When I was in Bosnia last year, anticipating having to battle through Central Asia in winter, thereby taking the lowland routes, and missing out on the mountain routes made impassable by snow and cold, I had a chance encounter with two Germans cycling back from Singapore. They shared their stories and showed me pictures of Tajikistan's Pamir Highway, the highlight of their trip. Their advice was simple: Don't miss out on the Pamir Highway. Take a train so you can complete it before winter. Or go home and come back for it next summer. But don't miss it.
The next day I wrote a blog post, announcing, with great difficulty, that I would be coming home over winter. Their pictures and stories had won me over, and as much as I hated the thought of stopping travelling for five months, missing out on the Pamir Highway seemed an even worse prospect.
10 months later
I am here! Writing to you all from Dushanbe, Tajikistan's capital. It feels so good to say that tomorrow I will begin my one-month adventure on the Pamir Highway, which I fully expect to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. After the flat, featureless desert of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the ground has begun to pull to the skies around me, and it is time to get my mountain legs back!
What can I expect of the Pamir Highway?
The region is described locally, perhaps with a hint of romanticism, as Bam-i-Dunya, meaning 'The Roof of the World', and that refers to the grand scale of this place. One of the highest roads in the world, much of the route stands at an altitude of over 3,000 metres, where the air will be noticeably thinner, making activities (such as cycling) far more strenuous than they normally would be. The mountain passes, such as the Ak-Baital Pass, which climbs to the route's dizzying high point of 4655 metres will be enough to make my lungs ready to explode. This is more than double the height I have ever been on a bike so far. Massive snow-capped peaks tower up to heights above 6,000 metres and provide incredible mountain scenery to cycle through.
The route is for those looking for adventure, with poor, unpaved road quality to navigate and gushing rivers to ford. Amazingly people live and craft a life out here - I am excited to meet these people - but settlements remain few and far between. I am looking forward to this desolation and remoteness, but it does mean I will have to carry lots of food at a time, and filter water from mountain springs and streams. The route hugs the Afghanistan border for hundreds of kilometers with only a river separating the two countries (I am currently staying with a local in Dushanbe who told me that when he was young he used to sing Tajik songs over the river, and the Afghan children on the other side, would sing their own songs back across - I love everything about this idea!).
I have read many tales and seen countless pictures about this section which have blown my mind. And now I am here living it myself! I can't wait to share my own stories and photos with you, and I hope they inspire you with the same sense of awe and amazement as they first did for me . I will be trying to upload 3-4 blog posts about this section of the trip, when wifi allows, and will post frequent (daily?) pictures and stories on my Facebook page. Please be sure to like on Facebook, subscribe to the blog, and share with your friends!
Signing out, ready for the biggest adventure so far!