The Bartang valley, one of the most adventurous ways of crossing the Pamirs

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.

The Bartang valley is one of the wildest and most remote ways of crossing the Pamirs. With bad roads, landslides, water crossings, amazing hospitality from the locals but also with days of complete solitude it was quite an adventure and the following photo journal tells the story of the 7 days I’ve spent cycling from Sary-Tash to Rushan.

The last camping spot in Kyrgystan, before the Pamir. The 7000 meter high mountain range rises like a barrier in from of anyone comming from the north. In the middle the gate to the Pamir's the Kyzyl-Art pass is visible.

The last camping spot in Kyrgystan, before the Pamir. The 7000 meter high mountain range rises like a barrier in from of anyone comming from the north. In the middle the gate to the Pamir's the Kyzyl-Art pass is visible.

High altitude and extremely clean air create the perfect conditions for an incredibile sky.

High altitude and extremely clean air create the perfect conditions for an incredibile sky.

The entrance into Tadjikistan is mark by a 1300 meter climb. The scenery changes completely as you pass into one of the highest deserts in the road. And yes, Marco Polo sheep decorate almost all mountain passes in the region.

The entrance into Tadjikistan is mark by a 1300 meter climb. The scenery changes completely as you pass into one of the highest deserts in the road. And yes, Marco Polo sheep decorate almost all mountain passes in the region.

River crossings, the bane of ciclists and motorists alike. If the water is too high each river crossing actually means 6 river crossings, one for two panniers, one for the other two and a last one for the bike.

River crossings, the bane of ciclists and motorists alike. If the water is too high each river crossing actually means 6 river crossings, one for two panniers, one for the other two and a last one for the bike.

The 4000 meter high Karakol lake has been formed by a meteor 10 million years ago. The village bearing the same name is the last settlement for 150 kilometers.

The 4000 meter high Karakol lake has been formed by a meteor 10 million years ago. The village bearing the same name is the last settlement for 150 kilometers.

Small sand-dunes across the Pamir plateau in the soft light of the sunset.

Small sand-dunes across the Pamir plateau in the soft light of the sunset.

Kyrgyz boys helping out in finding one of the shops in Karakul. With no official shops some locals have a room where they keep supplies and where you can find some really basic food-stuff.

Kyrgyz boys helping out in finding one of the shops in Karakul. With no official shops some locals have a room where they keep supplies and where you can find some really basic food-stuff.

Straight roads on the M41 highway, with surpisingly good asfalt some times.

Straight roads on the M41 highway, with surpisingly good asfalt some times.

The entrance on the Bartang valley, the shortest and probably the hardest way of crossing the Pamirs. With 300 kilometers of bad roads ahead and and with days of complete solitude it's sometimes good to have a moment and think if you actually want to start into the small adventure.

The entrance on the Bartang valley, the shortest and probably the hardest way of crossing the Pamirs. With 300 kilometers of bad roads ahead and and with days of complete solitude it's sometimes good to have a moment and think if you actually want to start into the small adventure.

One of the first river crossings, fortunately this time the water levels were not really high. After hearing stories of people lossing paniers in river crossing in earlier in the year I was quite relied when the locals generally said that water shouldn't be a problem.

One of the first river crossings, fortunately this time the water levels were not really high. After hearing stories of people lossing paniers in river crossing in earlier in the year I was quite relied when the locals generally said that water shouldn't be a problem.

The other way of crossing towards the Bartang, unfortunately low supplies and the need to carry to much water forced the two germans to turn back to Karakol.

The other way of crossing towards the Bartang, unfortunately low supplies and the need to carry to much water forced the two germans to turn back to Karakol.

Wild 6000 snow covered peaks rise up from the plateu, in a scenery which seems from another planet. The weather is incredibly unpredictable and you can go from sunshine to a severe storn  in less than half an hour.

Wild 6000 snow covered peaks rise up from the plateu, in a scenery which seems from another planet. The weather is incredibly unpredictable and you can go from sunshine to a severe storn in less than half an hour.

Chossing the right road can be sometimes difficult, especially on the plateu. Fortunately at this particular intersection it was pretty clear which was the main road.

Chossing the right road can be sometimes difficult, especially on the plateu. Fortunately at this particular intersection it was pretty clear which was the main road.

The storm and rain over the distant peaks.

The storm and rain over the distant peaks.

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An ancient lunar calender lies at 3900 meters on the plateau. It makes you wonder of the times when it was built, and how much and at the same time how little the landscape and the people have changed since then.

An ancient lunar calender lies at 3900 meters on the plateau. It makes you wonder of the times when it was built, and how much and at the same time how little the landscape and the people have changed since then.

With no cars seen for two days pitching the tent in the middle of the road isn't a problem. Enjoying the long shadows of the sunset.

With no cars seen for two days pitching the tent in the middle of the road isn't a problem. Enjoying the long shadows of the sunset.

After two days on the plateau it's time to descent to the Bartang valley, which I would follow for the next 5 days.

After two days on the plateau it's time to descent to the Bartang valley, which I would follow for the next 5 days.

One of the landslides which caused quit a bit of mayhen in the Pamirs in 2015. Locals said that July was one of the hottest months they could remember, an issue which combined with unusually high rainfall caused a lot damage to the already battered roads.

One of the landslides which caused quit a bit of mayhen in the Pamirs in 2015. Locals said that July was one of the hottest months they could remember, an issue which combined with unusually high rainfall caused a lot damage to the already battered roads.

Finally once again civilization after 3 days, the Goudara village.

Finally once again civilization after 3 days, the Goudara village.

Weat, the main crop in the region. All villages are linked to a water source and they are like small green islands in an otherwise rough and barren desert.

Weat, the main crop in the region. All villages are linked to a water source and they are like small green islands in an otherwise rough and barren desert.

Cooking nan (bread) for the next week in the circular oven called tandor. The flat bread is just "glued" on the inner side of the oven and left to bake.

Cooking nan (bread) for the next week in the circular oven called tandor. The flat bread is just "glued" on the inner side of the oven and left to bake.

There is a clear delimitation betwen the people living on the plateau which are enthically kyrgyz and the people from the valles which are pamiris. Meeting once again indo-european features after quite a time.

There is a clear delimitation betwen the people living on the plateau which are enthically kyrgyz and the people from the valles which are pamiris. Meeting once again indo-european features after quite a time.

The hospitality of the pamiris is legendary, especially in the remote villages from the area. Fresh bread, butter, tea and the seasonal apricots are quickly layed out in the shadow.

The hospitality of the pamiris is legendary, especially in the remote villages from the area. Fresh bread, butter, tea and the seasonal apricots are quickly layed out in the shadow.

The village of Savdon, showing how little land is actually needed to supply almost all what is needed for the locals.

The village of Savdon, showing how little land is actually needed to supply almost all what is needed for the locals.

The dinner overlooking 7000 meter mountains.

The dinner overlooking 7000 meter mountains.

The host for the night. Knowing a bit of russian can get you a long way in the Pamirs as almost everyone speaks some Russian. The host, veteran of the russian afghan war and currently a teacher in the Nisur village.

The host for the night. Knowing a bit of russian can get you a long way in the Pamirs as almost everyone speaks some Russian. The host, veteran of the russian afghan war and currently a teacher in the Nisur village.

The cyclists tan, with probably one of the best possible backgrounds.

The cyclists tan, with probably one of the best possible backgrounds.

The village of Rusorv, perched at 3000 meters bellow the vertical 6000 meter Lapnazar peak.

The village of Rusorv, perched at 3000 meters bellow the vertical 6000 meter Lapnazar peak.

One of the bits where the road has been washed out by the river. The upper villages from the Bartang valley have been sealed off from the world and supplies had to be flown in with helicopters from Khorog for almost one month from Khorog.

One of the bits where the road has been washed out by the river. The upper villages from the Bartang valley have been sealed off from the world and supplies had to be flown in with helicopters from Khorog for almost one month from Khorog.

Riding on the along the Bartang river, as the valley gradually becomes wider and more tamed.

Riding on the along the Bartang river, as the valley gradually becomes wider and more tamed.

The dust and sand gather from the Bartang during the last evening spent in the valley, once again in a grassy camping spot.

The dust and sand gather from the Bartang during the last evening spent in the valley, once again in a grassy camping spot.

Fresh apples an another invitation for tea. One of the thing which almost all locals want to find out how is life in your country, how much things cost and how can you afford to travel on a bicycle. With an medium wage of less than 100 dollars a month Tadjikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia.

Fresh apples an another invitation for tea. One of the thing which almost all locals want to find out how is life in your country, how much things cost and how can you afford to travel on a bicycle. With an medium wage of less than 100 dollars a month Tadjikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia.

And finally the end of the Bartang valley, after 7 days of bad roads, a lot of bits when you feel in the middle of nowhere, a lot of adventure and an equal amount of hospitality. With only 3 tourits met in 7 days and none on bicycles it's clearly one of the most adventurous ways of crossing the Pamirs.

And finally the end of the Bartang valley, after 7 days of bad roads, a lot of bits when you feel in the middle of nowhere, a lot of adventure and an equal amount of hospitality. With only 3 tourits met in 7 days and none on bicycles it's clearly one of the most adventurous ways of crossing the Pamirs.

15 thoughts on “The Bartang valley, one of the most adventurous ways of crossing the Pamirs

  1. Amazing pictures!
    I came across Sary Tash as well, but continued cycling towards china at that time, but after seeing your pics i think i definitely have to go there again and chose the way into the pamir mountains 😉
    Take care and have fun,
    Chris

  2. Wow, amazing pictures! We wanted to cycle through the Bartang Valley in 2012,but the whol GBAO was closed due to the shooting in Khorog. Now we know what we have missed!

    1. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. On the other hand it’s never too late to go back, basically you can to a nice loop starting from Osh and including both the Bartang and the Wakhan, and I think it’s really worth it.

  3. Fantastic trip and pictures. I guess you did not take pictures of the worst parts of the road because you had to be focused on riding. How did you manage your water supply, did you bring some purifying equipment? How did you handle the altitude? I am impressed 😉

    Thank you for sharing!

    Erik Neu

    1. No puryfing equipement, the water is pretty clean and I just drank what the locals drank and I had no problems. At the same time it could be because I might have a stronger stomach as a lot of people had problems through either in Tadjikistan or in Uzbekistan…

  4. Hello!
    Fantastic trip and photos!!!
    We are planning to try to cycle the same road this September. Any tips?
    And do You have any information about the situation in Dushanbe after last week’s shooting? We got pretty worried when we heard about this and are looking for any information from reliable sources.
    Thx!!!
    Once again wonderful photos!!!
    Best wishes,
    Marta Makulec

    1. I think the last weeks shooting was something related to an incident where the police beat a young man to death leading to retaliations from the rich parents. That being said after the incident Dushanbe seemed just as safe as before and I didn’t here anything unusual from the friends which left for the Pamirs.

      Regarding tips for the Pamir and for the Bartang valley I would say it’s useful to be prepared for having tough roads until you reach the plateau (100 kilometers before Karakol), after that the road quality improves slightly but at the end you will be really happy to reach the asphalt once again… Besides that just don’t try to go to fast or too many kilometers in one day and just enjoy the places and the people. While I can cycle on flat good roads between 150 to 200 kilometers per day in the Bartang the average was around 40 kilometers a day for almost 7 days…

  5. Salut!
    Super fotografii!
    Si eu iubesc excursiile cu bicicleta, aventura, neasteptatul si solitudinea. Totusi nu as alege pentru nimic in lume sa calatoresc prin Mongolia sau Tadjikistan etc.
    Care este pentru tine principala bucurie sau principalul motiv pentru care alegi astfel de itinerarii?

  6. Hi Radu,

    I love your post! I would like to republish it on my website. How can I reach you? I cannot find any contact info on your page.

    All the best,
    Steven

  7. Great summary of the trip and great photos. It is really impressive that you did this back road all by yourself by bike. Truly amazing.

  8. I have just returned from staying in Basid and a wonderful trip up into the mountains. Sadly the family I stayed with son had just died travelling by car with friends to the next village. He got a puncture resulting in his car skidding off the road into the river. Bartang valley is so special! I am hoping to return next year and would like to walk from Lake Karakul to Rushan taking a donkey with me! Any advice?

  9. Hello!!
    Very good post about Bartang and generally about Tajikistan. We are very happy that you have appreciated the hospitality of our peoples.
    we are happy to offer everyone an wondrous adventure across Tajikistan.
    zarabinov.a@yahoo.com
    Viber: +992 501-15-69-19

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