To the Pamirs and BEYOND! Day Jak (1).
I’m in Bishkek everyone!
My latest accomplishment has been finishing up the Pamir Highway- the Bam-i-Dunya (which translates out to: The Roof of the World), which is the second highest highway in the world and known to be one the world’s greatest road trips.
I went from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, which I’ve been dying to do! So let me just bore you to death with what happens. You can stop reading here if you don’t care. But I’m gonna go ahead and break it all down for you on here day by day.
And realistically I didn’t start the Pamir Highway until Day 5ish, because the road is considered to go between Khorog to Osh, buuuut I made the executive decision to include the Dushanbe to Khorog stretch in here because this is my website, with which I can do whatever the fuck I want. So when I do post Day 5, I’ll link it on here so you can skip straight to it.
Day 1: Dushanbe to
This day I had flip flopped back and forth on how I would do it… Fly, drive, hitchhike…
In the end I ended up choosing to book my own taxi out to Khorog AND doing the drive over the course of two days rather than one extremely long 14-20, possibly more hour day.
I booked a car through my hotel/guesthouse: Hostel Hello, Dushanbe. (BTW I loved this place!). The options were 300 Tajik somoni for a shared taxi (possibly riding with at least 5 people on my lap and maybe a goat)* or shelling out 2000 Tajik somoni for my own car. In case you’re confused as to what the hell a Tajik somoni is: it’s the currency of Tajikistan and roughly at the time of my visit in September 2016 was teetering between 7.8 and 7.9 TJS to $1 USD. To me, paying 7x more money for the ride was worth it beeeecause….
That meant I could stop every 14 feet and take a photo, I could stop and pee or eat anywhere I wanted and I didn’t have to have thoughts, such as: who’s touching my butt? I wonder if my backpack is still strapped to the roof of the car? Who the fuck just farted, seriously I can taste the mutton you ate last week! And seriously WHO is touching my butt?!?!
*I’m a little scarred for life with shared taxis… The last one I took was in Thailand, 2015. I had a brief window in the midst of a pusing-shit fest and had to ride in one for 3 hot, miserable hours from Koh Lanta to Krabi. It wasn’t the shared taxis fault I was sick, but man I hate being stuffed somewhere hot and cramped with 37 people and all their baggage in a space meant to fit 8.
I had tried contacting a few agencies that arrange vehicles for the Pamir Highway and even leaving some messages in online Silk Road forums in the days leading up looking for others wanting to share a trip through the Pamirs but I couldn’t find anyone wanting to go around the same time frame… So YOLO bitches, I went by myself.
My other option had been to fly from Dushanbe to Khorog for about $90-ish, however I didn’t want to deal with the whole stupid getting a ticket and hoping the flight went kinda stuff… It’s not simple like at home where I can go online click a few buttons and buy a ticket. Tajik Air is old school- You have to physically go to Tajik Air’s office, you have to get your name on the list. Then of course if someone with an ‘in’ comes in after you, you might get bumped down the list. Then there’s the whole part where if it’s not perfect, clear weather- the flight doesn’t go. They fly through the mountains, not over them after all.
So at 9 am I was packed and ready to go and my driver was outside waiting for me and off we went.
His name is Horsand. But of course that H is pronounced in that typical nasally-hissing sound found in Persian languages.. So it sounds like (hissing sound)-ORSAHHHHN. Horsand thought it was hilarious how I had a hard time making the correct H- hissing sound. Then he realized that if he moved to the US no one would ever pronounce his name correctly.
Horsand is from Khorog. Horsand doesn’t speak much English according to himself, (He spoke enough in my opinion) but he was a pretty cheery guy and that’s really what you want more than anything else. Who wants a crotchety person that you’re about to spend the next 14 or so hours in the car with?
The drive out from Dushanbe initially is not too exciting. You eventually get into some rolling hills. The hills around here were a nice golden color leading up to Nurek Reservoir. They’re probly golden from being sun-baked all summer. Did I mention it’s hot as balls here? Well, it’s hot as balls. Nurak Reservoir is a nice stop, you have some grest views it of before you drop down to Kulob- Tajikistan’s third largest city.
Kulob isn’t too happening but it was a good spot to stop and grab some lunch.
From Kulob you start climbing up into Shurabad Pass.. And this is where the scenery starts to get interesting.
BTW the road leading up to Shurabad Pass is nicely paved from Dushanbe. Shurabad Pass still has construction going on and the road goes to dirt, or according to Horsand it turns into a ‘camel road’ because of all the humps and bumps…. So if you’re reading this and planning to do the Dushanbe to Khorog stretch overland, and have boobs, wear a good bra. In my opinion, it’s not that bad of a road… But then again I’m from Alaska and back when I was a kid there were lots of dirt roads leading out to the places I always went with my family that were in bad shape, so my interpretation and your interpretation of what constitutes a bad road is could be two very different things.
Shurabad Pass is where the drive gets interesting. You end up in the top of this steep mountain pass that’s mostly red and green in color and then you start descending out of it with views into Afghanistan. Then before you know it, there’s the Panj River and Afghanistan is so close you could throw a rock into it. (I suck at throwing, so, not far… Only a handful of yards/meters away).
*Panj means 5 in Tajik, so literally this is River 5. I asked Horsand where rivers Jak-Chor were and he said he’s been looking for them and hasn’t found them yet.
For the rest of the drive that day we stayed right along the Panj River, with views across the valley into Afghanistan and its neat villages and its narrow dirt path connecting all of them. But of course I suffer from car-colepsy so I kept dozing off! Which I really didn’t want to given the fact where I was and just how pretty it all was. But Horsand would excitedly point things and landmarks out to me and wake me up which I was thankful for.
Finally Horsand pulled off into the village of Darvaz near to Kala-i-Khum around 4pm for the night, we stopped off for ice cream first and then I got a room at the Darvaz Hotel for the night (it’s really more of a guesthouse, a private room, a dorm room and all share a bathroom and toilet). It’s a good, clean decent pitstop for the night and runs a whole 120 TJS. Oh, and it’s on the river with a little sitting area right beside it.
Then later that evening Horsand insisted on grabbing food (Pamiris won’t let you go hungry) and we ran across the street (which is literally across town in Darvaz) and grabbed dinner at a restaurant and ate copious amounts of plov and kabob and showed each other pictures of friends, family, and in my case, Yoshi.
Horsand offered to drive me all the way through the Pamir Highway, but I told him I’d have to think about it. Mostly I wanted to make sure he wasn’t pervy or weird. I’ve had my fair share of run ins with overly-amorous men while traveling all over (guides, drivers, men just milling around…) and that was something I wanted to avoid if I was potentially continuing on myself… But so far, so good- Horsand hadn’t showed any signs of any of that.