Tajikistan Pamir Explorer by Motorcycle (Guided)

Code: TAJ/PAMEXP/GUI/SEP19
14 Days
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Fixed Departure Date : September 9th – September 23rd 2019. See Itinerary below for details.

Done the A470 to Brecon? Seen the Stelvio? Ridden in the Picos? Fancy something a bit….well, different?

Let us take you far, far from the madding crowds…

Tajikistan. It’s a place that surprisingly few people have heard of, and fewer have visited. Ask most people around the world, and they might tell you it’s in Central Asia, or perhaps even that it’s close to where “they keep the other stans”. It’s a country the size of the US state of Iowa (or about half the size of Italy), and yet only around 400,000 people visit it per year. That’s seventeen times less than visit the Vatican’s half square kilometre each year. But believe it or not, Tajikistan was the world’s second fastest-growing tourist destination in 2016.  Maybe you should see it before the masses descend?

On this trip, you’ll not only ride along much of the fabled Pamir Highway, but we’ll take you away from it and into valleys and ranges few others have reached. In two glorious, thrilling weeks of riding, you’ll follow roaring rivers, glimpse eagles and marmots, meet Kyrgyz nomads, clamber around 2000 year old Silk Road fortresses, experience rich Tajik, Kyrgyz and Persian cultures, bathe in magical hot springs, be humbled by incredible Pamiri kindness and hospitality and on every twist and turn of the road you’ll be left speechless by jaw-dropping mountain scenery.

This is epic, panoramic, unforgettable stuff – a series of superlatives that you will carry in your memory for years to come. It’s a proper blast of adventure, neatly packaged into a fortnight’s holiday allowance.

The riding is tough at times – this is no weekend jaunt to the Alps – more than half our itinerary is on dirt roads and much of it will be at altitudes of up to 4655 metres, but we guarantee that you’ll find this challenging, glorious, life-affirming, spectacular expedition leaves you with a taste for further Central Asian adventures.

The bikes are well-maintained Suzuki DRz400 dual-sport machines and we will have a mechanic travelling with us in the back-up vehicle at all times.

Note that these little bikes are perfect for the terrain, but they are not suitable for two-up pillion travel.

DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION Dushanbe International Airport
DEPARTURE TIME Please ensure you arrive in good time for the expedition to begin, as noted in the itinerary and subsequent information pack we will send to you after booking.
INCLUDED
  • Suzuki Drz400 E/S motorcycle, prepared and maintained for your use.
  • All accommodation
  • All meals
  • Airport transfers
  • Fuel
  • Local English-speaking guide
  • Back-up vehicle with mechanic
  • Entry into local historical/cultural sites
  • Filtered water
  • Water-to-Go Filter bottle
NOT INCLUDED
  • International flights to/from Dushanbe (we can book these for you via our ATOL partner, so just let us know if you’d like us to organise)
  • Your riding equipment
  • Panniers – rental of 48 litre basic panniers can be arranged for $30
  • Refundable $500 deposit for the bike
  • Alcohol
  • Extra snacks
  • Visas and other permits as required (Tajik visa, GBAO permit)

Please note that we will need to see your proof of holding a motorcycle licence – experience counts but we do need to see a licence too, please.

An epic two-week ride amongst some of the least-explored mountain ranges on earth. Superlative riding with a mixture of on and off road sections. Unforgettable.

Tajikistan Pamir Explorer by Motorcycle – small group tour
September 9th = September 23rd 2019. Minimum group size 4 persons. Maximum Group size 7 persons.

1

Day 1: Monday

Arrive Dushanbe International Airport, Tajikistan
Flights (usually Turkish Airlines via Istanbul) arrive at the rather ungodly hour of 03.45 so this will be a gentle day of sleeping, acclimatising, eating and drinking.

2

Day 2: Tuesday

Lift Off!
It’s chocks away as we hit the road to Kala i Hussein 220 km east of the capital. We’ll stop for lunch by a lake where you can swim, and by then we will have left the tarmac behind for a few days as we head into the mountains proper.

3

Day 3: Wednesday

Kala i Hussein – Kala-i-Kumb
A thrilling (and at times chilly) 70 km ride over the 3852 m Khaburabot Pass to Kala-i–Kumb, where we join both the mighty Panj River and the border with Afghanistan. On the way we enter Gorno Badakhshan, the autonomous province that defines the Tajik Pamirs.

4

Day 4: Thursday

Kala-i-Kumb – Khorog
We head deeper into the mountains, following the Pamir Highway and the Panj 240 km south-east to Khorog along the Afghan border. Expect soaring eagles, stunning mountain scenery and dusty roads carved through deep river gorges.

5

Day 5: Friday

Khorog – Yamchun
From Khorog we continue south to Ishkashim. After this we turn east into the Wakhan Corridor, riding in the shadow of both the High Pamirs and Pakistan’s Hindu Kush. Tonight after a total ride of 160 km we stay in Yamchun, home to a 2000 year old Silk Road fortress and some extremely reviving hot springs.

6

Day 6: Saturday

Yamchun – Langar
There’s so much to see in the Wakhan Corridor that today we just ride 40 km to the village of Langar. On the way we climb up to Buddhist stupas, visit a great little museum and stop in some lovely Wakhi villages. The views here across to Afghanistan and Pakistan are quite something, and the family at tonight’s homestay are utterly delightful.

7

Day 7: Sunday

Langar – Hunting Camp
We leave the Wakhan Corridor and the Panj River behind us today and ride 130 km north and east, following the Pamir River through the Zorkul Nature Reserve. This route lies between the Alichur and Great Pamir mountain ranges and offers some rather spectacular views as we ford a 4400m pass. We’ll spend tonight with a friendly family at a hunting camp at over 4100m. More hot springs await us here!

8

Day 8: Monday

Hunting Camp – Murghab
From the camp it’s a blustery 165 km ride across the extraordinary lunar landscape of the Aksu River valley, to the town of Murghab. Now we really are riding on the Bam-i–Dunya, ‘the roof of the world.’ To our right lies the Saray Kol range and behind it, China. To our rear are Afghanistan and Pakistan; truly one of the most remote tri-borders in the world. Watch out for yaks, Kyrgyz nomads and fat golden marmots. Time and weather permitting, we will visit an abandoned Soviet observatory before arriving at Murghab.

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Day 9: Tuesday

Murghab – Hunting Camp
From Murghab we head north and then west along the M41 Pamir Highway, crossing two 4400+m passes as we traverse this incredible empty moonscape. After the second pass, we’ll branch off and pursue the wild Bartang valley. Views from here can be rather spectacular and the rural way of life is beguiling.

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Day 10: Wednesday

Bartang Valley
A beautiful ride west down the Bartang valley ending in a delightful homestay where we’ll have a relaxing stay tonight.

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Day 11: Thursday

Bartang Valley
Continuing to explore the Bartang valley, which contains one of the oldest threads of the Silk Road, shown on maps from 200AD. It is little visited, being off the ‘main’ road from Dushanbe to Khorog and subject to inaccessibility due to high river levels and landslides during much of the year. Today, we’ll exit the valley at it’s confluence with the Panj river. The road is among the roughest in the Pamirs, as it weaves its way between the Rushan and Yazgulom mountain ranges. By now, we’ll be at one with our motorised steeds, and hopefully the day will prove to be a hugely enjoyable exploration of this remote valley. We will head down the valley to a homestay in an apricot orchard tonight.

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Day 12: Friday

Bartang to Kala-i-Kumb
Today we ride north along the mighty Panj, diverting for a brief excursion into a side valley if time allows. We’ll stop with our lovely homestay in Kala-i-Kumb for our final night on the road.

13

Day 13: Saturday

Kala-i-Kumb – Dushanbe
Our final day’s riding, much of it on tarmac as we track the Afghan border towards Kulob. After 70 km on dirt we have 300 km on smooth tarmac roads, we’ll be back in Dushanbe for a triumphant return celebration, and a hearty supper.

14

Day 14: Sunday

Dushanbe
Day off in Dushanbe – it’s your time to explore this interesting city, maybe visit a spa for a massage, do a spot of shopping, explore the bazaar or just relax in the comfortable hotel.

15

Day 15: Monday

Dushanbe – Home
The suggested Turkish Airlines flight (via Istanbul) departs at another ungodly hour of 05.40. Hardly worth going to bed is it?

Where will we be staying?

On this expedition, we’ll be staying in good hotels in Dushanbe, Khorog and Osh, guest houses or basic hotels in other towns, and more often in homestays with local people and their families. The homestay concept is widely accepted throughout Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – particularly the former – so these nights are often highly enjoyable glimpses into local customs and lifestyles. We also stay in yurts in a couple of locations on this trip.

We feel that true luxury is getting to know a place and its people, not necessarily measured by the thread count of the bed linen or the number of hotel restaurants.

What size of group will it be?
Our group sizes are always small, allowing for an intimate experience of the cultures we meet along our path. On the Ultimate Pamir Highway route, group sizes are dictated by the size of the homes we will be staying in. Our group is usually 7 expeditioners, a guide and mechanic. We usually find groups are made of like-minded people, both male and female, from a wide age range, and where motorcycles are involved, this is particularly true.

Why have you chosen such small engined bikes?
In the words of our guide “the Pamir highway kills bikes”. And he should know! Our local guides have huge experience of working in these often hostile terrains, and after trying – and in most cases still owning – almost every type of bike imaginable (including the usual GS, KTM etc) have opted for the lightweight, mechanically simple and hugely robust Suzuki DRZ400. The bikes cope very well with the bumps and lumps and are comfortable both on and off the pegs. If your drop a bike, it likely won’t break and you’ll be able to pick it and yourself back up without needing a support team and a crane. We are huge fans.

How is this different to other itineraries in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan I’ve seen?
We’ve been doing this route for some time and we do it differently from others. Our groups are small and our focus is on travelling first and motorcycles second. This means our daily mileages are low as there is just too much to see to be tearing through at breakneck pace everywhere. Other tours cover our mileage in far less time, and we wish them well – it just isn’t our desire to rush through. Remember, our ethos is to take the time to stop, breathe and take it all in.

What will the weather be like?
A very difficult question to answer when traversing the fourth highest mountain range on earth. But, you can expect some hot days lower in the valleys and off the high plateaus – temperatures could be in 20-30C range or higher. At altitude, we have experienced every season in the course of a single day – warm sunshine followed by winds and rain, hail or snow on the passes and perhaps down to 0 degrees for a short period of time. In general, the rule of thumb is to expect warm days and cooler nights when we are out of the lowland areas.

I’m a solo traveller – is this for me?
Yes. More than 85% of our expedition clients travel alone as part of our group. You’ll travel as part of the group, not an outsider.

Do you charge single supplements – I can’t see them in your information?
Sometimes we cannot avoid it. We don’t believe that solo travellers should be penalised with extra charges.  It goes against our ethos, so unless totally unavoidable or astronomically expensive,  all costs are included in the expedition price. Please note that in many of our destinations, single rooms are simply not available due to the nature of the available tourism infrastructure.

What kit do I need to bring?
We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful.

How do I choose what to wear on the bike?
This is really a matter of personal choice, as all riders have their own modus operandi. However, our experience says that good expedition boots are very useful. We don’t tend to ride using metal-toed dirt boots, but some do. We use an adventure-style boot that allows good ankle protection and is stiff with protection on the shins. In terms of lid; we tend to favour flip-front helmets that can be lowered when cold and raised quickly to meet and greet people along the way. Although we are there during the least-rainy season we tend to use a pull-on overcoat and trousers that are kept to hand for quick access. Under these we ride in a well-ventilated and elbow/shoulder/back/knee armoured bike jacket and trousers – the better ventilated the happier you will be! As already highlighted, most riders have their own tried and tested methods. Our simplest motto would be to layer for multiple weather types.

Is there a back-up vehicle?
Yes. We will travel with a 4×4 carrying filtered water and spares where necessary. We also plan to have a spare bike available, and for there to be space to carry a bike in case of injury or illness on the road.

How much are flights?
This is a moving feast! It depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. From London, the cheapest flights to Dushanbe might be via Moscow. We use Turkish Airlines via Istanbul because they are good, cost-effective connections. Costs are usually around the £450 mark, return. Again, we’ll send you an information pack containing all the information you need when you book your place.

We can book your flights for you through our trade ATOL partners – please just ask us for details.

What will the food be like?
Varied; the Pamir area is not particularly agriculturally inclined, mostly due to the precipitous nature of the topography, and often poor soils. But many of our homestay hosts pride themselves on making good meals for their guests, so we will be well looked-after. If you are a vegetarian, food can be a little dull (lots of bread, potatoes and eggs with salads) but perfectly acceptable. For meat-eaters, pilaf is the main dish. Usually rice and meat in one dish and often very tasty. Freshly made non (bread) is available almost everywhere and can be delicious. We try to ensure we have some treat foods in the back-up vehicle for picnics. In general we think food is a core part of any cultural experience and there are a good number of local dishes to try on our route.

Will I be affected by altitude?
Altitude can affect different people in different ways. It can also affect the same person in different ways from trip to trip. We will be spending quite a number of days above 3000 metres, and up on the Alichur and Murghab plateaus, often above 4000 metres. We also cross some high passes, with the Ak Baital being 4700m (over 15,000 ft). If you feel that you might suffer from altitude sickness, or have history of it, you should consider discussing this with your doctor prior to booking and travel. Diamox and other similar prescription drugs are available to ease symptoms, but the key way to address any onset of altitude sickness is to descend. Luckily, from anywhere particularly high, descent is possible rapidly thanks to our back-up vehicle. Our route is also planned to gain altitude in the smallest increments possible to aid acclimatisation. Simple precautions and awareness go a long way.

Will I have to share a room?
Yes, at times. There may be hotels and guest houses where we will have separate rooms and wherever possible we will arrange this, but there will also be times where we are staying at homestays or in yurts when there is no option but to share rooms. This is all part of the adventure, and a reason we love to travel here. It makes sense for light sleepers to bring good earplugs and eyemasks, in case of snorers or the host family waking early.

Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions?
Yes. We are members of TRIP – the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention Group – and perform detailed country risk assessments prior to departure, in line with the ISO 31000 international standard for risk assessment. We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit, in addition to making use of the Australian Smart Traveller assessment tool, and the US State Department’s OSAC service. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition and are expedition first aid trained by Crux Medical. For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be. And we always carry a satellite phone if there is any danger of being out of signal in the places we travel through. We really don’t mess around when it comes to safety.

I can’t do your dates but love the sound of your expedition – can you be flexible?
Yes. We offer set group dates for many of our expeditions, but we can organise and deliver bespoke expeditions to groups and individuals to suit your itinerary and budget. More information is available on our tailor made tours page.

Is it a guaranteed departure?
As with any itinerary we need to reach a minimum number of guests to make it viable. On the Ultimate Pamir Highway by Motorcycle tour this is 5 people from a possible 7.  When you express interest in this expedition, we will send you a deposit invoice to hold your place. This is refundable according to our terms and conditions if we do not reach the minimum numbers. We recommend that you do not book your flights or other arrangements until we have communicated that the expedition is definitely departing as planned and will aim to do this in order to give you at least 3 months prior to the scheduled departure in which to make your travel arrangements.

Are the Bikes Insured?
The motorcycles are insured as per local law but in reality this doesn’t mean much. Insurance is effectively non-existent here and disputes are normally settled on the spot to mutual satisfaction. Our guides are there to help in these unlikely situations. Your own travel/personal insurance should cover you for riding a motorcycle of this size in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. We take a $500 deposit against any wanton or destructive damage to the bike – but accept that broken mirrors or indicators and minor bumps and scrapes are just part of the experience.

Value for Money
We are very proud of the routes we design and the way in which we travel them. We don’t cut corners and we plan meticulously. We are a small company that treats every guest as our friend and you won’t find that kind of service in many places. 85% of our customers have re-booked to travel again with us and some of them come on a trip every year. We also do annual expedition and remote medicine training and pay for 24/7 remote medical assistance cover. We employ professional military-grade risk assessments and plan for every possible negative scenario whilst hoping that none ever come to pass. We take our obligations to you and your safety very seriously and this all does cost money. We think the price represents great value for an experience you won’t find elsewhere.

Is this really for me?
Although this is an extremely enlivening way to spend two weeks of your life, it’s also potentially dangerous.

Travelling by motorbike is an inherently risky activity and to compound this, you will be travelling in a developing part of the world.

Not only could you be hurt, maimed or even killed but in the event of an accident it could take hours for the emergency services to reach you.

It will also be physically tiring.

Don’t even consider signing up for this adventure if you aren’t fully aware of the risks you are taking.

If you like your holidays to include foie gras, butlers and miles of quilted loo roll then please look elsewhere.

If however, you want a proper, unique and delightful experience that you’ll remember forever, then you are in luck!

Price:£3,900.00