At the head of the valley lay the village of Langar, where we spent a final night camping at the relative warmth of 2000m, before spending two hours trying to locate the shop in the morning to stock up on the group’s chosen appetite suppressants of instant noodles and cigarettes. When we eventually found it, and the owner, it turned out to be the now-familiar set up of somebody’s front room, with some items for sale scattered around.
The next few days were an uphill struggle, literally, until we reached the summit of this piece’s opening anecdote on the Khargush Pass. At which point it started snowing, and became somewhat of a downhill struggle: we had lost Dave, Jonny had disappeared up the road a few hours previously, and Pete was suffering from perpetual pannier breakages on account of the roads, which left us sprawled across the mountain in a bedraggled mess. The snow fell hard, whipping through our spokes, over our frozen brake-clutching fingers, and between the slender gap left in our balaclavas to see. Waiting to regroup meant stopping, and stopping meant getting extremely cold extremely quickly at over 4000m, so we battled on in our own little worlds of discomfort, bouncing in and out of the company of each other following whichever snow-clouded silhouette that happened to be in front.
Once we had descended far enough the skies cleared as quickly as they had darkened, and from our still-lofty heights we were rewarded with our first view of the Pamir Plateau: a mind-bendingly huge expanse of deserted plains and brown shallow mountains, wrapping around each other below a
twisted sky – whose various identifiable micro-weather systems moved quickly across – casting light and shadow, bringing colour and life to this place of otherwise desolation.
We eventually arrived at the small village of Alichur, famous among cycle tourists for being either the point of refuge, or cast-off if coming in the other direction, before or after tackling the Khargush road to Langar, or the main Pamir Highway stretch to Khorog. Again it was snowing, so we lingered for most of the day in a small house – ‘Home Stay Marco Polo’. The elderly couple had become wise to this being a popular route for travelling cyclists – every pot of tea was followed by the swift brewing of another. Stale biscuits and thick slabs of butter were dunked into a bowl of sugar and gulped down by the dozen, as we took turns to sit by the shrub-fuelled stove and nip out to the adjoining ‘shop’ to restock our supplies of fake Snickers bars and pasta bows.
The end of Rob’s journey came prematurely when the pawl springs in his freehub became stuck. Without the appropriate tools to repair it he was left with no drive engagement, and was forced to abandon the final ride north into Kyrgyzstan. He did however manage to borrow a bike in the former Soviet military base of Murghab, ride it the 80km to customs at the closed-to-foreigners Qolma border crossing, and complete his aim of riding from Stockholm to China. Jonny was suffering from all sorts of stomach ailments too, which hindered his progress, and so Pete and I completed the final few hundred kilometres of our Pamiri adventure, from Murghab to the Kyrgyz frontier village of Sary-Tash, by ourselves.