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The Kokbai pass

We visited Tajikistan in August 2008 aiming to make a circuit of the Pamirs. The mountains there are the highest in Central Asia, with roads almost touching them. It is one of those regions which leap out from an atlas calling to be cycled through.

It is a poor and undeveloped area, and until recently was little-touristed: the Soviet legacy and a civil war (and adjacency to Afghanistan) being fairly effective deterrents. More people go there nowadays – we were astonished how many westerners we saw – but the infrastructure is still basic (and we were daunted by the difficulties of the journey).

Our plan was to bypass the west of the country by jeep (an instantaneous process in our mind’s eye), and to make a circuit from Khorog, ascending along the Panj valley until the Khargush pass took us onto the Murgab plateau, and then, after visiting Karakul, to descend the course of the Bartang valley further north.

The final leg was always the most problematic part, though we knew that a fair number of cyclists had ridden it. But when we asked in Khorog we were told that the Bartang road was closed owing to rockfall, and that there was no safe way for cyclists to negotiate the valley. The same story was repeated in Murgab, so we improvised an alternative route, backtracking to Alichur and then descending by the Shakhdara valley. As soon as we were committed to the revised schedule we heard from several well-informed people that the difficulties in the Bartang valley were not insuperable, and that we’d merely have had to carry our bikes and luggage down the stream for a short distance.

It’s a shame that we were unable to follow our original plan, but it may be that the substitute route was of no less quality.

As you will see from our statistics, the Pamirs are higher and flatter than our previous destinations, and necessitate more camping. In fact we came back as tired as ever, whether through age and decrepitude or indequate diet or a surfeit of bumpy roads.

Route notes General info
The Panj valley Practicalities
The Murgab plateau Red tape
The Shakhdara valley Dushanbe & Khorog

The views we should have seen on the first part of our trip were hidden behind haze, so the enjoyment doesn’t really begin until the second page of our notes.

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