A mind-blowing, superlative-busting rollicking motorcycle ride on the roof of the world
Done the A470 to Brecon? Seen the Stelvio? Ridden in the Picos? Fancy something a bit….well, different?
Let us take you far, far from the madding crowds…
Tajikistan. It’s a place that surprisingly few people have heard of, and fewer have visited. Ask most people around the world, and they might tell you it’s in central Asia, or perhaps even that it’s close to where “they keep the other stans”. It’s a country the size of the US state of Iowa (or about half the size of Italy), and yet only around 400,000 people visit it per year. That’s seventeen times less than visit the Vatican’s half square kilometre each year. But believe it or not, Tajikistan was the world’s second fastest-growing tourist destination. Maybe you should see it before the masses descend?
Of course, if you are reading this, then you’ll probably know far more than the average person. Motorcycle adventurers in particular know that Tajikistan plays host to not only the 4th highest mountain range in the world – the Pamirs – but also to the legendary Pamir Highway, widely known as one of the most breath-taking roads in the world and on many published bucket lists.
The gorgeous scenery and wonderfully welcoming and friendly people of Tajikistan are certainly deserving of any received praise or accolades. We want to share our love of the country with you.
On this trip, you’ll not only ride along much of the fabled Pamir Highway, but we’ll take you away from it and into valleys and ranges few others have reached. In two glorious, thrilling weeks of riding, you’ll follow roaring rivers, glimpse eagles and marmots, meet Kygrgyz nomads, clamber around 2000 year old Silk Road fortresses, experience rich Tajik, Kyrgyz and Persian cultures, bathe in magical hot springs, be humbled by incredible Pamiri kindness and hospitality and on every twist and turn of the road you’ll be left speechless by jaw-dropping mountain scenery.
This is epic, panoramic, unforgettable stuff – a series of superlatives that you will carry in your memory for years to come. It’s a proper blast of adventure, neatly packaged into a fortnight’s holiday allowance.
The riding is tough at times – this is no weekend jaunt to the Alps – more than half our itinerary is on dirt roads and much of it will be at altitudes of up to 4655 metres, but we guarantee that you’ll find this challenging, glorious, life-affirming, spectacular expedition leaves you with a taste for further Central Asian adventures.
Sound like just the tonic? Then read on to find out how you can get into the saddle with Edge Expeditions in early September 2018.
This is a 14-day motorbike adventure along parts of Tajikistan’s fantastically scenic Pamir Highway and into the Tajk National Park, Zorkul Nature Reserve, Bartang Valley and remote south-east areas of this little-known country, starting and ending in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.
We’ll ride through epic, untrammelled wilderness alongside rushing turquoise rivers and massive, snow-capped peaks. We’ll meet fabulously friendly people, stay in delightful homestays, learn about the many local cultures, sleep in nomad’s yurts, swim in hot thermal springs and marvel at ancient petroglyphs, 2000 year old Buddhist stupas, stunning Silk Road fortresses and hyperbole defying views. And all whilst following in the footsteps of historical legends such as Timur, Alexander the Great and Marco Polo.
At times it will be roastingly hot, at others you’ll need to hunker down against mountain hailstorms, but at every turn you’ll be amazed, awed and humbled.
We are running only ONE of these expeditions this year, with a maximum of seven people in the group. Grab your place whilst you still can.
How is this different to your other Central Asia expeditions
This itinerary is unique to this tour, and although we naturally cover some of the same ground as on other tours, the route explores more remote areas on single track paths.
Where will we be staying?
On this expedition, we’ll be staying from good hotels in Dushanbe and Khorog, guest houses or basic hotels in other towns, and more often in homestays with local people and their families. The homestay concept is widely accepted throughout Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – particularly the former – so these nights are often highly enjoyable glimpses into local customs and lifestyles. We also stay in yurts in a couple of locations on this trip.
What size of group will it be?
Our group sizes are always small, allowing for an intimate experience of the cultures we meet along our path. On the Pamir Highway and remoter areas, group sizes are dictated by the size of the homes we will be staying in. Our group is usually 7 expeditioners, a back-up driver, mechanic and one of the Edge team. We usually find groups are made of like-minded people, both male and female, from a wide age range, and where motorcycles are involved, this is particularly true.
Why have you chosen such small engined bikes?
In the words of our guide “the Pamir highway kills bikes”. And he should know! Our local guides have huge experience of working in these often hostile terrains, and after trying – and in most cases still owning – almost every type of bike imaginable (including the usual GS, KTM etc) have opted for the lightweight, mechanically simple and hugely robust Suzuki DRZ400. The bikes cope very well with the bumps and lumps and are comfortable both on and off the pegs. If your drop a bike, it likely won’t break and you’ll be able to pick it and yourself back up without needing a support team and a crane. We are huge fans.
What will the weather be like?
A very difficult question to answer when traversing the fourth highest mountain range on earth. But, you can expect some hot days lower in the valleys and off the high plateaus – temperatures could be in 20-30C range or higher. At altitude, we have experienced every season in the course of a single day – warm sunshine followed by winds and rain, hail or snow on the passes and perhaps down to 0 degrees for a short period of time. In general, the rule of thumb is to expect warm days and cooler nights when we are out of the lowland areas.
I’m a solo traveller – is this for me?
Yes. More than 85% of our expedition clients travel alone as part of our group. We don’t charge single supplements to solo travellers – see below.
Do you charge single supplements – I can’t see them in your information?
No. We don’t believe that solo travellers should be penalised with extra charges. It goes against our ethos, so unless totally unavoidable or astronomically expensive, all costs are included in the expedition price. Please note that in many of our destinations, single rooms are simply not available due to the nature of the available tourism infrastructure.
What kit do I need to bring?
We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful. For this motorcycle expedition, see below for a smidge more detail.
How do I choose what to wear on the bike?
This is really a matter of personal choice, as all riders have their own modus operandi. However, our experience says that good expedition boots are very useful. We don’t tend to ride using metal-toed dirt boots, but some do. We use an adventure-style boot that allows good ankle protection and is stiff with protection on the shins. In terms of lid; we tend to favour flip-front helmets that can be lowered when cold and raised quickly to meet and greet people along the way. Although we are there during the least-rainy season we tend to use a pull-on overcoat and trousers that are kept to hand for quick access. Under these we ride in a well-ventilated and elbow/shoulder/back/knee armoured bike jacket and trousers – the better ventilated the happier you will be! As already highlighted, most riders have their own tried and tested methods. Our simplest motto would be to layer for multiple weather types.
Is there a back-up vehicle?
Yes. We will travel with a back-up 4×4, carrying filtered water and spares where necessary.
How much are flights?
This is a moving feast! It depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. From London, the cheapest flights to Dushanbe might be via Moscow. We use Turkish Airlines via Istanbul because they are good, cost-effective connections. Costs are usually around the £450 mark, return.
What will the food be like?
Varied; the Pamir area is not particularly agriculturally inclined, mostly due to the precipitous nature of the topography, and often poor soils. But many of our homestay hosts pride themselves on making good meals for their guests, so we will be well looked-after. If you are a vegetarian, food can be a little dull (lots of bread, potatoes and eggs with salads) but perfectly acceptable. For meat-eaters, pilaf is the main dish. Usually rice and meat in one dish and often very tasty. Freshly made non (bread) is available almost everywhere and can be delicious. We try to ensure we have some treat foods in the back-up vehicle for picnics. In general we think food is a core part of any cultural experience and there are a good number of local dishes to try on our route.
Will I have to share a room?
Yes, at times. There will be hotels where we will have separate rooms, but more often where we are staying at homestays or in yurts there is little option but to share rooms. This is all part of the adventure, and a reason we love to travel here. It makes sense for light sleepers to bring earplugs, in case of snorers or the host family waking early.
Will I be affected by altitude?
Altitude can affect different people in different ways. It can also affect the same person in different ways from trip to trip. We will be spending quite a number of days above 3000 metres, and up on the Alichur and Murghab plateaus, often above 4000 metres. We also cross some high passes, with the Ak Baital being 4700m (over 15,000 ft). If you feel that you might suffer from altitude sickness, or have history of it, you should consider discussing this with your doctor prior to booking and travel. Diamox and other similar prescription drugs are available to ease symptoms, but the key way to address any onset of altitude sickness is to descend. Luckily, from anywhere particularly high, descent is possible rapidly thanks to our back-up vehicle. Our route is also planned to gain altitude in the smallest increments possible to aid acclimatisation. Simple precautions and awareness go a long way.
Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions?
Yes. We employ international risk experts Sirisk to perform our country risk assessments 1 month prior to departure. We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition and are expedition first aid trained. For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be.
I can’t do your dates but love the sound of your expedition – can you be flexible?
Yes. We offer set group dates for our expeditions, but we can organise and deliver bespoke expeditions to groups and individuals to suit your itinerary and budget. More information is available on our bespoke expeditions page.
Boasting ancient Buddhist temples, soaring peaks, echoes of Alexander the Great, turbulent aquamarine rivers and generous Persian hospitality, Tajikistan is a spectacular landlocked Central Asian republic, sharing borders with China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and narrowly separated from Pakistan by the magnificent Wakhan Corridor – a territorial relic of the 19th century’s Great Game between Russian and British Empires.
With a land area equivalent to that of England and Northern Ireland combined, the US state of Iowa or about half the size of Italy, this crossroads of Asia is dominated by the Pamir Mountains – the fourth highest range in the world. Over ninety per cent of the country is classified as mountainous, laying claim to the world’s longest non-arctic glacier, highest natural dam and the source of the Panj/Amu Darya/Oxus river.
The poorest of the ex-Soviet Union states, this easy going, nominally Ismaili Islamic nation consists of many different ethnic groups, including Tajik and Uzbek in the north and west, Wakhi and Shugni in the south, plus Yagnobhi, Kyrgyz and many others. Several remote valleys have their own distinct languages and customs.
As befits a mountainous terrain, the climate is hugely varied. It can be searingly hot in the lowlands in summer, whilst the winters are characterized by deep snow and closed passes that isolate resilient communities for weeks or months at a time.
Wildlife abounds; you are likely to see soaring eagles from old Silk Road fortresses, fearless marmots near abandoned caravanserai and maybe even a Marco Polo sheep – named after the famous traveller who passed this way 700 years ago. History oozes from this country’s terrain, whose people we have found to be overwhelmingly friendly and inquisitive. Pamiris in particular are keen to smile and wave as we travel through their region, and to share their traditional music and stories.
Among the mountains that encircle the Tajikistani Pamir Highway, every bend in the road provides a vista fit for a coffee table tome. Travelling here is a supercharger for the soul. We’d be surprised if you didn’t want to come back!
Reasons we love Tajikistan
- Mountain scenery so lofty, humbling and dramatic that it affects your heart, spirit and tear ducts!
- Charismatic and amiable people who genuinely treat visitors as guests to be treasured rather than cash cows to be milked.
- History – its all around us at every turn, from pre-history through to Alexander and the modern era
- Lack of organised tourism. Of course, Tajikistan would love – and deserves – more tourism to develop, but right now even the simplest of trips can still bring out the inner adventurer in visitors
Although this is an extremely enlivening way to spend two weeks of your life, it’s also highly dangerous.
Riding motorcycles is an inherently risky activity and to compound this, you will be riding motorcycles off-road in a VERY remote part of the world. Because of insurance limits on riding motorcycles in such a remote region, we can only offer this expedition to those in the 24-69 age range. If you are outside this range and can find appropriate insurance then you are welcome to apply to join us.
Not only could you be hurt, maimed or even killed but in the event of an accident it could take hours (a day even) for the emergency services to reach you.
Due to altitude and the nature of riding on rough roads, it will also be physically tiring.
Don’t even consider signing up for this adventure if you aren’t fully aware of the risks you are taking. And certainly don’t consider signing up if you haven’t got a full motorcycle license.
Furthermore, Central Asia can be a very tough to travel in and, broadly speaking, the tourism industry is in its infancy. This is why we – and hopefully you – like it so much.
There’ll be no wi-fi or mobile reception for most of the ride and fluffy towels, Egyptian cotton sheets and en-suite bathrooms will be an extreme rarity. The roads are bumpy, the food isn’t exactly cordon bleu, some days will be very tiring, it’s very possible you’ll feel the effects of altitude and you’ll be lucky if your stomach doesn’t have at least one minor revolt.
If you like your holidays to include foie gras, butlers and quilted loo roll then please look elsewhere.
This expedition will cost £4450
What this includes
Rental of a fully insured Suzuki DRZ 400 motorcycle
Soft panniers if you require them
Accommodation in a range of homestays and hotels. These will range to simple family-run homestays in the mountains to Tajikistan’s best hotel, Dushanbe’s 5* Serena, meaning you start and end the trip in extreme luxury!
Local airport transfers
A professional guiding team including Ants or Marley, an English speaking Tajik guide and a top notch mechanic.
Back-up vehicle (new Toyota Landcruiser or Hi Lux) and English speaking driver
Fresh filtered water + a Water 2 Go water filtration bottle, in order to reduce plastic waste
All spare parts, tools and on the roadside repairs
Professional route planning and logistics, backed by risk assessments, emergency procedures, satellite communications and medical support. We don’t take risks lightly and we plan for all eventualities, believing it is better to have prepared and not require a procedure than not to plan at all. We also carry a very well stocked First Aid and Trauma medical kit and have been First Aid and Trauma trained by the excellent team at Crux Medical.
What it doesn’t include
Your personal riding equipment – clothing, boots, helmets, protection
Extra daily costs for snacks, alcohol or souvenirs
Your personal travel insurance including medi-evac
Visa and GBAO (Gorno-Badakhshan Oblast Administration) permit for Tajikistan