Close to the uzbekistan border, the capital, Dushanbe was the first step in Tadjikistan.
In this west part of the country, Tadjik people are living. They are muslim more exactly Sunni. We spent our first three days in a youth hostel known by cyclists, the “Green house”. So known, that we had to sleep in the basement!
In Tadjikistan, there is the famous Pamir Highway, some people come to ride here during there holidays just for one month. So we met a lot of them!
It was enjoyable to exchange with the others our experience, to realize that everybody have hurted his tibia with the pedal when he was taking a picture because the bike lost its balance. We realized that everybody who have Ortlieb bags, had to knock up adapters with old inner tube because they have lost the original ones. We profited to check our bicycles and Fanchon fixed her powerful red signal!
The journey is long to cross the country and apparently the road is bad! After Tadjikistan, in China, we would like to go in Sichuan, a region close to the Tibet where it should be cold soon. So we took a taxi 4×4 from Dushanbe to Khorog. Bikes solidly fixed on the roof rack we did 500 km in 24 h, we were four for three sits!
Khorog looks to be a large city, it is written with big characters on the map. However there is already almost nothing. Shops are very small, we can find only the minimum. We took the south road, in the direction of the Wakhan valley. This valley follow the Panj river, which is used as a border with Afghanistan.
We met close to the only border office Claude who spent 10 days in Afghanistan. He told us quickly his trip. He followed only the river on the Afghan side. Impossible to go further, behind the mountain there is war. Talibans are there and bombs explose often. The situation of Afghan people that he met was tragic. Summer was cold. Crops were bad, they had not a lot of food, even potatoes were lacking. A truck came to carry some supplies but the road was destroyed, it couldn’t go until the village. So people came with their donkey but there was not enough food for everybody.
Incredible to imagine that it was happening just in the other side of the river.
During several days we moved slowly, with only 40 kilometers per day. The road was indeed pretty bad, few parts was made in asphalt. Often it was a track or a road with a lot of big stones and sometimes sand. We had to push our bicycles. Therefore we enjoyed calmly landscapes, mountains were impressive and the crossed villages were nice.
In this valley the Pamiris were living. Don’t tell them they are Tadjik! They always insisted that here it’s the Pamir, they are muslim shia and more exactly ismailis, they don’t wear beard, women are not obligated to wear a scarf and they are equal to the men.
Women wear colorful clothes with diverse patterns and necklaces with beads made by themselves. Men cover their head with a little traditional flat hat that is embroidered with religious writings. The 1st of September was the beginning of the school year. Children were elegant with their beautiful black and white uniform. But some of them didn’t wear it. They were with their parents with work clothes in the fields, to harvest the weat or to look after cows.
The first evening in the valley, we met Abror, a farmer who speak a bit of english. He invited us to pitch our tent in his garden then finally to sleep in his house because the wind was strong and it was a bit cold. This family, as a lot in Tadjikistan was relatively poor. For the breakfast they eat hot milk with a spoon of oil for energy and some pieces of bread to dunk. Abror was very proud to show us his solar installation for electricity which supplied his two lights.
Several days later we met in the street Zakhil who invited us in his home. Three generations were living here. All of them were teachers but Zakhil was a house builder. We could see that because the house was wonderful. As in all the traditional houses of this valley the wood was very used. The main room was spacious, this living room was divided with stages. It was used as a kitchen or bedroom. The ceilings were very original, they made it with four wooden squares and an opening made with glass, the sun could light in. We ate together and communicated as we could. The atmosphere was quiet and the colors warm, nothing special happened but we were very well with this family.
We met other people in the Wakhan valley. All of them were very nice. Pamiris are very welcoming and generous.
The rest of our trip in Tadjikistan was quite different. The road was no more bad but awful. We didn’t count the numerous times when we had to push our bicycles in the sand. The groceries were nonexistent or empty. If we wanted to feed us, there were candies, cakes, Chinese noodles, washing up liquid or toothpaste! By the way, we stopped to cook by ourselves because the water couldn’t boil hot enough at this altitude. It was impossible to cook rice and pastas made a porridge. When we could, we ate in a small restaurant. People we met were not the locals but cyclists, often french. The area is almost deserted, however we met some shepherds very kind who were coming back from transhumance because the winter was coming.
However the altitude was still rising while the temperature was going down, never above 5°C at the waking.
In a small “hotel” of Alichur, we met Louis and Nathalie a french couple and Jeff a lonesome french traveler. We rode together to Murghab. There, we met Kevin and Juliette a french couple with a tandem and their friends Maelle and David with a tandem too then Corentin a lonesome french traveler.
After a nice evening and a good night in a real hotel with a real shower (the only one in 15 days) we took together the road toward the highest pass at 4655 m. With 10 french cyclists, the atmosphere was nice and the friendliness present. The weather was less kind. The wind was from ahead, the snow began to fall but the worst was a sand storm, we had to stop. We found a refuge in a ruin. At this time we were only 8. The couple in front of the group had been disappeared. We knew later they hitchhiked. Once the storm was over, we went on.
At the end of the day, we saw two houses on the road. We asked ifa we could stay in the ruin close to them. They offered us to come inside their home in a little room. We were eight, just enough space but we kept us warm! The day before Gabriel forgot his gloves in the main room, when we woke up they had disappeared. Shame because from this day wakings were below 0°C and the temperature didn’t reach 12°C in the day even with the sun. He tried the solution with a pair of socks!
Then, the day of the 4655 m pass arrived! We climbed it with efforts. Gabriel was often sick in Tadjikistan and especially this day. Fanchon didn’t tolerate the high altitude since we passed 3000 m, she often had headaches and nausea. So higher than 4000 m it was hard! She pushed her bike during the two last kilometers but Gabriel stayed on his one. There, all of us felt the effects of the altitude. It was cold but especially we were very breathless. We arrived on the top of the pass with the encouragements of the others, it was nice! We noticed that with 150 m more we rode at the altitude of the Mont Blanc!
The crossing to the Tadjikistan was very filled of meetings and discoveries. We admired during 3 weeks breathtaking landscapes. Once more, people were very welcoming, generous and this despite their poverty. We keep a lot of great memories in this country.
On the 10th of September, we left Tadjikistan for Kyrgyzstan where we stayed one night before to reach China. We spent there only one night. It looked really beautiful. We caught sight of some nomads’ yurts who were not back and free horses which galoped on the high plateaux.
The Chinese border was closed on the weekend. We had only one day to reach it. We tried to do hitchhiking, it was working!