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Tajikistan… Last of the Pamir tourists

Sardines, vodka and AK-47s.

With the comforting burn of vodka coursing through my body (and a little bit dribbling through my beard) I was shoved out of the way as the soldier reached underneith the pillow on the bed we were sitting on, and, laughing, pulled out his AK-47. He handed it over to us to play around with, and drained his bowl of vodka. It was the photo opportunity I’d been waiting for for months!

As we reached the Tajik border control that marked our exit from the Pamir Mountains and, our dramatically greater than expected, Tajik adventure, into Kygyzstan, we had been expecting an interrogation about our time in Khorog. Even suspecting a good dig around our cameras and computers for photos they didn’t want us to have. We were surprised to be welcomed in from the cold by very friendly customs officials to drink vodka, eat pickled fish and muck about with guns. For most overland travellers, the journey through the Pamir Mountains is pretty much what Tajikistan is all about.

A cheerful Kyrgyz chap wearing a traditional hat. A yurt. A dismembered cow’s leg hanging out at the bazar. Some snaps from around Murghab, the last main town we passed on our way through the Pamirs.

Our escape from the fighting in Khorog turned out to be pretty well timed. We packed up and left the hostel as a group of ten cyclists (we decided leaving in convoy was our safest bet). The town’s main street was littered with bullet shells and blood stains, shot-up buildings, burnt-out cars, people driving around waving white flags and lots of women and children leaving town.

We had been told by the hostel owner that the fighting in Khorog was very localised… and if we could make it as little as 5 kilometres out of town, we would be safe. It seemed pretty unbelievable as we reached the first village to be greeted by happy kids and people who claimed they hadn’t even heard the massive amount of gunfire earlier that morning. Less friendly looking were the groups of men and teenage boys all standing around waiting for cars and buses (many with bullet splattered windscreens) to take them back into Khorog.

Enough about about guns and war. Luckily, as tourists, mere passers by, we’re in the surreal and fortunate position to be able to file the memory of this genuinely worrying 48 hours along with the other exciting tales from our trip. Without trying to sound corny, if I stop for a minute and think about the people who have to live with this chaos and violence: the friendly family at the hostel, the majority of the people who just want get on, go to work, live normal lives… it reminds me (as our pal Ed said to me before we left) that when you’re traveling for an extended length of time, you can sometimes begin to feel a certain level of invincibility…. even begin to feel detached from the places and people you are experiencing. Floating from one experience to the next. As a tourist it’s always in the back of my mind that wherever I am, whoever we’re with and whatever situation we’re in we can always just decide enough’s enough, book a flight and return to the security of our comfortable, safe life back home. At 6.30am on Monday 22nd July this non-existant safety bubble was popped on our realisation that all Mobile Phone networks had been switched off. We couldn’t contact anyone. With a horrible backdrop of gunfire, all we could do was sit and wait. There was no clicking of shoes to magic us back home and out of that situation.

DANGER – EXPLODING LEGS! The landscape along the Tajik/ Afgan border was (and perhaps still is) littered with landmines. Henna, make-up or ammo… your guess is as good as ours.

Inconveniently all of the zips on our tent decided that after getting full of dust they would stop woring as we camped in the snow at 4000 + metres… conveniently (for me) Mary spent ages stitching up the flapping doors. Looking forward to getting a new tent!

The reason I mentioned that our escape from Khorog was well timed is because as we made our way up into the bleak and beautiful mountain landscape of the Pamirs we were repeatedly stopped by soldiers and told it was not safe to stop and camp, and that we should keep making our way up to Kygyzstan. Obviously we ignored this advice and had a great time riding and camping in the wilderness. As we cycled on we met several other tourists who were travelling the other way, and trying to begin their Pamir adventure, only to be refused entry at each military check point. Turns out the Pamirs (along with most of eastern Tajikistan) is now closed for tourists. It seems that, at least for the foreseeable future, we were the last cyclists to make it through this epic part of the World.

Now into day six of relaxing, being clean, fixing equipment, and of course eating and drinking alot, it’s been nice spending a few days back in civilisation here in the Kygyz city of Osh. Tomorrow, with Arian and Monique (new friends from Holland who are also cycling to Australia), and Hanne and Ramon (Finnish and Kiwi couple pedalling home to New Zealand), we’ll start making our way up to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and embark on what’s promising to be another mountainous challenge; applying for Chinese tourist visas.

Have a look at our Tajikistan photos here


12 Responses to “Tajikistan… Last of the Pamir tourists”

  1. Regarding your pictures: What an amazing place, so barren and rugged. Reminds me of Nepal. Eye opening how people can make a life in the midst of such harsh environments, and come across as so gentle and happy. Looks like you are having an incredible adventure. I’m super jealous.

    Good luck with the Chinese Visas.

    Safe travels,



    Posted by Anners | August 16, 2012, 8:06 am
  2. What exactly is the expression under Mary’s hands?

    Good luck in the next stage of the adventures.

    Lots of love Xxx


    mary Reply:

    I’m laughing behind my hands and very happy! Rosie cheeked from my two bowls of voddie from the Tajik guards! It was a fun encounter, really happy guys who loved having us all squeezed on their bunk beds showing off – Pete failed to mention it was just me, Moniek and Hanne who were originally invited in for drinks and pickled fish, the boys were waiting in the cold until we dragged them inside to enjoy the merriment!
    Hope all is well with you! Squeek soon! xxx


    Posted by Bean | August 16, 2012, 12:17 pm
  3. Hi guys,

    We subscribe to your blog and like it a lot. Seems like you have had a lot of interesting adventures lately.

    We are slowly going that way and we were wondering what you guys thought about crossing the mountains in the summer? Weather and roads OK? Would it be doable in the spring?

    Also, do you have a link to the Finnish-Australian couple by any chance?

    Take care!


    mary Reply:

    Hey Olli! Glad you enjoy the blog. It’s always lovely to get alittle feedback. The Pamirs were great weather wise for us, and I’m sure you could do them earlier then we did, perhaps a month or more – all depending on how much you like snowy passes I guess!
    Hanne and Ramon don’t have a blog, but we are still with them now and will be til Bishkek so if you have any specific questions we can pass them on – he’s a kiwi by the way and raised a cheeky eyebrow at being classed as an Aussie!!!
    Safe travels Olli, if you have a blog would love to check it out xx


    Posted by Olli | August 16, 2012, 3:49 pm
  4. Well, at least you’ll soon have a new tent (hopefully)


    Posted by Mum/Marian | August 16, 2012, 3:52 pm
  5. Loved all the shots, it’s usually very hard to convey the scale, depth and mightiness of a landscape in a photograph, but you both hit the jackpot here. Fantastic!


    mary Reply:

    JAAAM! Glad you are still tuning in to our escapades, how are yours in lovely Guernsey? xxx


    Posted by Jim | August 16, 2012, 9:59 pm
  6. Mouse, I suspect your expression was a sort of ‘how on this earth have i found myself here with a very very big gun under my seat? Thoughts of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire?’ At least that guy was laughing even if you weren’t! All a world away from growing up in Fishponds when the nearest you got to playing with guns was with toy ones in the back garden with Ben and mates! Safer travels on this next bit leaving the dramatic but perilous Pamirs behind you. Love you xxx mum Jen


    mary Reply:

    Ramon was smiling as he just got to pose with the gun! And i’m smiling too mum – all is well!! Love you so much! DON’T WORRY ABOU US, as we say things always work out for us in the end! xx


    Posted by Mum - Jen | August 17, 2012, 10:12 am
  7. Well logging on to your website is even better entertainment than tuning in to the Archers every night!
    Pete – your birthday present is on it’s way.

    Good luck on the next stage of your travels. YELG xxx


    Posted by YELG | August 21, 2012, 7:42 am
  8. Ha! Ace, I wasn’t sure if it was hilarity or despair!

    Mmmm, vodka and pickled fish. Those guys really know how to treat a girl.

    Miss you.

    Love Bean Xx


    Posted by Bean | August 29, 2012, 5:35 pm

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