Kargush Pass to Wakhan Corridor

A plant growing in this desert region.

The Wakhan Corridor is a finger of Afghanistan which projects NE separating India and Pakistan from Tajikistan.

2009/06/14: Mamazir 49 km
We set out from Murghab at midday, after errands and lunch in the bazaar. We were soon surprised to see a group of runners, one with a large Tajik flag, ahead of us through the snowstorm. It turned out they were the Tajik marathon team, training at altitude! That night took us to a tiny farmstead homestay. The stove in the bunk house used for guests would not stay lit, so we were invited to move in with the family where I did my (now standard) language-free trick of making paper birds for the shy four year old.

Tajik marathon team training in a snow storm
Marathoners with Tajik flag

2009/6/15: Alichur 61 km
We rode to Alichur and asked for the recommended English teacher’s homestay. Rahima was pleasant enough, but when we asked what we owed in the morning, she said coyly “You pay what you want.” When we produced what we felt was in line with other homestays, she claimed the other guests (a french couple we will check facts with) had paid more. Very un-businesslike. Stay at the other homestay in Alichur! The town’s communal toilet would make even the staunchest third world traveller’s stomach churn.

Just before Alichur, we had met a Dutch couple who told us that Vancouver cyclist, Gregg, was a day behind. To our consternation, they also told us of being held up at gunpoint by a patrol of soldiers while travelling with Gregg on the southern route from Dushanbe to Kalaikhum, the standard northern route being closed. For the most part, they had managed to smile and wave while passing foot patrols, but one patrol stopped them as they crossed a washout. When they said nyet to the initial request for money, the soldiers engaged their weapons and pointed them at the cyclists till their wallets opened and a few bills each were handed over. This, added to the many stories of a corrupt military we’d already heard, raised my concerns about our proposed route over the Kargush Pass, past a military checkpost and through the heavily patrolled Wakhan Corridor.

Chris, Gregg, and Margo outside tearoom/homestay in Alichur

2009/06/16: Camp SW of of Kargush 67 km, Kargush Pass 4,300 m
The morning we were to leave Alichur, we spotted Gregg who had camped nearby. We chatted over tea –at the OTHER homestay– for over an hour, making a rather late departure for a long day.

We slogged up rocky, steep, and twisting Kargush Pass into the evening and through a snowstorm. I skidded on sand and snow and fell during the descent. We passed the Kargush checkpost uneventfully. The young lads were businesslike with our passports, and one even laid his weapon down to to gently help Chris do up his collar as we added more layers for an evening ride into the sleet. We camped beside the road about 12 km past Kargush, out of sight of the military watchtower. The road is a sandy, rocky track here, and we average 78 kmh. No cars passed us that cold, windy night. Only a few pass this way each day.

2009/06/17: Summer Pasture Camp 33 km
The next day was tough riding – not new – and even though we were following the Pamir River downstream, we walked our bikes often. At times we were beside the Pamir, and could have waded across to Afghanistan. At other times, we rode high above the river as it flowed through a deep, dry canyon. On the Afghan side, we could see a trail that followed the contour above the steepest gulches. We watched a horse train and several camel trains move upstream along it.

This Tajik lady stopped job of milking cows to pose for this picture.

As we rode around a side valley that was a splash of green within the brown, a couple from the farm building below us walked up the steep slope to invite us to stay. They mentioned gastinitska – guesthouse-  so we knew we’d be allowed to pay them for food. We set up our palatka –tent– on a flat area part way down to the farm, and went to their simple dwelling where we were served tea, bread, milk, yoghurt, and macaroni. Two families spend four months of the year here. The valley provides summer pasture for 100 cows, as well as sheep and goats. We were lower now, and no longer saw yaks.

2009/06/18: Lyangar 29 km
At the farmer’s suggestion, he brought breakfast to our tent at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. This consisted of a kettle of tea, with the tea bowls, bread and butter produced out of a recycled potting soil bag. The night had been pleasantly warm, and we drank tea looking across to the sharp edge of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan.

The Hindu Kush range dominates the view on the final day down to Lyangar.

Our last day in the Pamir Valley was tough and slow again. We clung to our brakes as we picked our way down loose, rocky switchbacks. There are no permanent dwellings here except for the miltary post at Kargush. We met a few herders, and we talked to three boys moving up the valley with donkeys. They couldn’t have been more than twelve, yet they were travelling to Kargush, they said, a four day journey on their own. They had a palatka, and the donkeys appeared to be carrying their provisions.

I have qualms about handing out souvenirs as if feeding pigeons. It makes me feel like a pseudo-generous first world brat, and we worry it contributes to a beg-from-tourisky attitude. Yet somehow, after chatting about journeys to these enterprising and cheerful boys in ragged clothing, I felt moved to give them small Canadian flag pins. They seemed genuinely pleased, and one said spasiba balshoy – big thank you – as he grinned broadly.

Typical Pamiri skylight – the four squares represent earth, fire, wind and water.
Margo cycles down the valley; note two camel trains across valley in Afghanistan.

The last switchbacks brought us down into Lyangar at the confluence of the Pamir and Wakhan Rivers. They join here to form the broad and braided Pyanj. Lyangar is suddenly lush and green, and we could hear a rushing stream from our homestay. We’d descended from high desert to an oasis. We had also come from areas that are ethnically Kyrgyz to an area of Tajiks, who proudly and specifically identify themselves as Pamiri. Our homestay host proudly showed us his Pamiri doma – Pamiri house – with its skylight set into a dome created by offset wooden beams, and its tandoor – oven.


Moving down the valley
Margo tops Kargush pass in a snowstorm.
Margo coming up Kargush pass; rain storm threatens from behind.
Pamiri woman next to the oven (tandoor) in the house.


3 responses to “Kargush Pass to Wakhan Corridor

  1. Pingback: Images Added « candmwanderings

  2. You guys are so inspiring. Thank you for putting the time into your blog, all the information, appearing on CBC, helping others to dream…. and, maybe, a bit more.

    • Hi Stephen,
      Thanks for your kind words! We’re especially glad if we can inspire others to set out, or to help them realize it’s possible. Our take is that its a lot more about getting and staying organized than about being a high performance athlete… because we’re certainly not. We hope you get to scratch your itchy feet.
      Margo and Chris

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