Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

14 Aug 2008

Tajikistan – Dushanbe to Khorog

Over the past week, we had a very relaxing time in Dushanbe. After 5 months on the road, staying at Trevor & Yuli’s family home was a welcome change for us, and we quickly got used to all the modern amenities: air-conditioning, good skype-connection to phone family & friends, washing-machine and even a hot shower… what a treat!

After registering with the local authorities, we made use of our time and sorted out some bike maintenance: oil change, clean air filters and put on the knobbly tires as we weren’t sure about road conditions on the Pamir Mountains.

Trevor offered us to stay even longer, but it was time for us to get moving again. There are two routes, which lead to Khorog (gateway to the Pamir Mountains and capital of the autonomous Gorno-Badakshan region): The Northern route leads over the 3200m Sagirdasht Pass and is only open during summer. The Southern route follows the Afghan border and is about 100km longer. After consulting one of Trevor’s Tajik friends, we followed his advice and took the Southern route via Nurak and Kulyab alongst the Pyanj River to Kalaikhum.

16_Night-shot of our campsite just after Nurek. No mosquitoes around and warm enough for some free camping.(Aug2008)

The first day was a breeze: tarmac roads all the way to Nurek, where we camped out near one of the highest water dams in the world. The next day, our hopes for more tarmac roads should soon come to a grinding halt: shortly after the Shurabad pass, the so-called ‘road’ quickly deteriorates into a blend of gravel, dust and water-filled corrugations, leading through dried-out river beds (up and down through quite a few passages with large gravel/stones) towards our first river-crossing. Just as we suss out the river crossing, a driver from one of the oncoming cars warns us about the bad conditions ahead. Nice – so it’ll get even ‘better’, yes?

19_Along the Afghan border(Aug2008)

Half an hour later, we find ourselves on a building-site, which follows the Afghan border. Someone had decided to build a new road, and open it to traffic whilst it’s still under construction – great! The single-lane track is lined with warning signs for landmines (leftovers from the Afghan-Russian war), and every other kilometre we pass construction sites with workers, trucks and diggers. A tiring 3 hours later I look at the GPS: we’ve just done about 50 kilometres, and at this speed we probably won’t make it to the next village before sunset. To make things worse, Len gets stuck in an uphill section of loose gravel. Despite the knobbly tyres, the bike won’t move an inch and the back-wheel’s just spitting stones. We take off the luggage & shift it up the ascent, and with some careful throttle and a good push from the back, we get the bike out (‘supported’ by the hopeless honking from the cars in front and behind us).

Another 15 minutes later, we find a roadside chaikhana/restaurant, the owner of which is more than happy to see us and allows us to crash out for the night. A close-by stream provides clean water, and people feed us chai, bread, homemade yoghurt and some delicious apricots from their garden. Finally, after a long day a much welcome change for the better!

Morning comes, and with the breakfast comes the good news: “good roads after Zigar village” we’re told – only 10km away. And indeed: Most of the road from Zigar to Kalaikhum is smooth tarmac, with not a single pothole… something we hadn’t seen for a long time! Bikes are going fine, and for a change, the lack of potholes makes it possible to actually enjoy the gorgeous scenery here, riding in the valley between the Pamir & Hindukush mountain ranges.


Just before Kalaikhum, things get back to normal: OK-ish roads lined with potholes - although with a motorcycle, they’re relatively easy to navigate around. Len’s cruising ahead whilst I take the occasional photo-stop. And as we catch up in the evening, I can see Len & his bike on the right (as usual, surrounded by a crowd of kids), and a local girl on the other side of the road, shouting something over in English & signalling that we shall come over. Sulya’s English is fairly good, and with our lack of Russian language skills, it is very nice indeed to be able to communicate for once. She introduces us to her family, insists that we stay with them for the night, and 5 minutes later we find ourselves in their front-garden, surrounded by an abundance of delicious food: chai, bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, scrambled egg, nuts from the mulberry tree – and the obligatory cups of local vodka. Looking at the amount of food, I expect this to be for the family as well – but no: they’ve eaten already, and prepared it only for us. Once again, the word ‘hospitality’ is taken to a new level. (I’m fairly aware of the basic way of life outside the big cities here – and large plates full of tomatoes and particularly fried eggs are certainly a little bit of luxury).

Over the course of the evening, Sulya translates between us and her family, and we have an incredible time filled with laughter and lots of smiles. As the full moon comes up behind the trees, I sink into bed under the open sky, knowing that this has certainly been one of my most memorable evenings in Central Asia so far.