Whakhan Valley and Pamir Highway
In Khorog I met up with Andreas from Switzerland and we headed up the Wachan together for the next few days. The road is amazingly good (partly asphalt) and continues to follow the Afghan border and the River Panj. It was interesting to see life on the Afghan side and the small villages and people walking along the donkey tracks in seemingly totally out of the way places. The Wachan has a good network of homestays where for 10-15 USD you can stay with the family in their house. The tourism authorities here have given them a basic training in hygiene, food preparation and english so although very basic, you can be guaranteed something to eat and a floor to sleep on. All had some kind of shower ranging from cold water in a bucket to the more advanced double bucket system where one of the buckets had heated water from a wood fired stove.
The small town of Iskashim is the capital of the Wachan and hosts on Saturdays a cross border market with Afghanistan. Here wares can be exchanged between the countries on a neutral bit of land in the middle of the river. This market however has now been cancelled for several weeks and it was no differeent when we arrived. The reason why is probably more complicated than most people know and we only heard it was due to “issues on the Afghan side”. Apparantly the Taliban is also now only 50km away from here.
From the Wachan the road climbs up to the main Pamir Highway M41 which has the luxury of being mainly asphalted. The first town is Alichur which sits at 3800m and is a random collection of single story homes on the plain. The elevation has the advantage of being able to buy snickers without them melting and indeed Alichur boasted the first shop since Khorog where the snickers were not horribly out of date!
Alichur is also the start of the Kyrgyz part of Tajikistan and the people were notably different looking and the land was dotted with yurts. Unofficially everything from here also runs on Kyrgyz time (an hour ahead). The hospitality was just the same and this partly made up for the struggles on the road with the altitude and headwinds. Yak meat and jogurt became a staple part of the menu here too.
The town of Murghab is the capital of the Eastern Pamir and has a proper hotel and a bazar which is run out of truck containers. As in all towns through C.Asia, this is the place to go to find anything you need from food and clothes to money changers.
From here the highway continues past a scneic lake to the Kyrgyzstan border which is a quiet collection of buildings near the top of the pass. Seemingly only a few overlanders come through here but the formalities were simple and to enter Kyrgyzstan we didn’t even need a visa. On descending to Sary Tash, the first town in Kyrgyzstan, there are spectacular views of some 7000m mountains including the Lenon which is the tallest in Kyrgyzstan and attracts many climbers as it is a fairly non technical mountain to summit.