Tuesday 18th July – Hisor to Dushanbe
Distance: 29.04 km
Total Distance: 15149.06 km
A comfy night on the takhta and we brought breakfast. How fabulous. I could learn to love this treatment.
We even befriend the puppy with the cutest floppy ears, bribed by biscuits. We take the back road to Dushanbe and stop to watch the maize stalks being cut by hand. I give it a go and it’s certainly tough work.
As we near Dushanbe the traffic increases as does the frequency of the slow drive pass with a phone camera pointing at us. In Dushanbe we check out the main sights.
Backed by a hazy phalanx of mountains, Dushanbe is a city in rapid transition. Its long, tree-lined central avenue still passes a collection of pastel-hued neoclassical buildings from its original Soviet incarnation. But much is threatened with the demolition ball as a whole new gamut of glitzy, oversized newcomers rise in a style that is often an intriguingly discordant blend of Roman triumphalism and budget futurism. The focus for this curious renaissance is a manicured central park dominated by a vast new museum and the world’s tallest flag pole. Around the edges, the city has plenty of musty Brezhnev-era apartment-block ghettos. Yet remarkably, especially given the city’s dangerous image during the 1990s’ civil war, today the atmosphere is one of unthreatening calm… perhaps not unrelated to the fact that so much of the male population are away working in Russia.
That done it’s time to buy a Tajik SIM and find WiFi so we can get the blog for Uzbekistan finished. Then we head to Véro, our warmshower host. It’s a while since we used Warmshowers and when we arrive we find a number of cyclists.
Perhaps 12, with 5 tents pitched in the garden. We need to pick their brains, who knows what we might discover about the Pamir Highway or even about other cycling experiences.
Wednesday 19th July – Dushanbe
Today we are having a rest day. Last night we met Véro our host. She is a legend of Warmshowers. She is from France and works for the EU in Dushanbe. She is a font of knowledge about the Pamir Highway, having ridden the entire route twice and done many other trips in the area. 6 of the cyclists staying here have already done the Pamir Highway as they stsrted in Osh in the East. So they also have lots of stuff to tell us. We all share meals together and in the evening Véro does a full briefing of the route for us, Soren and Birgit (Danish) and Edith and Harry (Dutch).
It’s very detailed, giving us road conditions, places to shelter and places to find water and food. We have a glass of wine or two then head to bed, tomorrow we start for the Pamirs. Soren and Birgit will also be coming but Harry and Edithare spending a few extra days in Dushanbe.
Thursday 20th July – Dushanbe to Takchtahamit
Distance: 71.0 km
Total Distance: 15220.06 km
After a shared breakfast we saying goodbye to Véro and everyone else, and with their good luck wishes ringing in our ears we set off. Soren and Birgit have changed their minds and are gong to have another day off. Having spoken with Birgit about their cycling we know she is worried about the ride, so maybe some nerves there!! But we put our ’nerves’ to one side and enjoy the lovely cycle out of a very green and pleasant Dushanbe.
The first 20 km are flat or downhill then we start gradually climbing until we finish with a couple of steeper climbs at the end of the day.
We only set out to do 50km today, so our 71 km total has been a good push. Hopefully those extra kilometers will come in handy when it gets really hard and we don’t manage a daily target!
We find a nice cool orchard and apart from a horde of kids watching us we relax for the evening.
Friday 21st July
Last night I was sick. I’d been feeling unwell towards the end of yesterday’s cycling and couldn’t face eating any dinner. Finally I was sick at around 10pm and then had a few further false alarms during the night.
I couldn’t face breakfast and didn’t have the energy to cycle so we had to stay put for the day. We get quite a few visitors and most of the time we have a bunch of kids watching us but at least we have some shade.
Saturday 22nd July – Takchtahamit to Darband
Distance: 73.87 km
Total Distance: 15293.93 km
We’re already seeing beautiful scenery but today we have our first section without tarmac. It turns out to be one of many.
It’s hard going even on the downhill sections so the uphills are really tough. At Obigarm we see the huge hydroelectric project on the river Vakhsh.
It’s being built by the Chinese and once the dam is complete it will take 10 years for the reservoir to fill. Whilst the reservoir fills there will be a reduced onward flow, depriving Uzbekistan of a major water source. But this dam will make Tajikistan self sufficient in energy. Because the Uzbeks are losing a water source they have denied Tajikistan their gas.
The temperature is still in the top 40s, hitting 50 but at least the nights are cooler.
Sunday 23rd July – Darband to Shakhob
Distance: 27.43 km
Total Distance: 15321.36 km
Yesterday we camped by the big river on some open ground. It was lovely and breezy, but by the time we got to bed the wind had died and the heat had built up. I had quite a sleepless night. I’d also ruined last night’s dinner with too much salt, that’ll teach Daz to leave me in charge whilst he mends another puncture. So this morning I was ready for porridge with no griping!
Today’s cycling can be summed up as follows: hot, hilly, dusty, hot, no shops, hot, gravel, sand and more dust… with a side order of more hills. It was tough. At one point as we crossed a stream falling down to the roaring river below we dunked ourselves in the cold waters, several times! Delicious!
We only managed 27 km (after the first 10km we said farewell to tarmac!) and finally pulled into a ‘restaurant’ next to a swimming hole. Amazingly there was a storm brewing as well. This place is in the middle of nowhere and the next village is 37km away along more gravel so we decide that’s enough for today. We order some food, they only have soup, fried eggs and stale bread so it’s an easy choice, all of it please! Unfortunately it’s my least favourite soup in the world, unrecognisable meat on the bone in a thin broth. Some people give us their left over watermelon and cucumbers, we are saved! With the storm whipping the trees into a frenzy we decide to get a room, bedbugs and all. Of course despite the incredibly hard cycling, the scenery has been truly stunning.
Monday 24th July – Shakhob to Dekhai Khur
Distance: 50.11 km
Total Distance: 15371.47 km
We had a better day today; we actually think it’s because there were several villages and shops en route to feed our growing coke addiction.
It’s ridiculous but sadly we’re becoming quite dependent on the sugar rush of coke. The scenery was spectacular, always handrailing the river on our right, now the river Obikhingou. At one point we spotted a river crossing – actually a suspended small cage powered by man power. When we noticed it a man was being taken across with several of his sheep.
There were 2 sheep runs and then Daz went down to check it out. It looked a bit precarious to me but Daz enjoyed it.
We also met 2 Dutch motorcyclists and had a chat about their travels. It seems the visa nightmare is horrendous if you have a motorcycle!
Tuesday 25th July – Dekhai Khur to Safedoron
Distance: 21.72 km
Total Distance: 15393.19 km
After a glorious night by the river, it’s hard getting started this morning. Daz needs to check the trikes over and even decides to do some laundry so we don’t hit the road until 9am. After a couple of kilometers beside the river we turn away to follow a tributary – the beginning of the pass.
Only 35km to the top at 3200 metres. The scenery is breathtaking – we hope the pictures and videos speak for themselves. The hills are a vibrant green and there are so many wild flowers growing beside the road. The cycling – well it’s just very, very tough.
The roads are gravelly, sandy or stony with the occasional patch of tarmac and each pedal stroke is an effort. But it’s worth the effort. Finally when we can go no further we camp on the hillside looking down into the valley. It’s so beautiful.
Wednesday 26th July – Safedoron to Kala-i Khumb
Distance: 46.86 km
Total Distance: 15440.05 km
Only 14km but it takes us 5 hours to hit Saghirdasht pass at 3252m. Yup a staggering 3km/hr. But we make it and once again the views are breathtaking.
There’s not much traffic today, we think it’s because the southern route has just been reopened. But we are passed by some British motorcyclists who stop to say ‘hi’. They hired their motorbikes over here – what a fabulous idea. Then there’s a threesome on motorbikes – 2 Czechs and a Ukrainian. They’re having serious problems with one of the bikes with blocked fuel filters due to the poor grade fuel. Apart from them we have 3 4×4 and a lorry go by, a very traffic quiet day! We wanted to have lunch at the top but we’re just not strong enough so after 3 hours of slow climb we stop by a stream and cook noodles and some eggs we bought off a farmer. Just as we are finishing 2 French cyclists pass us – Lucy and Louis.
We see them again at the top, now they’re having lunch. They’re lovely and we chat for ages before attempting the 35km descent to Kala-i Khumb. Barely a decent patch of tarmac, just gravel, rocks and sand. There’s huge cliffs looming over us on one side and a raging river way down below. It’s certainly tough on the trikes, particularly the brakes but we arrive safely in Kala-i Khumb.
As we near Kala-i Khumb we’re cycling beside the river which is an amazing azure. Now to find a place to stay!!! Not as easy as we imagined. There’s a hotel – 80$ per room so we end up in a guesthouse sleeping on a balcony above the river for $6 each.
Note: Daz has had 6 punctures in 7 days. His rear tyre is a problem since someone sliced into it in Samarkand and his front right was puctured by a thread of wire which he thought he’d removed but there’s obviously a tiny bit left in the tyre, causing repeat problems . He used Lezyne boots on both tyres but the plastic edge then punctured both tyres again, ruining an inner tube in the process. As a result he’s replaced both these tyres with our 2 spares. So now we only have his old tyres as emergency spares!
Thursday 27th July – Kala-i Khumb to Kevron
Distance: 17.85 km
Total Distance: 15457.9 km
We decide to have a lazy morning and don’t cycle out of town until 1pm by which time the temperature is already hitting 50 deg C. As soon as we start we realise how tired we are! We’re following the river Panj with Afghanistan on the other side of the river. How surreal. We cycle along the river valley with steep hills on either side.
It’s depressingly hot, dry and brown after the beauty of the pass. We only manage 17km but then chance upon a delightfully shaded orchard next to the river to camp. There’s even fresh water for our wash.
Friday 28th July – Kevron to Kurgovad
Distance: 43.89 km
Total Distance: 15501.79 km
We both slept well last night although I’ve been bitten numerous times but they’re not mozzy bites. We get a relatively early start so it’s still only 27deg C but after a few hours we hit the upper 40s. Thankfully we feel much stronger today which is a relief after our demoralising day yesterday. We pass through several villages and we’ve seen 3 military camps already, guarding the Tajik/Afghan border.
We find a nice windy plateau to camp for the night, but I daresay the wind will die shortly. On the other side of the road from our campsite we can look down on the river and an Afghan village.
It looks very primitive – even more so than the Tajik villages. Earlier today we watched some Afghan farmers winnowing by hand. Tossing up forkfuls of wheat to separate the grain from the chaff.
Saturday 29th July – Kurgovad to Omurn
Distance: 36.26 km
Total Distance: 15538.05 km
This morning we descend into a very narrow valley with steep towering cliffs above us. It’s incredibly dramatic. The road is in particularly poor condition and very narrow but not as narrow as the road/ track that hangs precariously on a knife edge on the Afghanistan side.
We share our narrow track with a constant stream of articulated trucks which can be quite daunting – take on the truck or fall into the tumultuous river below.
There’s been a steady stream of artics, some with trailers, since leaving Kala-i Khumb. Occasionally we see the casualties, broken down trucks with their drivers covered in oil, surrounded by various tools and spare parts.
This road certainly takes its toll on all vehicles that dare to use it. Finally we climb out of the gorge and here the Panj is joined by the Vanch and we turn south. We stop for lunch at a truckers stop and have Lagman soup (noodles, vegetables and meat) and wait for Véro.
She was our warmshower host in Dushanbe and she’s heading to Khorog for her own cycling trip but she’s bringing 2 new tyres that she got in Dushanbe for us. What a star! As I said earlier we’ve used our 2 new spare tyres on Daz’s bike so now at least we’re not totally reliant on the 2 tyres we took off Daz’s bike.
After the restaurant there’s a 1.5km climb and it’s steep but a lorry driver takes pity on us and indicates that we should hang on. So we do and he takes great care as he tows us up the hill – bless him. And then there’s a glorious stretch of tarmac – yup I can and do get excited over tarmac!!! We hit a small village. There’s water and an ideal camping spot. But the restaurant nearby charges us for the pleasure and then the Army decide it’s inappropriate for us to camp so close to Afghanistan and actually this is the closest we’ve been – only 100m and the river separate us.
Sunday 30th July – Omurn to Shidz
Distance: 54.70 km
Total Distance: 15592.75 km
There were no problems last night despite the close proximity to Aghanistan. More tarmac led to better progress today although we did spend some time marvelling at some road construction by the Afghans. We were first alerted by several explosions and pinpointed the source to a huge cliff face opposite, across the river, where construction workers were busy trying to connect the existing road by dynamiting and drilling out several sections of sheer rock.
A huge undertaking I think. There were also huge sections of extreme white, well grey, water on the Panj. White water rafting here would be a huge adrenaline rush with the added bonus of being shot at by the Afghans.
We also watched a Tajik footpatrol, one guy armed with a sniper rifle, the other two with AK47s.
We find a lovely camping spot by the river but here the river is as placid as a lake so mozzies might be a problem but we’re too tired to look elsewhere.
Monday 31st July – Shidz to Sokhcharv
Distance: 63.69 km
Total Distance: 15656.44 km
A good night’s sleep for us both and a nice early start. We handrailed the River Punj but it had the appearance of a huge lake. The river valley has widened considerably and has far less steep sides giving more land for agriculture.
The area seems very productive cropwise unlike in the rest of the Punj Valley. At Roshan (30km) the valley narrows again and the River Bartang joins the Punj. We stopped for an early lunch in Roshan and then took a dip in the Punj. We’ve tried to psych ourselves into taking a dip before but it really is brown and uninviting. But after Roshan there were some beautifully clear lagoons next to the fast flowing river. Daz was convinced it would be warm but it was bloody freezing despite the high air temperatures – but it was refreshing.
Then a final big push so we only have a short ride to Khorog tomorrow – and some well deserved days off.
Tuesday 1st August – Sokhcharv to Khorog
Distance: 30.83 km
Total Distance: 15687.27 km
We are woken in the early morning by lots of noisy trucks going by on the nearby road, but we soon drop back off. When we finally surface we realise why it was so noisy. A broken down car had all the trucks swinging around it and through the branches of the roadside trees!
It’s only 30 km to Khorog and the road is not too bad. We pass a very quiet airport and then enter the town.
Now there is traffic everywhere and lots of hustle and bustle. We are heading to the Pamir Lodge, a haven for cyclists passing through Khorog. We get settled in and relish our first hot shower in days. We are going to have a couple of days off here, do some admin and enjoy a rest before climbing further up into the Pamirs. It’s been a beautifully stunning trip so far, and we haven’t seen the best bits yet.