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Fri 15: Khargush camp – Alichur (3800m) (56km, 650m)

Shanoza

Light rain falls overnight and into the morning. We debate whether to sit the day out, but as the rain abates we decide that we have no excuse to do so. We make a belated start on a reasonable surface and reach the unimpressive Khargush Pass earlier than expected (because it’s lower than claimed: 4205m). The descent through a brown valley is really quite unattractive, at least in the conditions, and the road worse than for the climb.

We reach tarmac in the form of the Pamir Highway after 32km. It rolls a little but we make good progress to Alichur, which is not quite the glistening metropolis Colin expected.

We blunder into the village and are lucky to be greeted by a young lady Shanoza who speaks good English. She shows us to the village shop where we fall frenziedly onto the Snickers, and when we ask about accommodation tells us that her family can put us up. In fact this is the Alichur homestay, with a guest book signed by Peter Gostelow among others. We are given a late lunch.

Notes: Shanoza’s mother is the English teacher in the school. The Russian teacher is building a homestay of his own.

There is no drinking water between the pass and Alichur.

Sat 16: Alichur – Murgab (3550m) (107km, 600m)

A longish unexciting ride in cool cloudy conditions with fresh snow on the mountains. A yurtstay is signposted at 10km. We reach the Neizatash Pass (4040m) after 53km: it’s just one slight rise after several others, though followed by a more pronounced drop. The hamlet of Mamazair at 60km has a small stream (the first on the ride), a choikhana, and accommodation; and there is another unreliable stream at 67km where we had lunch; beyond it there is little or no water until Murgab.

Café

Notes: you reach Murgab across a bridge, and then ride through the military suburb. The town itself is wedged between two tarmac roads; the lower road leading ultimately to China, the upper to Karakul and Kyrgyzstan. Most tourist facilities lie close to the upper road, including the META office which is almost out of town in the Karakul direction. Many buildings are unsignposted or hard to find, and we wasted a lot of time riding around looking for them, eventually staying in the friendly Erali homestay, which is quiet and provides hot water. (It’s above the upper road near the ‘Pamir bike’ sign.)

The market is near the lower road, directly down from the Erali homestay. It’s large without being particularly well stocked, but tomatoes and huge water melons can usually be obtained and we once saw some aubergines there. A shop stocks Kazakh soup powders, but it was closed when we came back to buy some, and they would probably have been horrible anyway.

Although Mamazair is a tiny place, and doesn’t look very promising from the road, people who’ve stayed there have thought well of it. Hélène and Mat enjoyed their night there, and Bill Weir found ‘some of the best food in the Pamirs’.

Sun 17: rest day

Mon 18: Murgab – Ak Baital camp (4100m) (65km, 755m)

Towards Ak Baital

Ak Baital camp

Broken clouds suggest that the weather may be making an attempt to improve. We set off along broad valleys towards Karakul. We pass a farmhouse at 56km and make lunch a km later where the road crosses a sidestream: 2km further on the Ak Baital stream is joined by its main tributary, and this would have been a better picnic spot (and is where we camped on the return).

We have an increasing headwind in the afternoon, and take turns to do the work in the front. It isn’t a day for epics, and we stop short of the pass when we see a reasonable campsite at a spot flagged by tall cairns: this seems to be the last camping option before the pass.

Tues 19: Ak Baital camp – Karakul (3785m) (71km, 665m)

Ak Baital

The night is clear and cold (–3°) and the day warm and sunny when the sun gets up. At last the weather we’d been expecting!

73km from Murgab there is a sign announcing the pass and a farmhouse on the left (whose inhabitants bid us to join them for tea): this is the foot of the climb, which amounts to 250m in 4km. It feels like a genuine pass, with snowy mountains around. But the faltering tarmac gives out near the summit (4465m).

The descent flattens out at 85km (350m below the summit), with a sign for the pass facing the opposite way. The road crosses a stream here at a good picnic stop (which we used for that purpose on the return) and perhaps a good campsite.

The valley broadens, and the road is often quite distant from the stream; meanwhile it turns unpleasantly washboardy. Tarmac resumes 95km from Murgab, and the road then crosses the valley on a causeway, at whose end (103km) we have our picnic by the stream.

Karakul

Returning to the Ak Baital

The road weaves through rounded hills for 8km and commences a dead straight stretch of 25km to Karakul village. The wind was playing its customary tricks (though without venom), and the afternoon’s ride would have been tedious were it not for the fine views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Note: a homestay is signposted from the road as you ride through Karakul village, which has a small shop for which you’ll need to ask directions. We shared the village with 44 Italians on organised tours and 4 other cyclists who, arriving later, ended up camping by the mosquito-infested lake.

Weds 20: Karakul – Ak Baital camp (3890m) (86km, 915m)

The ride from Karakul heads straight towards attractive mountains. We have lunch in sunshine at the foot of the pass; cross it; and find some cloud and the wind in our faces on the other side, so we stop to camp where the Ak Baital is joined by its tributary.

Thurs 21: Ak Baital camp – Murgab (50km, 65m)

A short ride into the wind gets us back to the Erali homestay by mid-morning. We rest during the afternoon. It’s a cold and cloudy day with rain and hail, but this is the end of the bad weather, and from tomorrow onwards we have sunshine with only light cloud puffing up over the mountins in the afternoons.

Fri 22: Murgab – Alichur (107km, 920m)

Alichur plains

Kyzyl Dong

We try to make a brisk pace, knowing what to expect from the wind. We pick up water for lunch at Mamazair but don’t stop to eat until we find a slightly sheltered spot at 65km (there was a better one 3km later).

In the afternoon we take turns at the front and arrive back at Alichur at a reasonable time.

Sat 23: Alichur – bridge camp (3670m) (75km, 945m)

We set off along rolling tarmac to the junction with the Khargush pass. A 12km climb starts immediately afterwards, turning to gravel at 32½km. The Tagarkat Pass (not shown on most maps: 4045m) is at 36km, and the road descends to a plain with tarmac returning at 39km. The Tagarkat hamlet is here, with a vigorous stream which is the first source of water on the ride.

A second climb begins at 45km, turning to gravel at 51km, but climbing slowly to the Koitezek pass (4160m) at 60km: it affords good views of Kyzyl Dong, and its summit is decorated with a token 500m of tarmac. There are several sources of water on the way up. We have lunch with carried water just before the summit.

The descent is steeper. Tarmac recommences at 67km, and at 74km a bridge crosses to the left: this is the ‘road’ to the Shakhdara valley – in reality a jeep track. We cross to the other side, follow the road for a couple of hundred metres as it doubles back, and set up camp. Colin expresses some unfounded scepticism as to whether the road has ever carried any traffic.

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