Tajikistan Paragliding Vol Bivouac

In the summer of 2012, I was on course to
join a bold climbing expedition in the north of Afghanistan. The plan was to enter through
peaceful Tajikistan, to take familiar roads to the mountain town of Khoroug where I was
to cross the border. It wasn’t to be so simple. About to set off from the capital Duschanbe,
I was met by stories from those fleeing the violence in Khoroug. People spoke of 10’s
of dead, but were hopeful that a ceasefire called by the Aga Kahn would hold. In the Badakshan Autonomous region tensions
had remained high since a bloody civil war ended over two decades past. As it would later
transpire the violence had been precipitated by the assasination of Major General Abdullah
Nasarov of the local Tajik KGB branch. The lucrative smuggling of heroin and cigarettes
close to the border town is controlled by a delicate interplay between corrupt officials
and the local mafia and on this occasion, speculation suggests that Nasarov may have
asked for one payment too many leading to his murder, and the movement of hundreds of
Tajik army forces in to the Badakshan region. Two days after the assassination the stage
was set and in the following days of fighting, credible estimates put the eventual death
toll at approximately 140 killed. Of course from Duchanbe I had just arrived
to start my expedition and wanted to fly my paraglider. We had no news whatsoever of what
really happened. You see where this river splits… Khorog, finished, no finished. We’ve met a lot of people who have come from
Khorog, and, have some very funny stories about it. To be honest all the information
at the moment is so mixed that it is really hard to know what to do. I think as you can see I’m tired, and I smell,
and I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, and I don’t think Khorog is safe. Maybe I
will go to the Bartang valley. I don’t think I can make contact with the team which is
really annoying me. After getting 50 km from Khorog I changed
my plans. I went to the north starting a new vol bivouac route. So here we are, day one. It’s about six in
the morning and I walked up last night. I’m quite nervous actually. The Zerafshan valley
runs for about two hundred kilometers to the east and the Usbek border is about two or
three kilometers away along the top of the ridge. It’s going to be an interesting day’s
flying. I’d been looking at this route for years.
It was 500km of mountains to the east. By 12 o’clock there were no cumulous. The air
was dry, dusty and inverted. That’s pretty much the end of the first day.
16km! There are some guys behind me from the army over here. I managed to come down
a village with an army base so I’m really not looking forward to seeing these guys. I spent 10 very stressful hours with these
guys and the KGB. They thought I’d come from Uzbekistan illegally. I was very very relieved when I was eventually let go.

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