A select photo gallery of our cycling trip across the Central Asian highlands connecting Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan range to the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan with my 64-year-old father-in-law who joined us from Bishkek to Dushanbe.
A light drizzle from the previous evening turns to snow overnight as we wake up to a white world as we camped above 2500m on our way to Son Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan. We sent this picture as a warning about rapidly changing mountain weather to my husband’s father as he packed his bags to join us.
A magical moment after riding through sleet and snow the whole morning crossing the rugged 3800m high Tosor Pass in Kyrgyzstan.
Taking in a bit of Bishkek culture with a close examination of luxury Hummers usually rented out for weddings. This would be the last of urban excess we would witness before arriving in Dushanbe.
It doesn’t take long for asphalt to reduce to gravel as Alain found out on the first day of cycling. Breathing in the slipstream of passing vehicles can leave one gagging – a reason we often chose smaller lesser frequented roads.
The second day of cycling saw Alain, my father-in-law tackling his very first 1000+m climb to a pass, unavoidable when cycling in the highlands of Central Asia.
Gazing down on the sandstone cliffs of the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan after a long day’s climb up an unnamed pass.
A Kyrgyz herder churns fresh cream next to the summer yurt where they will stay till autumn.
Semi-nomadic Kyrgyz herders who move with their yurts and children to their summer pastures would often invite us to camp beside them.
An elaborate Soviet mural celebrating local Kyrgyz shepherds mark our entry into the Kazarman district of Kyrgyzstan
Keeping Alain hydrated turned out to be our biggest challenge as we had to keep reminding him to drink water during the day. A cup of tea is a welcome drink after setting up our tent for the night.
The weather quickly shifts in the high mountains as we spent a whole day cycling through sleet to cross the 3068m high Kaldama Pass that opens into the Ferghana Valley, one of the most important valleys of the historic Silk Road from Kashgar and Samarkhand.
A moment of glee after a long hard climb up the 3062m high Kaldama Pass
Fresh juvenile river trouts were a welcome surprise when cycling through Kyrgyzstan though the number of roadside battered and fried fish joints has us wondering if there were any regulations in place to control catch.
A portrait of a local Kyrgyz lady at the Osh market which continues to be an important trade route between China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan till today much like during the days of the Silk Road.
Two weeks and close to a 1000km later for Alain, we tackle the remote border crossing from border town of Sary-Tash into Tajikistan and the start of the Pamir Mountains.
Despite its rugged state and remote location, the Kyzyl-Art border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is still used regularly by travellers who are more prone to stop and chat with other traveller they cross.
Nearing the top of the Kyzyl-Art Pass that marks the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. A laborious climb rewarded by majestic views of the peaks we’ve been seeing at a distance for 100s of kilometres
a close-up view of the layers of stratified rocks of the Pamir Mountains that date back to the Cretaceous Period.
An old Soviet bus stand and remnants of a border guard lookout post mark the entry into Karakul, a Kyrgyz village that is now a part of Tajikistan as serves as an entry point into the Pamirs when coming from Kyrgystan.
We left the border town of Karakul to cycle straight into the Pamir Plateau on a dirt trail that would lead us to the upper part of the Bartang Valley.
Alain on the Pamir Plateau leaving the 3960m high Karakul Lake district on the first day of cycling on a road parallel to the Pamir Higway
Navigating a jeep track through ancient lava flow in the Bartang Valley, an older less frequented route that runs almost parallel to the Pamir Highway.
A group of semi-nomadic Pamiri Herders head into their summer pastures on their bi-annual migration.
Despite its remote location jeep tracks criss-cross the Pamir Plateau offering numerous alternatives to the more frequented Pamir Highway on which trucks from China regularly ply.
The first day of cycling on the Pamir Plateau surrounded by 7000+m peaks towering above us.
A view of Kudara, the first Pamiri village we crossed as we descended into the Bartang Valley from the Pamir Plateau. The 200km jeep track from here to the main paved road is a 5-6 hour by jeep butot would take us close to 5 days to complete.
Our arrival in Savnob village in the Bartang Valley is occasion to light up the traditional communal oven, called tandoor, to bake fresh bread for guests and local villagers alike.
Fresh bread being baked in the communal stove in the Pamiri village of Savnob.
We spent a week cycling through the narrow canyons of Bartang Valley to avoid the more frequented main Pamir Highway.
Getting feet wet to navigate scores of mountain streams and arms of the Bartang valley is a daily affair. The crossing slows us down enough for village kids who accompanied us for a few kilometres to catch up.
The verdant green of Pamiri villages is a sharp contrast to the stark rocky mountains around and we were often invited to camp in the orchards of villagers.
Summer snow melt turns the Bartang River into a turgid turbulent torrent.
The rugged terrain and rough life in remote villages makes hospitality an unspoken code and we would often be invited in for tea breaks and meals. Local lore says many Pamiris are descendants of Alexander the Great’s army as they swept through the region on their way to conquer India.
Two curious Pamiri children stop to chat in halting english as they head home with their bundle of dry kindling for cooking. Fuel is a huge issue in many remote villages in the Pamirs where wood is scarce.
Soviet-era sturdy Uaz mini-vans are the most common form of local shared transportation to get to isolated villages in the Pamir Mountains.
We rode for a week along the Bartang Valley before joining the main road to Khorog, the biggest town of the Grono-Badakshan region of Tajikistan.
The confluence of two rivers at the upper end of the scenic Shokh Dara valley where we headed for a small loop again to take in more of the hidden valleys of the Pamir Mountains.
A view of the 6510m high Mt. Engels behind the cairn. Most Soviet-era names have been replaced by newer more nation state symbolic titles but Mt. Engles and Karl Marx peak tucked away in the little visited Shokh Dara Valley retain their communist names.
A clear view of Karl Marx peak in the rarely visited Shok Dara valley.
A shepherd family on the Upper Shokh Dara valley welcome us for tea and bread in their summer pastures where they will remain till September.
Villages in the Pamirs are irrigated by intricate networks of irrigation canals, some of which are hundreds of years old, turning settlements into green oasis amidst the stark mountain scenery.
A welcome break for a shashlik in a small roadside restaurant along the main Pamir Highway. With growing number of visitors passing by, guesthouses and restaurants are easier to find along the main Pamir Highway or the M41.
Tajikistan is one of the most remittance dependent countries in the world with over 1 million Tajiks working as unskilled labourers in Russia. Many leave their children behind in the care of their grandparents as in this case of a lonely grandmother caring for her three grandchildren.
With frequent landslides and heavy snow in winter, inhabitants of the Bartang Valley are dependant on this old Soviet bulldozer to keep their villages accessible all year round.
Sturdy Soviet trucks and jeeps, apart form our bicycles, are the only vehicles that can survive the rough remote jeep trials of the Pamirs.
The simple outlines of a traditional Pamiri house, built of wood, stone and mud blends into the landscape belying the intricate woodwork that lies within.
The intricate details of the four layers of wooden beams that form a skylight is a typical feature of all Pamiri houses. Apart from the religious and cultural symbolism, these beams and their supporting pillars have proved to also withstand earthquakes in a seismic activity prone region.
A view of the wooden pillars and beams that support the skylight that forms the central living area of a traditional Pamiri house.
Around 250km of the Pamir Highway runs right along the Panj River that demarcates the border with Afghanistan allowing travellers a view across the border into Afghan villages and a peek of the Hindu Kush mountain range.
A glimpse across the Panj river into Afghanistan and the remnants of a natural snow cave villagers use as a natural refrigerator during the hot summer months.
Although he lost close to 5 kilos and says it was the toughest trip of his life physically and mentally, Alain is keen to join us on another cross country cycling trip hoping that the addition of a toddler to our life now might slow us down.
Our cycling trip across the Pamirs would be forever etched in our hearts and muscles. Although the bicycle made us travel slowly, I was often too exhausted to find out as much as I wanted to about the fascinating history and culture of the Pamiris who made such a harsh terrain their home. The majestic landscape while breathtaking is not one easily tamed and the Pamiris have adapted their lives to survive the both the bounties and vagaries of living at the feet of towering glaciated peaks. Unable to resist the idea of a return, I travelled back once again and retraced our cycling route for a series of video reports on life in the Pamirs – from the hopes of a group young women hoping to turn the region into a world class trekking destination to how the traditional architecture adapted to survive earthquakes and landslides continues to save lives till today and how climate change is affecting life in the mountains. These are a few photos I took between filming sessions as my trip was focused on videos.