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Pamir Highway, part 2

 

Pamir Lodge in Khorog is beautiful, but has one disadvantage: it’s far from the town centre. Normally I don’t mind taking a walk, but with my sore joints it’s not doable to walk all the way. After the long day yesterday I can use some break, although I would love to ride on. How I enjoyed the last two days! Gabor is leaving today and will take the northern route. I’m staying another two days in the hope some other motorbikers will arrive. Traveling here in Tajikistan is much different then before. The Pamir Highway attracts lots of tourists and the accommodations are being build for that: bigger, with dorms. Although also in Uzbekistan it was more touristic, here in Tajikistan the contact with locals is almost zero. I miss that. The atmosphere among the travellers is different (then mine). They’re younger, have other goals, drinking beer is very important. I’d love to be more by myself surrounded by the beautiful nature. Of course some times it’s nice to meet other travellers to talk to. The (push)bikers are more ‘my’ type. Here at the Pamirs you see them a lot.

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I spend the days reading and writing and be there for moral support. Hette is doing his very best to fix his motorbike himself. When he’s not busy on his bike he’s apping, mailing or phoning with every one who could be of help. Only one time I could convince him to leave his bike behind and come into town. No other bikers have arrived so I’ve decided to leave tomorrow. Although I made the agreement with myself not to ride alone I am convinced there are more tourists going to the Wakhan valley. I know for sure that a Israeli guy and his guide are going there tomorrow as well.

On my last day in Khorog I have to do some shopping. I have to buy some food and Hette gave me a wish list so I walk down to the mean road to get a shared taxi, a small minibus. At the market I have to try to find a spark plug wrench, some rope or lashing straps and some bolts and nuts. I like going to the market with assignments like this. I guess I like having a goal. It’s already in the afternoon when I come back. Although Hette is happy with my purchases, he looks defeated. Al his effort has come to nothing.

Not long after I’m back at the Lodge two motorbikers arrive. To my surprise it’s Fabi and his friend Denis. Hette has been in contact with Fabi because he still hopes his parcel to arrive in Samarkand and through other travellers be brought to here, so Fabi knew of his problems. His motorbike was fixed earlier as expected and now he and Denis are here to help Hette. Within an hour they find the main problem: the fuel filter. The motor won’t run perfectly, but at least there is a possibility to reach Osh. In Osh there is the only European mechanic, who really knows about motorbikes likes ours. The last change to get the bike fixed. Hette already ordered another fuel pump to let it deliver in Osh. What a relief! I’m so happy for Hette! He has to do some work, the motor has to be put together again, but it’s running! From Fabi and Denis I hear they are leaving tomorrow as well, but will take the Northern route. I would have loved riding with them but I really want to go south.

Because I want to arrive early at the hotsprings nearby Vrang: Bibi Fatima, I leave at 08:00h. When I come down at the main road I’m stopped by the police. The road is blocked. I was aware the president is arriving this afternoon, because every night the last two weeks the citizens of Khorog are rehearsing the big welcome party and you couldn’t have missed that. I didn’t expect the road to be blocked this early in the morning though. I have to come back at 11:00 the policeman says. Hm, I’m not amused, but I’ve learned one thing: planning has no sense, it always run differently. So I ride up the hill, back to the Lodge and ask for a breakfast. At 11:00h I try again but I’m stopped again: come back at 16:00h. Now I really don’t like it any more. If I explain I only want to go to the valley, not into town, one of the policeman makes a phone call and allows me to move on. For just two kilometres I ride on the main road all by myself. Before the bridge I leave this road to head for the Wahkan Valley. Again I’m riding along the river that separates Tajikistan form Afghanistan. Because of the visit of the president and the presents of one of the few borders there is more police on the street then at other places, but still it doesn’t feel stressed. A lot different then at the other side of the country, where the Taliban is more active. Marika and I sensed that when we travelled through Pakistan four years ago on our trip form India back home. And we were not even this close to the border, some ten kilometres away from it. The landscape here again is to die for.

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I’m surprised about the absence of other travellers. I haven’t seen another car so far. Strange. After an hour I have to stop at a checkpoint. The officials are bored and therefor glad to see someone. Of course the men are always surprised when I take of my helmet and see that I’m female. There are not very many bikers here and surely not many women, for sure no women traveling on their own. It’s always a nice start for a conversation. Just a few hundred meters after the checkpoint I get that already familiar feeling: flat tire. Why do I always get flat tires when I’m alone! My tire still has some air in it so I drive back to the checkpoint. It’s a save place and shady and of course a tactical spot so near to all those testosterone bombs. It works again. I do most of the job myself and the metal bar does it’s job quit well holding up the motorbike, although I’d still prefer a centre stand. One of the officers is quit handy with changing tires and is a big help. I keep coordinating, something I do best J, I don’t want to have the same problem I had before. It has to be done right. The men are really pleased to help me so I don’t have to feel guilty.

But this is another delay. Hopefully I make it before dark. My plan is to camp at the hotsprings. The road is not that bad, but the average speed is between 40 and 50 kmh.

Around lunchtime I arrive at a village where I find a hotel and order a Lagman: a vegetable soup with noodles. Not long after my arrival I see some people coming to the restaurant as well and to my surprise it’s the Israeli with his guide and two other backpackers I met before. They are the only travellers I’ve seen so far. It’s good to know they are on the road as well. I feel somehow relieved.

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The ride to Vrang is beautiful I enjoy the scenery, but I also don’t feel sure about camping here. I cannot put my finger on it but it just doesn’t feel safe. Maybe it feels better when I’m at the hotsprings. For that I have to ride up the mountain for about eight kilometres, but first I have to get to the ‘exit’. The road is getting worse. Now the bad feeling I have isn’t because of a flat tire, it’s the sand and the structure of the surface: a washboard. I hate this. My bike slips from right to left under me, I’m standing, otherwise it’s hard to keep in control. There again is no one on the road but me, I feel a bit stressed. When I reach the road that’s going to bibi Fatima, the hotsprings I’m relieved although many others would feel the other way round. I don’t mind narrow mountain passes on rocky surface. That’s the difficulty when you ask someone about road conditions. Bad for me can be nice for someone else.

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I have high hopes to find a nice campsite for tonight, but when I arrive at the hotsprings my hopes are wiped out. No way I’m going to camp here. Some men ask me to come to their hotel but it doesn’t look that nice. For the first time I see other tourists. They confirm my suspicion. The hotel is not an option. I try the guesthouse nearby but when I see the room I have to sleep in, I directly refuse. Not because of the room, but because of the man that’s sleeping in one of the beds. He say’s to leave but I’m not going to stay in a place with only men. My only option is to ride back to the main road and go to Vrang. I’m disappointed. I wanted to camp so badly. To not have come here for nothing I decide to go to the hotsprings. It’s great. There is a separate women section and I love to take bath without swimsuit. It’s hot like the name suggests and after ten minutes I have to get out. Also the stress of riding down pushes me to leave. It’s 18:30h and getting dark within an hour.

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Back at the main road I follow my Garmin to the waypoint that should lead me to a guesthouse. And yes, it does. It looks nice, would love to stay with this family, but they ask twenty dollar for one night. That’s ridiculous so I leave. What now. Suddenly I see another biker coming towards me. It’s an American I’ve met at Pamir Lodge with his brand new German girlfriend. They are touring around and left yesterday. A good moment to ask about the road conditions on th pass I have to ride tomorrow. The answer isn’t much of a relief to me. ‘Bad’, he says, ‘the pass through the mountains is bad. This here is much better’. OMG I hate this washboard road and now it’s getting even worse. We both go our ways and luckily after five minutes I see a big green house that looks like a hotel. When I ask if I there is a room available it’s a yes. To be honest, that will be the answer everywhere you ask for a room. This time I have to accept that they are still renovating. There is cement and other building material all over the place. The room I’m offered looks nice though. It’s late, dark already and I don’t want to ride any further so I accept. I even can get something to eat at the ‘bar’ on the ground floor. The man that offered me the room calls for the owner and within a few minutes she arrives and makes me some eggs with bread. Not long after the bar is crowded with men. One of them speaks English a bit. He tells me that it’s better to park my motorbike in the container with the other building material that stands next door. With some help we manage to lift my bike in the container and we immediately make an appointment for the next morning at 07:30 to get it out again.

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When I wake up at 06:30 I suddenly see the door getting opened. The guy that offered me this room is standing in the doorway. WTF! I immediately start yelling. What is he doing there! I’m so angry I stand up and pack. Luckily there are some men to help me lifting out my bike and at 07:00 I’m on the road again. Washboard… I feel so lost, that I start crying in my helmet. There again is no one on this crappy road and the American guy said it’s even going to be worse. I made a mistake by doing this on my own…

At Langdan the pass starts. I’m scared. The only good new is: no washboard any more. And so I start the pass. So now and then a few bits of sand make it difficult but the road is great! I still am not 100% relieved. It’s very desolate; there won’t be any village in the next couple of hours. I try to calm down as far as possible and stop to take a picture. Suddenly I see a motorbike coming towards me. He’s riding in the same direction as I am. Yeahhhh! When he stops I’m even more surprised: he’s Dutch! And then he says that behind him there are seven other bikers with tow car. It’s a Dutch group traveling with a organization. I couldn’t be safer now. When I ride on I’m so relieved and so happy. What a difference! I sing in my helmet now and dancing on my bike. Later on I even meet a few travelers on a pushbike.

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The pass is stunning. I’m so glad to have done this although I’ve had my doubts. The way down is much shorter and before I know I’m on the main road from Khorog to Murghab, the Northern route. The black tarmac is a nice change for a while although I have to watch out for potholes. I know I’d soon be passing a village: Alichur, a nice time to have lunch. When I enter the village I’m overwhelmed by the views. On the bridge I have to stop and take time to make pictures. Sandy mountains, some green along the river, the white houses and blue sky. It’s amazing. Then a herd of sheep walk toward me on the bridge and later some yaks. This is my lucky day! A man and a woman are coming closer and stop beside me. They are carrying heavy bales of dried cow shit, that’s mend for fuel.

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Although the woman speaks three words of English, we mainly use sign language and some common words to have a conversation. When I ask if there is a place to eat, I immediately am invited to stay with them. I can’t say no to this lovely couple and follow them to there home. It’s small and the roof surely not waterproof. How do they manage in the winter! They are living with their two children and mother. I have to sit/lie down at the table and in no time I’m drinking tea. The woman starts preparing fish, fried like I had before. After two bites I here motorbikes coming my way. I go outside and to my surprise it’s Fabi, Basti and Denis! They get invited too and the four of us start eating this wonderful meal. I didn’t expect to see them because they took the shorter road, but they are late because they’ve lost their drone and searched for four hours for nothing. They lost it. We are all heading for Murghab although they want to ride past it.

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It’s 16:30 when we arrive in Murghab. The men have their own routine: Basti is riding ahead and pics out the places to stop to make pictures. Just ten kilometres before we stopped at a gorge. A whole film and photo shoot was set up.  I’m astounded by the way they park their bikes: very precisely in one line. So nice, I don’t take enough time for this.

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In Murghab the guys really want to move on. Their daily schedule is a bit different then mine. I love to leave early; they want to sleep longer. I want to be at a campsite or hotel before dark, they don’t mind getting in late. So here we have to say goodbye again. After a tank stop we both go our ways. I stay here in Murghab. Hopefully I will see them again. We agree on a welcoming ritual: we’ll greet each other with open arms the next time. I just love these guys. They are so nice to travel with. With them I forget I could be there mum or that I’m a woman. We are all equal.

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Opposite from the fuel station there’s a hotel but it looks expensive so I try the guesthouse around the corner first. Don’t expect Murghab to be a big city, it’s a very small village with almost no facilities. It’s even hard to have electricity here in the middle of nowhere. The guesthouse is not as cheap as I though so I’ll try the hotel. To my surprise they ask the same for one night. My choice is clear: the hotel. Here I have at least the possibility to load my batteries. In the guesthouse was no electricity. Normally no problem but the batteries of my cameras are all empty.

Arriving at the hotel I see some familiar faces: the whole Dutch group is staying here. Haven’t seen much of them during the ride. Also the Israeli with entourage are staying here. The guide runs to me and hugs me. We’ve had some nice conversations at Pamir Lodge; what a warm welcome.

For the first time in ages it gets cold at night. I even have to wear a jacket. That means a good night sleep! I want to go to Karakul Lake today and camp. It’s not far so I’m not in a hurry. After breakfast I leave Murghab. Again stunning views. But strangely I feel emotional, lost. I have to cry. How I’d love to share all the impressions with some one special. I let the emotions come over me, don’t fight them, although there is a voice inside my head telling me to not be such a wimp. The road is easy to ride so within two and a half hours I get sight of the lake. Amazing! My emotions change into happy when I see the beautiful lake. Learning my lesson I stop to make pictures. I suddenly feel so proud and strong.

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Riding toward Karakul I try to find a nice spot to camp tonight, but first I’d love to have lunch. Just before the village I see a woman walking on the road and I can see from a distance she no local. It’s the English backpacker I met In Dushanbe and Khorog. She’s traveling with the Israeli guy. It seems that they got stuck in the mud with their 4×4 and she walked to the village to get help. I offer her a ride back so that she doesn’t have to walk that far and sitting on my big black ortlieb she tells me that three guys on motorbikes brought her to the village. The Germans! And yes after dropping her nearby the 4×4 I see the three motorbikes standing in front of a ‘restaurant’. When they see me coming, they all run out and open their arms. What a way to be welcomed! They are aiming for Kirgizstan today and ask me to ride with them. This time I don’t refuse. I’m joining them to the border into Kirgistan!

 

 

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