Our first days on the Pamir highway from Osh to Murgab led us through stone deserts and over high passes, leaving us many times speechless for its remoteness and unique landscapes. But the drive from Murgab onwards would be the icing on the cake. Passing the village of Alichur our driver Baha steered the Landcruiser offroad through dunes right to the shore of salty lake Sassyk Kul where we got out food and drinks and had a lovely picnic with amazing views. The lake mirrored the mountains and the deep blue sky gave the setting a somehow unreal touch.
Picnic at lake Sassyk Kul
When we had finished lunch we got back on the road and soon after took a turn and left the main Pamir highway to head down to the Afghan border into the Wakhan corridor. The Wakhan is a valley shared between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, deviding the two countries by the Wakhan river. We would drive the valley until Khorog, the road always right by the water and Afghanistan just a stone’s throw away. The Afghan part of the corridor is just about 14 km wide, behind it starts the mighty Pakistani Hindu Kush with its peaks over 7.000 m. When we finally reached the valley the beauty of it took us by surprise. Lush and green around the riverbed, walls of stone straight up behind and the majestic snowcapped mountains overlooking it all, the scenery could not get any more spectacular. We asked Baha to stop about every 200 metres to take pictures because with every turn we caught sight of yet another peak in the Hindu Kush.
Snowcapped peaks of Hindu Kush
Afghan Whakan valley
Camels on the Afghan side of the river
That night we stayed in Langar, a very tranquil and picturesque village right down by the river. It felt very good to stay in a place in the middle of green fields and fruit trees instead of the endless stone desert from the days before. At our guesthouse we met a nice group of Swiss and English travelers who were basically on the same trip – and since our drivers knew each other they became our travel companions for the rest of the journey.
Just a stone’s throw to Afghanistan
The next day was only a short 3 hour drive to the hot springs of Bibi Fatima. They are named after prophet Mohammed’s daughter and people in Tajikistan believe in its magical powers bringing fertility to women. Although I was aware of this fact, I went for a swim (naked, after the local women had instructed me to take off my bikini). Fingers crossed that Bibi Fatima does not work its powers on me in the near future 😉
As there is no guesthouse in the village we checked-in the newly built “hotel” in “town”. And this for sure was the most bizarre place we had ever stayed a night in. Not only did the hotel have no water (the only water availabe ran through a hose carelessly left at the parking lot), the owners also did not think it was necessary to have a clean (squat) toilet or offer food upon our arrival at lunch time. Still, the people there were really nice, they were just not used to have tourists from abroad around. At dawn they announced that there would be a party going on that night in the hotel. We didn’t really know what to expect. At about 10 pm cars starting pulling up, we were just finishing dinner when they started to play Pamiri music at maximum volume, all men crazily dancing to the tunes. Actually the music sounded a lot like music in the Balcans, their behavior was equally merry and loud. Since there wasn’t any chance to sleep we joined the event. They were immensely happy to have some foreigners at their party (I don’t think they get many of them in Bibi Fatima) and gave us a crash course on Pamiri dance moves. It was a lot of fun, at the same time we were just looking at each other with faces saying “What the hell are we doing here at the Afghan border, dancing with a Tajik crowd of men who seem to be either drunk or high on other stuff??” At around midnight all of a sudden all of them stopped dancing, had 3 fried eggs each and went to bed. Forget Berlin or New York, go Bibi Fatima!
After another night in Ishkashim we left the Wakhan valley and made it to Khorog from where we wanted to catch a flight to Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital city. There is a lot of myths around this flight going straight through (not over!) the Pamir mountains in either tiny planes or old Soviet helicopters. If you want to buy tickets you have to show up at the airport and try your luck since flights only operate with clear skies and the number of tickets is very limited due to the size of the planes. Our driver Baha was ready to help us with this tricky task and for the next two hours we were standing in front of a tiny hole in the wall with only Tajik/Russian speaking personell behind. Luckily, after tough negotiations we were the happy owners of 2 tickets for the Tajik airlines flight to Dushanbe. I am not the biggest fan of airplanes in general and when I saw the thing we were supposed to fly in I felt uneasy to say the least.
“Ticket counter” at the Khorog airport
About to board that thing
Capacity of the plane is 17 passengers plus a flexible amount of children just sitting on the laps of their parents. The flight was a once in a lifetime experience, for Fritz because he loved it and for me because I hope I will never have to board Tajik airlines again. However, the views you get from the plane were just unreal. Sometimes it seemed that the wingtips of the plane would touch the rocks or whirl up the snow on the peaks when flying right next to the mountain tops.
Scary, but beautiful …
90 minutes later our adventure in the Pamirs had come to an end and for sure the whole trip was one of the most memorable things in our journey through Central Asia.