A day of mostly gravel roads, apparently a “tester” for the next couple of riding days. But first – a day off in Khorog – so we can all check our bikes and bodies for how we coped with the last day-and-a-bit… before what is promised to be some truly punishing un-maintained roads through the Wukhan Valley. And – it was again some spectacular scenery. Valleys at altitude, surrounded by mountains, continuing to follow the Panj River, which is the border between us and Afghanistan. I stopped for a bit of a swim in the Panj… apparently the only one who did so, and it seemed not many people had done it before. Planning on doing it again tomorrow… although the temperature of the water was what one would expect from snow-melt – it was a refreshing break from the rather hot air temperature. Even with a couple of local kids creepily watching me the entire time.
A day of solid riding, stunning scenery, plenty of nice-ish curvy roads to suit the scenery, and then a good solid dose of dirt/gravel/potholes to get in practice for the coming weeks. The afternoon was spent riding along the Afghanistan border… right alongside the river, which is the border. And while the scenery on the Tajiki side was awesome – Afghanistan looks spectacular. Anything on the far side of the river in the later half of photos below – Afghani. Also had a couple of reasonably long tunnels – 2km, and 4km, that I can recall… but they had decent lighting, and nowhere near the fear-factor of “The Tunnel of DEATH!”. Our hotel tonight – in Kailikhum / Darvoz / Qalaikhumb – overlooks Afghanistan, including what seems to be some sort of military/militia-style compound.
Giant-Flags… f*&% I love them. I reckon I came very close to sun-stroke today, just standing in the sun for extended periods, waiting for the Giant-Flag to catch some wind and unfurl for the best photo. But this is the first time I did some follow-up research on one, after discovering this Giant-Flag is flying from the 2nd-tallest flagpole in the world (was the tallest until 5 years ago)… and discovered – the Dushanbe Giant-Tajikistan-Flag weighs 700kg. That’s a big flag.
Oh – Dushanbe also had a rather good museum, a surprising number of functioning fountains (which I realised I also quite like, as they’re kinda like an upside down waterfall), and probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten about. Because – Giant-Flag.
A quick trip to Dushanbe, across the Zarafshan Range, in the rain… some spectacular roads and scenery, including a quick(-ish) 5km trip through… the “Tunnel of DEATH!!!”. 1 minute after my too-smart-for-its-own-good bike gave me a warning that the air temperature was low enough that surface-ice might be possible… 5km of poorly lit, poorly (if at all) ventilated, tunnel – with standard Central Asia road conditions (ie… expect vehicle-debilitating potholes at any time)… although apparently it’s much better than it used to be. Popular rumour seems to be that cyclists aren’t allowed through it, as they have in the past died of carbon-monoxide poisoning… but cursory research doesn’t support that. It does seem that for quite some time, one had to sign a waiver before using the tunnel. From what I read just now, they officially finished all the “bells and whistles” on the tunnel in August 2017 (eg: sealing leaks, concreting the base, putting some lights in). But less than two years later – I can affirm that of the two parallel tunnels which seem to exist – only one is open (therefore, a single carriageway, with oncoming traffic rather difficult to identify with very little lighting and much dust), and there is certainly still some leakage, and the lighting leaves a lot to be desired. Still – I’m guessing it’s a hell of a lot better than it was 10 years ago. All in all – good times (as I hope any video footage I got didn’t capture my whispered cursing and imploring for the “light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel”).
Got to Dushanbe safe and sound… where we’ve got a day off. This is to make sure there’s enough time for all the bikes to be serviced, oil changed, and tyres changed. Apparently my tyres were changed an hour or two ago… There’s been a few points on this trip which have been sort of “watershed” moments… – The Turkey border/Istanbul – in that it was supposedly crossing from Europe to Asia – The Caspian Sea – for a lot of people, this was a landmark which seperated the “known” from the “here-be-dragons” – And for, me, at least – the latest is Dushanbe. Only in respect to the trip… when we leave Dushanbe, we’ll all be on off-road tyres (knobblies) – and expecting that they’ll be necessary. Coming up, we have the Pamir Highway, and the Wukhan Valley… and by all accounts – some roads of variable condition through some spectacular scenery.
A very short day riding-wise – just crossing the border from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan. Apparently this border is only very recently open for “tourist” type crossings… so nobody had any idea how long it might take. It turned out to be rather painless – I believe the last of us were through in well under 4 hours.
Which means we’ve arrived in the town of Penjikent – very early. And Penjikent does not have much in the line of sights or attractions. So – after a wander around town to confirm there’s absolutely zero to see or do, finding a bite to eat, and watching the last couple of episodes of the latest TV fad… it’s 4pm, and I’ve run out of things to do. And internet is still extremely slow – so not much point in trying to retrospectively upload photos. I guess I could try to sift through video footage… but I’ll return to that idea if/when/after I find a beer (itself, looking problematic).
A bit more of the Silk Road… Samarkand. Relatively short ride, arriving in enough time to look around some of the major sites, before a “team dinner”. Impressive looking city, plenty of cool big old stuff, and when taking a taxi to the restaurant for a (large and cheap) dinner – new city looks modern/prosperous.