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Published: February 8th 2018
The are two options to head east from Dushanbe: "North" via the actual Pamir Highway is the more direct route, though the road condition is worse and it crosses a very high pass. Or "South" via Kulob (splitting from the Pamir Highway at Vahdat and rejoining at Kalaikhum). It picks up following the Afghanistan border earlier and while 200km longer is in better condition. Some also say the scenery is also better by a pip.
This gave us a dilemma, we'd come to follow the Pamir Highway and in our minds were only going to part from the highway to explore the Wakhan Valley, but with the scenery supposedly a bit better on the South... We tried not to be swayed by the temptation to get to the Afghan border a couple of hours earlier, we'd be following it for long enough.
We thought about flipping a coin but after realising that with either route you end up spending the first night in Kalaikhum (a village on the Afghan border) our desire to follow the highway won. A rougher road, a higher pass and hopefully less tourists, is more our thing anyway.
It took us about 10 hours
to travel 295 km. The road started on asphalt and turned into a 4WD track. With most people choosing to take the faster southern route our driver Abdesh didn't know with the way, so kept stopping and asking locals to check we were going the right way.
He's a pretty quiet unassuming guy - he just drives and we tell him when we want to stop. He is generous with his supplies and like us he had stocked up in Dushanbe. He speaks no English and we don't think he can read. On the rough road he proved that we had what we wanted - we'd landed ourselves a good driver.
While it was a big driving day the faster southern route still takes about 8 hours. The first 4 hours were ok because we were on good roads, as the road got really bad it coincided with the heat of the day – late 30C and we started to wonder how we will survive for 10 days.
At police checkpoints Abdesh obviously has to pay 'tea money'. Usually they check the vehicle's paperwork and then our passports. Then as we entered the GBAO in the middle
of nowhere our permits were also checked. The lone policeman then summonsed us to his outpost, friendly, he wanted a fee for the pen and pad he had just used to record our details with - US$2 for the 4 of us. Realising how little it was we quickly paid, shook his hand, and were on our way.
The next checkpoint was a military one, which we expect will be routine from here on. Literally the soldiers were teenage boys, the boss must have been in his 20s.
The scenery was spectacular and it just got better and better. Amazingly it constantly changed – rolling hills, big mountains, gorges, steep valleys. Towards the end of the day we climbed up to Haburabat Pass. It sits at 3,253m (high altitude is 2,500m). The hills surrounding it at the top had warnings for mines. We then dropped down to 1200m on a single track with huge steep drop-offs to the side. Abdesh switched the music off and concentrated. It took us ages to get down but we finally arrived at Kalaikhum and got our first look at Afghanistan. From here we will follow the Afghan border for the next three
or so days. The scenery was exactly like you imagine - just the same as what you see on TV.
The hotel we stayed at is chaotic and rundown - doors don't close, windows don't secure - and it has crap facilities. But there is little other choice. Given how crazy it was we slept surprisingly well, and we where excited to be literally sleeping about 300m from Afghanistan.
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