Published: June 21st 2010May 21st 2010
filling up with petrol local style
the petrol is stored in jerry cans - the jerry cans are emptied into the barrel - a bucket is dipped into the barrel - the contents of the bucket are poured into the bikes.
Here we are happily riding through Tajikistan waving at people in Afghanistan. They are not far away, just on the other side of the river less than 100m away. Mind it looks a lot poorer in Afghanistan. We have electricity cables running along our side, brick houses and, obviously, a motorable road. On the Afghan side there's no signs of electricity, its mud houses and the 'road' is just a donkey track - but what a donkey track. It clings to the side of the mountain following the contours and where there's not even enough flat space for a donkey track they have built out the most amazing dry stone wall to support the track. It goes on for miles and miles and miles.
Between Kalaikhum and Khorog the scenery is amazing. We are right deep inside the mountains, they just rise up sheer on both sides. Then every now and then there's a flat green plain, and its really green with trees and crops. Given the steepness and ruggedness of the mountains it seems strange to see large expanses of trees and deciduous trees, if there are any trees here they should be fir trees or small gnarled trees.
the road from Kalaikhum to Khorog
that's Afghanistan on the other side of the river
On one particularly narrow stretch, high up above the river the bike clocks up 40,000 miles so we stop to take a photo. We hear voices shouting from the other side of the river and turn round to wave - then suddenly BOOM. They are blasting the donkey track and some very large rocks come cascading down around us. Plus the BOOM is echoing round the valley on the very unstable rocks just above our heads - we make a very hasty exit with no photo.
We pass through lots of small, neat and tidy villages. They go in for dry stone walls on this side of the river too, all the village houses are surrounded by them. Everyone is very friendly and waves as we go past, not just the kids, the adults are all waving too and when the women realise I'm on the back their eyes get wider, their smiles get even bigger and they wave even harder. Every now and then we pass a real blond haired, blue eyed person or even an Irish Rose with dark hair, pale complexion and rosie cheeks. There is a real mix here, not just the typical Central Asian
faces we have seen upto now.
From Khorog to Langar we are in real Pamiri territory travelling along the Wakhan Valley. There is a distinctly different feel to the place, its difficult to say precisely what but it is different. There are still neat little, stone walled villages but there are also shrines and Pamiri houses. In most of Central Asia the locals are Sunni Muslims but in the Pamirs they are Ismaili Muslims, followers of the Aga Khan. They don't have mosques and Friday prayers they have roadside shrines (ostons) covered in ibex horns, burnt offerings and round stones. The Pamiri houses are easy to spot with no windows and their glass skylight. Everything about the Pamirri house is symbolic: the 5 pillars in the main room represent the 5 main prophets, the 4 concentric squares of the skylight represent the 4 elements, the number of roof beams relates to the 7 imams and 6 prophets of the Ismailis etc. etc. They are quite beautiful inside and it does feel like the place has meaning.
The scenery along the Wakhan Valley is just as amazing as yesterday. The river is much wider, running lazily along a gravel
bed, so Afghanistan is further away. On both sides of the river are the remains of ancient fortresses. Most of the Tajik fortresses are occupied by border guards so no photos allowed. Being so close to Afghanistan this is a a major drugs trafficking area and we constantly pass groups of soldiers patrolling their patch of road. We are allowed to ride the 6km of switchbacks upto Yamchun fortress. The ruins of the 12th century fortress are impressive but even more impressive are the views to the south; beyond the river and mountains in Afghanistan its possible to see the 7000m plus peaks of the Hindu Kush in Pakistan. Its a great day's riding with a constant onslaught of spectacular views and a host of friendly locals waving us on. We even manage to fit in a museum visit to the home of Sufi Muborak-Kadam, a local Sufi scholar, theologian, poet and traveller, who died in 1910.
After a night in a traditional Pamiri house in Langar, we should be continuing along the Wakhan Valley to Murgab but there's a problem - a rather large hole in the road. In-fact there is no road, its disappeared in a really
an Afghan donkey on the donkey track
miles and miles of track were supposed by this type of brickwork
big serious way. They are supposed to be filling it in today but they are still waiting for the explosives (to blast the hillside above down into the big hole) to arrive. We have no choice but to turn round and head back to Khorog to take the alternative route. This isn't such a hardship, the journey was so spectacular nobody is complaining about having to re-ride the road.
There are more photos below