Over the next few days, we passed through several interesting villages and towns. Khorog is one of the largest towns in the Pamir region with a population of about 28,000. We had a fantastic Indian lunch and a quiet night exploring the riverfront.
The next day, we stayed in Ishkashim, a sleepy town full of cyclists. With all the potholes in the road and the intense sun, it was hard to believe so many people were cycling the route! Ashraf had brought some small board games, including an escape room in a box, and this was the perfect way to spend the evening. Ishkashim has one of the few bridges to Afghanistan along the Pamir route and we noticed advertisements for day tours across the border at the guesthouse. There is also a popular market on the Afghan side that draws Tajik people and tourists on Saturdays. We spoke to a French man who had spent a few days on the Afghan side. His view was that there wasn’t much to do and it felt more like a box-checking activity than a real view into Afghan life. It was very expensive to cross the border, even for a day, so we all decided against it.
The next day, we visited some interesting ruins with great views across the valley and the mountains. Our first stop was the Khakaha Fortress, which is believed to have been built in the 3rd century BC by Zoroastrian followers to protect the trade route.
We also visited the Yamchum Fortress ruins, which was apparently known as the Fortress of the Fire Worshippers in reference to the Zoroastrians.
Our last stop for the day were the Ratm Fortress ruins. After making an emergency pit stop at the village toilet/hole in the ground, we climbed about 15 minutes up the side of the hill to reach some more great views of the valley and surrounding mountains.