Breathtaking and breathless up the Shakdara Valley

We had our eye on a 5-6 day loop out of Khorogh that few cyclists do and would take us under the high peaks of Karl Marx (6700m) and Engels (6500m) and over a 4100m pass. A friend Pat Deavoll had climbed both peaks on a climbing trip in the area last year and recommended the trip up the valley as well.

The Shakdara river flows into Khorogh so from the Pamir Lodge it wasn’t far to where we started peddling up alongside its continuous whitewater. There were many villages alongside the river and people were shy, we think because they don’t often see cyclists. The road had been paved but like good peanut butter we had to take the crunchy with the smooth. There wasn’t a lot of wasted height gain as we followed the river upstream.

In the village of Bidiz where we started looking for a campsite the first night we came across a women’s spinning co-operative that had been set up to give women a means to make money. The spinning wheels were battery operated from solar power and the cashgora wool(cashmere/angora cross goat) is combed off local goats in the spring. 1 goat can produce 1 kg of wool. The wool is sent to Afghanistan for cleaning then returned to be spun by village women. It is then sold in the US. I would have loved a chance to try some spinning but standards were very high.

At our campsite that afternoon 2 bowls of kefir (a rough yoghurt) were delivered to our tent. Yum!

Next day we climbed up through slot canyons and through scenic villages. The paving ended but the road was in pretty good condition. Just when we were feeling like a cuppa we had a lovely tea invite with a family and got to check out the inside of their adobe, flatroofed house with few windows which were the norm above 3000m.

Though not long after midday we couldn’t go past a campsite beside some (warm) hot pools, and a friendly dog who adopted us at mealtimes.

On the third day the valley started opening out and villages were more spread out. The hillsides were dry and there was a ribbon of green alongside the river. Before the last village in the valley we saw our first views of the lofty Karl Marx and Engels peaks standing head and shoulders above any others.

In Javshangoz, the last village of the valley, we were again treated to some local hospitality and a van full of locals heading down valley stopped and enjoyed taking turns on our bikes.

Our destination that night was a camp up the side valley under the blocky Engels peak. We had to cross the main creek which we tackled 2 to a bike so we made three crossings. It was a pleasant 6km up the valley to a sweet campsite with a great view of the wall of mountains at the head. We were now at 3700m and acclimatising well so far.