The adventures between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - a report about the fascinating freeride splitboarding trip from the Bootsjungen Hans, Timo, and Chris.
First impressions from Osh, Kyrgyzstan
We are immersed, really deep into the lives of the rural population between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. After a year of planning and several doubts we decided to undertake a splitboard road trip to Central Asia in January 2015. From this time on we spent hours and days with Google Earth for possible spots and checked many topographical maps to plan an appropriate route. The path should take us from Osh in Kyrgyzstan along the Pamir Highway to Sary-Tash, Murghab, Vanj, Poi-Mazar to Dushanbe the capital of Tajikistan. All in all a 1350 km drive through the Pamir Mountains at an elevation between 3500 and 4650 meters over bumpy high-alpine roads. The team consists of Hans Fleckl and Chris Fuschlberger. In the very last moment our friend Timo Mößner decided to join our party to capture our adventure on video. Our visa were granted just days before we started our trip towards the Pamir Highway on 7th May in 2015. From Salzburg we flew to Istanbul and then directly to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. From the very first moment, it was clear that we would dive into a totally new culture and mountain world to us. At the first morning the route took us directly to the largest market in Osh, a city with a population of 250,000 where we made first contact with the local customs. Lots of people stood selfie shooting next to us and showed keen interest in us strangers.
On the Pamir Highway
Our first destination was the small city of Arslanbob 150 km north from Osh. After a cold night in a poorly insulated hut we did our first tours for brief acclimatization. The next day we were back on road and drove the first meters on the Pamir Highway towards Sary-Tash. The beautiful landscape of the Pamir Mountains at the border between China and Tajikistan was just breathtaking. Only a broad valley separated us from mountains between 4000-7000 meters in altitude which loomed before our eyes. An absolute highlight at this magical place was a sunrise tour on one of the local mountains. During the short hike over the ridge the sun rose over China and life in the valley started slowly again. The first sun rays hit the Pamir Mountain Range and painted everything in red, the few turns back to the homestay were truly a delight!
After some more acclimatization tours near Sary-Tash we had two days of travel to our next stop. Snowy roads changed to dirt roads with knee-deep potholes and then to asphalt that is wavy like the Adriatic Sea. Cold temperatures, wind, and lots of police and military presence did not bother us as we drove through one of the most beautiful untouched mountain landscapes of this planet. On the next morning we drove over passes which were flanked by mountains between 5000 and 7000 meters. Our way continued on an endless plateau with barren rock faces. After lots of driving, a massive mountain with three perfect-looking spines suddenly appeared on the left. Hans shouted at once, "Check out the mountain left!"
Small shock included
Azamat our man for everything and driver turned the car into a small back road and stopped at a house. While we were inspecting the face with the three spines Azamat organized a stay for the night. A man approached us and after a brief chat we entered his typical Tajik looking house. Four wooden pillars formed the center of the colorful decorated living room which divided the space into different living areas with different levels. However we had the spine face in mind and could not really grasp anything else so we went out again to forge plans on how to approach the spines the next morning. After three days spent in the car we were really eager to do this and everyone immediately found his line. The anticipation let us overlook some warning signs and nature had a nasty surprise for us. The alarm rang at 4:30 am since it was a long way up and we wanted to be at the entrance of our lines at sunrise. The orientation was quite difficult in the dark and we made a little detour. Suddenly we recognized that the snow cover under our feet consisted of a thin hard layer and underneath everything was sugar snow. We had to turn back which drove us to the brink of despair. This felt hard to accept but many tours and altitude meters were still to come. Our hope was to find other good spots at the head of the Vanj Valley near the Fedchenko glacier. These kind of situations happened always during the trip, after a short analysis of a situation we quickly switched to new plans if conditions were not proper.
The difficult way to Vanj
With a good breakfast we were prepared to hit the road again. Only slowly enthusiasm came back after the setback of the last day. In Khorog we were sauntering together through a traditional festivity and later that day we even found a small tourist office that provided valuable information about the area along the Vanj River up to the Fedchenko Glacier. This all helped us to forget the setback of the last day and everybody in our group was looking forward to the next stop of our journey. Ahead of us were still several kilometers to drive along the Panj River. The river carved out a large canyon and forms a considerable part of the Afghan-Tajik border. The roads are in a bad condition especially during late winter when avalanches and falling rocks occasionally block the road. Stones had to be removed and in one occasion we had to fill a larger pothole to enable the entrance to a bridge that looked like it is in acute danger of collapsing. Shortly before Vanj we had to deal with corrupt police men. This happened many times during our trip but this time we did not want to pay again and threatened to call the embassy. The message helped and one of the police men - hopping mad - opened up the gate. In life, you always meet twice and in our case this happened quicker than expected. After an hour of driving it turned out that we took the wrong direction and had to go back to the police station. We had no place to stay overnight, and in the meantime it was already dark. Surprisingly one of the police men offered us his place for accommodation and for little money the family would prepare food for us. Dog-tired and happily the circumstances turned the tide we went to the officers house. The police man and his family left their Spartan home to their guests and moved into the neighbor’s house. The hospitality and kindness was overwhelming and allowed us to rest after an exciting day. The next morning we managed all the necessary formalities for the national park, filled up our stocks and were back on the way along the Panj River.
Happy End in Poi-Mazar
The last goal of our journey was Poi-Mazar a village in the Vanj Valley 30 km north east of the small town Vanj. At the head of the valley, beyond Poi-Mazar, the river turns southeast. The Fedchenko glacier is located a few more kilometers to the east. With 77 km and a maximum thickness of 1,000 meters it is one of the longest glaciers outside the Polar Regions. The drive to our last goal of our road trip was at the same time the most challenging for our car. The road became increasingly bad from kilometer to kilometer. After half of the route the road carries on in a river bed with loose scree. After a long ride what felt like an eternity we made a short break in a small village. Some of the locals approached us and we were invited to drink tea which is automatically an invitation to dinner. Again, this was one of these coincidences, already on the road for hours and nothing to eat was in sight. Our stomachs were growling for hunger and we followed total strangers into their home. Delicacies were served on the veranda when we were asked whether we like chicken. We said yes and moments later a free ranging chicken was caught and made into soup. With filled stomachs and after exhausting kilometers we arrived at our goal. In Poi-Mazar it was very simple to organize an accommodation for the next days. At the end of the road, two men were tinkering with a broken Lada. Again we were hearty welcome and one of them offered his home to stay there a couple of nights. In the evening light we already spotted some possibilities to ride, three or four days were still left to explore the area. Again the hospitality of the locals was overwhelming, instantly they let us take part in the family life. After our first exploration tour in difficult visibility conditions we were served a Tajik power meal for athletes. Our host was very interested on our views about the United States and Russia, as well as an exchange of religious differences between Muslims and Christians. These kinds of discussions and the openness showed us the true picture of the Islam that has nothing to do with what is usually drawn by European media. The last two days we took full advantage of the good weather. First we decided to hike some shorter slopes near the village. During the ascent three boys from the village followed us to see what we were doing. Even on the smallest slope Hans and I have different ideas in mind so that we rarely get in each others way and Timo found a good location to film the entire action. After two runs we sat totally happy at the riverbed and were thinking back to the events of the last couple of days.
The next morning we started early in the dark again. Finally we wanted to do a challenging tour where we reach a summit. After we gained some meters in altitude we had to cross an avalanche path. After finding a path through the frozen blocks of debris and a short break we could skin again. However cold temperatures forced us to change our summit plans. Luckily we discovered two nice looking ridges as new goal so aborting our summit plan did not dampened our mood. We rode down from the entrance of our line and had a splendid last run of the day. On the way to the meeting point with Azamat in the next village, we discovered another short run and could not resist. This was definitely the last run on our road trip. During the ascent we were thinking back about all the impressions of our journey and enjoyed the last meters on ski and snowboard to the fullest.
Back to civilization - Last days in Dushanbe
Totally euphoric from the last tour we decided to drive the last 400 kilometers on the same day. The longest stage until then was 240 kilometers in a day. Time flies during our 15 hours’ drive and everybody was quietly thinking about the experiences of the journey. We arrived very late in Dushanbe completely overtired but still had to find a hostel. While Azamat organized the hostel we bought food from a small kiosk. After a refreshing shower we stood on the balcony of our hostel at 5 am in the morning. With a big grin on our faces we were drinking canned beer and were still overwhelmed from the beautiful mountains, the people, and our achievements during that journey.
The next day we visited some places and sights in Dushanbe. Finally we met with Shakhnoza – an acquaintance from couch surfing - and her friends to eat and celebrate. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was a great adventure and will be remembered for a long time. For adventure seekers definitely worth considering!
Profession: ski guide
Interests: Mountain sports, travel
Hans has spent the last few years to become a full certified ski guide and already works in the Fieberbrunner mountains as a guide. He was the driving force required for such a project.
Timo Mössner ( https://www.facebook.com/Bootsjungen-1678645325681133/ )
Profession: TV producer
Interests: Snowboard, travel
Timo is a cameraman and TV producer from Cologne. In winter he often travels to Fieberbrunn, to pursue his passion for snowboarding. In recent years, we had some good days of shooting in Fieberbrunn so we had the desire to undertake a bigger adventure.
Chris Fuschlberger ( https://www.facebook.com/chris.fuschlberger / www.instagram.com/chris_fuschlberger )
Occupation: Self-employed with LineHunters.com
Interests: Snowboard, MTB, running
Chris is snowboarding for 17 years and has been on the FWQ-tour on the road for some years. After numerous tours in the local mountains it was time for a bigger adventure.
More travel tips in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: LineHunters factory GmbH, Chris Fuschlberger, firstname.lastname@example.org in cooperation with I´m Nomad travel agency