At the evening before starting or trip from Dushanbe to the Pamirs I get a small chance with decent internet to write some for you. The cherry on the pie as we call it, the Pamirs. Other call it the roof of the earth. It has one of the highest roads on earth and the temperature can vary from heat during the day to freezing during the night. Big mountain passes reaching over 4500 meters high on a plateau which is mostly above 3 km altitude. Bikes and gear were checked and prepared for a very deserted area on earth. It is unknown for us how much communication we can have with the outer world. Our only hope is that we informed ourselves enough.
Bellysick as we call it is pretty common in this area and started for me already while writing the blog before this one. Thanks to Yaser who took good care of me I recovered surprisingly fast. Our group for Turkmenistan were all heading towards the border. Me and William decided to tag along with Dan and Onno. The following 3 days were filed with laughter, music, desert, sandstorms (yes, it was our first while cycling) The north route to Bajgiran was tempting for us as we saw mountains but the locals stopped several times to tell us we will be sent back, that the road is closed and that it is a dangerous area. We haven’t felt unsafe once in Iran so we were quite disappointed but decided to take the main road not to risk losing any days going back. The next day we would hear that the road was open and it should not have been a problem….
Continuing on the main road we took a small shortcut into nice hills and literally ended up in desert mountains. Off course it was hot and of course it was hilly but we got so used to this by now. We enjoy the views and the loneliness. Almost no cars on the last day and the road was all ours reaching the last city in Iran. Border crossing was the first thing we would do the next morning.
The next morning it was quite a slap in the face hearing the Turkmen just shut their border for 5 days without any reason. We needed to cross the border this day due to visas and our tour. Desperate to find a solution we found out there was a little border crossing at Lotfabad which was about 100 km away on the map. The vertical kilometers were not included but very visible. Cycling was out of the question but we found a busdriver willing (with a fee) to take us (8) all the way with all our bikes and luggage. 3 hours later we arrive at on of the most disorganized and busy border crossing. Very young turkmen guards leading us in a chaos of payments, counters, anxious truckdrivers, luggage checks and many questions.
After another 3 hours we stepped in Turkmenistan and met our guide who took us to Ashgabat. The “amazing” capital of Turkmenistan. We check into our hotel and went straight to get some beers. After one month in Iran where alcohol is forbidden i must admit it tasted really good. We were all curious about Ashgabat as it is the capital of one of the most closed countries in the world. Turkmenistan has so much gas to sell they can rely only on that. No need for tourism or anybody to witness the white marbled disney world. Just before leaving to the city center we were told to be back by 11 pm because people are not allowed on the street after this time (no joke)
Walking at night in Ashgabat is a whole experience. Lots of light shining on the white marble buildings, monuments and no propaganda or commercials on the streets. Everything is so clean you can eat from the ground. All cars are neat and clean polished. The weirdest of all there is almost nobody on the street of this 1 million populated city.
Finding an english pub goes like this. We look on maps.me for the coordinates and walk in the maze of white buildings to stand in front of a door of a white marbled building. It looks closed or it doesn’t even look like there’s something there. Let’s just see if the door is open and voila! You enter an english pub (interior just like an irish pub and all with no clients and 2 waiters.
During the day we visited some incredible (clean and sterile) monuments and saw the new (very big) complex made for the Asian indoor and martial arts games in december. The stadium has a horsehead size of an airport tower. Gold and white are standard for every monument including 3 guards ( 2 standing still and change every hour) and about 10 people cleaning the monuments the whole day long. Cleaners make about 50% off the people we saw this day.
To think that just across the mountains Iran is a totally different world. Unimaginable and a bit shocked we got in SUV’s to go to the gas crater and experience the worst roads in the world. As soon as we got out of Ashgabat the potholes started to appear. It was a wild ride till the gas crater to see a hole leaking gas which has been lit up in 1971 by some sovet scientist. The ground under the drill collapsed and they set it on fire thinking it would burn out after a few weeks. It is quite amazing at night. A fire hole in the desert. That’s why it has the nickname; Gate to hell
We camped there and continued to the border the next day to cross to Uzbekistan. Again the Turkmen guards checked everything and even our bodytemperatures.
The tour ended there and we arrived into Uzbekistan to go to Nukus. Small city but big enough to exchange money and fix simcards. After Nukus it was about 60 km desert till we reach some civilization. Very nice people in this country who wouldn’t let us sleep outside. Farmers invite us in their house. The roads in Uzbekistan are in a very bad condition so cycling fast was not an option if you want to spare the bike.
In Khiva we saw the first real settlements of the old silk road caravanserai’s with madrassas, mosques and the old city made entirely of mud and hay houses. It was great to see how it was back in the 15th and 16th century. Same with Bukhara which is a bit bigger and Samarkand which is the biggest and was the capital of the Timurid Empire back in 13th to 15th century. After meeting up with a Uzbekistan friend (Aziza) who we met in Cappadocia we only had a few days before our visa would expire. Looking for options we met some guys from the Mongol rally which is a trip from London to Mongolia by car who were willing to bring us to the border. It was a crazy ride of almost 11 hours before we decided to cross the border at midnight.
Entering Tajikistan was not a problem at all so we set off to Dushanbe to prepare everything for the Pamirs. We have no idea if there will be internet in the Pamirs or even electricity. We have our solar panel and thermal pan with us for energy. The road M41 from Dushanbe will take us into the Pamirs through Khorog till Osh (Kyrgistan) and we have enough time to take some sideroutes through the Wakhan valley.
We have lots more pictures but internet and time are not on our hands now. Will be continued.