May 15th till June 1st, 2017 – Tadjikistan
At the border of Tajikistan we had to do the paperwork first. Nobody was interested what was in our luggage or where we wanted to go. We had to wait a bit until all highly motivated border officials finished the papers and we were able to pass through the last barrier at this day. The whole procedure from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan took 2.5 hours, meanwhile it was 20.15 clock and of course it was pitch dark night. Before we started our trip we decided not to drive in the dark, because it simply poses unnecessary risks. But now we still wanted to reach the Greenhouse Guesthouse. So we drove on and to our luck the roads in Tajikistan were in top conditions.
The road was double-lane in both directions and divided by guard rails. So the whole thing should be relatively safe, but we had cars coming our way on our track with no light. Who does something like this? In addition there were people who crossed the street in a persevering coziness which we both could not understand. With no street lights we could see the pedestrians only 20 meters before we would run into them. The route the GPS had calculated in Dushanbe was two times impassable through construction sites. So we had to do several detours and finally were very glad we arrived without accident in the Guesthouse. The first thing we saw when entering was the Large Green Truck of Magrite and Bé. The two have already been expecting us. We were very happy to see them again. We could buy beer in the shop next door and there was even a pizza service. This was probably the best pizza we had ever eaten. We almost starved when we arrived at 9.30pm. Happy but very tired we went to bed
May the adventure begin
When we were leaving Dushanbe we were pretty fast and the roads were against our expectations quite good, partly we even dared to lean in the curves. On the way to climb the first pass there was no more nice tarmac nut lots of potholes. The view of the mountains and the dam near Nurek was just great. So many intense colors and a cloudy sky. We got through several passport checks with no problems. On the pass happened a landslide so we had to wait 2.5 hours until the road was clear and we could continue. On the other side of the pass we could see the Afghanistan Mountains for the first time. As we came down the pass we saw a small inviting meadow crying for our tent. So we put our camp there and stayed the night.
The next day the road conditions vary from very nice tarmac roads to “bombarded piste”. We rode in this beautiful valley which is accompanied all the way by the river. From the road we had a stunning nice view.
In the afternoon, the truck traffic increased and we had to keep looking for suitable places to overtake. Somewhere just before an overtaking maneuver Xenias XT660R died. The key in the ignition was turned but nothing happened. No display no control lamp, just nothing. It had to bee the main fuse, we thought. Xenia knew it was placed on the left side of the bike and a spare backup was right next to it. She had read about the main fuse and so the whole incident lasted 10 minutes from stop to going again. Unfortunately, the bike died again a few kilometers further. Same problem same solution, whereby, this time we had to find the error.
Martin began checking the cables and discovered a bare spot. Luckily, it was an easily accessible place and well visible. We wrapped it with electrical tape and shrink tube. A few Tajiks came by and gave us a small wire to bridge the burned fuse, if our last replacement would brake. This time the repair took about 30 minutes. We were glad to be able to go further with no more problems.
Troubles with the army
Towards the evening we found a campsite and had our tent including additional tarpaulin already set up as a higher military officer came towards us and told us that we could not stay here because of the Taliban. Yes, of course! We also saw two soldiers preparing a barbecue. We really had to fear the Talibans, especially when the Tajik military will start a feast right next to us. So he sent us half a mile down the river there. We had the tent already on site, there was already the next guy complaining. He would not let us stay on his land, since he would be responsible if something would happen. Yes, exactly because 100 meters next to our tent stands a whole military fort. We got really angry, packed everything and had to ride 10 kilometers in the twilight until we met a farmer in a small village, which we then asked where we could pitch the tent. He offered us a field with high grass. Of course we immediately accepted and put our tent between two irrigation ditches. Shortly thereafter the farmer came back and brought a bowl of Kefir. A kind of yogurt which we actually liked.
In the morning we had breakfast and rain. The whole thing wasn’t as much fun since it rained on our fried eggs. The Rain stopped afterwards and we could pack our wet things all in peace. But we only got 200 meters, to notice Xenia had a flat front tire! We pumped up the tire, and it kept the air. So we decided to ride on. At the next break Martin discovered that his central stand touched the rear wheel swing arm and the bare aluminum already appeared. We had found that one screw was missing and the central stand therefore now hung very obliquely under the motorbike and scratched the swing arm. Xenia took a small stick from which Martin carved a suitable bolt. The wooden bolt would not allow the center Stand to carry the weight of the bike but to continue riding it would be enough. In the early evening we arrived at the Pamir Lodge, where we met Bé and Magrite againe. We immediately went to hang up all the wet stuff. We had ti fix Xenias front tire and Martins center stand. So there was plenty to do in the night and Martin fortunately got some help from Bé who even had a fitting bolt in his assortment. Bé has probably more tools in his camper truck than Martin at home.
Entering the Wahan Valley
The next day we continued to ride through the beautiful scenery. We also looked at the fort, but there was hardly anything left to see, and so our enthusiasm was limited. In the late afternoon Martin discovered a large garden and asked the owner if we could stay there. The truck was parked and the tent set up. There was this 88 year old man who was welcoming us very nicely. Bé decided to give the old man two of his spare jackets. The man was overwhelmed, he left and came back with an traditional Tajikistan hat and gave it to Bé. Both men where really happy even they barely could communicate sine they had no common language.
Shortly after the start I the morning we made a poo stop. It would probably not have been very nice to sh.. in the garden of our host. Afterwards we could relax a bit more while riding over the gravel. The additional 8 Km to get to the springs was a very steep the mountain road up to almost 3200 m a.s.l. After a short coffee break went for the hot springs. Of course there was separated bath for male and women. The bathhouse was built around the natural hot spring. The bathroom served more for cleaning rather than to relaxation. Magrite and Xenia were all alone, while Martin was in the bath with 13 men and boys. Completely naked, the men scrubbed each other’s back. Martin was glad not to have to take any help and manage his own body hygiene himself. We rode down the mountain and continued on the slope towards Murgab. When we arrived in Layangar, we were looking for a shop to stock up our food. In the shop we have found, there was only dried, expired and “no thank you we already have this”. While Martin bought pasta and a can of peas. Xenia was blown at by the violent wind outside. The wind whipped through the streets, carrying a lot of sand and dust. So we were glad to have arrived at the Guesthouse Yogodir and there was even a small shop where we could buy fresh vegetables.
Going up high
The next morning we continued over really bad slopes, which were washboard and plagued by innumerable potholes. So it was not even a surprise that the lower cockpit bracket of Martin’s Tenere broke. We stopped and fastened the cockpit with two straps. Just 10 km later, the upper part of the bracket also broke and the cockpit would have simply fallen off the motorcycle without the power cables. So we had to stop again and Xenia had to give her two straps which she uses for attaching her sleeping bag to the pannier. So the cockpit was now tied to its proper place with four straps and we could continue. The landscape was very nice, sometimes like a lunar landscape. We road then separated from the river between Tajikistan and Afghanistan we were following the last 5 days. Here we started to climb the pass ever higher and further into the unsettled parts of the mountains. There was again a passport check by the army. After the check there were only marmots and mountain lakes. We met with Magriet and Bé at the agreed coordinates near a lake.
The night was cold but thanks to the good equipment we didn’t feel it. After a last coffee together the paths of the Dutch and the Swiss teams separated. So we said goodbye and headed east. The slope was still clearly recognizable until it became smaller and then disappeared somewhere as a small path in a kind of marshland. The whole landscape consisted of light-gray rock, and in the valley floor was this green-yellow marshland. The banks were covered with grass and were muddy. The water depth was certainly 50cm and the ground was also muddy. So we could not go through the water, especially not because it was not only a clearly recognizable stream, but a whole network of streams and puddles. We spent the next 2 hours finding a route and covered only 10 km. It was hard work to ride through this place.
On one side was the marshland on the other side steeply rising large hills with large furrows and ditches that led all the way down to the water and so we had to cross the water several times. Somewhere in the middle of this “Todays special” a shepherd came to ask us what we were doing and where we wanted to go. We were communicating with our hands and feet. He showed us the way, as a small gesture we gave him a pen, which he was very excited about. 5 minutes after the good by photo, we were already lost again. We somehow ended up on the other side of the marshland and felt relieved by the clearly recognizable slope in front of us. We went further on this adventurous path for 18 km until we gladly reached the Pamir Highway M41. Behind us a thunderstorm broke out and we tried to reach the Pamir Hotel before we got caught by the thunderstorm. We passed a passport check without stopping, the barrier was up and the thunderstorm behind us turned into a sand storm. We reached the hotel and were happy there were warm showers available in the evening. To our surprise Magriet and Bé came to our hotel as well. They changed their plan and so it was the coincidence that we saw each other again.
First shower after a week
The warm shower turned out to be a disaster because it was either very cold or boiling hot water. This was already quite annoying because we paid a rather big price for the hotel and didn’t had a shower for few days. For dinner we had yak soup and yak meat with vegetables – super delicious. There were two big chines Army vehicles with very drunk and annoying soldiers but luckily they left before it was time to sleep.
The next morning we could fill up our motorcycles with canisters. The street was tarred and in good condition. In the evening we meet Lukas, Paula, Magriet, Bé, Jana, Ladina und Daniela. All of us camped at Ozero Karakul Lake. It was very windy and cold up there on over 3900m a.s.l.
In the morning all other drivers where concerned if their diesel engines would start in these low temperatures. They were stuttering and smoking a lot, but they all ended up running. The night before it had snowed and so was the slope full of snow, melting water and mud. We had to choose very carefully our line to have as much grip as possible with the tires. We were able to leave Tajikistan in no time and pass through both passport and customs post. We started riding one hour later since we were the only once they had to pack a tent. By the time we reached the pass we catched up with all the others, and got a hot coffee from Magriet which warmed us. After that, we went had the descent on the snow covered slope. Martin had fewer problems with the heavier Tenere because his machine has an ABS. Xenia has crashed twice, but luckily he didn’t get hurt. So we were very glad we got had the steep passages without major damage behind us. Down there, the snow was already completely melted and so we had only to fight with water and mud. After this part of no-mans land we got to the Kyrgyz border.
We liked Tajikistan because of its rough nature and the mountain lakes. We often had the opportunity to camp and even if it was cold and windy we enjoyed it very much. Our real plan to ride the Bartang Valley we had to give up through too much snow. It was a hard winter and so we did not have the slightest chance to get through the Bartang with it’s snow covered slopes even by the end of May. We were quite exhausted when we arrived at the Kyrgyz border. It was not easy to find fresh food. Even restaurants were along the Pamir Highway quite rare. There were many challenging tracks that made the progress more difficult. Also four passes all over 4000m a.s.l. were exhausting. However, these challenges were also the magic of our journey through Tajikistan.