Day -4 – FINAL DAY OF PREPARATION
We (Vojta, Řezna and I) agreed that we are going to meet at my place at 12:00. So Vojta arrived at 15:00 (somehow unfocused) and Řezňa one hour later. We had two big tasks: "What to do in Tajikistan" and "What to take with us". So we slowly started with the second task and in about 6 hours we had our backpacks ready (half of the time we just weighed the stuff..). We agreed that we will decide what to do there after arriving in Tajikistan.
Unfinished To do list
Day -3 – DEPARTURE
After almost 5 hours of sleep we started our journey to the Prague Airport. Vojta didn't buy a ticket for public transportation so we met a ticket inspector and Vojta was fined 30 €. At the airport we went to the check-in with a very serious question: "Do we need Russian visa for travelling through Yekaterinburg?" The answer was an immediate and resolute "Yes". That was a bit of a problem because we didn't have Russian visa and there was no time to arrange them. After half an hour of calling to different parts of the world he found out that we can travel to Tajikistan! All that tried to arrange the slowest guy at the airport, who definitely didn't give a fuck about his boss.
The flight in a very very old aircraft was good except that my legroom was approximately 10 cm shorter than my legs and some rampage in the rear part of plane, where two Chinese girls were trying to fight each other. The airplane staff magically disappeared somewhere. The conflict was settled by numerous relatives of these girls. Sadly we didn't know what happened. Weather during landing was absolutely OK and still there was a huge aplaus. Probably not very common to safely land in Russia... The second flight was even better, because the plane wasn't crowded and I could sleep on 3 seats. Other passengers were all Tajik people returning from work in Russia. They look oddly similar to me? Only two other tourists were in the plane.
Day -2 – ARRIVAL
There wasn't any divide between day -3 and -2, because I didn't sleep much. There was an enormous chaos at the airport and lots of people. We found out that we needed to fill in some paper, but there wasn't any left. Everybody was bewildered and nobody knew anything except for one young guy, who seemed to be operating all the airport. After a while he brought these mysterious papers and we could fill them in with the same information as were in our E-visa and for practising two times (part A and identical part B)... With that we waited at the border control for more than one hour in the slowest row. We decided to move to another row with a pretty girl behind the counter, who told me very nicely that my visa are not visa and I am not allowed to enter Tajikistan. She sent me to a different counter, where a guy was looking at my visa for few minutes and then finally said that my visa are valid. Feeling like a winner I returned to the girl. She didn't believe me and left the counter. After another couple of minutes she came back and reluctantly said that I could go.
At the airport hall we had to refuse one hundred of taxi drivers and started our walk to a hostel called Latifa. We withdrew some money from an ATM (3rd attempt), bought some food and bivouacked for an hour on a very ugly place near the highway, which was probably a meeting point of local youngsters (broken glass, used condoms etc.). After that we arrived to the hostel, where we went again to sleep.
In the evening we decided that in first half of the trip we were going to the Pamirs mountains into the Vanch valley and in the second half to the Fann mountains. So the plan was set up!!
At the hostel we were notified that four tourists were killed just on the way to the Pamir by some local radicals. Good timing! First terrorist attack in Tajikistan...
Day -1 – PREPARATIONS
The plan was to leave Dushanbe the next day (just after Jakob's arrival). So we needed to buy food, exchange money and find a driver to Pamir. From the hostel we took a Marshutka (Mercedes Sprinter which is suitable to carry at least 30 people with driver and a man operating side doors and collect money from passengers - 1.6 Somoni per ride). Marshutka can stop anywhere, but has a determined route. Usually has a nice leather ceiling and is crowded.
We did some shopping and found out that you need to be very careful when you are walking in the city because there are lots of canals which are unprotected and full of muddy water. We saw a flagpole, which is huge (165 m) but not the highest in the world (Saudi Arabia has one 6 m higher, but the locals probably don’t know that yet). The next stop was a bank, where they gave us 1000 Somoni in 20 bills (huge pack of money).
Another stop at a parking place, where taxi drivers are staying and waiting for tourists wanting to ride to Pamir. They immediately surrounded us and started shouting. After some time of intensive negotiating we found a driver, which was willing to drive us to Qualai Khumb for 700 Somoni. Finally we went shopping which was directed by Honza. He bought lots of stuff (and lots of which I didn't know - for example buckwheat) and we weren't sure if we could carry all of it. Until late night we were packing our heavy backpacks.
Day 1 – WAY TO PAMIR
Finally arrived in Dushanbe! Flight was just fine. They served a sandwich with just enough to drink. In Dushanbe Airport the plan was to meet the Czech Maniacs at the entrance, well our last chat was quite with difficulties due to the WiFi. Looking as much as a tourist as I could be, Taxi drivers would´t let me alone for a good hour. Eventually the resigned. When Vojta, Tomas and Honza arrived, everything went very quickly! I had still no idea where we were heading, if we had to make groceries. I had very little sleep and food during the last day. Never mind, our driver Ashraf was already there and the four of us tried to squeeze our backpacks +food+mountaineering equipment into the trunk of Opel Astra (hatchback)! That was probably the smallest car that I passed today, except for the TuktTuks. Anyway, I don´t know how but everything including ourselves fitted in this car, marvelous!!
Inside the car we realized there was only one seat belt fastening on the back row, guess we have to rotate, except for Honza who was sitting in the front for the whole ride, since he was our translator and soon became Ashraf´s secretary by taking his calls and translating English to Russian for him. After 10 minutes from the airport the rear tyre got punctured. Ashraf jumped at the side and solved the issue within minutes. On the one hand he was very quick and fitted our luggage back in a car in a second, on the other hand we used out only spare tyre right at the beginning and still had 6 to 7 hours to go on roads which changed their quality all the time. From bad to worse. We took the road going through Danghara, Kulob and Kamar to Kalaikhum. The ride was pretty cool, even the 38°C outside were OK. But the most stunning were the landscapes, starting with a desert along cotton fields and then Afghanistan on the other side of the Pyandzh River! I had never seen mountains like this. I´m not talking about the height, it was just so majestic. The last part became the most impressive and at the same time most tiring. At the end we decided to stop in Kalaikhum and stayed one night in a lovely arranged room just next to the roaring river Obikhumbou. After taking a bath, first fishing attempts remain unsuccessful. In the evening we got invited to the hostel-owner´s home and had great dinner with first Tajik impressions about the life here. Later we (read Řezňa) lost our key and after some intensive fly-cleaning we finally made it to bed.
Day 2 – HITCHHIKING TO VANJ AND VISITING AMZA
Such a wonderful night without flies enabled a pretty good & necessary sleep. We got up and arranged a taxi to the next gas station, otherwise we would have had to pay to much.
Arriving in the gas station, we realized that it was probably not the best decision to hitchhike from there. After a chai, the first lift took Vojta & Tomas directly to Vanj. We didn’t expect that! Only 15 minutes later, Honza and I got a lift with an international tourist group who rented a 4WD. They were from the US, France, Kazakhstan and Lithuania. The lift was great and soon we caught up Tomas & Vojta on the road. We dropped of at the last junction before Vanj. After another passport control, Honza and I started walking with 20 km still to go, wondering if there will be another lift. After some time passed, the afternoon sun was grilling us in the valley without any wind, a car approached us. It’s full. 4 Tajiks sitting in it, though they offered us a ride. Well, continuing walking was no option. We hopped in. Amza the driver, half Tajik half Mozambican, turned on the music and hit the pedal. Music varied from Russian folk to a undefinable remix by 50 Cent, my favorite… The ride to Vanj was astonishing! We got a first glimpse of the snow capped mountains in the distance, our goal for this hike.
Amza took us directly to a restaurant, where he tried to couple the restaurant owner with Honza and ordering the first Vodka bottle while we had lunch. After a while we felt the Vodka already and found it was time to find Tomas & Vojta, who were patiently waiting for us somewhere in the city. At this time, I realized I wasn’t sober anymore and also found that Amza felt quite similar. He forgot about it quickly when he bought cigarettes and tried (with several attempts) to manoeuvre the car back on the road. When we found Vojta & Tomas, Amza somehow persuaded us again to take us to his home just a few miles up the road. First hesitating but with no better option, we got back in the car, fully packed until the ceiling and continued our ride with our totally not sober driver. The road quickly turned into a provisional, rocky road with curves crawling slowly higher. By the way, the car wasn’t very new and so it happened that the car died in the middle of an ascending but straight part of the road. No advancement, the car slowly started rolling backwards. I don’t know at this point whether Amza or the brakes didn’t react and we rolled further until he turned the wheel. The car turned (still backwards) to the side of the road and tilted such that we were close to a complete turnover upside down. The car stopped rolling and everything hold still. No movement until Vojta opened his door (sitting at the lower side) and jumped out of the car, followed by Tomas and me. Honza, who sat in the front, managed somehow to get to the backseat and escaped as well. With Amza in the car, we pushed the car back to the road. HOLY SHIT! There were no injuries and only the front tyre got punctured. The tyre exchange took us a while but finally the car was ready again. Now we had to convince Amza that he shouldn’t continue driving and Tomas took over instead. We made it just until a few meters from Amzas home when the car died again. This time we all agreed to walk the last few meters and enjoy fresh air and solid ground under our feet. Amza's home was beautiful. He has a big garden with a panorama view on some 5k peaks. During the evening we met his family and had picnic at a wonderful spot in his garden, looking along the valley while enjoying fresh baked bread, fruits from his garden and selfmade kefir. Well, it was really delicious but our hosts wouldn’t stop serving more and more food until it became uncomfortable for us to refuse the food. It wasn’t only food they offered us in bulk; Amza kept trying to find a reason to pour Vodka in our glasses. But after our little adventure no one of us was keen to get drunk again, also keeping tomorrow’s walk in mind. Eventually, we managed to escape again, insisting that we want to sleep outside under the stars and a clear milky way.
Day 3 – HIKING IN DIRECTION OF POI MAZOR
Ok! Today was our diarrhea-day. In the morning Amza woke us up just about sunrise. There was no chance leaving without an enormous breakfast with way to much food. While eating fried egg, I already felt my stomach aching, but was to polite to say no again.
We started walking and soon the sun heated up the valley that we tried to get another lift while seeking shadow under a tree. At that time we all became sleepy. During napping, one after another went to the bushes… The whole rest of the day we did nothing else than sleeping, shitting and waiting (for a lift).
No one gave us a ride, which was probably best for our condition and so we camped a bit up the river, starting with our diet of only rice and some good sleep.
Day 4 – DRIVE TO SUMGAD AND HIKE TO POI MAZOR
Today, after a pretty long sleep, a taxi bring us as close as possible up the valley. We walked a lot… The temperature was already becoming more comfortable, though the direct sun was unbearable during midday.
We made it to Poi Mazor, the last village before the Fedchenko glacier. The locals were very curious and amused about our appearance. Before we left the village behind us, an old man was calling us back. Apparently, he was something of an official responsible for the National Park we were about to enter. We didn’t know that it was a protected area and became sceptic about the man. There was no chance to verify his ID, but his folder looked somewhat official. Thus, we paid about 380 Somoni for 5(+1) days permission to enter and camp in the nature reserve. When we told him and his neighbour that we plan to hike there, they just started laughing and offered us a ride. Usually tourists pay 800 Somoni, but for us it would be only 350 Somoni. HAHAHA! Well, no.
We chose to walk (zadarmo) and now are sitting in front of a rumbling river. They told us that the dam for a glacial lake up that mountain broke a few days ago. Now we try to figure out the safest way to cross that muddy, grey river with rocks you can literally hear rolling and rumbling in it.
Day 5 –REACHING THE BRIDGE
Yesterday we decided to stay nearby the river and found a really nice camping site with a clear stream next to it and some dry wood brought by the spring melt. The diarrea-day didn’t stop, turning into a d-week. We lit up a fire and enjoyed our dinner beneath a sky full of stars.
Today we got up quite late and took some time for breakfast and washing our clothes. The idea of crossing the river downwards was neglected and we took an improvised bridge a bit up the river instead. Then we started walking. The sun was already quite high and made it really unpleasant for us to walk with our shitty condition. At 2500 m.a.s.l. It still heated up to 40 degrees.
Anyway, we achieved a total of 12 km today and had to stop at a ruin that was used to be a bridge in earlier days. It’s the only way to get to the glacier. I’m really not keen to climb a rusty steel rope which is somewhat anchored on our side, but we have no clue how it is fixed on the other side. We only know that today 3 other hikers must have crossed it, because they passed us earlier this day and there was no other way to cross the river.
Tomas & Vojta made a first test-crossing and assured it is doable. But not today. We pitched our tents and went to bed early trying to get as much rest as possible.
Day 6 –VOJTA AND ŘEZŇA VISIT FETCHENKO GLACIER
Rest-day for me and Tomas. I didn’t feel better and decided to switch from homeopathy to lets-get-some-shit-done western medicine.
Vojta & Honza crossed the river with light backpack and disappeared in the mountains. They came back with great pictures of the Fedchenko glacier.
Day 7 – TOMAS AND JAKOB VISIT FETCHENKO GLACIER
Tomas and I decided to hike to the glacier today. It was very grey and muddy. Climbing was difficult, since we went lightweight without proper climbing gear. Rocks and mud were constantly rolling/sliding and we could hear glacial streams hidden in crevices around us.
Anyway, it was my first glacier!
On our way back we found some ruins. They looked like a former Soviet military site, but can’t really say. We found two big engines or what was left, probably generators, and a lot of steel trash. The most disappointing was that the engines spilled a lot of oil. We were surrounded by gorgeous mountains and glaciers, but still mankind is so stupid and ignorant.
Back home, Honza and Vojta picked some wood and we were enjoying our dinner at a nice warm campfire.
Edit: We asked locals about the ruins and they told us that it was some kind of a Russian expedition who were searching for quartz
Day 8 – CLIMBING THE GREENHILL AND NIGHT HIKE TO POI MAZOR
Hike-day! We woke up at 5 am and quickly prepared for our hike. Again crossing the river with two light backpacks, we tried to climb as much as possible in the shadow until we reached a small sadlle. 600m above our base camp and in total 3250m.a.s.l.! Tomas had his first fart since D-Day and became so happy that he went for another 300 m uphill alone.
After lunch we went back. The descent was horribly steep for me while the Czechs were jumping down like goats, fuck off!
With thorns in my hands and my back full of dust I finally made it down and we headed back to our base camp. After some napping in the afternoon we started packing and went back to Poi Mazor in the dusk. It became a really tiring walk with stream crossings in complete darkness using the provisional bridges. Finally, we found a place to camp just before Poi Mazor.
Day 9 – TAXI TO DUSHANBE
We started right away (camp was full of ants) to Poi Mazor, hoping that we will find a driver to Vanj or even further.
The road is cut by a pretty large stream and also damaged the electricity grid. Two Chinese, who seem to work for the mine, took us as far as possible. From there we walked the rest to the next village where the Tajik ex-soldier was waiting for us.
We got invited to chai and started negotiating a ride to Vanj or even to Dushanbe. It took a lot of chai and stories of how the ex-soldier killed a bear with just throwing a stone at him… Until our drivers, two brothers, arrived and took us to their home. Enough travelling for today. The family seems pretty cool and they took us to a place where Honza & Vojta tried to fish. No luck, but the water is just perfect for a bath.
Day 10 – ENDLESS RIDE TO DUSHANBE
A pretty looong day. We got up at 6 am and directly packed the car to head of for Dushanbe. We all were quite optimistic and looked forward to civilization.
Well, the car could fit a big family and all their belongings and eventually did, but let’s start from the beginning.
We agreed to pay 1600 Somoni for all of us to bring us all the way to Dushanbe, but our driver insisted therefore on taking other hitchhikers on the way which was a matter seconds until our car was full of people, all coming with us to Dushanbe.
Starting with our driver, who must have British roots because he was driving mostly on the left side of the road. He was also very interested in prices of literally everything in Europe. Honza managed to entertain him most of the time, which was becoming a very tiring job after a total of 18 hours of driving!
Then there was the Russian. Well, I think he is actually Tajik, but has a Russian passport and a Russian wife from what we understood.
Anyway, there were also 3 boys and an old lady we picked up in Vanj. But before we reached Vanj, we had to stop a lot. Either picking up parcels, a police man or waiting for a truck to be loaded in the middle of the road. And a wheel change, refueling and picking up more spare parts.
After leaving the valley, our driver got so motivated that he tried to take all potholes he could find so that the car started bouncing until the boot lid opened itself and parcels and backpacks tried their own way downhill. Guess now our backpacks have to be tied to the roof. I have to admit that the Tajiks are pretty experienced in tying anything to the roof such that it at least looks physically impossible, but it works. But with our only belongings on the roof without a chance to watch them, became a very trustful moment or rather hours…
Some time passed while I was enjoying the potholes and switchbacks, when suddenly a backpack was hanging loose from the roof. More ropes, then! Nothing to worry about anymore.
At some point our bodies stopped pumping blood in the lower parts and it became very unpleasant to sit, but we still had many hours ahead of us.
We reached Dushanbe approx. between midnight and eternity, grateful for being alive with our backpacks still tied to the roof and getting sensation back to our butts.
DUSHANBE - REST
Day 11 – REST DAY, SHOPPING, TREKKING POLES AIRPORT
The city in relation to the last 10 days is very difficult to impress me as the mountains did. But it’s nice to relax for a few days, hanging around in the garden of our really cool hostel (Latifa) and having wifi.
Honza and I went to the airport, trying to find my hiking poles but they were probably lost in Moscow.
Day 12 – MUSEUM VISIT; ASLIA VISIT
Czechs went to explore city again. The plan was to visit the Tajikistan National Museum which was opened relatively recently (2001), but the building looks much older and the condition of the inside is not exactly perfect. Four endless but somehow empty floors of Tajikistan history, stones, animals (which we definitely didn't see in nature) and naturally one part just with the president. One and a half hour is the perfect amount of time to see everything even with critical speech against several architecture fails (broken floor, not working stairway etc.).
After the visit we realised that the weather changed remarkably and the visibility was poor due to the sand in the air. But with some time to spare we went to botanical garden and on the way back we got off too early from the Marshutka. So we looked slightly lost and one elderly woman asked us if we wanted some help. In that moment we located, where we were in the map and wanted to leave, but we noticed that the woman had lots of bags so we asked her if she wanted help. She uncertainly said yes and we went with her to a very dangerously looking block of flats. In front of one building she invited us to her place. Now we were uncertain. The entrance was in total darkness but the elevator actually worked. We thought that in the flat would be her husband, the woman would as usual disappear in the kitchen and we would be unable to speak with her and we would be talking as usual about car prices in Europe etc. Instead, inside we found only her sister and we were told that sadly her husband died. We began to drink Chai and started a conversation with her (Aislia) and her two friends. It was our first talk with a woman in Tajikistan.
In the end they offered to go with us the next morning to the biggest bazaar and look for some nice dresses for our girls. With that we went back to the hostel.
Day 13 – MARKET DRESS SHOPPING
The next morning I joined them and we went back to their flat. The buildings were 14 or 15 floors high and looked spooky, but the flat was actually quite nice. Last night they agreed to meet again early in the morning and so we showed up at around 8 am. The women were all still asleep, apparently not expecting us at all. After chai and some chat they took us to the bazaar to buy dresses. The bazaar was huge! Although, the variety was not. After hours of inspecting dresses, which were more or less all similar, everyone found one for their beloved. Gorgeous!
Side note: Jakob was just overwhelmed by diarrhoea and the bazaar was not so bad.
The women quickly said goodbye and left with the next bus. We headed home to our hostel, too, where we could hide from the sun and cooked an own interpretation of Plov.
Day 14 – FOOD SHOPPING FOR FANN MOUNTAINS
Again rest day for me. The guys went for the market to buy food for our Fann trip.
In the evening the guys arrived and we started re-planning the hike due to my condition. In the end we decided to cut short the first two days to give me more rest. Actually, we’re saving time in the car but I’ll have to skip the thermal lakes...
Day 15 – RIDE TO VERTICAL, HIKE TO ALAUDYN LAKE
Got up early to have some breakfast before our driver picks us up, well for me it’s still plain bread. Last night something very good happened. Two Czech motorcyclists, who were staying in the hostel too, became aware of my condition and also heard about our upcoming hike. (Literally everyone in the hostel and probably every second on the street who was small talking with us was informed about my ongoing shit-experience.)
Anyway, the two Czechs were so generous and gave me antibiotics, which were exactly what I needed!!
The last days I tried carbon and probiotics, but now I want to end it for all time. I started the antibiotics and my fever already vanished during the night. I’m optimistic to get well soon. Our driver arrived in a quite big Opel Zafira where all of us could fit in the car without squeezing. Our new destination near the Alaudin lake would still cost us 900 Somoni! We couldn’t find any cheaper offer. The ride was pretty smooth though. The street was in very good condition and no other incident happened at any time. I just remember vaguely the 5km tunel with no air ventilation and very limited light which lead to a very poor visibility of max 50m. Despite the view, our driver started a few attempts and finally overtook the car in front of us, while I was extremely focused not to shit my pants! God damnit!
When we left the main road, the street quickly became shitty again. It seemed that our driver didn’t enjoy the view as much as we did. After a short break, another car approached us and our driver convinced them to take us further. When our first driver paid the second driver 100 Somoni, both seemed very satisfied, we could roughly guess how much we overpaid the first one…
Nevermind, the second ride was cool and we quickly ascended with our new 4WD. The new driver was very familiar with the road and there were no incidents except some stubborn donkeys who were carrying hay downhill and blocking the road every now and then. Eventually, we reached the end of the road which was also a camping site. We crossed the clear ice cold stream and started lunch on a gorgeous spot, looking at some nice peaks and listening to the stream nearby.
After lunch and a quite extensive nap, we started walking to the Alaudin lake which was merely 3km from here. Reaching the green and blue gleaming Alaudin lake, we found it full of tents. At a second glimpse we also noticed the rather advanced age of the tourists. After a chat with a french couple, they told us that an agency is planning the whole trip from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan and Kyrgiztan, all inclusive (even diarrhea).
It doesn’t matter, the place is still astonishing and worth sharing. During the walk beside the river and later at the lake we found a lot of trash and broken Vodka bottles. What a bummer!
Day 16 – OVERNIGHT TRIP TO KULIKALON LAKE (TOM, VOJTA AND ŘEZŇA)
As we agreed we left Jakob at Alaudin lake and went for a two day trip to Kulikalon lake and back. We took only necessary stuff and went lightweight. We reached Alaudin pass (3900 m.a.s.l.) relatively easily and there we met other tourists (Izrael) with guides and donkeys. From that point we saw our final destination. The Kulikalon lakes. But it was actually still quite a long way to get there. The valley with these lakes is like a chinese botanical garden with some amazing trees and small streams everywhere. When we descended to the first lake some local kid approached us and started asking questions:
Boy: "Otkuda" (Where are you from?¨)
Boy: "Pivo?" (Beer)
We: "Z kolka" (How much?)
Boy: "20 Somoni"
What an easy prey for the boy (son of the owner of the campsite). We bought 1,5 l beer Pulsar (Czech beer made in Uzbekistan with some sort of licence). Vojta played one game of pairs with the boy. This game was given to the boy by some Czech group so the animals were written in Czech and so the boy knew czech names of these animals. Vojta obviously totally lost the game and we went to the other lake rather drunk.
Vojta started fishing immediately because we didn't have anything else besides buckwheat and he desperately wanted to catch his first fish in Tajikistan. But after two hours it looked that buckwheat would be the main and the only course of the evening. Miracle happened! Vojta caught five fish just before the dusk. Some of them were small and some even smaller. But still he saved us from buckwheat. Thanks! We made campfire and grilled the fish and went to the sleeping bags under nice stars.
Note from Jakob: "Victory day!! We all shall remember August 16th of 2018, the day of the solid poop. Honestly, It’s still between 4 and 5, but I feel so much better and it is constantly improving. What a relief!"
Day 17 – MEET UP AT LAUDAN PASS WITH JAKOB
This morning I felt pretty good. The antibiotics seem to do their job and thus I went for the Laudan pass to meet the Czechs as we agreed. Quick breakfast and a short bath in the lake, now I’m ready!
The hike was pretty good with a path and luckily some clouds. I went lightweight with just some food and water, so the 1k altitude difference was manageable.
It happened that I reached the Laudan pass (3600m) just 5 minutes after the others arrived from the other side, that’s timing! The view into the valley was amazing!
Downhill was a bit tiring in the end, but we rewarded ourselves with a double portion of lentils.
Day 18 – HIKE TO MUTNOY LAKE
Well, there is not much to tell about today. We packed everything and before leaving, two British boys we met the day before came over for a small chat. They have very simple equipment and asked us about the pass up the valley. Perhaps we’ll see them again at Iskanderkul. The path to Mutnoye lake was pretty straight forward with 900 m uphill.
When we reached the lake, it became quite windy with a few droplets and for the first time it got cold during the day. Had to wear all my layers, but soon I went into my sleeping bag to warm up. By the way Mutnoye apparently means muddy… The lake is fed from the glacial streams. We are surrounded by impressive mountains and are looking at the peaks of Zamok (5020 m.a.s.l.) and Energia (5120 m.a.s.l.) from our base camp. The plan was to climb one of the two 5k peaks, but I guess I’ll have to skip that…
Day 19 – CREATING OF CAMP 1
After some hesitation I decided to pack my sleeping bag and mattress to join the others to Camp 1. Last night it got already quite cold and the wind was blowing all night long.
Nevermind, I’ll give it a try and can come back any time. So we headed off. The way up was all rocky. Big rocks, small rocks or loose rocks and it got really tiring for me so that every time I reached the others, they continued again, because they had to wait for me so long that they felt cold again….
When we reached Camp 1 (4200 m.a.s.l.), we were not alone. Another group of Fins and Russians had the same idea and camped next to us. They hired a guide, a 64 years old Russian who spent most of his life in the Tajik mountains. He looked like he got too much of experience with his cigarette in his hand.
Tomas got height sickness and looked miserable. Laying in the tent, he even didn’t touch the dinner or would join us for enjoying the Finns photo shooting. Seems serious to me.
Before dusk, a Czech group came down from Zamok. They all look experienced and gave Vojta advice's for the climb. Apparently, they couldn’t reach the peak due to a crevice in the glacier 100 m below. One guy even slipped and fell almost 5 m, oh dear!
They were in a rush and didn’t want to spend one more night at Camp 1, because the wind becomes really harsh at midnight. Tomas decided to join them and rest in the base camp. Thus, the tent problem was solved and Vojta and Honza started preparing their climbing equipment. The view is amazing. We can look behind the ridges and gaze at other peaks from neighboring valleys. Hope to find some sleep tonight.
Day 20 – VOJTA AND ŘEZŇA ATTACKING PIK ZAMOK (5020 M.A.S.L.)
Waking up at 5:15 the night was calm and without feared wind. The sky was azure blue while the sun was rising and the first sun beams touched Chimtarga. We cooked a quick breakfast and at six started our ascent. We set off an hour before the group of two Russian girls one Finnish guy and a 65 yo Russian guide “Lorenz” the weakest member of the group.
After 150 vertical meters of steep debris which was still nicely frozen and compact to walk on we reached the edge of the glacier. We finally put in use all the fucking heavy climbing gear we had been carrying around for the past 20 days. After putting on the crampons and grasping our ice axes we tied ourselves to a 20 yo climbing rope inherited after Rezna’s mother and made our first steps up in the still yet crunchy snow. Until the huge crevasse was reached everything went easy. We climbed down the ice crack went over a bridge surrounded by icicles and other more ice cracks and got to the hardest part of the climb. The only way out of the crevasse was to climb around to the right edge of the glacier on the 50 degrees ice wall. One of Vojta’s crampons fail so the necessary exchange was carried out. The way up was fine but we had already had the feeling that the way down could be a trouble. After another half an hour of comfortable walking we met the end of the glacier (4800m) and another debris field had started. Crampons and ice axes went to our backpacks and after a small sweet snack we resumed the walk. The weather was still awesome and the views had already been breathing. An other tricky part (according to the Czech dudes we met the day before) was supposed to be a steep debris field right before the summit. We crossed that without any difficulties with the help of our trekking poles and 20 minutes later we stood on the top of the peak Zamok.
Both of us were affected by the altitude but much less than was expected. Only heavy breathing and slight headache. The view from the top was worth all the effort. Only couple mountain tops around were higher than us and most of the world was laying under us. We took the necessary pictures and hurried back. Behind the steep debris we met the second group already without their guide who was resting at the edge of the glacier. We met him their and had a lunch before we put on our ice gear again and went down the glacier. Sky was still clear and the sun had softened the snow. With the help of two improvised poor anchor points we climbed down the tricky icy 50 m into the crevasse and hour later (3 pm) we were back by the tent.
After a while of resting snacking and packing we were already sliding down the debris to the Mutnoye lake where Tomas and Jakob were just cooking a delicious dinner, pasta with fish, onion and cheese. The air down there was so dense!
=Vojta (the writer)=
Day 21 – CHIMTARGA PASS BY TOMAS AND JAKOB
Tomas and I went to the Chimtarga pass today, while Honza & Vojta enjoyed a rest day at base camp.
The way up was pretty good due to the shepherds who pass it with their donkeys frequently. We passed a glacier and the last 300 m became tiring with sliding rocks. At the pass we were standing at 4780 m.a.s.l. On our right side was peak Chimtarga, the highest peak in that area (>5480 m.a.s.l.). From our perspective there was no possibility to climb it. But on our left was peak Energia (>5120 m.a.s.l.), which at the moment was climbed by a group of 5 mountaineers we saw in the distance. We decided to walk up as far as possible without climbing gear and had to stop just under a glacier at 4900 m.a.s.l.! New altitude record!!
After some pictures we went down to have lunch at a windless spot and enjoyed the view. We arrived in base camp after 10 hours and 1400 m altitude difference.
Day 22 – HIKE THROUGH KAZNOK PASS
Last night was our last night at Mutnoye lake and it got very cold in the early morning, so I’m actually looking forward to move on. We left for the Kaznok pass, 500 m uphill was not that bad. We had to climb some boulders and a glacier and then found a steep slope in front of us with the last 100 m to the saddle. This part was full of loose rocks, sliding at every step that we had to keep distance to each other. The view from the saddle was awesome! 4000 m.a.s.l.
Downhill. The horror started! It was still very steep and the rocks changed from small ones for sliding to bigger ones to fall about. My knees got tired quickly but we had still 700 m downhill to reach the river. FUCK!
It was very tiring and I got sick of downhill. Never again I will climb Kaznok pass again!
When we reached the river, we were compensated with a perfect camping spot. There was a shepherd shack surrounded by cozy green grass just next to the crystal clear river. After some rest we started a big dinner with 3 full pots, knowing that we will arrive in the village tomorrow and don’t need to count each and every grain anymore.
Ps: In the case you find us dead in the tent tomorrow, Tomas’ farts are reaching a complete new level of toxicity. I have lived a happy life.
Day 23 – DOGS AND AMAZING VALLEY
Tomas and I survived the gas chamber.
After breakfast and a slow packing we started our walk downstream. It was a very pleasant walk downhill with amazing landscapes passing by. At some point we approached a sheep herd, with a shepherd of course and a handful of furious dogs barking and growling at us. They came very close that we started trying to protect us with our hiking poles. The shepherd came directly and tried to call his dogs back. For a moment it seemed alright and we continued passing the sheep. After couple of meters the dogs came again after us, again very close! We started throwing rocks and shouting, but these dogs were really serious about their job. They followed us for quite a while. You may say these dogs really hated us!
After this encounter we tried to focus again on our hike and enjoy the view, but we became too paranoid always watching out for dogs or hints of sheep herds.
It happened that we had to pass again a shepherd’s shack. It looked abandoned, but to be sure, we armed ourselves with ice axes and stones and slowly passed the shack. The door was closed and it seemed empty… except for the fucking dogs again!
They started barking. This time we had only 3 in front of us with one more waiting in the distance as we noticed later. With the dogs following us, we continued with a good pace until the barks became more distant. Feeling relieved about this relatively friendlier encounter, we checked the maps and realized that we missed the bridge, which is, guess what, just next the shack and its guardians… damn it!
Slowly we went back, trying to find the bridge, but the barking started again quickly. The wind was also unfavorable for us, so that the dogs smelled us before we even thought about returning to the shack. We decided to leave the bridge and the dogs behind and continued walking on the other side of the river. Finally, with enough distance to the dogs, we found a nice spot next to the river with enough wood for a good cooking session over the camp fire.
Day 24 – BEER
I woke up to a ready-made breakfast, nice!
We were in no rush and started the morning slowly. The walk was mostly level and it wasn’t far to the village anymore. The first sight of civilization were a few fancy buildings. It looked like a place for tourists, but wasn’t finished yet and therefore completely empty. We walked around and wondered about the constructions. There was a terrace reaching in the middle of the river that was built on a rock. The concrete floor was alarmingly thin. A bit further was a lightweight bridge with a warning sign in Tajik, Russian and English. It read something like “Please! It is more bridge, than one person to go strictly it is forbidden!”
Very comforting, isn’t it? The others crossed it while I was waiting at the sign as it is my natural german behavior to react cautious at poorly Google-translated signs or the fact that the bridge was hanging on three steel ropes 10 m above an ice cold river.
From this strange place it took us only 20 min to reach the village. Arriving there, the shop owner was opening just for us so that we could refill our backpacks with food (and beer). On our way to Iskanderkul, we met a family of Russian-Germans. Their grandpa is Tajik and showed his grandchildren his roots. Pretty cool!
We continued our walk to the President’s most favorite lake. At first sight we also passed the president’s datcha. It was actually more modest than we expected, with only two heliports. The security hut was empty and the gate to the garden was open too. Sadly nobody wanted to invite us for chai… How unneighborly.
On the opposite side of the lake we found a small beach where we finally settled down and enjoyed our first beer after an eternity. A bit tipsy, we started cooking dinner. Fish with pasta what was a bit unpleasant because we had fish with bread for lunch but in that moment we didn't realize that we will have fish for the next day breakfast and even for lunch again. We cooked three courses until everyone was full. While we were eating, we stared at the hills on the opposite side and how they disappeared in the rain clouds. With no option to pitch a tent, we hoped for the best and finished our beers.
Day 25 – WATERFALL
We woke up after a perfect calm night. There was no rain after all and we started the day really slowly. Vojta tried to fish, but Iskanderkul didn’t look very promising. Until late afternoon we were hanging around at the lake. For dinner we had fish&onions with well boiled pasta (it’s never get boring!). We realized that our provisions again were empty and that we should move on. That’s what we did right after dinner. We walked to the camp site at the end of the lake. It was really not a place one wants to stay and it wasn't zadarmo, so we directly continued to the waterfalls, while having a quick photo session at the Tajik Hollywood-Rock.
The waterfalls were massive! Never seen any bigger than that plus this was the place where Tomas’ parents had been almost 30 years ago. The viewer platform was reaching above the cliff and used boulders as counterweights and was exactly same as it was on 30 years old pictures from parents. Didn’t know what to think about it, but it lasted the last decades, why should it collapse right now?
Soon it got gloomy and we hadn’t decided where to camp. We walked a bit back to the road and pitched a tent in the middle of the road. Chai & good night (without food because we hadn't anything).
Day 26 – WAY BACK TO DUSHANBE
We woke up after the second group of Tajik tourists passed us on their way to the waterfalls (it was 7 am, wtf?!). We finished our last rice which was also last food and started walking on the road towards Dushanbe. The first kilometers were quite tiring but soon it was just downhill, though the sun was trying her best to grill us alive. At some point we reached a magazine and bought ice cream, planning to make further groceries after a short break in the shadow. Well, apparently the shop owner left after we bought our ice cream and didn’t come back. With no food in stock it was difficult to brainstorm what to do except for moving on in the burning sun. When we decided to continue, kids from the village led us to another shop which was just a bit up the village, what a luck!
After that we went back to the road and soon got a lift from a geologist, who was establishing a gold mining business in that area. We knew his son, who was sitting next to him, from two days ago when we reached the first village after Kaznok pass. They took us until the crossing from where the main road leads to Dushanbe, zadarmo! At the crossing we had to split into 2 groups to have a chance to hitchhike. Vojta & Tomas continued walking to the next village, while Honza and I waited at the crossing and met two locals who helped us a lot to find a proper lift. After some time passed, a Japanese cyclist joined our gathering and we had a great time with the guys. We tried our best to look kind and neat, but nobody was willing to give us a lift.
Finally, we got a lift from a Turkmen family. The father was working for the UN, trying to establish an agricultural project in Tajikistan. He has had traveled a lot in the world. It was a very pleasant ride to Dushanbe and for the first time we had seat-belts which fastened! Never felt so safe during a transport for the last month…
Arriving in our hostel, Vojta & Tomas were already waiting for us.
DUSHANBE - THE END
Day 27 – EATING
Wifi, hot shower, European toilet, what else could we ask for? We didn’t do much, except for getting groceries and eat as much as possible. For the evening we bought Vodka and beer and after a filling dinner with potatoes and soft cheese we enjoyed the advantages of civilization, while slowly getting drunk, civilized of course.
Day 28 – HISOR
The last days it got rather quiet. After the hiking none of us was motivated to walk much more. Thus, we spent a lot time for breakfasts and bought almost every day a melon from the market nearby. During midday it becomes unpleasantly warm and stuffy in the city. At that time the hostel’s garden is just the right place to pass time, drink chai and enjoy ice cooled melons.
Tuesday, we went to Hisor, known for an ancient fortress gate (which is printed on the 20 Somoni note). The castle was originally built some centuries ago by the Bukharan Emir as a “summer mansion” but almost everything was devastated. So they rebuilt it and and now it's only nice replica of the original . Each of the buildings wanted to charge us for entrance, which we didn’t want to pay… So we at least climbed the small hill with some unfinished "historical" building (zadarmo) We also went to the new town of Hisor and found a pretty cool bazaar. It was less busy as in Dushanbe and the people, even more surprised of tourists, were much more relaxed. We really enjoyed the bazaar and have to come back for last shopping.
Day 29 – OVIR OFFICE AND LEARNING CENTRE
We stayed in Dushanbe and tried to solve our VISA issue (We read earlier in an article, that tourists have to register in Tajikistan, when they stay more than 30 days in the country, at once). Although, our visas were valid for 45 days and it was not clear if they will fine us when we didn’t register. In the OVIR office they assured us, as long as we have a valid visa, we do not have to register, perfect!
In the late afternoon we were invited to a learning centre by a waiter from the restaurant where we had our lunch the day before. All students and teachers sat around us and asked us questions of how we liked Tajikistan (very much!) and how is life back home. The kids stared at us and most of them hardly followed us, because we came to late and have met only the beginners. But I think they enjoyed it, at least the group pictures we took with them afterwards…
Anyway, it was an interesting meeting after all and a few guys stayed with us. We asked them if they can recommend some close restaurant where to eat Kurtob (vegetarian meal) and they directly took us to their favorite restaurant, which wasn't close at all. The way there was becoming tricky once more. The first marshutka had not enough space for all of us and thus I had to wait with another Tajik for the next one. Without my phone working properly and not knowing any address in Dushanbe, some doubts rose for a second. But everything turned out just fine and after a while waiting for the marshutka, we were happily reunited.
The Kurtob was incredibly good! And cheap! And definitely not vegetarian friendly. We ordered dinner for 9 people, two big bowls of kurtob and a plate of plov and hardly payed more than 50 Somoni for everything. We all fell in love with the place and with kurtob, knowing we will come back for our farewell dinner.
Day 30 – BAZAAR AND FLIGHT
We went to the Hisor bazaar once again for last souvenirs. After hours of roaming around the market we took a mashutka back to kurtob heaven. On the last hundred metres we met two women who were teaching English and German at one of the learning centres. Tomas explained them his desperate search quest to buy a dress for his girlfriend and one of them knew a wedding dress shop, where he finally bought a dress. Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with Kurtob for the last time.
On our way back, for the first time, we got lost in Dushanbe and took a little detour. Back home we had to pack our backpacks. I didn’t have any problem with my stuff. Vojta, Honza and Tomas tried their best to squeeze all souvenirs in. Our driver arrived around midnight and took us to the airport.
At the airport, which was surprisingly full of people, we enjoyed our last beer (very discretely) and checked in. My flight departed 2 hours after the Czechs’. The flight became quite tiring, without almost no sleep. Two hours transit in Moscow. After another sleepless flight I made it to Berlin, finally back home.
Note by Turban:
By "souvenirs"is meant three massive coats which are still used by shepherds in mountains, few kilograms of Chai and one nice wedding gift for Vojta and Řezňa friend. Traditional cradle for children (exactly one meter long and very robust).
The cradle was bought taken apart (Ikea style without manual) and due to the lack of space and weight in backpacks Vojta needed to carry most of the cradle as hand luggage (for improving situation suited in the coat). Nobody complained anywhere (Russia eh).