Scenes from the Pamir Highway, Tajikistan. July 2018.
1. Me with crippling altitude sickness on Ak-Baital Pass (15,000 feet), taking a much-needed rest from the rough highway. Five minutes later I would take a shot of vodka and, not remembering how hard alcohol hits at high altitudes, remain drunk until sunset.
2. A destroyed Lada hatchback on the side of the road in Kalaikhum, a major highway junction and key Tajik military outpost during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
3. MAC Doland’s in the city of Khorog — my favorite knock-off of an American fast food chain I’ve ever seen to date. Tajikistan is also home to Southern Fried Chicken, or SFC, whose slogan is “A Simply Lip-Licking Flavor.”
4. Raouf, 10, and Marouf, 4, are brothers and self-made Wakhani mountain guides in the village of Vrang. For 20¢, they’ll lead you to an ancient Buddhist stupa; for 50¢, they’ll lead you to an abandoned Soviet ruby mine deep in the mountains.
5. The Tajik Minister of Defense’s helicopter takes off from the middle of the Pamir Highway in Murghab, near the Chinese border. The highway is the only paved road in town, and the only thing close to a helipad for hundreds of miles.
6. Me, Betty and Johnny from Vienna, and Pablo from California pose with Mohammed and his Kyrgyz SUV near a bridge over the Oxus River, south of the village of Alichur.
7. The road we’re on is in Tajikistan; the rocky mountains in the foreground are in Afghanistan; the snow-capped peaks in the far distance are the start of the Himalayas in Pakistan.
8. Dust envelops the village of Murghab, leaving me with dust in my hair for days.
9. Motorcycles registered in Britain, Italy and Bulgaria stand parked outside the Aigerim Homestay Hotel on the shores of Lake Karakul. Cyclists often drive thousands of miles from Europe, through Russia and the Central Asian desert, to tackle the Pamir Highway.
10. Pablo from California. Need I say more? - 4 hours ago