Part 11 (6 - 16 September) Tajikistan

We had heard many stories about Tajikistan. About epic landscapes, beautiful off road tracks and the very friendly Tajik people. But also about travelers suffering from extreme altitude, the cold climate, bad quality of water and lack of hygiene.

Road conditions were universally described as terrible, if there are roads at all. Landslides and waste-deep river crossings make the Pamir region hard to traverse and the border zone with Afghanistan is, as expected, not the safest place. 

We were advised not to drive through Tajikistan alone, so we teamed up with our fearless German friends Wanja and Julia and together we prepared for a real expedition! 

With our cars stocked up to the rafters with food and water we entered the stretch of no-man`s land between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The trip through no-man`s land took 2 hours over a dirt track, so we arrived pretty late at the Tajik side of the border.

When we finally got there we heard that the only senior border patrol officer who was allowed to let us in had car troubles at the base of the mountain... We had to wait 4 hours, at an altitude of 4200m, with a freezing temperature of -4C… Boy were we happy that we had acclimatized our bodies to the altitude at peak Lenin!  When we were finally admitted into the country, we had to drive down over a mountain road that could easily feature in an episode of ‘The world’s most dangerous roads’ … in pitch black darkness… and it started to snow. We slowly make our descend into the Pamirs.

We camped at the first available spot and the next morning it looked like we landed on the moon! There was nothing but rocks and sand… and a huge fence that belonged to China, who was engaged in a cold border-war with Tajikistan.


We headed for Karakul lake, but first we visited the town where we could see how the local Pamir people live: very basic under some tough circumstances due to the altitude and the extreme weather conditions.

The spot we found to camp was directly at the lake, in the middle of nowhere and completely deserted. Of course at 4000m altitude it was a bit too nippy to swim. The car also didn`t like the altitude so much, see the photo below what happened every morning when we were able to get it started J

Off road experts


Wanja proposed the next day to take the off-road track back to the Pamir Highway and we had a blast, some pretty tough conditions but nothing our cars couldn`t handle. Just before entering the main road again, we met Camil, an organizer of 4x4 off-road trips for those who like to do a rugged but safe off-road only trip. We decided to continue together by taking a detour over some nice dirt roads towards Shul Kul lake (lakes have a great attraction to us somehow J). 

When we tried to continue the next day we passed a Tajik military base where 2 military guys came running out stop us. They wanted to see our papers and explained very politely that we were entering a disputed border zone and if we were to continue, we would most likely be arrested by the Chinese for entering ‘their’ territory (although we would still be in Tajikistan). Okayyyy, let`s turn back to Murgab then…Camil wanted to explore some other dirt roads to use in his trips and we wanted to continue, so we said goodbye and headed south towards Yashil-Kul lake. On the way we visited a (small) geyser that gave Nicolette a (big) scare J See the dashcam video at 55 seconds J

To lose and get lost


The off-road bits got more rowdy and at one point we kind of lost the road and were trying to find our way back over some really rough tracks. Here we noticed ‘something’ flying out of our passenger side window, but didn`t see anything when we looked… we should have looked better, because once we arrived at Yashil Kul after an exhaustive drive, Nicolette noticed her phone was gone… After a harrowing drive back where Jeroen almost tipped the car over on a very steep incline, we amazingly enough found Nicolette`s phone lying on the side of the track. Good fortune for us!

Hidden gems


The next morning we headed in the direction of the Wakhan valley. This river valley forms the border with Afghanistan, so close that you can wave to the Afghan people living on the opposite side of the river and tending to their fields. The mountain roads were treacherous, and we were praying to the weather gods that the weather remained stable. The Wakhan valley was so epically beautiful that it became the highlight of our journey through the ‘–stan’ countries. At the beginning of the valley the roads were really rough and dangerous with stunning mountain views. But after 1 day they mellowed out into the bottom of the valley where Tajik farmers were merrily harvesting their crops in sunny weather.


We were greeted by so many beautiful smiling faces, it was a big contrast with the other ‘-stan’ countries. When we did a little walk towards a hillside stupa we stumbled upon rocks full of ruby gemstones. Up in the hills we had the luxury of spending the night next to some wonderful and revitalizing hot springs. All this made the Wakhan one of the highlights of our trip so far! 

Midnight troubles


But going up north we found that the region is not without its problems. A Russian fellow hot spring user explained to us there is a lot of Islamic extremism plaguing Tajikistan, and that the recently appointed ISIL minister of war actually is a former chief of police in Tajikistan.

This became very visible, along the border we encountered numerous Tajik armed patrols, some carrying sniper rifles, to fend off Taliban invaders and drug smugglers. On the Afghan side we could see heavily armed armored police trucks patrolling their side of the border and we had been warned not to stay in the area too long. 


So this is where we found a beautiful camp spot where we had the not-so-great idea to spend 2 nights instead of the usual 1 night. 1 night is a lot safer, because if you stay longer, people notice you and you are virtually painting a bulls-eye on you and your car.

It should not have come as a surprise that we got some company the second night. A car pulled over and 4 guys in leather jackets came out. They immediately rushed to the car of Wanja and Julia and, fortunately for us, only wanted money because they claimed we were standing on 'their' land. Wanja kept a cool head and settled at 40 Somoni (13 euro), which is pretty cheap for 2 nights with 2 cars at a good camp spot J. But an experience like this rattled our cage; what would we have done if these guys were trying to rob or kidnap us…

Shaken but not stirred we left the next day for the city of Khorog along the Tajik – Afghan border, the lowest point on our route at around 2000m altitude J Since this area has seen a lot of combat the last years and is still not considered stable, we decided just to pass through to fill up on fuel, food and cash. And a bit of souvenirs, as Julia bought a traditional Tajik dress which immediately gained her the favor of the Tajik people, great tip for all you travelers out there!

The hidden valley of Shadora


Entering Shadora we were amazed by its remoteness and complete lack of foreigners. On the Pamir highway and in the Wakhan you meet the occasional cyclist or overlander, but here, nothing. We were pleasantly surprised to find the roads were in pretty good condition and as we climbed higher, the views became more and more spectacular.

Especially when we reached a little village with hanging bridges that would not be out of place in a Lord of the Rings type setting. Incredibly beautiful! 

And then it became a bit harder


How great the first stretch of road in Shadora valley had been, the last 50km were hard, probably the hardest we had done so far and they even gave fearless Wanja an adrenalin rush. We had to climb steep roads and cross crumbling bridges, boulder-strewn rivers and huge rock slides. Wanja and Julia’s car got suck in the swampy mud and we needed our sand plates to pull them out. It was a magnificent experience. The ride may have been a bit tricky for the cars, but we both came out very dirty but undamaged and were a hell of a lot driving experience richer!

The last part was a big river crossing, but because we were there in the right season, the river was low and the crossing safe. We actually kissed the asphalt when we came out as we were very glad to have made it out without a scratch.

Leaving Tajikistan


There was snow in the air and this can mean trouble at the high passes we still had to cross. To avoid getting stuck in Tajikistan until spring 2017 J, we setup a last camp at the highest pass of 4650m. That night the temperatures reached -10C, a new record for us sleeping in our rooftop ‘tent’. But the sleeping bags, extra blankets and shared body heat got us through the night. In the morning we had ice on the inside of the car windows and our water tap was frozen shut! Brrrrr.

The next day we reached the border of Kyrgyzstan and we could cross without any hassle.


It has been a true privilege to visit unspoiled and absolutely beautiful Tajikistan together with our friends Wanja and Julia.

Thanks guys, we wouldn't have done it without you!

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Commentaren: 1
  • #1

    Karlchenkaiser (donderdag, 15 december 2016 07:38)

    Nice blog guys. Reminds us to our great time together...we will never forget our 5-Star-Menu-crazy-offroad-Tajik-Adventure with you. Big hugs



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