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Murghab – Langar (11. – 15. Juli 2018)

We get up early and have breakfast before all other tourists come for breakfast. If I mean early, it's early. Even if the clock in Tajikistan has to be set an hour later than in Kyrgyzstan, the people in Murghab use Kyrgyz time. The reason for this is that many Kyrgyz people live in Murghab and simply use "their time". This is a bit confusing, you never know exactly what time is meant effectively when asked what time you want to have breakfast, for example. So we get up already before 05.00 Tajik time, so that we can leave at the latest at 7.00 o'clock. When we pack our bikes we suddenly hear the sound of drums. Curious as I am, I go to the street. There is a group of women who produce these sounds with their tambourines. It fits wonderfully into this mountain world. The women are still playing when they drive away. The tambourine sounds accompany us. Wonderful!

 

Leaving the city we pass another checkpoint. This is definitely going much faster than in China. The data of the passport are noted, the special visa for the Pamir is checked, that's it already. After a few minutes we can continue. A dreamlike valley with an infinitely wide plateau, lush green grass and grazing cows opens up in front of us. It looks like a picture book. After several relatively flat kilometres the ascent to Naizan Pass, 4137 MüM, the fourth 4,000-er of five. The altitude doesn't bother us, we are used to driving slowly. We are certainly no longer tempted to hitchhike up the "Högerli" quickly, that simply needs too much energy. Finally we reach the top of the pass. Up here it is quickly cold and, as expected, a strong headwind is blowing towards us. We dress warm, gloves, hat, rain jacket, rain pants - we can use everything. The descent is correspondingly tedious. Instead of a great fast descent we pedal hard to gain some speed at all. That's no fun riding a bike like this. After 20km we decide to stop the exercise for this day and look for a camping site. We quickly find what we are looking for, as we find an ideal place, which lies in the slipstream of a hill. In the meantime we are practiced to pitch up in the tent, we also ate quickly. Then we'll go to the tent.

 

The wind hasn't died down the next morning. Although we are on the road very early, he blows us violently around the ears. After 40km we reach the next village, Alichur. We decide to stop here. We quickly find a homestay. Only when we already have all our luggage and bicycles in the room do we realize that there is no electricity here! What a bummer!   So again everything from the beginning. We drive back to the beginning of the village, where I also saw a homestay. This is where it works. A beautiful little homestay awaits us. Our room is right next to the kitchen, so if you always cook or bake in the kitchen, it is nice and warm in our room. However, the best thing is freshly baked bread. As soon as we enter the house, a wonderful scent blows towards us, I see the freshly baked breads lined up in the kitchen. We will not miss this opportunity: Markus is about to buy two sandwiches. We enjoy one of them sitting on the floor in our room. Rarely have we eaten such good and crispy bread lately! Once again it shows how little it takes to be satisfied. We can also charge all our gadgets. We enjoy a cosy afternoon in the room with many green plants, a wonderfully warm Tajik shower and a simple dinner. 

Once again we are surprised that there is no electricity here. There's an electricity pole in front of every house, we've seen it from afar. In our room at Homestay there is even an old PC in the box, a sign that there used to be electricity here. But nothing works without maintenance. 

 

We talk to the owner's son, who speaks very good English, a rarity here in Tajikistan. He tells us a little about life in Alichur and his desire to study tourism. Will he be able to realize his dream? Studying in Tajikistan is very expensive by local standards. A year costs about $5,000. Considering that Tajikistan is one of the 30 poorest countries in the world, with an average income of $2/day, this is an enormous sum. The earning possibilities with the tourists are limited to a short time during the summer. Only in winter there are still a few tourists who want to go hunting for one of the famous Marco Polo sheep. 

 

While strolling and shopping in the only "magazine" of the village we see a sign that here in Alichur a water pump project, supported by CH, is running, a good thing. From our own experience we know how rarely good and clean water can be obtained in Tajikistan.

 

As already often on this trip, our cycling day starts with 2 smaller climbs. After about 20 km we leave the famous M41 and turn off into the Whakan Corridor. From now on it is gravel road for the next 120km. Before that, all the cyclists told us How hard this route really is, how often the road is simply not passable and the bike has to be pushed, you hardly hear anything about it!  We pass wonderful but very barren landscapes, Stinky Lake (which actually stinks of minerals) and other salt lakes. It always goes slightly uphill towards Khargush Pass (4344 MüM). There is hardly any traffic, we don't meet any cyclists. Once again the last part is steep up to the top of the pass, pushing is the order of the day. Sometimes the gradients are so steep that we have to push up one bike after the other in pairs. The ground consists of sand, large pebbles, we can hardly find a foothold even on foot and slip out again and again. I simply have no desire any more, my motivation leaves much to be desired. But Markus spurs me on and says that I can't give up so close to the finish! And look, after the next bend the pass is in sight. Finally! The last 4000's are done. What a relief!

 

From now on downhill riding is on the program. The washed-out mountain road partly resembles a stream bed. Riding a mountain bike would be wonderful, with touring bikes and luggage this undertaking is a bit more demanding. 

 

In Kargush another border control awaits us. Here we have to wait a moment, because the border guards have to come from the opposite side of the valley to control us. In the meantime we talk to 3 tourists, who are on the way with a rickety Lada. This is definitely pure adventure, because otherwise you only meet 4x4 here.

 

After another camping night in lonely surroundings and a dreamlike starry sky, a descent of 1000 meters in altitude awaits us.

 

But as is the case with the descents: there are always these counter slopes! 

The trip takes us along the Pamir River, which separates Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

The valley is relatively narrow, the Pamir flows in a deep gorge, the road winds along the mountain. The view is wonderful, impressive landscapes line up, mountain ranges and above all the snow-covered 6000/7000 we always have in sight. The ride itself is very demanding, the view is always directed to the road to find the ideal fairway. And yet we get stuck in the sand or gravel from time to time. Stones, corrugated iron and holes are our companions. The journey is exhausting and strenuous. We are glad that we don't have to go from west to east, as most other cyclists do, we find it extremely challenging already down/straight ahead. 

 

From time to time we meet shepherds with their flocks of sheep or goats. A little boy did it to Markus. As he crosses the street with his goats, waving to us - Markus gives him one of the little pocket knives we took as a present - his radiant face will remain in our memories for a long time. On the way we meet 2 Swiss and several other cyclists, who are on the way from west to east. We hear about the 5 cyclists we know from Murghab: Kim and René from Holland, Lauren and Jay from the US and Hector from Spain. We also follow their clearly visible bicycle tracks.

 

Finally Langar comes into sight after almost 60 km  - this village is wonderfully situated in the green valley. How nice it is to finally see trees and grass again after this barren landscape of the last stages, that was missing!

After several serpentines we reach Langar. Children besiege us, adults offer their homestays, but we drive further into the village and want to get an overview first. There I see a relatively new guesthouse - and who beckons us? Kim, the Dutch woman in the group of five. We won't have to think long!

We stay in the same guesthouse - what a cordial reunion...

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