A Travellerspoint blog

In the heart of Islamic architecture and blistering heat

sunny 50 °C

We left Tajikistan doing a 12-hour bus ride that was .. hum... CRAZY! Going through a DARK LONG tunnel (6 km long)- I have no idea how the driver could see anything and the road was so bad that the mini-bus (8 riders by bus) could probably have disappeared into the cracks of this "road".... and then the bus climbed two never ending passes (motion sickness anyone???) - several hours up and more than 40 minutes down. You could see at least 12 cars crashed at the botton of the passes. Well that was an experience that I could have done without ;)

What to say abt Tajikistan? A country to return for sure - The Tajik people are kind and caring, the Pamir mountains (despite the conflict) was truly a breath taking adventure and the People of the Pamiris are gentle, generous and hospitable beyond words. I heard that the Tajik Govrenment is not allowing tourists to go through the Pamir mountains for the moment as the conflict is not resolved yet. This is a very sad!!!!

Crossing broders to Uzbekistan was a very very very very strange process. The truck could not go through the border, so we first had to take all of our equipement (like Kitchen pots and pans, cooking stove, water bottles, rehydration salts, bags, bike through x-rays (????)- and then riders their 2 big bags, the kitchen stuff, water, etc through a no-man land zone (abt 500m) to load into the new trucks registered in Uzbekistan.

The temperature already started to go up towards the 40 celsius and will not stop getting warmer as we moved into Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan... It seems that only dogs, cars, and crazy cyclistes are out there in the middle of the day...normal people stay indoor until the evening when it starts to cool down...

ANd then came Samarkan and Buchara - 2 very very special rest days..
Samarkan is a jewel of Islamic architecture established around 700 BC (considered as the oldest inhabited city in central asia)- a big city that truly comes to life in the evening where families, children of all ages, parents, teenagers, tourists are out enjoying a stroll, and an ice cream in front of Registan Square which hosts 3 magnificiant Madrassah.. During the day, only the silly tourists are out to visits the mosques and Madressah all that concentrated in the old town with a very neat bazzar of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fabrics (truly worth braving the heat). Looking at the turquoise blue tiles domes and the massive carving works really transport you in another time... and makes our big modern building look so blend!!!!!.

It is said that restauration work - I think most of it done by Russsian... has taken some liberties but yet it feels very very special.
I will post pictures when I come back

The next rest day was in Buchara - a fortified wall city that also contains jewels of architecture. Actually a bit of a feeling of Marakesh meets small Europe old towns (as far as atmosphere) with bazzar shops approach and minaret and Madressah that are also out of this world.... I really really truly liked that city. The fortified walls (The Arch) date back 5th century AD.... I even went into an Hamman (oriental spa where women gather to bath...) in a beautiful buidling that was older than 500 years.

Buchara is my coup de coeur so far....

The broder crossing the Turkmnistan was again a very very very involved process... Border crossing will indeed be a very strange landmark of this trip!!! We completed the whole process (passports, forms, x-rays, carrying luggage through a no man land and in the new trucks) by noon AND THEN we started on our bike for a 135 km day with an average temperature of way over 40 the whole day, some head wind. I got to camp at 2030 and it was dark but still very hot. I must be drinking over 8-10 litres per day ...

The next 6 riding days in Turkmensitan were through the Garagum desert - an verage of 120 km/day with temperature reaching 50 degree celciusm. Historically karavan days along the silk road was covering abt 50 km - so we are not doing too bad ;) ---I am drinking like mad, starting at around 0600 am but yet getting to camp only around 1500 - very long days with headwind, accumulated fatique and the heat that make you move even slowler. But yet for me rather magic days. I like the desert, quite a place to meditate and feel free on my bike...

Well I should say that one has to remain awake on the road because this is in fact a main road with CRAZY CRAZY TRAFFIC
Is there a difference between driving style in Central asia? One thing for sure, drivers in Turkmenistan are the craziest drivers that we have encountered so far... There seem to be no limit on speed and there is a no yellow line separating the road - but there is a lot lot of pot holes and bumps - result: The trucks are rather good leaving us some space BUT many many car drivers seems to find it perfectly normal to over pass these trucks when we are there, coming durectly at us. One needs to maintain his/her balance on the bike and decide whether or not to go in the ditch or try to stay on the road. There is also the scenario of the car coming from beyong you and "cheking you out" - coming so close that you feel the wind from the car door on your arms... all this in the mist of cars honking and waving at us either to say "hi" or to tell us to get off of the road!!!! A very funny / strange mixture of reactions.

But there is also the nice car drivers who will stop and offer water, fanta, coke or just want to ask what on earth are cyclists doing here? We have been told that abt 4 days before we arrived in Turkmenstan - some star went up, which indicates the hottest period of summer for Turkmenistan - well it is really hot here!!! Lucky us - From the beautiful freezing cold of the Pamir mountains (Tajikistan) to the blistering heat of the desert in Turkmesnistan

By the way, Turkemistan hosts the longest man-made canal - over 1300 km lenght to irrigate the country's cotton fields.. Turkmenistan produces american and egyptian cotton as the monoculture of the country. We often see an area of cotton plantation in the middle of nowhere in the desert as we bike and I have stopped a few time to communicate by sign with cotton field workers - often children as young as 12 years old working in the blistering heat... Hard life! We bike for "pleasure" in that heat while the cottong field workers have very little choice but to be out there.. It makes me feel very small... There is much to say abt contrasts in this country but I will write more on the subject when I am outside ;)

Today is a rest day in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan .. a very very "futurist-weird" looking city. Big, a lot traffic (*read crazy) - buildings looking like a space shuttle, golden domes, huge rich appartment buildings, all that surrounded by a chain of mountain very close and then the desert... Before that we had a rest day in Mary , where we vistied Merv, a world heritage site that is a very central point on the silk road. It had a very strategic location and so was the seat of many takeovers... More than 1 million people in Merv were killed as a result of Mongols invasion in the 12th century.. It was a very powerful moment to be standing inside those fortified ruins!

We are leaving tommorow for Iran with a lot of trepidation abt what to expect, how to respect teh dress code (i.e., no sking showing at all on the bike and outside the bike...) One thing is for sure, everyone is saying that Iranians people are very welcoming.. I look forward to this part of the trip.

To those reading I apologize for typos and grammar ... ;) . Give news whenever you can

Sonia, fargo (my bike) and orimou (my canadian mouse/friend on the bike following me acccros Canada, Africa abd now on the silk road)...

Posted by soafrica 03:13 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (1)

From Kashgar to civil unrest in Tajikistan

Quite a start!

sunny 32 °C


First contact with Kashgar, China: 2 armed guards at the door... maybe a premonition for what was to come in Tajikistan.
We did not reach the hotel before 2000 that night and I went to bed without eating.. Lesson 1: Jet lag plus no food are no good combination for a start the next day at 0800 am for 100km....

The ridding in China:
The first 3 ridding days were difficult for me - Heat, bad roads and long KMs in China. Major cramps on the first day and throwing up at the end of a big climb, sleeping curled up on the side of the road and in the truck on the second day.. then the sky cleared up and I was able to ride all complete days. I am slow but steady and knees and legs are working together -- I am so so happy

The Chinese border proved to be a challenge... We had to wait 3 hours for their "lunch break" to be completed and then chinese official confiscated some of our passports: Lesson 2: better remember countries you visited before in case a chinese official fancy asking you questions (really weird).... More than 4 hours of wait to get an exit stamp and then another 2-3 hours of wait to actually exit the country the next day.... most of that while waiting under heavy sun.... Funny but the broder crossings so far have been much longer than in Africa

Lesson 4: red hair with "russian" flavor name (Sonia) is not so good in China and Kyrgystan: Officials in both of these countries insisted that I spoke russian with them saying I have the "russian look".. What ever that means.. I am not so sure and maybe I dont want to know!!!!.

Then came the start of the Pamir Highway. THis was in fact a 7 day bike ride with 4 climbs over 4000 meters and at least 2 nights camping over 4000 meters.. ouch.. Beautiful scenaries, glaciers, high cliff mountains, wild goats, an isolated region where you get excited when one sees 15 houses or so... hard living conditions BUt yet, so very generous people... We also did some homestay and Yurts that are so colofrul inside (imagine a round wood structure decorated-isolated with very colorful carpets, an wood stove in the middle, the people would constantly invite us for tea anmd bread along the road sharing the little they have). Just very out of this world for me. The Pamir highway was built by Russia (as part of the Great game with UK to take over passagwe to India...) and his now alsô called the opium highway.. as ît is also a road for drug trafficing....

Altitude was there for sure but I managed to cycle all going slowly.Some of those climbs (and descends) were long with 8 and 12% grades at over 3500meters ... I was breathing like a train coming in...

The night in the tent were "well" freezing to say the least... supper in 15 minutes dancing around to stay warm and moving to yr tent at 1830 as it was the only place to get a little warm. Putting on all the clothes available, with the sleeping bag over my head and yet it is so so so cold. At 4200 meters there were hail and tents were well frozen in the mornings... Going to the toilet on these nights was more than a challenge... and it is surprising how the cold make you want to pee....

Then we started to descend - one full day of biking down from high altitude to something around 2000 meters.. well the contrast was major and beautifull all that in oen day ... we came down into green vegetation, fruit trees, a lot more people, houses, cars, donkeys, children, a shower and western toilets... in other words, the luxury of an hotel in the city of Khorog in Tajiskistan.. Well that luxury became less attractive the next day when we got stuck in the middle of a military operation....

 small taste of military operation in Tajikistan:
In 1997, there was a civil war in Tajikistan and the Pamiri people have suffered a lot. There is still a lot of tension between the Tajik central government and the Pamiri (who have some very close links with their Afghan cousins on the other side of the border.. By the way, the Afghan border is just a bird view from where we where.. and the Afghan close to the borders are not the extremist forces... (but yet there were concern that this border could also become a hot spot...)

Back to the story, the day we arrived a general from the Tajik government was allegedly assasinated by the Pamiri people.. the army-Tajik government requested that the Pamiri involved be giving to them but the local Pamiri forces said no. The next step was for snipers, soldiers and tanks from the Tajik govermnment shooting in the main street of Khorog, with the Pamiri soldiers shooting back.... all that actually very very close to where our hotel was... The civilians Pamiri supported the Pamiri forces.. It was getting a little too hot for our taste..

The german, suisse, french, UK and USA embassies got involved to evacuate the foreigners which took a few days. But I should say foreigners were not the target. It was a long way out of that region through 4 by 4 jeeps convoys and an helicopeter ride for some of the cyclists (not me). But we all made it safe to Dushanbe (Capital of Tajikistan). There are many stories around that evacuation (and sometimes not all good stories) and yet what really matter is that -- thanks to the embassies and TDA -- we get out of there and safe.

We travelled about 16 hours in jeep to evacuate (and therefore lost about 6 days of cycling through an amazing amazing landscape of high cliffs, mountains but also green vegetation and rivers always bordering Afghanistan) . I would like to come back and do those 6 days of cycling but that will be for another time in my life...

In 2 days, we will move to Kyrgystan and resume cycling in the heat and desert scenaries. No doubt this is a trip of extremes.. I am so much looking forward to be back on my bike, taking on the sceneries, those briefs encounters with locals, the thrills of discovery. The next city is Samarkhan, one of the most glorious and beautiful city on the silk road journey!!!!

I promise to write a more interesting blog .. so much has happened in so little time that I seem to only be able to describe facts without much colors in them.

[i]["When your ship, long moored in an harbour, gives you the illusion of being a house, put out to sea"i] --- Well I have put my ship to sea, in agitated sea, with beautioful sinrise and sunset to seek adventure and better understand what is scared for me!!!

Sonia, Orimou and Fargo

Posted by soafrica 07:04 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (1)

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