The Bartang Valley

First of all I need to explain that I had zero knowledge of this valley, other than that it looked as there should be a track going all the way through the Pamir mountains back to the North East of Tajikistan to Lake Kara-Kul and the Pamir Highway where I was a few days before. I also only found one report of a guy on a motorbike who did it and who had a lot of problems. I met two Austrian guys on bicycles and at least one of them said it would be impossible on a motorbike and the other said that only a really skilled rider could maybe make it. So this sounded like something I could do or at least try! I looked on the map and saw a few ‘points’ that should be villages, so I thought it would be ok and that I could find some food and water. I would learn that this was not the case…

Right from the beginning it is clear that this would be a special and magnificent ride:

The whole way consists of a track that is mostly hard gravel with rocks and stones, but there will also be river crossings, sand, bigger stones, washed out track, bigger rivers etc. you get the point: it’s definitely not for beginners or anyone on these beautiful heavy bikes that are advertised as being the “ultimate adventure bikes”. They’re not. But anyway it’s not about that, it’s all about riding in the Bartang valley.

I slept the first night on a ‘beach’ near the river only 30km inside the Valley and had some company of the moon:

All along the valley there are bridges in all kind of forms, for people or for vehicles:

The track is not always in good condition, and the water has washed away some parts of the track but these parts were not a problem actually:

After that there are some sandy sections but it’s also perfectly doable as it is river sand and not desert sand. I was also happy to see that someone past there a few days ago or so:

The track is also in some places really ‘rocky’ so I started to slow down a bit as I didn’t want to end up in the river.

Actually I’m glad I slowed down as a few turns later I had to brake hard for this:

The road was completely blocked as a part of the mountain came down on the track; no way to pass it but I really did not want to turn around so I started to work… and remove as much as I could to make a small passageway to try to pass with the bike:

It took me some time but I managed to get through!

Next part again lot of rocks and water, but nothing I couldn’t handle on the DRZ:

But the views are stunning and worth it all:

The next part is more tricky. The river washed the road away completely. You know where you need to go, but it was a pain in the ass to get through. You just don’t know how deep the water is and I was too lazy to walk it all first so I just went for it…

The first part was ok, 30cm deep and sand and small rocks to ride on until I came to a little island for a break.

The next part though, was only like 35 meters or so but it took me almost an hour to do that. I started from the little island trying to stay as close to the left as possible (mountain side) but after like 10 meters I hit a big rock hard, the bike stalled and I had to use all my strength to keep the bike from falling over and going completely under. Because the rock made me stop abruptly my chest hit the GPS on my steering bar and the GPS went over the bike, into the river… nothing I could do about it! So when I finally stabilized the bike (and hurt my arm with this) I could get of and push it a bit further to be able to put it on it’s side stand as the bike wouldn’t start again. Time for a picture:

So I’m there, no help, haven’t seen anybody for the whole day (except some locals in their farm) with a GPS that is somewhere in the river and a bike in the river that won’t start anymore… Time to sit down for a minute and overlook the situation. Tried to push the bike out of the river, but as said, the riverbed is made of sand and small and larger stones and I was pushing uphill. After making a passage with my hands in the water (removing stones etc) I finally got the bike out! But still no GPS. So I went back into the river and started to look for it on hands and knees. After what looked like an eternity there it was! A few meters away from where it fell down into the water. And it was still working! Thank good for a real waterproof GPS, it was for 15minutes completely submerged into this ice cold river at 3000m altitude and still works!

So after some eureka moment I continued my way to find out that a few km further there was just absolutely no way to get through so the locals pointed me in the right direction of going up the mountain and around the river to rejoin the track a few km further.

I was certainly not disappointed, as the scenery was once again breathtaking:

In the next village the track was once again not driveable as locals were restoring the only little bridge, so I had to go around. They all stopped working and were looking at me if I came from Mars or something, but really friendly people, they all tried to invite me for some tea, so in the end I just said yes and stayed for an hour with these three guys:

After the tea and some bread (that I wasn’t allowed to pay for!) I continued my journey since there are absolutely no shops whatsoever in the whole valley and I had nothing anymore with me (no water and no food) so I was hoping to make it back to Kara-Kul where I knew there was a homestay. Locals told me I would never make it. Again, breathtaking arid scenery:

Then a lot of bad sections came, stones, water, water and stones, but I was in the mood for it and the sky was the limit. The bike did everything I wanted it to do and I was really glad I was on a light enduro bike.

Again the scenery is superb, for me the Bartang Valley and the Wakhan Valley are the two highlights of the Pamir. Pamir Highway is good, but you can do it on any vehicle or bike and this beats it by far! Reason why to travel on a light (enduro) bike!

I’ll try to give you an impression of what it is, the first picture is looking straight forward, the second down to the left. The difference in altitude is at least 300m or more. There’s no way you survive if you make a (riding)mistake here.

Offroad hairpins with an inclination of 12 to 20%, a dream (or nightmare?):

By the end I reached a plateau, again let the pictures speak for themselves:

And the last part was something I hate when being on a bike, wet marshland. Zero grip, mud and lots of small water crossings. But I made it without dropping the bike even once and when there is a bridge it is in doubtful conditions:

I made it back to Kara-Kul 12 minutes before sunset. This was my biggest victory of this trip (along maybe with Yana’s track in the Altay) as I did the “impossible” according to some, doing the Bartang Valley on a motorbike in one day all alone.

In my opinion it would be almost impossible to do the track on a (let’s say) GS. At least not if you are alone like me. I will also confess that the track would make more sense for at least two riders, 3 would be even better. I was not comfortable being here all alone, as there’s no cell phone reception and if something happens, you just know it will take days before somebody will find or be able to help you.

The track is best ridden in two days, three would be better and safer so you really have time to take it easy, certainly if you are not comfortable riding at higher speeds on these kind of tracks. The difference between ascending and descending on this track was more or less 9400m on a 280km stretch. It was a blast!!!

Aug 29 2013

  1. Reden om het SAMEN met Kimmeke nog eens over te doen? Er zijn geen woorden voor, ik wil de risico’s niet weten op zulk een trip, maar CHAPEAU! Weer formidabele foto’s, de gepensioneerden hebben geluk met zulk een Fotografix!!!!!!!!

    08-29-2013, 10:18 am Reply
  2. mooie foto’s , mooie trip
    ben toch blij dat je er goed uitgekomen bent ; jij bent een held op wielen !!!
    knuffel xxx
    mam en pap en boms

    08-29-2013, 10:57 am Reply
  3. mum

    c’est fou le changement de la nature et les splendides couleurs.
    suis heureuse que ce périple s’est bien terminé et que ni toi, ni la moto, ne sont tombés ds l’eau.
    bonne pub pour le GPS ! 😉
    zillion kisses,

    08-29-2013, 11:30 am Reply
  4. Dad

    One word : FABULOUS

    08-29-2013, 12:33 pm Reply

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