Thursday, 30 July 2015

Tajikistan and the Pamir - the Roof of the World


Wednesday June 17th, we got up at 5:30, rolled the last km to the border. Goodbye Uzbekistan, Tajikistan here we are!!! The custom services at both sides were very smooth, we even had to wait to the guy who was in charge of our exit stamp, to get back from his breakfast break (!!!!) and he didn't seem to give a ... about our missing stamps (you know, theoretically, one has to "register" at a hotel/guesthouse every 3 days, which is very difficult (and costly) when one is by bicycle).

We could feel the difference quite quickly: in Tajikistan, we had relief :-) :-). Together with Pierre and Simon, met at the border, we rolled to Dushanbe and headed directly to the famous OVIR to ask for the GBAO permit. To visit this mountainous autonomous region, the Pamir highland, the Roof of the World, the number one attraction of Tajikistan, you need a special permit, which could be obtained very easily and quickly at Dushanbe.

We were lucky enough to be hosted by Vero, the mythical Vero on Warmshowers even when she wasn't there. Her place was a green paradise, a peaceful oasis in the center of the busy capital. We enjoyed it so much! Thank you Vero!!!

The first part of the road from Dushanbe was very comfortable: nicely asphalted, not too stiff, beautiful view....  


We reached here our highest speed ever: 80,63km/h, a brake free descent on smoothy 8% with generous curves. It was simply amazing!

Saturday June 20th, we spent the night in a fruits garden, the owner told us we could pick up some fruits but as we just bowed, thanked and stayed still, he did the job himself and brought us so many plumbs and apricots... He was so glad to practice English with us.
Once the sun set, the wind rose, so strong, that during one hour or so, we were worried, not knowing what to do: the tent wouldn't stand for long and there didn't seem to have a better shelter nearby.... Finally, around 20:00, the calm was back and we had a quiet night.

The next day, outside the Kulob's bazaar, I met this young boy speaking quite good English " I would like to go to the USA. The United States are rich, Tajikistan is so poor, I don't like it here!!!". I tried to tell him that life in the USA wouldn't be as easy as he may think but he was too overwhelmed by his dream/project to ever hear me. Finally, I just said "If you really intend to leave, I'd suggest you to enjoy every moment you are still here, enjoy your country because you will miss it very much".

The same day, we reached the highly symbolic barrier of 10.000 km. Yes!!!! We made it! Ten thousands kilometers!!!!

We were so proud of us but unfortunately, there was no beer to celebrate but hot water from our water-can, heated by the sun at some 40 C!!!


We also had the first check-point to the GBAO (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region). The guys there told us that the road was going down in 4 5 km.  But he forgot to mention that the road was stiff, full of gravel. Going down was then a painful exercise for us and our bikes.

It was so hot and dry that the ground was almost "torn apart" 


But we had a wonderful spot anyway for our night. We had almost the feeling of setting the tent not by the road side but somewhere in a natural park. We even had access, quite difficult, to the river to take a bath and to wash our clothes. Almost a 5 stars spot, I would say :-)


The next morning, just before we left, a car passed. Stopped. The driver got out. Gave us a big melon. Smiled then drove away. That's a kind gesture to start a day :-) Thank you guy (we actually crossed him later during the day on his way back)


We started to long the Panj river, the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It was a bit odd to see that on the other side of the river was kind of a forbidden country for us: everything looked so peaceful. We waved to some Afghan hanging around on the other side. Oddly, for the next days, we saw more of Afghan landscape than Tajik. 

For the night, we set the tent on the little hill by the road side, with stunning view over Afghanistan side. People went washing their clothes by the river, waving at us. Everything seemed so peaceful and we just wished harder than ever to be able to visit this beautiful country one day. We met some people who went there and spent wonderful time but at this state, it still seemed too risky for us. And our hearts pinched a bit, thinking about those kind and generous people who have been suffering too much :-(




The next day, we even set the tent right on the river side: we never got so close to Afghanistan. We heard that normally, police wouldn't let us to that if they saw us but we didn't find any "campable" spot on the way and it was getting dark. The water was muddy and the current was strong.  Pierre, a cyclist friend of us told us later that he was very tempted to swim through, just to reach Afghan land and back, and we were glad he didn't realize this foolish idea.


The road was narrow and bad.  In some part, the mountain just fell off, blocked the road completely, a small "emergency" path was created, hardly large enough for a car to pass. I started the path, trying to paddle hard because it was quite stiff when I heard on the other side, a truck's horn "beep beep", I beeped beeped back. So the 40 tons truck just waited patiently for me and my 40kg bike. Normally, 4 wheels don't pay that much attention about us, especially 4x4. They just drove like crazy, took over trucks, cars or whatever on the road to come right on our face or to push us closer and closer to the dangerous road side. Remember, there was nothing between the road and the steep ravine.



As in every country, we found some abandoned dogs. Alessio gave them some bread, a liter of our precious liquid and the two dogs ate and drank it within a minute :-( It was painful to let them there, knowing that they had little chance to survive in such a hostile environment, so dry, so little human presence. We don't really understand why people abandoned them: they were cute and friendly, and it wouldn't cost too much to feed a dog here.


A word about Tajik people: they seem to be a bit colder than Uzbek but finally very nice. People along the Panj river and on the Pamir highland are quite used with tourists, to whom they charged sometimes a hard price for bread and stuff but in general, they were still very kind, generous and helpful. They liked to talk with us, even when our conversation was quite limited, not only because of my broken Russian but also because they had very little idea of the outside world.

As in other Central Asian countries, Tajik women love thick eyebrows, mono eyebrows is the best !!! They try to make them grow thicker while applying a green liquid made of some local plants.


I tried once but it was too short to have any effect :-) 


Also as we stated in Uzbekistan, they don't seem to care about waxing: they can proudly walk around in skirt with fairly hairy legs!!!!

In villages, people are still dressed in more or less traditional way and in cities, you can see bare shoulders, skinny jeans, skirts.... they seem to be quite open-minded about the subject.

Once, in the middle of nowhere, at at least 15km from any living sign, we just crossed this bunch of young women, walking around on high heels, looking so fresh and relax under the heat while we sweated the hell out of us!!!



Wednesday, June 24th

Another check-point, usual question "do you have kids?". In response to our "no", the guys took Alessio apart and gave him some tips about "the best places in Pamir to make babies" :-) :-)


That night, we had to unset the tent when it was already dark because the wind was too strong and shifty. We found refuge in a hotel/restaurant not far where they allowed us to stay in the corridor. We didn't set the tent again because the corridor was not large enough but slept directly on the floor with our sleeping bag. It was not a cool night firstly because the wind sent quite a lot of sand on us, on the other hand, people kept eating the whole night, because of ramadan!!!

Friday, June 26th, finally, we reached Khorog. Getting through the bazaar, we saw a cyclist. Alessio came to meet and she called out for her partner "Fred!!!". We were amazed: indeed, they were Fred and Brigitte, a Swiss couple with whom we stayed in touch since Istanbul, we kept following their tracks, it was such a nice surprise to finally bump into them in such an unexpected way. They didn't seem surprised for a penny  " we heard that you would come today". Wouah!!! In fact, they also stayed at Pamir Lodge, along with Dan and Alexia, Jean-Francois and Xaviere, our cyclist fellows on Uzbek roads :-). We had a fun time all together there.

We left Khorog the next afternoon, shortly after the arrival of another bunch of cyclists: Pierre, Simon and Nikos - the famous Austrian who kept the smile despite all the misadventures he had the previous weeks. We were tempted to spend more time with them but at the same time, we knew for sure that the evening would last very long with lots of beer (and more) (which was confirmed later!!!) and we couldn't be fit for the next day, so we regretfully left them and hoped to see them again soon on the road.

And the road was beautiful, uphill but comfortably asphalted, the river along the road was crystal clear, mountains were fascinatingly amazing, I couldn't take my eyes off them.

Monday, June 29th, we  caught up quickly with the group of 6 Polish/Slovak cyclists, met at Pamir Lodge, on vacation on the Pamir at the entrance of a hot spring. Knowing that Fred and Brigitte were there too, we decided to stop there, as we would like to have a longer chat with them and eventually, to share a part of route with them.
The hot spring's hotel was such in a dilapidated state that, beside Fred and Brigitte's room, we could not find an another worth to stay in, so we set the tent in the garden and left altogether the next morning: it would be a challenging day: we had to conquer a more than 4300m pass!!!!

It was finally not that hard even though the road was stiff and the last part was in bad shape: we just needed to go slowly, very slowly. Brigitte was a bit anxious about the barrier of 4000m but finally we all made it alright.  For sure, above 4000m, even a little effort costed us much more than usual but we had enough time to be acclimated before and we really handled carefully our efforts.

 

On the way, a 4x4 on the opposite direction stopped dead at 3 meters of us, and got out of the car Michel and Agnes, a French couple we already met in Jolfa (Iran) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan). It was a big pleasure to see them again as we didn't expect that our road would cross again. Together, they've explored the world for more than 40 years now



The next day, after passing the second pass of more than 4200m, we decided to make a detour to Bulun Kul. The lady at the Tourism Office told us that the scenery would be fantastic and the road rather flat so we would give it a try.

The first part was indeed quite flat, but sandy, which made rolling quite difficult. Bulun Kul was a tiny village where every single man seemed to be deadly drunk. The shopkeeper could hardly open the door and count the money. So we didn't want to stop but hit the road right away


The landscape outside the village was just stunning


Even though the road was tough 


Very tough sometime


We were happy because the scenery was worthy of all our efforts. It was an amazing to feel one with the nature, to realize how small we are in front of such magnificent and majestic mountains




We were lucky enough with the weather: lots of time, storms and rain seemed to charge directly at us but finally changed their target to poor their loaded clouds away.


Wednesday,  July 1st, we found a wonderful campsite by a river, a tiny "island", separated from the bank by 20cm, big enough for 3 tents


We started the next day with 2 flat tyres, but in such lovely spot, it didn't seem annoying :-)

  

Everywhere we go, the nature seemed to be so nice to us


At some point, the bad road ended, it was a big relief for our arms, bums and bikes to find the smooth asphalt again

(cyclists' happiness)

 Not far from Alichur, we made a little off road to set the tent in this beautiful spot


Next to a yourt

(Tajik woman and her son :-) )

They had a big troop of yaks, those massive beasts are in fact very quiet and kind, and protective over their babies



(But still, I don't want to mess up with any of them)



Friday, July 3rd, we met up with Fred, a Dutch cyclist, rolling around with a bunch of 3 young Korean (who kept staying behind him!!!!). Believe me or not, they do carry chopsticks along with them :-) :-)




The same day, around 5PM, we arrived to Murgav, which meant we could have a shower, sleep in a bed and have some proper food. Indeed, beside the high altitude and what it may cause to our physics, beside the bad bumpy sandy stiff road and what it may cost to our physics and mental, food or rather the lack of food was an another big issue in the Pamir: villages were sparse, so food scarce. Moreover, the altitude made the cooking difficult - remember, at 4000m, water boils at around 86C and not 100C which is not sufficient for rice or pasta to be cooked.... So we stayed stuck with bread, condensed milk, buckwheat and lentils... At some point, ours bodies crave for veggies and fruits but for that, we would still need a bit of time.

Here, in Pamir Hotel (where we highly recommend, not only because the rooms were nice but especially because the staff was so friendly and helpful, the nicest ever!!!!), we caught up again with Jean-Francois and Xaviere and decided to conquer the highest pass of 4655m together.

In fact, we should have left a day earlier, but then, after the breakfast, it became too hot to ride, so we postponed the departure at the evening, especially when Fred and Brigitte talked about order a big plov for dinner.... 
The plov was first planned for 6 of us. During the day, came one after another Peter, a German biker, Sandy, a cyclist from New-Zealand, Pierre, our French fellow, David and Julia, a French cyclist couple and "Photoshot" - a Korean cyclist, know through the whole Pamir for carrying his bottles and for zigzagging on the road, how much he drinks.... Finally, we ended up with a big table of 12, talking, laughing the whole evening.... 

After that, we didn't feel that much to leave and asked the very sweet and kind manager whether we could set the tent in the garden. Surprisingly, he offered 4 of us (as Jean-Francois and Xaviere also checked out but didn't feel to move) to sleep for free in the yourte. I told you, they are so kind and they know how to make you feel good. In other words, they know how to make good long-term business as cyclists always spread the words among cyclists.... and it's the best advertisement....

Monday, July 6th, the 6 of us hit the road together. It for sure, brought back some Uzbek memories. But this time, there was no place for leisure: the route was hard, 4655m was a big challenge, everybody was concentrated on the road, silently or openly cursed the strong headwind.


And we met up with the three handsome guys of Solidream, in Pamir to make out of their journey a movie. They had those cool fat bamboo bikes (such a jewelry, as said Alessio), perfectly dressed all in Vaude, looking effortlessly in shape (with backwind!!!!). We heard quite a lot about them so it was a pleasure to have met them. Moreover, very cool guys!!!!

As the road was empty, we just stayed, the 9 of us, in 3 rows all over the road. At some point, a sidecar approached but stayed a bit away from us, watching, then decided finally to go off road, as they were afraid of passing through us :-) :-)

The next morning, we had backwind (for once!!!!) and started to attack the big pass!!!! It was hard but less hard than what we thought. I just needed to do my turtle and go very slowly again.
So as planned, we crossed the pass all of us together!!! And we were proud of us!!!



Isn't the view worthy of all the efforts?


The descent was quite hard. The road looked rather like this

(from internet, and not from the Pamir :-))

We spent the night in an abandoned caravanserai. Knowing that Pierre would come shortly after us, Alessio and Fred went to the road to send him a sign (our yellow jacket with a branch). At the very moment they went to the road, Pierre just passed by!!! We spent the evening altogether: a caravan of cyclists in a caravanserai!!!


Next day, we reached Kara Kul but was quite disappointed: the lake was indeed beautiful but the village was simply empty. There were 5 homestays but not a single worthy magasin to buy food. Alessio and Jean-Francois almost made a hold-up in a family and bought all the bread they made for the day :-) :-)



We had a non stop headwind all day long. It was exhausting while we rolled and made it difficult to find a place to set the tent. Finally, we chose to bivouac under an empty dry bridge. J-F, Xavierre and Pierre decided to go to the lake while Fred, Brigitte and the two of us stayed and started to set the tent. Everything was ready when Brigitte, getting out of the tent, screamed "Water is coming!!!!". Indeed, water was heading toward us with a high speed. We were quicker than ever to bring the whole tent out. I had all the troubles trying to keep the tent still, facing the strong wind while Alessio moved the bikes and cleared out the rest. Then, both of us, struggling again to move to tent to a dry place, not far from the river.  We didn't really know whether the water came from melting ice or some Chinese hidden factories just open their gate of used water... Nevertheless, the water ran the whole night!!! What an over- adrenalized evening!!!


Thursday,  July 9th. Our last day on Tajik land. We would be 4 to hit the road together, JF, Xaviere and Pierre preferred to take their time to get ready in the morning. As the last few days, the wind kept blowing on our face and the roa d  kept being bad, very bad. What a exhausting day. The last pass to the border for us was even more challenging than the 4655m pass -because of the wind and the road condition. Fortunately, as usual, Fred and Alessio were there, to help Brigitte and me out. They always rolled up first, then ran down to push our bikes up, over and over again!!!!

We reached the top around midday, completely exhausted and in some way, happy to get out of the Pamir!!!

The guy at the "transportation bureau" tried to ask for some black money, because we didn't have "paper" for our bikes but we stayed firm and kept repeating "Niet, niet, velociped, no paper" :-) :-). Finally, he got bored and let us go.

Once we got out of Tajikistan, the landscape changed radically: we finally saw green!!! Believe me, after some times in the Pamir, despite its breathtaking views, seeing green mountains was such a relief for the eyes!!!

So Kyrgyzstan, here we are!!!! Green grass, big fat sheeps and proud freely running horses, here we come!!!!!


For more pictures of beautiful Tajikistan and Pamir, please, visit our facebook page: www.facebook.com/2rollingpotatoes

And stay tuned for more Potatoes' adventures!!!!



3 comments:

  1. Tajikistan is one of those countries in the world who're blessed with natural resources. I've heard a lot about its beauty and glance.Hope you'd enjoy your journey.Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Indeed we did enjoy Tajikistan and Pamir will stay one of our favourite parts :-)

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