DAY 34 – The good, the bad, and the Pamir

234 miles (78 leagues for Captain Nemo)
#Dushanbe to #Kalaikhum

Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is the gateway to the Tajik part of the mighty M41, the 2000 km long highway which runs from Termez, in Uzbekistan, and ends in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. On its route through Tajikistan, the M41 climbs up the mastif of Pamir, where the highest pass reaches 4655 meters.

The first good stopover is Kalaikhum, a small village on the border with Afghanistan, where the M41 starts following the valley of the Pyanj River. And there is where we head today. After the usual routines you do in a new country (buying the SIM card, withdrawing money, etc), we start the car, direction Kalaikhum.

Talking with someone, we came to know that there’s a southern route to reach Kalaikhum, which doesn’t trace the M41, instead runs along the valley of the Afghan border from before. Such road should have asphalt, and the views on the valley are apparently stunning. So we decide to go that way, although it sensibly longer than the M41. The road starts going up not long after having left Dushanbe, offering us a nice view on the turquoise Nurak Reservoir. Everything goes right until we reach Khulob, where we have lunch before starting the mountain bit. Everything seems really fine, until the moment we enter the car after lunch and we start driving. We turn right to take the main road, and we find many people coming towards us, making us sign that the road is closed. Never mind, let’s find another way to take the main road.

Well, we don’t find any other way, as every road we take brings to a broken bridge, or something that prevent us to keep going on the main road. So we go for the “secondary” road, which is actually something we weren’t missing at all: a nice, long, steep, gravel road we big stones. For at least 15 kms. When we reach the military post (to enter all the Pamir area you need a special permit, which is checked when you pass from one of the “gates”), the officers look at us asking why the hell we took that road. Sadly, there’s no real answer.

The beauty of the Pyanj River valley suddenly stands in front of our eyes. We go down in a landscape of multicolour rocky mountains, and then we run along the river, where small Afghan villages made of mud and stones constellate the other side of the valley. Everything is made better by the well and new paved road (apart from a couple of abandoned flipped lorries we find on our way). The dream ends 30 kms from our goal, Kalaikhum. It’s 7:30pm, almost dark, and the real nature of M41 manifests itself: gravel, stones, dust. It takes 1 hours and a half to run that 30 kms. Fortunately the homestay we find when arrive helps in getting everything better, satisfying our craving for Plov (Plov for dinner again?!).

We sleep on the terrace, wondering about what to expect from tomorrow.

Number of countries crossed: 14
Days without accidents: 1
Number of times the counter has been reset: 3
Number of times the Jelly Belly has been washed: 1