Gold teeth beam from every adult mouth as we cycle through Uzbekistan. We wonder if the young people will follow suit or is this a generation trend. We have spent almost a month here and travelled through deserts, cultural cities, mountains and sampled the Uzbek way of life. We left Samarkand with a unwelcome guest in the guise of Giardia (for me not Barbara) but thanks to Silvia (our travel companion Dr.) and her medication we left knowing the guest would soon leave.
The terrain changed from lush vegetation, orchards, vineyards to dry Steppe land, mountain passes and valley floors. We took things much gentler due to my health and the fact we were in no rush as the visa for Tajikistan was not valid until 18th. The first 5 days were diverse and our interest in cycling was back with us after a rest. However, the loud shrieking car/lorry horns and when cars slow down, faces pressed at the windows and then shouts “Otkuda Vy” (where you from) can be draining after hours on the road. But then as always a surprise awaits you. One lovely shepherd perched on his loyal donkey came across the road beaming with gold teeth and the excitement to see us and to try is donkey.
Road side stalls selling September harvests of grapes, apples and melons came as welcome treats and often the stall holder would not take money or would give us extra. Then you’d find nothing for miles, or some dreadful shack. We ordered eggs and potato from one but with one mouthful we left both disgusted at the taste. Then up the road a distressing scene of a dying donkey on the road that had been hit by a careless driver. That was a tough day.
Impromptu campsites came in several forms, from terraces of a community centre/come mosque where local women gathered around us in the morning, who brought gifts of tomatoes and milk to wild spots in the hills. You don’t always sleep well when camping wild as you you are more alert from different sounds or people around but one spot was so quiet we only heard a flock of birds flying over one night. On another occasion we pulled off the road near an orchard and pitched up only for a worker to see us and try to convince us that if we stayed here an animal with big teeth would get us! The next morning we awoke to a stray and harmless dog sleeping outside the tent guarding us and the worker returned at 6.30am to watch us with fascination make coffee and pack up our processions. He left with a biscuit in his pocket we’d given him during breakfast and the dog continued to sleep.
The landscape changed again as we crossed Kuhitang and Boysun Togh ranges of mountains. Peaks reaching 4100metres in the distance but we did a mere climb of 1400metres dropping to 1200m as we entered the town of Boysun. We arrived at the Boysun hotel to be greeted by Husband and wife and within minutes she had laid the table and provided a spread of food for us. The 4 of us shared a beer and chatted in between our broken languages and sign language. We stayed 2 nights and each breakfast and evening we were given great food. Boysun has a UNESCO craft centre and museum, which we visited and were given a tour of the dying and weaving areas. The hand weaving was delicate and beautiful. The local craft of weaving, carpentry and ceramics have been recognised and protected by UNESCO.
During a long lunch stop to avoid the heat we met a young French women cycling on her own from China to France. We chatted for a while and exchanged tips on either direction. We admired her spirit and strength to do this on her own, we wished we could have shared some of the journey with her as company but after lunch our directions were going in opposite ways.
The ride continued to surprise us with stunning landscapes and our first siting of vultures, who were guarding a rather obscure carcasse. The landscape was beautiful but harsh, we are surprised that animals survive out here. Goats and sheep have their heads constantly down finely picking the last edible sun burnt dried grass or spiked plants. The shepherd watches his flock all day and they seem in tune with each other. Then you pass a verdant strip of land where water has brought life to the earth and agriculture has taken over and there you see the cows in heaven. Cotton fields cover a large part of this flat land and we were lucky to cycle by the cotton depot. Tractors carrying several trailers of freshly picked cotton wait in line to enter the depot. 2 men sit high on the covered platform as each tractor waits its turn to have their stock quality checked and directed to a area to deposit their load. Mountains of cotton cover a large area and you almost feel as you want to dive into them.
We entered Denau the last big town before the border and headed to the hotel to kill time. We used the time well and changed both chains and break pads and did some general maintenance on the bikes in preparation for the Pamir Highway. After 3 long days in Denau we set out on the short ride to the border but this was packed full of interest. We spent time in a cotton field talking, photographing each other( them photographing us) and amazed and slightly shocked at how kids are still working in the fields. Our lunch stop was by a small river in a tea house but as soon as we arrived a half drunk man took over; brought a range of fruits and food, water and then came a new bottle vodka. By the end he was very drunk and we remained sober! He paid for the lot and disappeared. Our last night in Uzbekistan came in a search for a camping spot near the border which proved more tricky as it was surrounded by cotton fields or villages. As the sun was setting a young man led us in the middle of a cotton field and said we could stay under the temporary shelter ( which is used for workers to space the sun). We slept out in the open and this felt good, no tent, just a mat and sleeping bag.
The exit and entry borders went smoothly. Uzbekistan was more rigorous with baggage, photo checks and evidence of hotel receipts. Tajikistan control was welcoming and quick, checking nothing except the paper visa. The tarmac smooth road was a joy and we were in Dushanbe by late afternoon. Chaos of cities always shake us and this one was no different. A car was on fire and exploded, then the next roundabout a truck carrying oil tipped over and I gained my third puncture of the trip. We were glad to find quite inside the Greenhouse guesthouse. Over the next day or so we will prepare, stock up with food supplies before the big challenge of the Pamir Highway. We will most probably be off line for sometime but the next blog will recount the worlds second highest road trip. We are both slightly nervous as we have never cycled such altitudes and unsure of the weather, but excited also for the next cycle challenge.
Wish us luck and you can also follow us on instagram @theshippingpress or @hotwaterfactory for image updates.
All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2017©