It’s taken 10 days of gravel, off road and tarmac surfaces to reach Khorog, where we are at rest. Our bodies and bikes have been bounced around from the road. At times it felt as if we were in a washing machine’ on a intense cycle. Despite the constant bashing the scenery and riding has been outstanding, some of our best on the whole trip. The mountain ranges have been tireless, with views of snow capped peaks with each turn through the gorges. We have followed the river for hundreds of kilometres and watched how it has carved, twisted and turned the natural boundary between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. I don’t think we had expected to be so close to the Afghan side, which has been fascinating to view the villages, the people working on the land and to stop in awe at the road workers carving a road into the cliff faces. At times as we watched the drill workers they would wave frantically to warn us away as an explosion was due. We would tell the force of the explosions from the rocks on the Tajikistan border which had been blown over. At certain bends in the river you could wave to the Afgani people and the kids would shout greetings. The odd motorbike would traverse the dusty track and you could hear their loud radios playing with a trail of dust left in their wake.
The camping spots were also some of our best. Camping on beaches, meadows, riverside grass, or behind rocks have all been beautiful. Finding an accessible spot takes time and sometimes we left it too late and pitched up in the dark. On our beach spot we washed in the river and fell asleep to the flow of the river but awoke to see 5 armed military standing on the high verge waving us to leave (later we found out the beach is the border and locals are not permitted access!).
The road is shared with trucks who make the long journey between Dushanbe and into China. Almost everyday a truck driver would slow down and hand us apples or pomegranates, which we always excepted. 4×4 cars are used as taxis here but we found these to be a little free with the road. Many aid agencies 4×4 would also pass us indicating relief work is still an important support structure here. The small villages we passed were normally positioned with fresh water supply and accessible land to cultivate. Children would see you coming from miles and run to the edge or middle of the road shouting and screaming; what is your name, how old are you, or would try and get you to slap hands (more football celebrations) but with both hands needed on the handlebars kids became annoyed at the lack of contact.
We also met several cyclists from many parts of the world all coming back from the high mountains and heading to Dushanbe. We’d stop and exchange tips for sometime. We spent a lovely evening with Janca and Oliver (Slovakia) camping by the river and sharing vodka, chocolate and walnuts. They inspired us with future travel plans.
The only negative thing that happened was one silly decision on a bridge over a lake! I went to collect the solar panel battery charger and as I unzipped the bag the battery storage unit in very slow motion slipped from the bag, hit the spare tyre and travelled through a gap in the railing and fell into the beautiful blue lake, never to be seen again. So we are without a back up power supply. Hopefully this can be replaced in China at some point.
With 2 days rest in Khorog we are ready to set out onto the M41, the Pamir Highway. We know this next stretch will be even more demanding with several mountain passes of over 4000metres, snow, wind and cold. Our bags are packed with food supplies and all our winter clothes are placed at the top of the panniers.
Our next post should be from Kashgar, China as long as the internet restrictions can be bypassed and a successful VPN works.