Posts Tagged ‘Tajikistan’


The weather threw everything at us as we left the roof of the world. Our headwind remained. It snowed over the pass on the border with Kyrgyzstan, and pissed down as we descended. Then the sun broke, the tailwind was rolled out, and we crossed the most spectacular valley flanked with massive snowy peaks. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan.

Looking back at the Pamirs

Looking back at the Pamirs

One of my favourite videos is ‘The Road to Karakol’. A mountaineer cycles around Kyrgyzstan, climbing peaks, and nearly dying as he has to cross a raging river. The video is funny, the scenery is spectacular, and it gets me emotional whenever I see it. In one scene, the cyclist has a race with a little boy on a horse. Today I saw that little boy on a horse, shepherding his sheep. Cycling down across a wide valley with spectacular mountains as a backdrop, I couldn’t help but think about the film. I am here in Kyrgyzstan, in the ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’.

Horseboy

Horseboy

The descent was muddy and wet.

Precarious dunny

Precarious dunny

Mixing of colours

Mixing of colours

The little town of Sarytash felt like a small step back to civilization. There were shops with things to buy, and it all felt a bit wealthier. Still no showers, though.

Sarytash

Sarytash


We sat huddled in the metre high drainage pipe under the road. Outside it was howling a sandy gale in the moon landscape, and dark clouds were forming and swirling around the snowy peaks. Cycling downhill at 6 km/h against the wind with nowhere to hide, camping was looking problematic. ‘Onwards,’ we decided. There must be somewhere better than this.

Our hideout from the wind

Our hideout from the wind

After our monster effort yesterday, we slept in, and then went on a tour through the ‘markets’ of the town. Our homestay host took us to the markets, which were all in people’s homes. No chocolates were on offer to replace what I threw down the hatch yesterday in our evening slog. Like Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboards were bare. Just lollies and biscuits.

The grocery shop

The grocery shop

And then the cabbage truck drove into town. Hurray, hurray, oh glorious day! They even had a few apricots!

The cabbage truck

The cabbage truck

There was a blue hole in the clouded sky above the beautiful Karakul lake. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the lake created its own sunny weather. Skirting the lake, it seemed the wind always blew away from the lake – which lead to the theory of us having a tailwind going over the pass. This theory proved to be incorrect.

The long road out of Karakul

The long road out of Karakul

Lake Karakul

Lake Karakul

The wind was the strongest I have experienced – and it was a headwind. Scaling the steep bits of the pass involved 10 pedal strokes followed by a minute regaining breath. Descending required pedalling to move forward, and the speed rarely passed 10 km/h. After shivering in the drainage pipe, we realised we needed to continue to keep warm. We are now camping on the sand behind a mound that seems, somehow, to deflect most of the wind. It is going to be cold tonight.

Our moonscape camping spot

Our moonscape camping spot


A grunt to make it up the 3 metre sandy verge from the parallel road (with fewer corrigations) to the main road. At 4200m I fail, slide off my bike, and stand there heaving in the thin air.

The view looking back from the pass

The view looking back from the pass

Today was a 4655m pass, bone shaking corrigations, and hurricane headwinds that made the descent on good road surface a crawl to the town that never drew nearer. Exhausted, I collapsed to sleep with the dinner still in front of me.

We were saved from the first snow flurry ascending the pass by a kind family just after the sign for the pass summit (5km from the top).

At the base of the pass

At the base of the pass

Father and kids

Father and kids

Little boy

Little boy

The steep ascent to the pass was a 3 km/h affair with amazing views.

View northwards from the Akbaital Pass

View northwards from the Akbaital Pass

Towards Karakul

Towards Karakul

The next threatening weather descended as we were pummelled by the corrugations and the headwind.

Cold wind

Cold wind

Corrugations

Corrugations

We decided to push on to the only town in the area – Karakul. Little did we know the wind would get stronger, and the town, always visible in the distance, seemed to stay the same distance away for 20 km. The sun set over the beautiful Karakul lake as we pushed on to the town.

The road to Karakul

The road to Karakul

The road to Karakul

The road to Karakul


The highest pass of the Pamir Highway is near, and today we put ourselves near its base. A big headwind and the altitude made it a breathtaking affair. Cycling with Mark, Kim and Will, we climbed to a lovely spot at 4100m, ready for an assault on the pass tomorrow.

Exhausted

Exhausted

We are cycling along the base of old glacial valleys. Relatively flat and wide, snowy mountains rise on both sides. And on one side is a fence. A fence marking only 15km to China. Even a watchtower ensuring that one does not penetrate to within 15km of China without a visa.

The 15km from China fence

The 15km from China fence

A little snow storm with strong winds rolled over us just after we set up camp. This meant we all retired into our tents and slept from 1700 until 1830. Then dinner and an early night. We need all the energy we can muster for tomorrow.

Our campsite

Our campsite


The plain was wide – sometimes grassy, sometimes just rock and sand. On both sides were rocky, snow-capped mountains. The sky was blue with beautiful white clouds. And the wind was at our back. Every bend in the road opened up a new stunning vista. I cycled the most beautiful road of my life with three others, and my, we had a day to remember.

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

We were prepared for the lonely road – no human life and no water for 100km to Murghab. Every now and then we spotted a lonesome yurt off the road and away from the bustle of the thoroughfare. This place is remote – a desert highland tucked away in a lost corner of central Asia. This is part of the appeal. So far from anywhere. Sitting in the little hut last night with the wind whistling outside, warmth radiating from the wood stove, one is at peace with the universe. On the Pamir Plateau, I am at peace with the universe, and at peace with myself.

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

Murghab

Murghab


I was the one with altitude sickness today. I had a headache at midnight, and took altitude sickness tablets at 5am. The day was a headache blur in the dormitory bedroom surrounded by posters of far-away waterfalls and bowls of fruit. To get away, I cycled 13km through the snow to the last hut of humanity for 100km.

My humble abode for the night

My humble abode for the night

Reece had improved before me, and left to make it to the bottom of the next pass on the way to Murghab. I stayed in indecision, seeing the horizontal sleet and snow outside. There was ‘maybe’ the hut I had heard of down the road to stay. After that, there would be nothing. I wanted to move on. I knew I was still recovering from altitude sickness. I didn’t want to camp outside tonight. I left in a break from the snow, and was blown along by my friend the tailwind to the most lovely little hut on the high Pamir plain.

View from my abode

View from my abode

The little kids in the hut were lovely. They cycled around on my bike, and even filtered water for me.

The kids

The kids

The new cyclist

The new cyclist

And then rolled in the cycle tourists. A group of 3 – from South Korea, Ireland and America. Some more cycling partners for the next days. Let’s see.


The Pamir plateau is spectacularly beautiful. Two passes around 4200m and some awful road later, we passed the crest and saw the most amazing vista of rolling sandy plains with a beautiful deep blue lake, surrounded by high, towering peaks. Reece’s head was thumping, The altitude sickness may force him down tomorrow.

The Pamir plateau

The Pamir plateau

Reece had a splitting headache, and the road was unforgiving. A sandy, rocky ascent to 4271m, then after a sandy rocky descent, another bumpy ascent to 4200m. Very exhausting, but surrounded by the most beautiful landscape.

Province border

Province border

A steep climb

A steep climb

The Pamir plateau

The Pamir plateau

Reece on the Pamir plateau

Reece on the Pamir plateau

In Alichur Reece and I went to the doctor. He has some emergency tablets, and plans to descend tomorrow.