Riding The Bartang Valley
Jenny O'Grady | email@example.com | @jonpogrady
In the three years we were planning our round the world trip, the Bartang Valley was the trail that I was most excited for. I spent hours reading riders blogs who had completed this legendary route and watching everything I could on YouTube. I saw sections which I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to ride, but was determent to give it a go!
The Bartang Valley is a remote and wild way of crossing the Pamirs in Tajikistan. The track consists of landslides, river crossings, deep sand, stark walls of rock with huge drops on the steep, narrow mountain passes.
The track begins in Rushon, about 60 km North of Khorugh. The trail leads all the way from Rushon to Lake Karakul, reaching heights of 4,003 meters. From start to finish me and my partner in crime Dave clocked about 287 km on the Bartang. 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. They were all so friendly and excited about the bikes, pointing us onwards and keeping us on the track! In terms of terrain on the first day we came across large boulders, random patches of sand and deep puddles. It was all pretty tough going but nothing that freaked us out too much! We started riding at about 8am and set up camp at 7pm, the weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot.
The second and third days were a different story! We began climbing the mountain passes, this is where things got a little sketchy. The track turned into tight vertical switch backs on sand and boulders, not my favourite! My wheels were skidding all over the place but we had to keep on the gas to reach the tops. This terrain would be hard work on the flat but on these angles and with a sheer drop next to me, my heart was going pretty fast! Once reaching the tops, we’d then have the same situation but obviously on the way down, so we kept on the back brake and took it easy, trying our best to keep away from side. Although when we got too close to the walls our panniers would get bashed and ricochet us over edge. After these passes the track opened out into the most beautiful plains I’ve ever seen.
By the end of the first day we saw less and less people, by the second and third we didn’t see another person until we nearly reached the road again. The people we did meet were always extremely shocked we were riding 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:
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 meat.
When 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 said how crazy it was that we were depressed the challenge had come to an end.
We were freezing but decided to push through and cross the Kyrgyzstan border that evening, which was about 45 km away. 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!