Roadtrip on the Pamir Highway
Pamir Highway once belonged to the Silk Road's network of caravan routes. The road starts in Osh in Kyrgyzstan, continues to Khorugh and on towards Dushanbe in Tajikistan.
Pamir Highway got its name when the road was expanded for car transport, but it is none
highway in the Western sense. The carriageway is only partially paved and may risk being severely damaged in places with earthquakes, landslides and avalanches. In return, it is one of the most spectacular mountain routes in the world.
The Pamir Mountains are one of the many mountain areas that boast the title
World Tag. This is not without reason, as here are some of the highest peaks outside the Himalayas - among others the mountains with the cool names: Pik Kommunizma (7495 m) and Pik Lenin (7134 m).
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Through raw and rugged mountains at the start of the Pamir Highway
As we approached the border, the green and lush Kyrgyz mountains were replaced by mountain landscapes. Not only are they much taller, but also more rugged, dry, bare and raw. The highest point on the mountain route is the Ak-Baital pass in 4655 m., Where I broke my own altitude record.
Our first stop in Tajikistan was in the village of Karakul, located on a mountain lake of the same name. From here there was a view of a barbed wire fence against a large empty no man's land. On the other side of the vast mountainous no-man's land lies the distant Chinese province of Xinjiang.
It is quite clear that the raw nature has had a spillover on the architecture. The houses no longer looked like small colorful farmhouses with wooden shutters for the windows. On the other hand, it was dilapidated whitewashed houses with lots of peeling that characterized the not so idyllic village image.
Cheap flights to Kyrgyzstan are available here Poor and rugged nook in Karakul
It all seemed raw and harsh like the surrounding nature in one of the most remote and isolated places in the world. The villagers of Karakul know well where the grocery store is located. It was almost empty, so there is no need for billboards. All the doors to the houses were closed, so only after some time of searching did they manage to find a small grocery store with an extremely limited selection of items on the shelves.
Sweets, lollipops, sodas, biscuits and chocolate bars were a small selection in the shop. Most had long since exceeded the last sale date. Other practical items such as children's clothing, hairbrush, elastics and SIM cards for mobile phones were also available in the store. But ordinary foods - and in particular fruit and vegetables - should be looked for a long time.
However, the world's relief organizations have found their way to this lye-poor corner and are capable of delivering food and well drilling so that villagers can cope with the most basic survival.
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It is a harsh place and especially in winter when the temperatures reach down around -40 degrees and the mountain passes are closed. The place is sometimes totally cut off from the rest of the world. The people who are born and raised in these remote nooks and crannies get some hardness in with breast milk. It is and will be one of the places in the world where only strong men and women are able to survive.
The trip through the Pamir Mountains was stunningly beautiful with expansive glaciers and towering mountain peaks. They are intersected by deep narrow valleys with rivers and streams in unimaginably deserted terrain. Further down the Pamir Highway, where the road turns off towards the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan, the Hindu Kush mountain range tumbles in from Pakistan with even more high and spectacular mountains.
We made a stop at our first glimpse of the river
Pjandzj, which forms the border of the narrow Afghan Wakhan corridor with Pakistan on one side and Tajikistan on the other.
Travel deals: Road trip in Tajikistan, Afghanistan & Kyrgyzstan A little piece in the game about power
The Wakhan Corridor is a small piece of mountainous land that was once assigned to Afghanistan as a small piece in a great power game between
Russia og United Kingdom. A game of power that has been called The Great Game, and which in fact was the first Cold War between East and West. All the ingredients for a Cold War were present. There were spies and counter-spies, puppet states, and doomsday-prophesying governments putting smokescreens out for their own shady affairs. The only thing missing was the little red button that could trigger a nuclear war.
Russia annexed the territory of Tajikistan, expanding its territory all the way up to the crown jewel of the British Empire,
India . To avoid a common border, the Wakhan Corridor was assigned to Afghanistan in 1895. It actually remained a huge no-man's land and buffer between the two great powers.
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After getting our first glimpse of Afghanistan on the other side of the river, we were ready to drive on. The road continues along the Pyanj River, and in between we could spot a couple of wild camels grazing on the opposite side of the bank in Afghanistan. The landscape in the valley is far more lush than the landscape we passed through the higher Pamir Mountains. Along the road, lots of poplar trees have been planted with agricultural fields behind.
We stopped at a mechanic in the village of Vrang, when Tourot should have patched his car tire and pumped a little more air into the spare wheel after the first puncture of the trip. That took a while. Instead of sitting and waiting, Tourot suggested we could go to to see an old historic
Buddha- stupa a little further down the Pamir Highway.
However, we never quite reached the Buddha stupa before a man waved us in to visit him and see his house. Safar's house was a typical Pamir house, decorated according to the Shiite faith,
ismaili. The constructions are therefore filled with symbolism.
The central space of the house was a large columned space with swollen areas around all four walls. There were no windows, but the room was illuminated through a central skylight, which is called a
The skylight was located in the center of four concentric squares in the ceiling representing the elements earth, air, fire and water. There was no furniture in the room, but rather lots of rugs and mattresses along the walls. Not only practical but also colorful and decorative. In the evening, the mattresses are rolled out, and the family beds are thus made.
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Visiting a Taliban commander
Before we looked around the house, Safar's daughter came in with a tray of tea and the obligatory bowl of nuts, sweets and candies. When Safar heard that both Ian and Sadaf were engineers, his face lit up.
“My daughter also wants to be an engineer. You have to see the school project that she has done in the physics lessons ", he said and asked the daughter to find out. She then came trailing with an apparatus made of cardboard boxes, a few wires, wooden sticks, small pieces of garden hose and a few old plastic cans and bottles.
"It's a hydroelectric power plant," he said proudly, adding a car battery. When that didn’t work, he replaced it with one from his old rusty Lada that kept parked in the driveway. It worked, and so did the small interim hydropower plant, after some of the parts were slightly adjusted.
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A local actor
Safar then found a photo album and showed us a lot of pictures from a movie shoot.
"I once had a big role in a French film about the Taliban, where I played the evil Taliban commander," he said. In the pictures we could see that he with a big black beard and turban looked quite convincing and looked like a princely Afghan warrior.
"Did you have many lines?" I asked.
"Yes, I should learn to say them in French, but I had no idea what the words meant!" Safar replied grinning.
Safar also showed pictures of his family and his seven children. The two eldest sons are in military service and his eldest daughters are studying in the capital Dushanbe. The three youngest children still live at home and go to school in the village. It was incredibly nice to visit Safar, and time flew by, so suddenly we had to hurry back before Tourot became worried about where the heck we got off so we could move on to our journey on the Pamir Highway
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We just reached Ishkashim before the Saturday market closed. When the Afghan Wakhan Corridor was formed, the few villages and nomads who happened to be staying in the corridor were totally isolated and squeezed inside the mountains. This is how they still live, but every Saturday morning they can cross the bridge to a small island in no man's land to trade with the Tajiks.
To enter the marketplace, we first had to hand in our passports to one of the border guards before we could be locked out in the no-man's land to look at the border trade.
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The merchants had gradually begun to pack up, but they still gave themselves plenty of time to have a chat with a couple of foreign tourists. The Afghans were immensely excited to meet us. Their insatiable curiosity provided a foretaste of what awaited me two months later as I traveled alone through Afghanistan.
In the marketplace in the country of no man, carpets, cookies, clothes, cigarettes and all sorts of junk were sold - and maybe a few other more shady trades. Then the traders went back to the country they came from, and perhaps they would meet again in the middle of the border the following Saturday.
Three punctures later and a lot of unforgettable experiences richer we arrived in Khorugh. When I have to take stock afterwards, the trip along the Pamir Highway was one of the big highlights of my journey.
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