Part 1: West Tajikistan
In total we spent exactly 1 month in Tajikistan and a little bit over a month in Kyrgyzstan. The trip took us over the north route to the eastern Pamirs and south into the Wakhan valley to go full north crossing the order to Kirghistan. William’s bike was destroyed to level: un-rideable and mine was saved by level: pure luck. Tajikistan and especially the Pamir mountain range will stay with us forever as an incredible experience. It is no doubt one of the most special places where we cycled and also the toughest. Sickness (height and intestines), temperatures, technical bike problems and a lot of suffering make the Pamirs so vivid, but the memories of the scenery and experience make it so worthy.
Leaving Dushanbe (Capital Tajikistan) after only 2 nights kept me a bit nervous. It all happened so fast and I only hoped I prepared enough. After Turkey it was always difficult (Iran; impossible) to get to your money. I had only a mastercard and a maestro card while visa (got to have this one next time) is so much more accepted in central Asia. After Dushanbe there was no turning back to big cities. It was a cluster of bicycle riders in Dushanbe and especially at the hostel where we were staying. Lots of people we heard of or met on the road were there, just left or were arriving. All preparing to go into the Pamirs and a little few just came from the Pamirs. Each cyclist with their own stories and experiences made it 2 wonderful days.
Cycling out of Dushanbe to the east with a group of 6 halfway august was comforting. It was exciting a little bit scary at the same time. The Pamirs is at the beginning of the whole range of Himalayan mountains and is connected to the world highest mountains. It goes through Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China and has roads and passes over 4000 meters in altitude. It has the second highest international road. This area has bitter-cold and long winters, short-cool summers and very few trees. It is a sparsely populated area and was always part of the great silk route.
The group of 6 consisted of us, 3 Germans and one swede. First days were on good asphalt roads, smooth rolling hills and slowly getting to more tougher landscapes. Out of Dushanbe there are 2 routes going east. We decided to take the north route which was shorter but bad roads and lots of altitude. Supposedly this one is more beautiful and definitely more challenging. The second day we said goodbye to asphalt and did 2 vertical meters of altitude. The following days were filled with washboard sandy roads, ascends and descends through a very beautiful landscape filled with big mountains, rivers, farmlands and nice people. Every day we filtered water for consumption and sometimes it was not easy to find good water to filter. One day I forgot a water bottle and since this is so important I went back 4 km to get it. There is always a good risk for belly-sickness because the hygiene is very poor. Off course there are days also with bad luck, punctures and diarrhea but we kept going. Some of us had belly-sickness for days. Around Tavildara I got my portion but it lasted only 1 day. On the fourth day we did the most climbing to sleep just at the checkpoint before the pass. This night marks as our first cold night on 2700 meter altitude but we had the nicest view as we camped at the beginning of a valley. Next day we reached our first pass of 3252 meters high and followed by a slow and very bumpy descend (bad roads) to Qal’ai Khumb. A small town where we meet the Panj river which we will be following for the coming weeks. On this 2km descend our action camera fell and the lens broke. Bad timing cause we are heading out of civilization. By this time we had other problems occurring like our chains. Some joints of the chains started to clog and become stiff, this made the chain skip on the gears. After taking them off, cleaning them and lubricating them again the problem started after 1 or 2 days. We then realized we have been sold worn out chains! Nowhere to find a bike shop for the following weeks we were thinking desperately about our options. In Qal’ai Khumb I met a cyclist (Tim) who ‘by chance’ had a 10 speed chain to spare. Lucky me, but William still had no solution. After contacting the mechanic who sold us the chains he decided to send some new chain to Khorog. I was Tim very thankful because without knowing yet then, he saved us a lot of trouble.
It was still 240 km to reach Khorog so we cleaned and lubed William’s chain everyday. The roads were bad and dusty and going slightly uphill all the following days. On the second day after Qal’ai Khumb William’s chain broke so we changed it and put my old chain. The only chain we had left so we were really hoping this would last a little bit more. The group whom we started with starting splitting, some went faster, some slower but it was alright. On the road we would follow the Panj river with Afghanistan on the other side of the river. The border police warned us several times not to camp close to the water because they consider Afghanistan a dangerous area. It was a stone-throw away and on the contrast we only got friendly greetings from the Afghans. The following days we would enjoy company of locals, the hassle to get vegetables. Supermarkets were hardly selling any vegetables, bread or fruits till we discovered that the locals produce themselves and were always nice to sell or give us some. Just before Rushan I helped and old lady by catching her goat for her which was quite hilarious. In Rushan Marc (swiss) joined us for a last day to Khorog and the chain was still holding on somehow.
Khorog is a little town with a population of about 30.000 people where we can rest and prepare a little bit before we head to the hardest and most remote part of our trip. Since I forgot my laptop charger in Dushanbe we needed to wait a few days so they can send it to me with a touring car. In the meantime a new chain arrived for William and we serviced the bikes again. From then on it would be entering the Wakhan corridor with tiny villages along the way and at the end no villages anymore. A good planning needed to be made concerning food-supplies and material.
An option for visiting the Zorkul area made us curious. This is a protected area after the Wakhan valley where civilization is not presented and where supposedly wild animals like the snow leopard, ibex and marco-polo sheeps can be seen. A permit is required for this area so we agreed with some other cyclist to get this.
People often ask me if we get any disagreements or quarrel on the road. Off course we do! We are brothers and most of the time we can discuss it briefly. We had a big one in Khorog. Some big change was going to take place in our trip. Not immediately but after central Asia. Something not previously planned and there was no understanding.