Published: June 20th 2010May 17th 2010
Edwin impersonating a 20 somani note
this reconstructed fortress gateway appears on he back of the 20 somani note
No sooner are we over the border and into Tajikistan than we are off route again - yes I know, we should have learnt our lesson by now. This time the expedition was successful and at Hissar, only 5km off-route, we find the gateway of an 18th century fortress. Why was this worth the effort? because it appears on the back of the 20 Somani note.
We have a whole days R&R in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Its a strange place which seems to consist of one main street with a few grand pre-soviet buildings interspersed with drab concrete buildings and lots and lots of parks. The guide book describes “pastel coloured buildings and tree lined cafes”, that conjurers up a totally different image to what I found. It seems too small and quite to be the capital, maybe there is a lively, energetic part we didn't discover. We visit the museum and are accompanied round by a babushka who switches the lights on and off as we enter each room and watches our every move without ever saying a thing. No sneaky photos in here of the largest reclining Buddha in Central Asia (13m long, 1500 years old)
Ayni Opera and Ballet Theatre, Dushanbe
one of the grand buildings of Dushanbe. All the fountains in the city had photographers lurking next to them complete with rocking horses, big teddies etc. ready to capture pictures of 'little Johnny' looking cute.
or relics from Alexander the Great's visit (this was the eastern most outpost of his empire).
There's a reason for the day off, knobbly tyres are being fitted to the bikes. This can only mean one thing - yes the tarmac is about to start and the dirt is about to start. Our intention is to ride along the Pamir Hioghway but first we have to get across to Kalaikhum 2 days away. There are 2 routes; the summer only northern route via the Sagirdasht Pass (3252m) which the guide book describe as “being in particularly bad condition” or the longer but year round southern route which is being “upgraded to tarmac and has great views”. For once we were going to be sensible and take the southern route. However, there has been a lot of heavy rain and a large landslide has shut the road so we are forced to take the northern route. Rather ominously on the day we leave Dushanbe its pouring with rain!!
Initially the road is good tarmac with sweeping bends climbing up through lush, green countryside into the snowy mountains. The soil is really red and makes a great contrast to the
taking the northern route to Kalaikhum
we are either clinging to the side of a mountain up above a fast flowing river or......
bright green vegetation - its all very pretty and scenic.. Then we round a sweeping bend and the tarmac ends abruptly. Now we are up above a raging river on a slippery dirt road with no safety barrier and shear drops. Its strange countryside; one minute you are clinging to a mountain side beside the river and the next it all opens up and you are going through a wide green valley past small houses and farms. Gradually we get deeper and deeper into the mountains and the green valleys get narrower and narrower and the road deteriorates further.
Our overnight stop is in the middle of nowhere at “the Blue Lagoon”. Don't get any fancy ideas, its nowhere near as exotic as it sounds, in fact its a 0.5 star place - no running water, no electric after 9pm, toilets on the opposite side of the road but the bushes are a much better option. The ½ star is because they have sockets and an electric fire in the room, quite a luxury as its well chilly. The fancy name comes from the fact that there is one small blue pond here as opposed to all the brown
taking the northern route to Kalaikhum
..... travelling through wide green valleys
On the 2nd day the road deteriorates further - now we have rivers cascading across the road on their way to join the main, muddy torrent way down below. They are fast flowing and deep with strong currents. I wade across the worst one and almost get washed away the current is so strong. Some are relatively easy to cross, others are rather deep, wide and rocky. The group tends to gather at these, its rather disconcerting when you arrive and everyone is stood on the other side with their cameras at the ready. Still we make it safely across them all without toppling off. It all makes good entertainment for the locals who squat on the rocks to watch the antics of the funny foreigners.
Eventually we leave the rivers behind and start climbing higher and higher often through long patches of thick mud - this is a truck route and they can do some real damage churning up the surface with their big wheels. Soon we have climbed high enough to start getting snow at the side of the road. Initially just little patches then giant drifts taller than us. Then, just to make
it more fun, the snow isn't just at the side of the road its mixed in with the mud along with some ice - mud on its own is slippery enough but mix in a some ice and it enters a whole new league. Still we make it to the top (3252m) successfully and brace ourselves for the ride down - they always say that going down is harder!!
Going down its much steeper with lots of hairpin bends. We almost make it down but are caught out by one patch of icey mud when a truck is coming straight for us. He is not happy that a bike is on the ground in front of him and just sits there totting his horn, while we right ourselves, catch our breath and eventually pick up the bike and move it out of his way. As we continue descending the snow starts to disappear and it becomes greener and warmer. Finally we arrive in Kalaikhum where our muddy rivers flows into the green, fast flowing Amu-darya River (Oxus River). That evening, will he his treating us to MBs (moral boosters = After Eight mints) for a job well done, our
illustrious leader says that “that's the hardest days ride I've ever taken a group on” - remember these words, they may well be heard again in the coming days!!!
On the other side of the river is Afghanistan, you can see the villages and people quite clearly. For the next 3 days we will follow this river and the Afghan border through the Pamirs And Wakhan Valley. Its supposed to be stunning scenery and great riding on dirt roads. Fingers crossed for some dry weather.
There are more photos below