This post deals with cycling the Bartang Valley from east to west. For a report of the trip in the opposite direction, see Cycling the Bartang Valley: from Rushan to Karakol.
The Bartang valley is one of the wildest and most remote ways of crossing the Pamirs. With bad roads, landslides, water crossings, amazing hospitality from the locals but also with days of complete solitude it was quite an adventure and the following photo journal tells the story of the 7 days I’ve spent cycling from Sary-Tash to Rushan.
The last camping spot in Kyrgystan, before the Pamir. The 7000 meter high mountain range rises like a barrier in front of anyone coming from the north. In the center you can see the Kyzyl-Art pass, the gate to the Pamirs.
High altitude and extremely clean air create the perfect conditions for an incredible sky.
The entrance into Tajikistan is mark by a 1300 meter climb. The scenery changes completely as you pass into one of the highest deserts on earth. And yes, Marco Polo sheep decorate almost all mountain passes in the region.River crossings, the bane of cyclists and motorists alike. If the water is too high each river crossing actually means 6 river crossings, one for 2 panniers, one for the other 2 and a last one for the bike.
Small sand-dunes across the Pamir plateau in the soft light of the sunset.
Kyrgyz boys helping out in finding one of the shops in Karakul. With no official shops some locals have a room where they keep supplies and where you can find some really basic food-stuff.Straight roads on the M41 highway, with surprisingly good asphalt at times.The entrance to the Bartang valley, the shortest and probably the hardest way of crossing the Pamirs. With 300 kilometers of bad roads ahead and days of complete solitude, it’s not a bad idea to take a moment and think if you actually want to dive into the adventure.One of the first river crossings, fortunately this time the water levels were not really high. After hearing stories of people losing paniers in river crossings earlier in the year I was quite relieved when the locals said that water shouldn’t be a problem.The other way of crossing towards the Bartang. Unfortunately low supplies and the need to carry too much water forced the 2 Germans to turn back to Karakol.Wild, 6000m high snow-covered peaks rise up from the plateau, in a landscape that seems to belong to another planet. The weather is incredibly unpredictable and you can go from sunshine to a severe storm in less than half an hour.Choosing the right road can sometimes be difficult, especially on the plateau. Fortunately at this particular intersection it was pretty clear what the main road was.
An ancient lunar calendar lies at 3900 meters on the plateau. It makes you wonder of the times when it was built, of how much and at the same time how little the landscape and the people have changed since then.
With no cars seen for two days pitching the tent in the middle of the road isn’t a problem. Enjoying the long shadows of the sunset.
After two days on the plateau it’s time to descent to the Bartang valley, which I would follow for the next 5 days.
One of the landslides which caused quite a bit of mayhem in the Pamirs in 2015. Locals said that July was one of the hottest months they could remember. Combined with unusually high rainfall it caused a lot of damage to the already battered roads.
There is a clear difference between the people living on the plateau who are ethnically Kyrgyz and the people from the valleys who are Pamiris. Meeting Indo-European features again after quite some time.
The host for the night. Knowing a bit of Russian can get you a long way in the Pamirs as almost everyone speaks some Russian. He is a veteran of the Russian Afghan war and currently a teacher in the village of Nisur.
One of the bits where the road has been washed out by the river. The upper villages from the Bartang valley have been sealed off from the world and supplies had to be flown in with helicopters from Khorog for almost one month.
Riding along the Bartang river, as the valley gradually becomes wider and more tamed.
The dust and sand gathered from the Bartang during the last evening spent in the valley, once again in a grassy camping spot.
Fresh apples and another invitation for tea. One of the thing which almost all locals want to find out how life is in your country, how much things cost and how you can afford to travel on a bicycle. With a medium wage of less than 100 dollars a month Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia.And finally the end of the Bartang valley, after 7 days of bad roads, a lot of bits where you feel in the middle of nowhere, a lot of adventure and an equal amount of hospitality. With only 3 tourists met in 7 days and none on bicycles it’s clearly one of the most adventurous ways of crossing the Pamirs.