Day 95: Admitting defeat (but not quite)

Langar Travel Blog

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Views over the Wakhan valley

Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Tim & Wim (Belgium)

As we were having breakfast in the lovely morning sun, Thibault and Etienne came walking past. We had dropped them halfway down from Bibi Fatimah last night, because they wanted to use today to practice a little for their upcoming trek through the Pamirs. So they had camped up in the mountains, and walked down to the river this morning. They had seen the ditch in Yamchun and asked us how we ever had managed to get through it. Apparently the waters had not subsided, as the villagers had 'promised' and there would have been no way to get through it without the help that Toyota. We were glad we hadn't waited like the villagers had suggested.

We packed our stuff and got moving.

Buddhist Stupa in Vrang
We wanted to try and cross the Kharghush pass today, but there was a lot of sightseeing to do in between. So we'd better get going.
Thibault and Etienne declined the offer for a lift, they wanted to walk today, staying in Vrang tonight.

We drove to the village of Vrang, where we stopped to visit a Buddhist stupa. Once the whole region was Buddhist, but later the people converted to Islam. This 4th century monument is one of the only remaining structures from that era. Some local kids happily played the tour-guide, showing us the way to the stupa and telling us something about the area in surprisingly good English. They obviously wanted some money and that was a bit tricky. What to do? Give the kids money and they might decide that this is a better life than going to school and they end up as uneducated beggars.
Kids at the Buddhist stupas at Vrang
On the other hand, the people in this region barely have money and tourism is their only possibility of generating some income. We decided that since the main tourist season falls within the school holidays, the danger of them skipping school would be minimal, so we gave them a few somoni for their truly excellent services.
Still it made us wonder why there was no form of organised tourist infrastructure in this region. Sure, it is nice to go to a place where fortresses and stupas and other sights are all free. But 99% of the tourists will happily pay a couple of euros entrance to visit such a place. Put a local guy in a ticket office by the road, hire some people acting as a tour guide, put some signs pointing towards the sights and hey presto, you create an economy for the local community.
Views over the Wakhan valley


29 kilometres further we stopped again to visit the Abrashim Qala. This fortress was built to protect the Silk Road running through the Wakhan valley and is perched high on a hill top. According to the guidebook it was a steep 45-minute walk up to the fortress, so we decided it was time for exercise and started climbing. Immediately we were approached by a couple of kids again, who offered to show us. We refused their services. We had given the kid who had approached us first at the Vrang stupa (and who had talked the most) a few somoni, however, then his friends had wanted some money too, but we refused and told them his friend should share. Well, obviously that hadn't happened so it had left us wondering whether we or not we should have given any money at all.
The river we couldn't cross


The kids kept following us up the hill though and more than once they had to point us in the right direction. While they had seemed a nuisance at the start, they turned out to be quite cute actually. And very caring, making sure we didn't step into any hidden ditch or anything. They didn't speak any English, but one of them spoke some passable Russian and he managed to strike some sort of conversation with Wim, who by far knows the most Russian of the three of us.

It was a magnificent walk. Further uphill we came across some ingeniously created irrigation canals, which had turned the arid hillside into a beautiful green pasture. The views of the surrounding valley were simply mind-blowing.

We never made it to the fortress though. In order to reach it you have to cross a river and it was simply to wide and wild for us to cross.
One of our 'guides'
Well, apart from Tim that is. By far the most reckless of the three of us, he waded across, waste deep through the icy cold river. Somehow Wim and I didn't feel like following...

After the hike we drove on to Langar where we stopped to do some grocery shopping. We were shocked by the sight of near-empty stores. Obviously the supply trucks coming from Khorog don't venture much further than Ishkashim. One of the stores had some Russian beers left, which we gladly bought, along with some more cans of that cow meat stuff, I had used the remainder of the can we had bought at the hot springs in a vegetable stew I had concocted last night, and it had proven quite tasty.

After leaving Langar the road deteriorated rapidly.
Stuck (for the first time)
It was obvious that not much traffic goes this way. Most people travel from Khorg along the Wakhan road Ishkashim and Langar, but not many people venture beyond Langar, it seems. Well, only tourists then, as this is a popular route to the Pamir Highway.
The steep road snaked up the mountain, causing the car to roar in complaint. Then we came to a washout. Wim, who was driving, didn't drive fast enough and the car got stuck in the washout. We got out of the car, shifted some stones and Wim was able to back out again.

The second attempt Wim drove full speed across the washout, which was very spectacular and comical to see. The car jumped over the bumps coming off the ground completely, nearly throwing Wim out of the driver's seat. He made it across.
The inside of the car had not survived so well.
Second attempt in crossing the first washout at full speed (front wheels coming off the ground)
All the cupboard doors had opened despite being locked and the inside of the van was chaos. We tidied everything up as good as we could, duct taping the doors shut, and we went on our way again.

I had regretted I had not filmed the car crossing the washout, as it had been so spectacular. I made sure to film the next crossing. Well, spectacular it was, but also disastrous. The stream had created a  deep ditch, which we filled with rocks to drive across, however, as the car drove across, the left rear wheel slipped off the rocks and the whole car slid into the ditch.

It seemed impossible we were ever going to be able to get the car out. And even if we did, there was no way we could continue this way. We had climbed about 500 metres at this stage, we would have to climb another 1200 before we'd reach the pass and we realised the road could only get worse.
Stuck for the second time
It was time to admit defeat, this car was not going to reach Murghab. Tim and Wim started discussing driving back to Khorog the way we had come and I started thinking about alternative transport to Murghab.

But first we had to get out in order to drive back to Khorog and in order to do that we had to get the car out of the ditch. Three tonnes of car, how do you get that out of a ditch with just three blokes? The altitude, over 3000 metres, didn't make things much easier. We were constantly out of breath. No way we could lift the car with our bare hands.

The only option was to use the jack To level the car and to build a dam underneath the wheel in order to drive out. As we were clumsily prodding with the jack a local guy came walking over with a shovel.
Trying to lift the car with the jack
Without saying much he started helping us lugging rocks from the washout to the car. At the time we just thought he was a passer-by but later we realised he had seen us get stuck and walked over to help us.

Whoever he was, he certainly knew what he was doing. He found the largest and flattest stones for us and in about half an hour the four of us had lifted the car almost half a metre and created a very sturdy and flat dam underneath the back wheels, completely levelling the car again.
Then it was just a simple matter of driving backwards and out again. We cheered as Wim drove the car backwards and to save ground again.

But the best news wasn't that we were out of the ditch. No, the best news was that the guy told us we had been on the wrong road.
We managed to lift the car almost half a metre
This was the old road to Murghab, a new, better, road had been created last year and the turn-off was back in the town of Langar.
We made it back down safely and indeed, back in Langar there was a turn-off which we had missed completely. A much newer (and smoother) road led up the mountain again, rejoining the other road at almost the same spot where we had gotten stuck. We felt quite good about ourselves that we had nearly made it to the top of the old road before getting stuck.

We found yet another great spot to spend the night halfway up the Kharghush pass. The views were spectacular, not just of the surrounding mountains on both the Tajik and the Afghan side, but the high vantage point actually meant we could see all the way to the Hindu Kush range in Pakistan.
No matter how cold it was, we deserved a victory beer!


We cracked open a few beers to celebrate our victory. The Tajik roads still had not beaten us. Wim aptly quoted Frank Sinatra: “if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere!”

We had to get used to the cold though. I mean, it had been chilly before, but this was the first time in nearly 3 months that I was experiencing real cold again.

Biedjee says:
Thanks! This part of my journey truly felt as a boy's own adventure :-)
Posted on: Oct 26, 2010
edsander says:
Great story and stunning pix !
Posted on: Oct 25, 2010
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Views over the Wakhan valley
Views over the Wakhan valley
Buddhist Stupa in Vrang
Buddhist Stupa in Vrang
Kids at the Buddhist stupas at Vra…
Kids at the Buddhist stupas at Vr…
Views over the Wakhan valley
Views over the Wakhan valley
The river we couldnt cross
The river we couldn't cross
One of our guides
One of our 'guides'
Stuck (for the first time)
Stuck (for the first time)
Second attempt in crossing the fir…
Second attempt in crossing the fi…
Stuck for the second time
Stuck for the second time
Trying to lift the car with the ja…
Trying to lift the car with the j…
We managed to lift the car almost …
We managed to lift the car almost…
No matter how cold it was, we dese…
No matter how cold it was, we des…
curious donkey
curious donkey
Wonderful views from the Abrashim …
Wonderful views from the Abrashim…
Views from the Abrashim Qala fort
Views from the Abrashim Qala fort
Magnificent views of the Wakhan va…
Magnificent views of the Wakhan v…
Views along the way
Views along the way
Stunning views of the Wakhan valley
Stunning views of the Wakhan valley
Abrashim Qala fort
Abrashim Qala fort
The river we couldnt cross
The river we couldn't cross
Local girls up in the summer pastu…
Local girls up in the summer past…
Stuck for the second time
Stuck for the second time
Building a dam under the wheels
Building a dam under the wheels
Building a dam under the wheels
Building a dam under the wheels
The dam we built. Pretty proud of …
The dam we built. Pretty proud of…
View from our camping spot
View from our camping spot
Mountains in Afghanistan
Mountains in Afghanistan
Hindu Kush range in the background
Hindu Kush range in the background
Hindu Kush in the distance
Hindu Kush in the distance
Hindu Kush range
Hindu Kush range
Sunset over the Hindu Kush
Sunset over the Hindu Kush
Victory beers!
Victory beers!
Oh what wonderful views... the mou…
Oh what wonderful views... the mo…
A selection of clips of my trip a…
Langar
photo by: Biedjee