RideUnlimited: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and tackling the Bartang Valley in Tajikistan
Although, something to mention if you are heading there is that you’ll sometimes come across what once was a tarmacked road, but now mostly in disrepair. These are the surfaces to avoid, potholes make up the road and they are deep so we quickly realised to copy the locals and stick to the sandy tracks on either side of the ‘roads’.
After our time in Aktobe, we headed to Aralsk in the South, where we would finally tackle the Aral Sea, something we had been planning for a long time. We stayed in the first hostel we found in Aralsk and planned to set off riding the Aral Sea the next day, the main reason we wanted to ride this area was to see the famous Ship Graveyard.
The Aral Sea lies between Kazakhstan in the North and Uzbekistan in the South, the name roughly translates to "Sea of Islands" due to the 1,100 islands that were once in its waters. The sea has been shrinking year on year since the 1960’s and is known as one of the planets worst environmental disasters with huge areas on the surrounding areas.
This region had a rich fishing industry, but this has now been destroyed resulting in large numbers of unemployment.A local told us that unfortunately, it was unlikely we were going to find a ship due to most in the area being broken down for scrap metal and sold to China. We were disappointed after this chat but decided to still go and check out where the ships used to lie, and we found one!
Well, what was left of it, a chunk of what looked like the keel and some other random parts scattered around. It was completely taken apart just as the locals had warned us but at least we tracked a ship down. So for anyone wanted to see the Ship Graveyard, you should definitely head to the Uzbekistan side. We know for a fact there are still mostly formed ships if there was enough time we would have ridden back to see them but unfortunately, we need to keep on track to hit Siberia at the right time of year. However, this is something we have already said we are going to do after this trip, explore the Uzbekistan Ship Graveyard!
After Aralsk we headed to Kyzylorda for a night and then to Shymkent, following A2 road to the border of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan, TashkentUzbekistan was a huge change from what we were used to in Kazakhstan, which was made up of sandy little towns with one or two shops max. We crossed the border and rode straight to Tashkent, what an amazing place. This city has so much going on, big shopping centres, fruit markets and cafes everywhere. We stayed here for about 5 days looking around the city and doing all our marketing work. This maps roughly shows our route until this point:
Tajikistan, The Bartang Valley
From Tashkent, we crossed the border into Tajikistan and rode straight to Dushanbe, after staying in the city a couple of days we started our way on the M41, known more commonly as the Pamir Highway. We had one main trail we wanted to ride in Tajikistan, a place we had been researching for a long time and knew only a handful of motorcyclists ride each year. Our biggest challenge yet, The Bartang Valley.
The Bartang Valley is the most challenging and beautiful route we have ever ridden. It’s a remote and wild way of crossing the Pamirs, tracks consisted of landslides, water crossings, deep sand, stark walls of rock with huge drops on the mountain passes.
We started our adventure in Rushon, about 60 km North of Khorugh.The trail leads all the way from Rushon to lake Karakul, our Garmin Inreach registered us climbing to 4,003 meters and from start to finish we clocked about 287 km. It took us 3 days to complete, we had planned to do it in 2 but punctures and an electrical breakdown cost us half a day.
The Bartang has quite a few little villages dotted along the first half so on the first day we met a handful of people going about their everyday lives, cattle herders and children (with the best playground ever?!). They were all so friendly and excited about the bikes, pointing us onwards and keeping us on the track! As the day went on we saw less and less people. By the second and third we didn’t see another person until we nearly reached the road again. Before we started tackling the mountains we went through a village. They were extremely shocked we were heading up onto this track. They found it confusing that we were taking the route for fun as they avoided it at all costs. I’m sure we looked pretty strange to them!
These were the villages as we came across them:
- Kök Jar
There was usually a shop per village, but don’t be expecting to buy a can of coke. These shops only have locally produced food, so only really eggs and fresh meat.
Once we were about 30 miles from getting back onto the road the temperature dropped massively and the sky became moody, we came to our final (and largest) river crossing yet and typically, it began snowing! Actually, more like heavy hail, doing river crossings in heat is easy but in the freezing cold, it gets harder. We got in there though and felt the ice-cold water soak us through. We carried on with the trail. And then saw the perfectly straight tarmacked road ahead of us, the M41. We made it! Once back on the road we chatted about how proud we were of each other. How odd it was that we were sad the challenge had come to an end.
It had been a long day riding off road. We were freezing but decided to push through cross the Kyrgyzstan border, which was about 45 km away. The border was closing quite soon so we got moving. The crazy thing was we were riding next to a barbed wire fence to us on the right which we realised was China. We have ridden to China?!
The views while riding this Valley were truly magical. We'll always remember the kindness of the locals we met along the way. What an incredible adventure we had ourselves!
Kyrgyzstan, OshThe border into Kyrgyzstan was at the top of the mountain where the temperatures had dropped even further. It felt like the water in our boots from the river was actually turning to ice! Luckily this was the easiest border crossing we have done yet. There were three or four small huts that checked us out of Tajikistan and into Kyrgyzstan taking about 45 mins.
We carried on riding on the other side to the first town we reach which was Sary-Tash and booked into the first hotel we found. Our lips were blue by this point. It seemed crazy to think that morning we had been complaining about the sweltering heat. We asked where the shower was and was taken to a dark room with a bucket of lukewarm water. Better than nothing we thought! After our ‘showers’ we got straight into bed to build some heat and passed out.
The next day we made our way to Osh which is about 2 hours away... Which is where am I writing this blog. We have booked into a hotel here for 4 nights to do some work and start editing some new episodes! Next, we will be heading back into Kazakhstan and be making our way to Mongolia, the next challenge.
To read about Ride Unlimited's previous check-in with bike trader, We Buy Any Bike... click here!
19 Jun 2018