we can't refuse
now, so we ate and chatted with them, they are just amused to find hikers in the area, afew shots of vodka later we are ready to go but not after a few group pictures, they wanted us to send a copy to them so we wrote their addresses, which was very vague, i.e. John from Chongdin no street name or number. Alex who was ahead of us came back and greeted the locals, he helped Julie with her backpack. Arriving at Chongdin Kevin our driver was waiting for us.
Long drive to the village of Jawshangoz where we found a nice homestay but along the way we passed Shoshbuivad, scenery is amazing, clouds were rolling by but the sun is still strong and made for some excellent photo. At Jawshangoz, we struggled to get to the homestay, we followed signs but it's through a river, some swamps, some dodgy bridge, we asked locals and finally we came close, one more bridge to go over but its impossible with a 4wd so we got off and walked with our packs, 5 minutes later we arrived at this simple but nice place called Frichtamo homestay, helped established by a dude
from Liechtenstein. Nice courtyard, and great view of mountains and strange hills, a number of giant boulders dot the landscapes as well. Kevin left us and stayed with his army friend across the river, our host served us lots of food, it's a typical Pamiri house with 5 pillars and decorative ceiling which is open to let in some light. we played UNO then the lady came to make our bed, we could not understand what she meant about bed arrangements, she made 3 beds in our room and 2 outside, there are 5 of us and we all wanted to sleep in our room, but then Petra figured the 2 beds are big enough for 2 and one small one for me. problem solved, and we were right, the hosts slept on beds outside it turned out. Breakfast was meager but ok, Kevin came to pick us up its gloomy and cold and we dread to leave under this conditions but we have a lake to go to and hike.
There are more photos below