An epic roadtrip on the Pamir Highway – part two.

Posted: 11/10/19 | October 11th, 2019

Last modified on: March 27th, 2020 at 15:27

An epic roadtrip on the Pamir Highway – part two.

Read our second blog of our epic roadtrip on the Pamir Highway. Travelling on the “Roof of the World”. In case you missed the first part:

An epic roadtrip on the Pamir Highway – part one.

 Day 6: Murghab – Bulunkul
Today the third car was gonna arrive!!! As third time is the charm we felt pretty optimistic that this new car (a proper 4×4) was gonna be our salvation.

Eventually Elyias the mechanic showed up with a proper 4×4 – a Toyota Land Cruiser. We got rid of the daddy car and our Pakistan travel companion left our fellowship. After a few big clashes we decided it would be better if he would go his own way.

Arrival of the 3rd car in Murghab.
Arrival of the 3rd car in Murghab.

Finally a proper 4x4, time to leave Murghab.
Finally a proper 4×4, time to leave Murghab.

Optimistic we set off for Bulunkul, known for being the coldest village in Central Asia. With temperatures dropping the -63 degrees Celsius in the winter. After a few hours of driving and stopping at some of the most beautiful sights we made it to Bulunkul. A small village situated next to a beautiful lake. The day was still early and we had learned about a geyser in the area we decided to go on an adventure.

Some interaction with the local yaks.
Some interaction with the local yaks.

Beautiful Pamir Highway
Beautiful Pamir Highway on our way to the Wakhan Valley.

Bulunkul village in the Pamirs.
Bulunkul village in the Pamirs.

Lake Bulunkul, in the Pamirs.
Lake Bulunkul, in the Pamirs.

Beautiful area around Bulunkul.
Beautiful area around Bulunkul.

This road took us past some of the most beautiful sights we had seen on the trip. This country is so beautiful, that words cannot explain what we saw. On the way to the geyser we saw a dog/big cat like animal run away from us. It was clearly not a dog, amazed by what we saw. Our eyes followed this creature as it ran through rivers and into the mountains. After this Steve Irwin moment we continued our way to the geyser.

Exploding Geyser close to Bulunkul.
Exploding Geyser close to Bulunkul.

On our way back we decided to look for prints of the animal we saw earlier. We found a footprint next to the river and it must have been a wolf or cat like animal. Eventually after some debating we decided that it was most likely a wolf.

We continued our way to the lake and stopped to enjoy the sunset. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

Marvelous area at Bulunkul, Pamirs.
Marvelous area at Bulunkul, Pamirs.

Marvelous sunset at Bulunkul, Pamirs.
Marvelous sunset at Bulunkul, Pamirs.

Marvelous sunset at Bulunkul, Pamirs.
Marvelous sunset at Bulunkul, Pamirs.

Marvelous sunset at Bulunkul, Pamirs.
Marvelous sunset at Bulunkul, Pamirs.

Satisfied with this beautiful day we went to our home stay and went to bed.

Arrived at Bulunkul, the coldest place in Central Asia.
Arrived at Bulunkul, the coldest place in Central Asia.

 Day 7: Bulunkul – Langar (Wakhan Valley)
Confident that our curse was broken we continued our trip on the Pamir Highway. We parked the car next to the road and as soon as we had cellphone reception so that Tom could do his job interview. After his interview he felt pretty confident that he would get the job so we decided it was time for some celebratory Vodka shots. (he later found out, that he indeed got the job).

Today was gonna be the day that we would enter the Wakhan Valley. In the Valley Tajikistan borders with a part of Afghanistan which is known as the Wakhan corridor. The Wakhan corridor was established in 1893 part of an agreement between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan. This small part of Afghanistan was suppose to act as a buffer between the Russian Empire and the British Empire. Also the Wakhan corridor is the only “safe” area to visit in Afghanistan.

Hoping that Afghanistan one day is gonna be safe again for traveling, we settle with the Wakhan Valley for now.

But before we reached the Wakhan Valley we stopped at a hiking point. From this point we started a hike up to Panorama Ridge. It took us several hours and stops since this viewpoint was at an altitude of almost 4900 meter. But it was well worth it, from here we could see all the way to China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. All going bananas because we felt on top of the world, (or was it the lack of oxygen?) we took a bunch of picture at made our way down.

Lack of oxygen at the Panorama Ridge..
Lack of oxygen at the Panorama Ridge..

At the Panorama Ridge. overlooking at China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
At the Panorama Ridge. overlooking at China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Best roadtrip crew ever. At the Panorama Ridge.
Best roadtrip crew ever. At the Panorama Ridge.

At the Panorama Ridge. overlooking at China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
At the Panorama Ridge. overlooking at China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately this euphoric feeling was short lived when we reached the car. The car had been smelling like fuel for a bit, but we couldn’t find a cause. When we came back from the hike the cause was pretty clear. The fueltank was leaking severely.

Y’all know somethings going to go to shit, right?”

Not again, haha! One of the other drivers noticed the leak and recommended a guest-house in Langar owned by a good car mechanic. Bummed out by the bad luck again we followed our way until we reached to Wakhan Valley.

Our feeling changed pretty quickly as soon as we entered the Wakhan Valley. This valley is so pretty and the idea of being so close to Afghanistan got us all excited. After a few minutes we spotted a herd of wild bactrian camels(the real ones with 2 lumps!!!)on the Afghanistan side. We stopped to take some pictures of this beautiful sight. Making us again realize how close we were to Afghanistan. We could literally swim across.

Bactrian camels in Afghanistan, just across the river.
Bactrian camels in Afghanistan, just across the river.

Afghanistan is so close in the Wakhan Valley, Afghan people just across from us.
Afghanistan is so close in the Wakhan Valley, Afghan people just across from us.

Local herders in the Wakhan Valley.
Local herders with their animals in the Wakhan Valley.

Local herders with their animals in the Wakhan Valley.
Local herders with their animals in the Wakhan Valley.

It took us a few hours driving through this paradise until we reached Langar. Stopped along the way to take some beautiful pictures.

Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan is just a rock throw away!
Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan is just a stone’s throw away!

Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan is just a stone's throw away!
Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan is just a stone’s throw away!

Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan is on the left of the river.
Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan is just a stone’s throw away!

Driver and co-driver at the Pamir Highway.
Driver and co-driver for the day.

In Langar we found the guest-house recommended by the driver and talked to the mechanic. He could do a quick temporary fix on the fuel tank so we could continue our trip the day after. After fixing and serving dinner to all of the guests, this hard working guy fixed our car!

Local mechanic fixing the 3rd car.
Local mechanic fixing the 3rd car in Langar.

A good reminder of how there is a solution to everything.

 Day 8: Langar – Ishkoshim
Today was gonna be a busy day since there were gonna be a lot of stops on the way to Ishkoshim. Since it was Friday today we wanted to reach Ishkoshim so we could hopefully go the to Afghan market between the borders of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Which should be every Saturday.

Gasstation in the Wakhan Valley.
Gasstation in the Wakhan Valley.

Our first stop were the ruins of an old fortress on the edge of the Valley. We made our way half way up while Elisa and I stopped. Tom and Haig continued their way up.

View from the fortress in the Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan on the other side of the river.
View from the fortress in the Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan on the other side of the river.

View from the fortress in the Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan on the other side of the river.
View from the fortress in the Wakhan Valley, Afghanistan on the other side of the river.

Local village in the Wakhan Valley.
Local village in the Wakhan Valley.

Marco Polo sheep skulls in the Wakhan Valley.
Marco Polo sheep skulls in the Wakhan Valley.

Next stop were the Shirgin hotsprings located next to the river. A friendly old man tried to separate Elisa and the boys but after some talking he turned a very firm no into a “yes of course”. So we all went into the hotspring. Time to soak of all the dust and sand we collected over the past week. There was no one else there so we had the hotspring for ourselves.

Shirgin hot springs in the Wakhan Valley.
Shirgin hot springs in the Wakhan Valley.

Shirgin hot springs in the Wakhan Valley.
Shirgin hot springs in the Wakhan Valley.

Shirgin hot springs in the Wakhan Valley.
Shirgin hot springs in the Wakhan Valley.

The third stop of the day were the remains of the Yamchun fortress. An ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley, dating back to the 10-12th century era. Overlooking the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.

At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.
At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.

At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.
At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.

At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.
At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.

At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.
At the Yamchun fortress, an ancient silkroad outpost in the Wakhan Valley.

On maps.me we noticed a point of interest called sand. Unsurprisingly it was sand, but the variation in landscape is amazing.

Sand dunes Wakhan Valley.
Sand dunes Wakhan Valley.

Sand dunes Wakhan Valley.
Sand dunes Wakhan Valley.

We had one more stop to go before reaching Ishkoshim: The freaky hike. We heard about a hiking trail taking you up to some sketchy ledges and into a beautiful valley. We follwed the trail into the valley only to find out the trail stopped. Tom found another trail up a straight rockwall and flew up there way to easy. The rest of us following only to find out that this wall of death was almost gonna kill us. Slipping and sliding we made it up the mountain and catched our breath.

Start of the freaky hike.
Start of the freaky hike.

Since we got there quite late we decided that we should head back and make our way to Ishkoshim.

Wakhan Valley on the road to Iskoshim.
Wakhan Valley on the road to Ishkoshim.

Wakhan Valley on the road to Ishkoshim.
Wakhan Valley on the road to Ishkoshim.

Unfortunately we found out the Afghan market had been closed a few years ago due to Taliban snipers attacking the market. So far for the Wakhan Corridor being “safe”.

 Day 9: Ishkoshim – Khorog
Apparently there is another Afghan bazar being held in Khorog. So we got up at 5:30 and took off to Khorog since this was another 3 hour drive and the market starts at 09:00.

Afghan border at Ishkoshim. So close...
Afghan border at Ishkoshim. So close…

This bazaar is a bit different since it is being held in Tajikistan, the Afghan people cross the border for this market. Selling their local products. Hoping to find some rare and unique items from Afghanistan we headed for the market. Only to find out most products were just everyday needed products. But still it was an experience. Never had I though being so close to Afghanistan and meeting Afghanistan people. A country only being in the news because of war and terrorism. You create a certain image of the country and its people. But again 99% of them are just ordinary people living ordinary lives.

Afghan border market at Khorog.
Afghan border market at Khorog.

Afghan border market at Khorog.
Afghan border market at Khorog.

Afghan border market at Khorog.
Afghan border market at Khorog.

After the market we headed out into Khorog to experience start our culinary tour of Khorog, starting with Mac Dolands:

Mac Dolands in Khorog.
Mac Dolands in Khorog.

A Big Mac at Mac Dolands in Khorog. Tastes the way it looks.
A Big Mac at Mac Dolands in Khorog. Tastes the way it looks.

This was horrible, the food tasted as bad as it looked. But we had to give it a shot. Time to head to the hostel. We found a very nice hostel surrounded by trees and relaxed for the rest of the day. Our next culinary adventure was the local KFC: Khorog Fried Chicken. Unfortunately this experience was similar to the Mac Dolands and disappointed and weirded out we headed back to the Hostel.

A KFC in Khorog. Khorog Fried Chicken.
A KFC in Khorog. Khorog Fried Chicken.

A KFC in Khorog. Khorog Fried Chicken.
A KFC in Khorog. Khorog Fried Chicken. Some big chickens.

 Day 10: Khorog
We had some spare time before we had to hand in the car in Dushanbe so we decided to stay an extra day in Khorog. Taking it easy today and visited some local things and places. Roamed around the local botanical garden. Supposedly it is the second highest botanical garden in the world.

View of Khorog from the botanical garden.
View of Khorog from the botanical garden.

Mulberry tree at the botanical garden in Khorog. (This is the only food silkworms eat).
Mulberry tree at the botanical garden in Khorog. (This is the only food silkworms eat).

Giant dog at the hostel in Khorog.
Giant dog at the hostel in Khorog.

Today was Formula 1 day. Feeling pretty optimistic since there is a Formula 1 cafe in town. Hoping they would show it live on TV. But the cafe was completely empty. So I watched it with a horrible internet connection at the hostel. 

Formula 1 cafe in Khorog.
Formula 1 cafe in Khorog.

Later that evening we enjoyed some homemade pizza in the hostel.

 Day 11: Khorog – Jizew Valley
Time to leave Khorog and slowly make our way to Dushanbe. Our last stop on the Pamir Highway would be the Jizew Valley, located in the Bartang Valley. The plan was to spend the night in the village of Jizew. Which can only be reached via an 2 hour walk up the valley.

On our way to Jizew we started smelling fuel again…. OH-OH….. But this time it was one of the jerry cans in the back that started leaking. We poured the remaining fuel in the tank of the car and this issue was quickly fixed.

We reached the suspension bridge and got our stuff from the car and started the hike up to Jizew. Apparently the homemade pizza was not that good since all of us had stomach issues. Combining this with a blistering hot sun it took us almost 3 hours to cover the 7km to the village.

Suspension bridge to the Jizew Valley.
Suspension bridge to the Jizew Valley.

Suspension bridge to the Jizew Valley.
Suspension bridge to the Jizew Valley.

But when we got there we felt like we were in paradise. After the 3 hour walk through a barren landscape all of a sudden this green pasture appeared. A few houses, goats, chickens and people call this their home. It was truly stunning. Amazed by this hidden gem we sat down, drank some more chai and enjoyed our surroundings.

Into the Jizew Valley.
Into the Jizew Valley.

Into the Jizew Valley.
Into the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.
At Jizew village, in the Jizew Valley.

That evening we laid in the grass enjoying the show of the stars and the good company.

 Day 12: Jizew – Qalaikhumb
Time to leave paradise. We headed down to the car and made our way to Qalaikhumb the place where we would spend the night before reaching Dushanbe.

In the Bartang Valley, reunited with our car after a night in the Jizew Valley.
In the Bartang Valley, reunited with our car after a night in the Jizew Valley.

The roads were bad, so it took us most of the day covering the 200km to Qalaikhumb. But the scenery was once again beautiful. Like in any village we passed in the Wakhan Valley, kids and people waved at us constantly. Kids coming up to the car, the constant hello, hello, hello of the kids in the villages instantly put us in a good mood.
The people in the Pamirs are extremely friendly and hospitable. The constant happiness of people by seeing and talking to us is something we will never get tired off.

Pamir Highway selfie.
Pamir Highway selfie.

Beautiful surroundings on the Pamir Highway.
Beautiful surroundings on the Pamir Highway.

A few local kids herding their goats.
A few local kids herding their goats.

A last look at Afghanistan just across the river.
A last look at Afghanistan just across the river.

 Day 13: Calaikhum – Dushanbe
From Cailakhum it was another 350km drive towards Dushanbe. We left bright and early since we wanted to get there in time. Luckily this part of the trip was fairly easy and simple. Made it to Dushanbe in under 6 hours and once again met with Elyias the mechanic who was gonna fix the car in Dushanbe.

Gates of Dushanbe, we made it!
Gates of Dushanbe, we made it!

Since the gastank started leaking again we were happy we made it to Dushanbe alive. For the past two weeks of noodles, plov and soups we’ve been fantasizing about a nice steak. So we found a proper steakhouse in Dushanbe and celebrated our epic roadtrip.

The end; enjoying a good steak in Dushanbe.
The end; enjoying a good steak in Dushanbe.

The end; enjoying a good steak in Dushanbe.
The end; enjoying a good steak in Dushanbe.

What an adventure!!! Exhausted, covered in sweat and dust we made it to Dushanbe. In our opinion this trip is something everything with a need for adventure should do. The beautiful nature, extremely friendly people and the raw adventure on this trip makes you feel like a true explorer. 

PS: we rented the car from Oybek, recommended by Caravanistan. The cars are clearly poorly maintained and not suited for the hard and raw adventure they are advertised for. Also he tried to make us pay way more then is being advertised. Be advised!

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