The Bartang Valley
The day after arriving at lake Karakul we left again for the Bartang Valley, which roughly runs southeast from the M41 near Karakul to the village of Rushan (on the M41). The main reason for visiting this desolate and remote valley was that I wanted to hike up the Khafrazdara and Giziev Valleys (see below). The Bartang Valley is incredibly beautiful, its river running through deep-cut canyons, occasionally opening up into wide green alluvial plains, its mountains shimmering in hues ranging from yellow to purple. On the other hand, the Bartang Valley is very rugged, prone to flooding, rock falls, mud slides and occasional earthquakes. In late autumn, winter crossing the Bartang Valley is nearly impossible because of snow, while in spring flooding results in the roads being all but impassable. Even in summer the roads can be block or washed away as I found at near the end of my trip. The best way to cross the valley is probably by hiring a private SUV like the Mitsubishi Pajero I had at my disposition.
The Khafrazdara Valley
One of the best parts of my trip to Tajikistan was the 4 day hike up the Khafrazdara Valley to the second Khafrazdara Lake. The hike is not particularly strenuous, especially since the change in elevation is pretty gradual. Moreover, it does not involve any scrambling and no technical skills are required. However, if you are attempting the trek on your own (which I didn’t) map reading skills would be a definite plus even though the path is pretty straightforward. Even though the trek is not strenuous, the Khafrazdara Valley is located above 3000 m or so and altitude sickness can be a real problem. The best way to avoid this is to get well acclimatised and if necessary to take some Diamox in order to alleviate the symptoms.
The scenery up there is just spectacular. The path that winds up to the lakes, crosses rivers, summer pastures, rock fields and a a small glacier (for good measure). Even though the landscape is pretty barren, it shimmers in all colours of the rainbow as the light bounces of the rocks, the grass and the water. The Khafrazdara Lakes shimmer in turquoise between the green-yellow hues of the high-altitude summer pastures and the red-brownish hues of the now-capped mountains.
For me one of the main attractions of the Khafrazdara Valley, apart from its stunning scenery, was its remoteness. During the 4 days we did not meet another person, apart from a shepherd who was looking after a small herd of calves, which followed him around like little puppies. It was actually quite fun to watch – if he stood up and walked five meters, all the calves would stand up and walk the 5 meters with him.
The hike to the second Khafrazdara Lake and back took us about four days walking at a leisurely pace. If we had speeded up (or if wI had had an extra day) we could probably have made it to the Glacier. The first day we walked about 20km, the second day about 15km and similarly on the third and fourth day, i.e. as was mentioned above, nothing to strenuous. As I wanted to enjoy the scenery and take pictures so I was happy not to rush an to take it slowly. Moreover, having meals with my guide and the donkey herder were always very enjoyable and the meals my guide managed to concoct were always very tasty. There also seemed to be a never-ending supply of dried fruits.
After having spend 4 days in the Khafrazdara Valley the plan was to drive to the Ghizev Valley further down the Bartang Valley for another two day hike. However, that did not quite go according to plan as the road had been blocked by a rockfall after Yasnob and slightly further it had been washed away by the river. The rockfall did not present much of a problem as we could just drive around it. The washed away road though was a totally different matter as it forced us to cross a river, which our driver said was not possible. As we arrived there about 6 o’clock in the evening there was not much else we could do, so we drove back to Yaznob where my guide asked around for a place to sleep. It did not take very long for a kind soul to take us in, and we ended up in the house of an English teacher who just happened to go to Uni with my guide. They had not seen each other for six years. The morning after we left early to see whether we could cross the river and found that about 20 or thirty people had tuned up with shovels and pick-axes. So we all started to carve a new road into the mountain side. Six or seven hours later we had cleared a passage wide enough to let an SUV pass. This was the first time in my life I assisted in road building I have to admit and it felt kind of satisfactory. After giving my legs a workout it had now been the turn of my upper body and arms. Unfortunately, because of the delay I had only one day to visit the Ghizev Valley
The Ghizev Valley
The village of Ghizev is located in the Ghizev valley, a side valley of the Bartang Valley and the easiest way to get there is from the village of Rushan on the Pamir Highway. From Rushan it is about 25km to the Ghizev trailhead, which is difficult to miss as there is a suspension bridge (with the words “To Ghizev” painted on) over the Bartang River. From the suspension bridge to Ghizev village takes about two to three hours to Ghizev Valley and the first of the lakes. The hike up the Ghizev Valley was pretty easy, especially after having several hikes in the previous two weeks. My guide Bakir and I hiked to Ghizev village and the first lake and back in more or less half a day. Unfortunately, due to the washed away road the previous day, we were unable to stay overnight in Ghizev or go any further, which was a bit of a shame as I would have liked to visit the other lakes up the Ghizev valley.
There is no road up to Ghizev valley so the only way to get there is by foot, which like the hike up to the Khafrazdara lake, made it very appealing to me.