An epic roadtrip on the Pamir Highway – part one.
The Pamir Highway is the second highest “highway” in the world, with the highest crossing at an altitude of 4600meters. The Pamir region is a giant mountainous also reffered to as the Roof of the world. Due to it’s high altitude. The Pamir region covers a big part of modern day Tajikistan and borders with Kyrgyzstan, China and Afghanistan.
As we started planning our trip around the world we had a few big things that we wanted to do. The transsiberian Express, Pamir Highway, Base camp hiking in Nepal, etc… Now it was time for the Pamir Highway.
Originally our plan was to rent a 4×4 including driver, team up with some other travelers and start this epic road trip. Since we had the time, it seemed much nicer to rent a 4×4 without a driver and do it ourselves. Having the freedom to do some additional hiking and go where ever we wanted and whenever we wanted. Since we met Haig in Moscow we had the same plan of doing the Pamir Highway, so we needed to find two more people. Luckily Caravanistan has a Pamir Highway rideshare forum, within a few days we found two people wanting to join us. Tom from Australia and a guy from Pakistan.
In the meanwhile I had sorted out the car rental through a party recommended by Caravanistan as well. So it must be good (right??).
We gathered in a Hostel in Osh, checked out the rental car, did groceries and got ready for the trip. The night before an older American guy came into our dorm asking us “kids” if we were ready for our trip. And gave us a wise caution:
“Y’all know somethings going to go to shit, right?”
Laughing at his wise words it was time to go to bed.
Day 1: Osh – Lenin Peak Base Camp – Sary Mogul
First day, we left bright and early and set of for Sary Mogul. A village close to the border of Tajikistan and to visit the Lenin Peak basecamp.
The first 200km towards Sary Mogul were fairly easy as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. From Sary Mogul it was about a 1,5 hour off road drive to the basecamp. YEAH, offroading, let the adventure begin. Since it was late in the season the basecamp was empty and there was no accommodation for us to sleep in. We marveled at the beautiful Lenin Peak (7134 meters). Apparently it is the easiest 7000 meter climb in the world. But comparing it to the easiest marathon in the world, makes you realize there is no such thing as easy when going up that high.
Since we had to get back to Sary Mogul for the night. We made our way back to a weather station we saw on the way and walked around a beautiful canyon nearby.
We found a homestay in Sary Mogul and went for a walk. WOW all the kids came out of their houses greeting us, waving at us and even one little girl came over to hug everyone. Another great example of the hospitality in central Asia.
Day 2: Sary Mogul – Sary Tash
After a warm breakfast it was time to go to Tajikistan, today we had planned to cross the border and start the Pamir Highway. But 500 meter after leaving Sary Mogul, Elisa noticed the car did not have any power and eventually leading into the car stalling. After trying to find out what was wrong we couldn’t get to car to run. Eventually finding out the fuel pump broke down. So the only option was to wait on a mechanic. In case the car wasn’t OK he would have a 2nd car for us to take.
We knew it was gonna be a long day and since we had no other option we decided this was gonna be our day off. Watched some movies, drank some beer and enjoying the beautiful views surrounding us. While thinking back at the wise words of the old man at the hostel in Osh.
Not a bad day after all, since we were in good company. Oh and our Pakistan travel companion bailed on us since he needed to post some cards. He decided he would let us deal with all the trouble while he went to Sary Tash and do whatever he needed to do.
After waiting 9 hours next to the road the mechanic, Elyias (not the last time we would see him) showed up with a new fuel pump. Unfortunately this cheap Chinese replacement pump wasn’t working properly, meaning we had to get into the replacement car.
Being a bit disappointed by this small daddy family car we drove to to Sary Tash and found a guest-house for the night. After all we where suppose to take a big ass 4×4 into the mountains.
Day 3: Sary Tash – Karakul (Tajikistan)
Time for the second attempted of making it into Tajikistan. We left bright and early and set off for the mountains. After exiting Kyrgyzstan we were driving in no mans land!
Before we would get at the Tajikistan border crossing we would first cross a beautiful pass at 4282m. Apparently you could do some nice hiking here.
We stopped at the iconic Marco Polo Sheep statue and went for a nice climb up to a view point overlooking the valleys. Struggling to get up there was a nice reminder of the altitude.
After marveling at this beautiful sight we headed back down. Only to find out our Pakistan travel companion was nowhere to be found. Since the border of Tajikistan was only a few kilometers away we figured he must have gone there. Later we found out he not only went there but also crossed the border already. So far for being a team player…..
The border crossing was old school bureaucracy and lots of paperwork. The officers wrote our name and passport info on several sheets of paper and after about an hour we were allowed to enter. Excited to have entered yet another country and being surrounded by beautiful mountains we drove to the destination for the evening: Karakul. A small village next to a beautiful lake in the mountains at an altitude of 3960 meters.
We found a homestay in this cozy little village and went for a walk to the lake and the military base next to the village. Supposedly there is an abandoned tank next to the base worth checking out.
Before we reached the tank a friendly soldier walked up to us telling us that a sniper was watching us and we advising us to turn around. We sneaked a few pictures and walked back to the village, headed back to the guesthouse were we enjoyed a homemade dinner and went to bed.
While lying in bed we all felt the altitude; having a high heart rate and trouble breathing…..
Day 4: Karakul – Murghab
After breakfast we left for Murghab. But 30km after Karakul everything went to shit again (the old man jinxed us). The roads were bad and the asphalt was cracked, in one of the cracks a sharp rock was jammed. Unfortunately we didn’t see this and hit the rock with both right tires. Immediately slashing giant holes in both tires, we were stranded once gain.
Since we only had one spare tire we knew we were in for an adventure. Situation: we were standing in an open windy valley, the closest village being 30km away. Murghab was still another 100km away, but since Murghab was the only big town in the area that was gonna be our best bet.
We decided to change one tire so we could hitchhike to Murghab with one tire. An hour passed and no cars passed us in the direction of Murghab. Eventually Tom and Elisa decided to hitch a ride back to Karakul (since there was only traffic going that way) and check for info there. While Haig and I waited and waited and waited.
Another hour passed and a car showed up with Elisa. The car had some more familiar faces, the people in the car were the same people we met in Bishkek and watched formula 1 with. They would take me and the wheel to Murghab so we could find a solution there. Tom still being in Karakul since the car had no space for two people, it took him another 4 hours to get back to the car. I jumped in the front seat together with Justin a guy from Australia, since all the seats were occupied.
While driving to Murghab a load of thoughts crossed my mind: where are gonna find a new tire? How do I get back? How do I let them know what is going on(since there was no reception anywhere)? But since I had no answers I could only enjoy the beautiful views and the nice companion of our heroes. The views where beautiful though. Today was also the day that we would cross the 4600meter pass, luckily I could pass it 3 times this day!
Ofcourse the group taking me took a few stops to marvel at the beautiful scenery. Aparently the 4600meter pass is the best spot to see Marco Polo sheep. Unfortunately we didn’t see any. We did however see a perfectly intact skull.
The ride to Murghab took about 3 hours, luckily their driver spoke English and Russian so he could help me out. But all the taxi drivers he spoke to in Murghab were not planning to drive back to Karakul until the day after. (Dammit, the idea of letting my friends sleep in a car in the middle of nowhere was really bumming me out). Reluctant to give up we tried some more people and eventually found a taxi driver who was willing to take me to a repair shop and drive me back to the car. YESSS, first step done.
He dropped me of at the local tire repair shop and drove of, so he could drop of his last passengers in the area. The repair shop was closed, but I had nowhere to go so I waited about half an hour before a mechanic showed up. He looked at the tire and made a cross with his arms, meaning this tire was done. Something I knew already but hoping he would have some magical MacGyver solution I kept asking him.
He walked of for a bit and started searching in a pile of trash. Eventually he found a tire that seemed to be the right size. Pfieeew, I quickly glanced at the tire and knew that back in the Netherlands this was nothing more then a piece of trash. But hey if it meant we could drive the car to Murghab it was gonna work.
Tire got replaced, taxi driver showed up and we were back on our way to the car. (Another 2-3 hour drive). The driver stopped half way and started working on his car (OH-OH). Luckily he only had to fill up the coolant and we were good to go. About half an hour before we reached to car the taxi driver started to get cranky, he clearly did not put enough diesel in his car to make to return trip so he started to blame me for this and demanding more money. Told him we would deal with it once we reached the car(never spoke of it again).
Eventually at 19:00 in the evening I made it back to the car! After this happy reunion (remember I had been gonna for 6-7 hours and had no communication in between). We fitted the tire in no time and set of for Murghab once again. Unfortunately the trouble didn’t stop there, after 30km the rear suspension gave up and one of the tires was hitting the body of the car. Completely done with this unsuited daddy car we kept pushing for Murghab going 30kmh.
We made it! Time for a hot shower and a bed. What an adventure, despite of all the trouble. This is why we travel, the unexpected, the adventure……. it always works out.
Day 5: Murghab
Since there was no wifi available anywhere. The only option the reach the rental copy was to buy a local sim card. We couldn’t continue in the second car so we needed a solution. He arranged the third car which was still in the workshop. Promising it would be there in the morning.
Since all of us felt a bit sick, probably a combination of food and altitude. We didn’t mind the day off and spend the day being lazy. Explored the town and a nearby valley for a bit.
The best is yet to come! This was the first part of our Pamir Highway adventure, read the second part:
Btw: if you ever want to travel the silkroad travel out www.caravanistan.com! The best website filled with all possible information needed to travel on the silkroad.