With a car full of supplies Daniel, Ed, and I headed Eastwards, in the direction of Khorog via the south route. We heard there was a bridge down so this was the safest option. After about 220 KM, well into the foothills of the Pamirs there was a small road to the right which we decided to explore. A few kilometers in there was a nice patch of straight grass to set up a decent camp. We drank some of the vodka and juice that we brought and headed in for the night. The morning was a bit strange. A local came to have a look while his herd of cows was grazing near our camp. He spoke a little English and was keen to practice it while we were waking up, preparing our breakfast. When we decided to take it slow and do some reading, he decided to just stick around and watch us read. When another guy came to have a look, and invited us to check out his village, we packed up and followed him through the fields to his place. What he meant was that we could set up camp near his house, while we had planned to move on. So we thanked him and drove back to the road where, a few kilometers in, we got stuck in a traffic jam due to road repairs. After an hour or so we continued for 190 km past Qual’ai Khumb, stopping on a few nice spots on the way. iOverlander showed a bivouac spot near the border of Afghanistan, between the river and the road. A beautiful spot with a pretty nice view of a small village on the other side of the canyon with a snowy mountain peak behind it.
We washed ourselves in the river downhill from the bivouac, cleared the camp and went for the next iOverlander spot. On the way we encountered Afghani road workers on the other side of the river. They waved us and we waved back, not having figured out that they were warning us for something. So while we were standing there, after watching them run aside, an explosive detonated and debris was flung all across the river, nearly hitting the other side. Slightly shocked and psyched we drove over a rubble filled road, further towards the next bivouac, which turned out to be quite amazing. Meanwhile the road was slowly becoming the rocky path we were expecting it to become.
Just when we had set up our camp at the bivouac and were cooking a meal, 3 soldiers walked by and let us know that we were not allowed to camp there due to the border being close by. We were told to camp 1 km down the road. After some protest we packed up and went to the place they told us to go to, which turned out to be kind of similar. Just not as beautiful. That night we turned in quite early. Close to our camp there was a hot spring that we decided to visit. It was a big block of calcium with hot water coming out the top, with a bunch of guys with skin problems sitting under it. The water was quite hot and the people were nice. There were a couple of guesthouses and hotels nearby so I guess the whole village was set up as a spa. In a tiny shop nearby we asked for some of the tongue tobacco that we saw a lot of people use. We found the next camp on the side of the road, where clearly a bunch of soldiers had been staking out because the whole place was filed with old cans and had a good view of the other side of the river. That evening we got kind of spooked by tiny eyes that lit up in our flashlights. They turned out to be huge spiders. Very comforting
The road got more and more amazing. Epic valley after epic valley kept turning up after every corner. When we saw a small pool on the side of the road we stopped to check it out. It was warm! So we decided to take a bath with an epic view. After the bath we drove into the river bedding to find a camp. We found a spot but because a firm wind was blowing, we got a lot of dust in our face. Combining the dust with trying some of (too much of) the tobacco we bought the day before, we didn’t have such a great time. But soon we saw a patch of fresh grass right next to the spot we chose first and reparked the car. This site was totally great and out of sight from the road and Afghanistan. That evening we went back to the hot spring next to the road to drink vodka.
The Wakan valley is just one awesome place after the other. For the coming night we decided to go to a homestay. We read somewhere that there was a good one near the Yamchun fort and Bibi Fatima hot spring, near the tiny village Vichkut (:P). So after a 140 km drive and a visit to an ancient mud fortress we arrived at the homestay. The owner speaks good English and the place looked very cosy. Also he just bought a new Pajero with an automatic which he wanted to test out. So he brought us to the Bibi Fatima hot spring as a test ride. This hot spring is scolding hot and properly smells like eggs.
After the homestay everything just became more and more epic. Higher mountains around, thinner air and more brutal roads on the way to Kharghush pass, which is at 4280 meters. We found another bivouac with a spectacular view. It was an amazingly smelly place with lots of cows passing by that wanted to pay some last respects to a dead calf near us. Just some skin and 2 front legs were left, but they were all flipping out about it. Tuna pasta and vodka mix night at 3800 meters! Not such a great idea. At these heights you get drunk quite quickly and the body reacts. Nothing too severe but lets just say there was a lot of waking up during the night.
The next day it was time to drive to the Kharghush pass. We drove by an old stake out tower which Ed and I climbed. It was quite rusty and there was wind too. Quite scary stuff, but with a nice view. Before the pass we had to pass a checkpoint where we met A bunch of Belgian cyclists. They had been on the road for a few months and were going through Tadjikistan and Kyrgyzstan back home again. Behind the checkpoint we also met with Tara from Canada and Sophie from New Zealand. They had been biking together for some time and were also getting ready to drive over the pass. So we decided to offer everyone some tea and vodka, and some shelter for the rain We had a nice little pre-pass party.
To be honest, the pass itself is not that impressive. Just a reasonably ok road at a high plane. But the surroundings are nicely barren with a few beautiful high lakes around.
After the pass we ended up in Alichur where we had some lunch in a local fish place. The food was tasty but had quite a lot of bones. Still pretty great for fish from about 4000 meters height. We decided to drive a little further to find a nice camping spot in the mountains. After some driving we turned left and headed into the hills. We found a beautiful spot at 4200 meters height where we stayed for two days and nights. We hiked and chilled out for a bit. The nights were freezing and snow fell once in a while. A real good remote spot.
We drove off from our super high camping spot towards Murgab, the largest town in the surroundings and center of east Tajikistan and a hub for overlanders. It was about 75 kilometers of good road so we arrived after little time.