2015 Tajikistan (1/2): Pamir Warm-Up

Places Tajikistan. Pamir Mountains, GBAO, Pamir Highway. Khorog, Varshedz, Rushan Range
Time & length July 2015, 10 days
Partners Sofia Matousek
We arrived in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and took a shared taxi along the Pamir Mountains to the small village of Varshedz where we established our base camp. From there we went on a 5-day acclimatization trip over an unnamed pass in 4.570 meters altitude and prepared for our long trek in the Tajik National Park.

Route: StartPassEnd

Instead of Alaska I chose to travel to the Himalayas this summer. Tajikistan was the first country Sofia and I visited on this 8-months journey. Neither of us had been to the Pamir Mountains before, so we were very excited to experience the vast nature and the wonderful people of an area that hardly sees any tourists at all.

In the early morning of July 11 we arrived in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. After shopping for trekking food at the biggest bazar in town, we were invited to dinner by a bunch of local men who celebrated their Ramadan evening meal together. The next morning we took off on a 17-hour ride along the Pamir Highway to Khorog. The road was very rough and most drivers seemed to be in a big hurry – trust me, the Pamir Highway is not for the faint-hearted. We shared our jeep with 6 Tajiks who seemed to be used to this style of driving but for Sofia and me it was quite an experience. Late at night we ran into a landslide that apparently had just occurred before we got there. It took almost two hours until the road was clear again. After we finally reached Khorog at 2 am, we checked into a small hotel and went to sleep.

The next day we walked around the city and met a wonderful lady named Roziya who just walked up to us and, without any hesitation, asked us to join her family for dinner. We agreed and went with her. Her husband Feruz was already waiting for us at home and quickly started a conversation about German history, tradition and religion. We made some good friends that evening.

On July 14 we took a taxi to the small town of Varshedz on the Pamir Highway. Varshedz has a couple of small supermarkets but no hotel or homestay. Still, the place seemed to be a good starting point for both of our hiking trips planned in the area, so we asked around if any local family could spare a room and host us for some time. That took less than one minute – immediately some elderly woman invited us to her spacious house, gave us a huge room and prepared food for us. She couldn’t speak any English but with the help of a translator she explained that we could stay for as long as we wanted and even leave some stuff there while we were out hiking. That was exactly what we were looking for. So for as long as we were in the Pamirs, this was our base camp.

The next day we started our acclimatization tour. Since all the valleys and mountain passes in the area are quite high, typically between 3.000 and 5.000 meters, it was clear to me that we needed some time to adjust. Just 10 km west of Varshedz we took a bridge over the Ghund River and hiked northwards into a valley inhabited by shepherds and their cattle. In the evening we made camp at around 3.600 m altitude and I was already sick. Vomiting, diarrhea, pain in the limbs and an overall weakness. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised; the same thing had happened to me on the first trekking day of my previous Himalaya visit in 2011. I was prepared and ready to wait until I would feel better. It took one full day; after that I was healthy again and ready to continue.

So we kept going, but now it was Sofia who was feeling weak. We made camp early and decided to rest until she was okay again. That evening I found some interesting rock engraving while taking a dump in a hidden place; later the villagers told us that they had not seen those specific engravings in that area before.

On July 18 at around noon we reached the 4.570 m high pass. Due to some snow and ice on the east side of the pass, the descent was a little tricky, but Sofia and I managed to get down safely. We kept going until sunset and then pitched our tent in some abandoned shepherd’s site.

On our way back to Varshedz, we descended another 1.200 meters altitude and crossed the Ghund River again. The sky was now covered with dark clouds and it started to rain. Back at our “home” in Varshedz we were well received with a warm meal and some hot washing water.

We rested a full day in Varshedz and then continued to Bachor where we went on a 15-day hike in the Tajik National Park. Please continue reading here.