Wakhan Valley

One of the most remote places I’ve ever been, and a place which also had a favourable write up from Marco Polo when he travelled this way over 700 years ago. I reminded the group that we were following in some illustrious footsteps “Hmmm, he could have left us a bit of tarmac to ride on then” was their response. As we left town we came upon Chris a lone cyclist from Devon, who’d spotted my Kernow stickered bike a few days earlier and had commented to himself  “Bloody Cornish, they get everywhere”, we swapped info and I agreed to pass on messages to some Belgian cyclists ahead whom he was hoping to catch up with. (In fact we never did see these mythical Belgians).

I had been promoted temporarily to lead the expedition as problems with the support van had led us to plonk it on the back of a truck and send it to the border. As the fault was an electrical one, not only could the van not be locked but the windows were fully open and could not be closed. So one of us had to accompany it and Mark became the van babysitter while I was headed for glory (or possibly oblivion depending on the gravel conditions of the steep tracks).

The Valley provides some spectacular views of the Hindu Kush (translated as Killer of Hindus), a stunning mountain range that also marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan- that’s right, the Afghans have such a narrow strip of land here that we could see right through to Pakistan. In fact there were many wistful looks in that direction from the more adventurous-minded in our group. I’d pointed out the Afghan consulate in Khorog, where visas are easy to obtain and then we rather temptingly ride right past the border crossing heading into Afghanistan.  Maybe as a side-trip another time, we could do a short ride through Afghanistan, by all accounts it’s safe this far north.

We rode a side road which involved some sharp curves on the gravel, where I managed to drop the bike on one of the curves- rather embarrassing, but also a bit annoying as I have ridden up this track twice before, both times with a pillion passenger and never dropped on it. The route took us to the Yamchun fortress which gives an even better vantage point of the mountains across the river. Further on are some hot springs which go by the great name of Bibi Fatima. It’s not usually on the GlobeBusters itinerary, but I encouraged the others to ride on up to the springs where those who stripped off and gave them a try were not disappointed. It is segregated, and in the women’s area, I was the only foreigner, the locals literally man-handled me under the gushing water and didn’t they have a chuckle as I screamed at the hot temperature. Though just the thing for my aching muscles.