Rowena and Tim Barnes Tajikistan

The Totally Knackered Tour

Across Europe and Central Asia by Bicycle 2006



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Europe & Central Asia 06

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Dushanbe to Kalaikhum Kalaikhum to Khorog Khorog to Murgab Murgab to Krgyz border Country Notes Notes for Cyclists

Part 1 Dushanbe to Kalaikhum


Tajikistan. What a country!

"Fantastic, the best country I have ever cycled in" Tim's diary

"The hardest pedal of my life." Rowena's diary

One thing we did agree on was that it was the Tajik people, their generosity and amazing hospitality, that made travelling through Tajikistan such a unique and rewarding experience. It is a fantastic country.

About Tajikistan
It was the Pamir Highway that attracted us to Tajikistan. This is a high altitude road, built by the Soviets in the 1930s, that runs through the Pamir mountains for 750km from Khorog to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. For most of its length it is above 3,000m and at it's highest point reaches 4,655m. From all the accounts we had read it was like the Karakoram Highway, only on steriods.

After independance from the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan descended into civil war and it's economy collapsed. It's been at peace now for about 10 years and its economy is recovering slowly, but it is still one of the worlds poorest countries.

The area isn't overrun with tourists. Lonely Planet estimates the total number of tourists visiting the Pamirs at less than 200 per year.

Our route

Our route through Tajikistan - click to enlarge
Tim and Rowena Barnes' route through Tajikistan


Dushanbe means Monday in Tajik, but we arrived at the 3am on a Friday. A whole Boeing 737, was a bit too much for the airport to cope with, so it took a while to get through immigration. By 6am we were collapsing on to comfortable sleeping mattresses at our homestay.

Rudaki Dushanbe, bicycle tour Tajikistan
Rush hour in Dushanbe
In a quiet, laid-back way Dushanbe was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. The principle attractions were:
  • For a capital city, it has an amazing lack of traffic.
  • Wide avenues and shady, tree-lined pavements.
  • Being dazzled by the long bright red dresses worn by the women.
  • Riding the trams down Rudaki avenue
  • Some nice brooding old buildings

Picture of mahbubullo kholmadov, cycle tour Tajikistan
Mahbubullo Kholmadov
A Good Guide in Dushanbe
To help us find our way round Dushanbe, we hired a guide, Mahbubullo Kholmadov. Mahubullo is a student of English at the University and an all round good bloke. We found he was a big help to us in showing us the best shops to buy supplies, tracking down some maps and brushing up our Tajik. He charges a very modest daily rate for his services and is good company. If you would like to get in touch with Mahbubullo, send us an


and we'll send his contact details

The Theatre Dushanbe bicycle tour Tajikistan Street scene Dushanbe, cycle tour Tajikistan
Dushanbe Theatre Street scene
Whitehouse - Dushanbe, cycle tour Tajikistan Rowena Barnes setting off from Dushanbe, bicycle tour Tajikistan
The White House Setting off for the Pamirs

The road to Kalaikhum

Road to Kailkum, cycle tour Tajikistan
On the road
The first day on the road to Kalaikhum wasn't too bad. It was reasonably flat and there were some long stretches of immaculate newly laid tarmac, thanks to some Chinese road gangs who were upgarding the road. In the fields men and women were harvesting the wheat using sickles, not a tractor to be seen.

On the road to Kalaikum, bicycle tour Tajikistan Donkey cycle tour Tajikistan
Rough going It's easier by donkey

As we cycled up the Obikhingou valley the road just got tougher and tougher. The river buried itself in the a deep gorge and the road climbed up and down the steep valley sides. After the Chinese tarmac ran out the road was in very bad condition, mostly rough gravel, The five days it took us to reach the summit of the Khaburabot Pass were by far the most stenuous of the whole trip.

Campsite cycle tour Tajikistan Mikey Church cycle tour Tajikistan
This was the view from one of our camps. (The small ledge where we pitched the tent was overrun by thousands of grass hoppers) Rowena on the road

Mikey Church Tajikistan
This is Mikey Church, one of a party of three very fit americans that overtook us (and bought up all the Snickers bars ahead of us)

Campsite near Tavildara cycle tour Tajikistan Tanks cycle tour Tajikistan
Campsite near Tavildara Remains of tanks from the civil war
Tajik Kids cycle tour Tajikistan Starting climb, cycle tour Tajikistan
Tajik Kids Starting the climb to the Khaburabot Pass

Camp 2/3 up the Khaburabot cycle tour Tajikistan Summit of Khaburabot pass cycle tour Tajikistan
I don't know how much Rowena bribed these lads push her bike for her Camp 2/3 up the Khaburabot (someone offered us a lift to Khorog from here)

Summit of the Khaburabot Pass Tajikistan
Summit of the Khaburabot Pass 3,200m (10,500')

Descent from the Khaburabot cycle tour Tajikistan Bottom of the Gorge cycle tour Tajikistan
The descent from Khaburabot was down a very long, very steep gorge. After about three hours we finally reached the bottom

Dushanbe to Kalaikhum Kalaikhum to Khorog Khorog to Murgab Murgab to Krgyz border Country Notes Notes for Cyclists



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© All text and photos copyright Tim Barnes 2006