Hiking the Contraband Trail

Hiking in Tajikistan is different than hiking in any other country. For instance, the trailheads are not clearly marked. The road to the trailhead looks like this

The road to 7 Lakes

Or this

A random photo that perfectly captures the roads I’ve been on recently

Never like this

Whenever I get on one of these roads, I swear I will never hike in Tajikistan again. Often the road is straight up mountain on one side and straight down cliff on the other.  If you fall off that cliff, you can’t get back up even with 4WD.

But then I get a notification of a hike and I forget the Rocky Road to Trailhead (and they’re ALL rocky) and say “I’m in!”

This weekend the hike was to Timur Dara Lake. Two hours drive, then 15 km of rough road. We were in 2 minivans, which it turns out was not suitable for this road. We had to stop for minor repairs.

Taking a breather while the driver fixes the belt. This was before the really rocky part of the road.

We passed a swinging bridge. Little did I know.

I jokingly said, “There’s the bridge we’re going to cross!”

We were told to bring both our passports and a copy of our passports. As we bumped down the road in the middle of nowhere, one of the other hikers asked, a bit humorously, where they were going to inspect our passports. Soon we stopped at the military station, where we had to give them a copy of our passports. I asked the hike leader why there were military here. He told me smugglers often use this trail to transport drugs from Afghanistan. It’s only a 3 day hike to Seven Lakes. Ah… the Contraband Trail.

We crossed the swinging bridge

which does not appear to swing much, but was a bit of balancing act when we were actually on it. Then a pleasant little hike to the ridge.

Doesn’t look like much, but was quite steep.
Enlarge this photo and you will see a tiny little figure in white on the right side.

Denis, our hike leader said we won’t go straight up, we’ll zigzag. His idea of a zigzag and mine are two different things. I’ll try, I thought glumly.  It was only 150-200 meters. It was difficult for old folks, but the younguns practically ran up it.

The view from the top of the ridge. Gorgeous, yes?

Way down there you can see the military post. An easy hike from the ridge to the lake of only about 2km, but it was a slow incline, which really made me tired. I was behind this couple. The husband carried their child all the way up and down in the backpack. I carried water in my backpack.

Timur Dara was created by an earthquake that blocked the river.

Spectacular views all around!

Back in the valley. That way to Seven Lakes

No one lives out here. But there is a coal mining site. Someone picked up a rock and the hiking geologist told us about the geology of the region. The hike was good, but the people were better.

The road back felt about twice as long as the road in. Then we encountered a Chinese truck going to the mining site. One lane rocky road, one big truck, one small minivan. We in the minivan reversed and tried to pull over so the truck could get past. It was a little like this

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but we did have to back up on the one lane road with no pullouts. I said “a little like this”!

All in all it was a good hike and I slept all night afterwards. I guess travelling the Rocky Road is worth the views and scenery. And when I get another email notification of a hike, I’ll probably go!

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