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Sun 24 part I: Bridge camp – Javshangoz junction (3580m) (29km, 585m)

Across the Kokbai pass

A superb ride. The road climbs steeply (push: 1½hrs) gaining 400m in 6km to reach a high plain. It feels like the middle of nowhere, though you meet occasional herders and their cattle. Beautiful mountains loom ahead, with the rocky Engels and snowy Marx the finest of them.

Crossing the stream from Turumtai Kul is supposed to be difficult, dangerous or outright impossible at various times of the year, but it was tame when we were there and we didn’t even get our feet wet. Subsequent stream crossings have bridges.

Soon after the Turumtai stream the road reaches its high point, the Kokbai pass (4090m), with a lake of the same name nearby and a stream issuing from it. The road descends beside the Kokbai stream whose grassy margins provide pleasant picnic spots. Soon after it reaches the Shakhdara valley it comes to a junction where another road heads off to the left.

Sun 24 part II: Javshangoz junction – western slopes of Matz pass (3810m) (5km, 255m)

Ford

Approaching the
Matz pass

Descending

Last view

We turn left to reconnoitre the Matz pass. The road crosses the Kokbai stream (3570m: the bridge is unserviceable), passes a farmhouse, and starts climbing before it reaches its valley. This is a push along a steep rubbly road some distance above the stream, but after 200m have been gained the route crosses a shoulder, the gradient eases off, and the road and stream come together offering good camping spots. This is where we stop for the night.

Mon 25 part I: Western slopes of Matz pass – Javshangoz junction via Matz pass (24km, 550m)

The easily graded section leads to a farmhouse followed by a set of steep zigzags which require more pushing, and then a section which contours along to the pass (4270m) which doesn’t afford any striking views. Some cattle graze the high meadows here. The road down to the Panj looks practicable, but it is said to be in worse condition (though less steep) than the way we’ve come.

We turn back, finding the road entirely ridable in descent, eat lunch near our earlier camp site, and continue to the junction.

Mon 25 part II: Javshangoz junction – Javshangoz (3360m) (12km, 75m)

The ride onwards to Javshangoz is straightforward, with superb views of Marx and Engels 3km after the junction. We spend the night in a homestay, slightly beyond the village in the direction of Khorog, and slightly above a hangar-like modern building (perhaps a school).

Tues 26: Javshangoz – Ochatga camp (2760m) (70km, 620m)

Karl Marx

There are more excellent views of the peaks early in the ride; we then pass a fort and cross a stream and begin a long dry stretch.

At 49km there is a vicious short climb and a descent after which we cross a small stream with a gorge to the left – this is where we stop for lunch. It’s worth looking back as you ride beyond this point: the cliffs are impressive.

Another stiff climb and descent follow, taking us to the village of Vrang fed by a torrent in an impressive rock channel. At 62km there is a sign for a homestay and we regain tarmac. 6km later we pick up water for the night, and we pitch camp at an acceptable spot by the river a couple of km later.

Weds 27: Ochatga camp – Khorog (55km, 150m)

The valley becomes greener and continues to offer mountain views, but we’re mostly thinking of the hot showers and gastronomic delights of Khorog. Roshtkala turns out to be a disappointing village with a poorly stocked shop. Blank ignorance gets us through the checkpoint at the end of the valley.

Note: the celebratory champagne was Russian, and had to wait a few days. It celebrated the hardship and the passes and some memorable experiences.

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