We are currently at a very basic homestay in a small village called Kalaikhum, on the way to Khorog, Tajikistan. Our aspiration had been to get to Khorog for the night, but according to the Lonely Planet, it takes between 14 – 20 hours to reach from Dushanbe. What a rude awakening it is to realize that Google Maps isn’t always right! The estimated 9 hours as indicated in the map below was way off.
We woke up at our hotel this morning in Dushanbe, still deliberating whether or not to go through the Pamir Highway. After exchanging a few messages over Facebook with a couple of other teams that were already on their way, we decided to risk it. When are we ever going to be in Tajikistan again?
We had a rather late start. Eating breakfast, researching road conditions, battling stomach aches (thanks, instant noodles!), finally checking out after three separate attempts to pay, getting money changed, filling up on gas, buying water – everything just took a really long time, exacerbated by our own fatigue.
We finally set off at about 10:30am. After a lot of back and forth, we decided to head to the Pamir Highway. I think we knew all along that we’d do it, but were simply procrastinating on the decision making process. The estimated time of arrival at Khorog was 8:45pm. Given the possible road conditions, we knew right away that this would be unrealistic.
There were police officials all along the way out of Dushanbe city limits. A police officer stopped us at one point, asked us if we were headed to the Pamirs, said a friendly goodbye and waved us off.
There are two routes to Khorog. We took the longer but the better paved one. Even then, sections of the road were just gravel. Some parts were asphalt and we could do up to 80km/h. But for most part, we were driving at 20-30km/h.
Nevertheless, the route was dramatic and breathtaking. The M41 runs along the Afghan border in the earlier stretch of the road within Tajikistan. Some sections run along the Panj River that is the dividing line between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It was surreal to be driving along the Afghan border and be in a country bordering China and Afghanistan – and to think we’ve actually driven here all the way from Germany.
We were stopped several times, so we could register our visas and passports. The Pamir Highway cuts across the Gorno Badaksho Region, which is a semi-autonomous region requiring a special permit. Check-points along the way are there to ensure that you have the right paperwork. The guards were always amused to see a hand-written Bangladeshi passport and would ask us a lot of questions about me, our relationship, how we met, about our car, etc.
Along the way, we also met two other Mongol Charity Rally teams. When we realized that we were not going to make it to Khorog that night, we decided to stop for the night at the next big town, which was Kalaikhum. We ran into the other teams there as well, but despite sitting down at the same restaurant with us, they changed their minds and decided not to eat.
In the end, we met a few other travelers passing through the same town and eating at the same restaurant. (It appeared to be the only restaurant in town.) We decided to combine our tables and eat together. Dinner was simple affair of roasted chicken, salad and fries. It was evident that the restaurant owner had gone out to buy the ingredients just then to cater to our ragtag group of 3 cyclists from the UK, an older biker couple in their 50s from Australia and ourselves.
After dinner, we trudged back to our homestay, which includes breakfast, a warm bed, flushable toilet and running water for showering. Who can complain?
Our only issue is that the packet of toothpaste we had bought this morning was … empty. As in, we had bought a box with what should’ve contained a tube, but it turned out to be empty. We were befuddled. Had we really bought an empty box? We had purchased bottles of water, snacks and toothpaste, and clearly did not catch on to this error until much later.
We’re on Day 17 and are starting to feel a bit concerned that we won’t make it in 30 days. The Pamir Highway is likely to take 4-5 days at the very least. We hadn’t budgeted any time for car breakdowns, delays or extra stops. Moritz and I agreed that we needed to change our routine a bit and start driving earlier to cover more ground during the day. This was, of course, easier said than done. After being in a car for nearly 12 hours every day, the fatigue settles in and waking up early the following day can be challenging.
Our plan of completing the Pamirs in 2 days is already out of question. Let’s see if we can make it to Sary Tash, which is in Kyrgyzstan just across the border from Tajikistan after the Pamir Highway, in 3 days instead.
I fell asleep while calculating route times and distances in my head.
This post is part of a series covering my trip across Central Asia in four weeks.