17. Travel Report: Tajikistan 20.7. - 23.8.2008

Penjikent - Anzob - Dushanbe - Kalaikum - Korog - Ishkashim - Langar - Murgab - Karakul - Sary Tash

Visa, registration, permits - the bureaucracy in Tajikistan does not seem to end and makes the travelers life hard. After all the pain we finally can start cycling. Already Anzob pass, leading to the capital Dushanbe, signalizes that the bike trip through this country will not be an easy one. The road is not passable for cars anymore, so it is left to us bikers. Together with the Swiss Philippe and the Slovenian Simon, we master the 2000 meters of height across the pass of 3300 m on a rough road, instead of choosing the tunnel filled with hip deep water. The people are friendly, often the kids run laughing alongside the bikes, and everybody shouts a friendly straswuitie or hello.

In the capital we try again to apply for a Chinese visa, once more success less.

We leave Dushanbe behind and have to fight with temperatures up to 48 degrees. In the evening - while camping near a river together with Simon and the Swiss cyclists Daniel and Tobias - we happily accept a cold beer. The evening of the 1st of August we spend under a beautiful clear sky, and swaying flags. The 3300 m pass Khabarut is - like most roads in Tajikistan - not really built for tour bikes. On the descent Pius hits a sharp stone which splits the tire of the back wheel. After riding, often on rough roads, more than 20'000 km with the Schwalbe Marathon XR, we have to replace the first tire on our trip.

Along the river Pyanj, which marks the border for a long distance between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, we cycle through peaceful, beautiful valleys. On the Afghan side lay idyllic villages. There are no roads, only small paths on which the people transport goods by donkey. The sound of a flute carries over the river. The farmers thresh the wheat and separate it from the husk - a life like 100 years ago in Europe.

One night, already holed up in our tent, we hear a voice. Thinking having to deal with a drunken shepherd, we do not react. As we heard the sound of releasing the safety catch of a machine gun, Simon already shouts: " Stop, stop, we are only cycling tourist who camp here". We wonder who was more afraid, we or the poor young military guy doing his job.

We want to see the wild Hindukush Mountains, so we decide to cycle the Wakhan valley along the Afghan border. To our disappointment, there was no clear sight and the impressive mountains were hidden behind haze. The road is for several hundreds of kilometers so bad that we often complaint and not really were able to enjoy nature. Another Swiss cyclist brings it to the point, he says: "this has nothing to do with cycling anymore". These roads are just not fun anymore to cycle with 50 - 60 kg heavy tour bikes, to push through corrugated gravel- and sand-roads, over rocks hidden under dust. It would be challenging enough to do this tour with a mountain bike without luggage.

On the way, we take spontaneously an offer of some men to join them with their truck for the next 80 km. The driver, whom we only saw when he jumped into the driver’s cabin and started off, was totally drunk. In the 3rd curve he over steered and the truck shot directly over a flank of a hill. There we were getting stuck without rolling over. We escaped with just a fright. Our guardian angels do have a lot of work to do.

The ranges of Pamir with the snow topped mountains and glaciers are dreamlike and very impressing to see, and the camping in the remoteness was absolutely fantastic. On the roads there were met cyclists than cars.

Back at the Pamir Highway we were very happy to pedal on asphalt and are amazed how easy and enjoyable this feels. We crossed a few more passes, the highest with 4655 m, having great views and being a very especial experience.

Pius had problems with the altitude, starting in the Wakham valley at around 3500 m. He suffered of shortness of breath and was not able to sleep at night. So finally we were happy to leave Tajikistan, arriving at a lower altitude in Kirgistan. It was a hard trip for material and us. Despite the great views of the mountains and valleys, the beautiful starry sky or the snow glimmering one morning when waking up, coating everything in beautiful white - this route we would not cycle again.

Up the Valley to the Anzob Pass

Village youth in Tajikistan

Valley along Afghanistan

Valley along Afghanistan

20'000 km

in a teahouse