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Thread: Riding The Roof of the World (Kazak, Kyrg, Tajik, Uzb, Turk)

  1. #1

    Riding The Roof of the World (Kazak, Kyrg, Tajik, Uzb, Turk)

    After being stunned by the people, landscape and riding in Mongolia we set about heading back into Mother Russia, well, Novosibirsk to be exact to pick up the first of our visa for the 'The Stans'.

    Our plan; to skirt the Chinese and Afghan border and ride the famous 'Silk Route' through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and finally Turkmenistan before gambling that we'd get through Iran.

    It was a hell of a ride so buckle up and hang on.

    28-09-2009

    The short 25-miles ride down to the border took longer than it should.

    It took us 30 minutes to find the road which eventually wound its way back into the center of town, through a industrial zone and then out the other side. The road sign that read A349 in Cyrillic were reassuring.

    The morning was dark and cold. South of town the land looked bleak, a lonely railway line runs in parallel to the road on the right. Exiting Russia was surprisingly easy if not time consuming. We’d filled out 3 duplicates of our departure declaration, two of which got handed back to us. The cursory bike and kit inspection was fueled more by curiosity than suspicion. In no mans land things were going slow up as we waited for 3-hours in the pouring rain. We’d handed over our passports for inspection at the small hut and been handed them back with a small piece of paper that we would get stamped multiple times and then we'd hand over when we finally exit.

    Eventually, we were waived through and into the new looking immigration building where we handed our passports over to the polite English speaking inspection guard. Past him we filled in entry declaration papers and then handed those to the guy outside who’d been inspecting our bikes. With that we were done.

    It had taken a bloody age but pretty easy.

    And so here we are in country 61, Kazakhstan.

    Rough asphalt lead us all the way down to the city of Semey, where we easily found the hotel Semey that we’d been told about by other travelers. This will be home for a few nights, whilst we get more Visa’s

    The Hotel cemey is clean with secure parking and cost us $30 for a private room for two with a bathroom. For a hotel inside a major city, we figure that’s pretty cheap.

    Now, nice as Semey is we’re not going to linger and for good reason. Back in the Soviet days Russia figured the landscape and it’s people were disposable and so chose it as a testing ground for the Nuclear development program. To that end they let off 498 nuclear detonations. The radiation fallout effects the whole area to date. Every book we read suggest 'strongly that we don’t eat locally grown produce and drinking the water is a bad idea. Bloody hell, a couple of nukes is awful, but c’mon…498 separate nuclear detonations. Good God! Yeah we’ll be leaving pretty soon.







    29-09-2009

    We’d planned to head off today, but by last night it was clear that we outstanding jobs that couldn’t wait.

    Up early we’ve spent the entire day working, sending out 57 separate emails, finishing writings that need to be sent and compiling and sending the report to BMW Motorrad on the Trail guard bike suit we’d been sponsored with.

    It took an age to update our own website and then post our Mongolian experiences on a number of biker forums. It all just takes us much time.

    30-09-2009

    We left Semey around 11:00am after downing breakfast and coffee picked up the southerly route easily. Out of town the the good tar steadily deteriorated until the holes became so frequent and deep that we’re forced to stand on the pegs, frequently switching from one side of the road to the other to ovoid crashing into the crazily deep potholes. We’ve not seen potholes like these since Mozambique.



    We stopped for gas in a small town and then kept a steady pace heading south.



    We’d hoped to stop early in daylight, find a nice little camp spot, get out the Kermit chairs and enjoy a quite night. As dusk set in we’d seen no camping possibilities. I’d already taken half a dozen small tracks off into the surrounding landscape in the hope of finding somewhere out of sight. Each track either lead to a small holding or simply didn’t give us shelter from the eyes on the road.

    Both Lisa and I were now taking our frustrations out on one another. Tired bitter words were hurled and stung.

    Finally we’d pulled off the road and rode around 2-miles down a track, several gullies and even a riverbed and pulled up in the dark behind a small knoll. We’d unloaded the bikes and set up the tent when out of the hills a silhouetted walking figure walked down towards us. In my head I was thinking “shit, here we go, he’s going to ask us to pay something or tell us to leave”.

    I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Our new friend came down and after confirming that camping on his land was absolutely no problem, he shook my hand firmly and kissed Lisa on both cheeks. Our companion was all of 5ft 5 with dark swarthy skin and forearms like Popeye. “chi, chi” he asked keenly. This was an invitation to his home for tea. We had no idea where he’d walked from but accepting seemed like the right thing to do. Leaving our belongings behind us the three of us walked into the black night, round a small hill and quickly found ourselves amongst ancient but huge farming equipment. 3 large dogs launched themselves at us, from the shadows created by the half moon. Lisa and I are taken by surprise and jumped back. Each of the dogs aggressively yanked backwards as the chains around their necks reach their full length. Fanged teeth still snap the air as we pass, our new friend doesn’t try to hide his amusement at our startled reaction.

    Inside the tiny mud brick hut we are met by his young looking wife and his 3-year old son. Sat at a wooden hand cut table the straw rood almost touches my head. The log roof beams bow in the centre under the weight of the rotten and stinking straw roof. The dark room is lit by a single storm light, holding a small wax candle. The warmth is surprising. In the corner the mud brick stove glows red inside as timber crackles and burns. His wife looks no more than about 15-19. His young son is fascinated by Lisa.



    The invitation of Chi is repeated. A tall blue plastic oil sized drum sits against the wall. At the drum our new friend grabs the wooden paddle and pumps and stirs the liquid inside vigorously. I already knew what was to come. A small plastic tap is turned and the white liquid is poured into small cute white bowls, which are then laid on the table. He gesture us to drink. We both already know what this is, the smell is unmistakable…fermented camels milk. Lisa’s already tucking in as I lift the bowl to my mouth and sip gently. “Oh my God, this is fucking awful, OK, don’t gag, don’t gag, oh the smell. I can’t finish this”. This is what went through my head. The fizzy sour taste is absolutely foul. Lisa’s still sipping. “Can you drink it” I asked Lisa. To my horror and even disgust she replies…”yeah, I actually quite like it”!



    I make a few noises suggesting that I’m loving it and make sure our host can hear me. I force a smile and go back for a second sip. I am genuinely convinced that I’ve as little chance of finishing the foul liquid as ‘Torvile and Dean’ making a comeback. My gag reflex is working over time. All the while our hosts are watching me smiling through the struggle and are looking for signs of my approval. I find it rather ironic that I make it through Mongolia without tasting the milk only to be drinking it in Kazakhstan.

    By some miracle I downed the lot and politely declined the offer of a fill up.



    From the corner fire the young women brings a small rusting and chipped enamel tea pot and pours hot dark liquid into 4 small cups. Again in my head…”thank god”, this actually is tea. On her second trip back to the table she places a dark and heavy pan filled to the brim with rice that has been cooked in mutton fat. The gestures to eat are emphatic. Both the tea and the rice taste bloody fantastic and the four of us talk with words and hand movement well into the night as the small room gets warmer and warmer. I'm truly not sure who was more fascinated with who. By the nights end, our tired eyes were getting the better of us and saying our good nights felt a little sad, in this intimate and friendly atmosphere. Outside the nights air felt bitter cold, in comparison to the warmth we'd left. Our new friend walked us all the way back to our tent. Lisa had already made it clear that we had a gift for his wife and using the torch she’d routed around in one of the panniers and found one of her south American hand made necklaces. Our new friend received it with surprise and obvious excitement. We’re pretty sure his wife will enjoy wearing it. I thought it was a great gesture on Lisa’s behalf.

    We’re now inside the tent and marveling at what had been a completely suprising but wonderful evening, when Lisa mentions her concern regarding being trampled to death by the cows. The following conversation has me seriously wondering about her mental health. Here goes…

    “Lisa, it’s fine, they’re just cows”. “SIMON!…more people die in England from cows than anything else”!!!!! I look at Lisa and tilt my head as say “what”. I can already feel a smile make its way across my face and I’m not going to try and hide it. “WHAT”! Lisa demands. Bloody hell, where do I begin?

    I continue, because I have too. “So you’re telling me that you think that cows kill more people in the UK than anything else”? Now at this point Lisa probably knows she’s misspoken, but she’s sure as hell not going to admit it. I continue. “Hang on, I can believe that there are more deaths from cows than say, lightening strikes, but I’m pretty sure that If cows were the number 1 cause of death in the UK, not only would I have heard about it, but we’d all be bloody vegetarians.


    “No it’s true”, Lisa barks, digging her heels in and making the hole she’s now in just ever so much slightly deeper. I’m now giggling. I’ve already got a Monty Python news sketch running through my head, as John Cleese looks into the camera in a news flash kinda way and states…”today's breaking news….36 people were wildly savaged and killed today in the sleepy town of Windsor bringing this months death toll to 525. The highest toll in 3-months. The government has gone into emergency session hoping to find a way of controlling the gorilla style attacks of the freshens, their black and white camouflage making them bloody hard to spot. You get the idea and you can see how my mind works.

    Eventually even Lisa’s smiling, especially when I’ve told her what’s in my head. Bloody hell she can be so blond sometimes. If we don’t make too the morning and someone finds our trampled bodies and this journal, it’ll just prove Lisa right, how ironic would that be?

    OK, enough typing, sat up in my bag my back is now killing me.

    Night, night.

    01-10-2009

    With our kit already away the silhouetted figure on horse back was riding closer, our friend from last night came to bid us farewell and make sure we didn’t go hungry, as he reached down from his horse and handed us a bottle of fermented camel milk, and a plastic bag of the sour tasting curd balls? With a few photos taken of our generous host we made ourselves ready to leave.

    The click, click…click sound sent my heart plummeting. “Fuck no”, I uttered to myself. Lisa had heard the same soul destroying noise. “How can your battery be flat?” she asked “It’s brand new”. All I could do was shrug my shoulders. Without the clever little adaptions we’d made to the power harness which allowed us to jump start easily, we had to strip both bikes to get to the batteries. After 45 minutes of prating around the big GS barked to life, a thick belch of gas shooting out from the exhaust into the cold morning air. We think we have a problem with the rinky-dink electrical switch that turns on the Xenon lights. I’ll have to check it later.





    The day has been longer than we’d thought -a mixture of good and down right horrible tar made the going slow. By late evening we’d hit the outskirts of the regional capital of Taldyqorghan, which we affectionately renamed ‘Tadpole’….well its a little easier isn’t it? Well at least we’re 300 miles closer to Almaty than we were this morning.

    02-10-2009

    We joined the Almaty traffic right on rush hour and played dodgems with the insane traffic for the next hour riding around in search of our chosen stopping point, the illustriously named 3rd Dorm’. Almaty seemed at odds with the Kazakhstan we’d seen so far. Gone were the Ladas’ and heaps, every other car was now a Mercedes or Lexus. The occasional Porsche zoomed by seemingly above the normal rules of the road.

    At a set of lights we’d crossed twice already we pulled over and checked the LP maps again. “Can I help you” asked John in his good but heavily accented English. He knew the 3rd Dorm and after some chat arranged to guide us. “how fast can you peddle that thing” I asked, pointing at his bycicle. “The returned grin seemed confident enough. “I wait for you, yes, but keep up” John joked. He was no more than 20.

    A few blocks farther North and we’d parked in the car park of a local supermarket and were inside the 3rd Dorm. A somber, if not creepy looking building with dimly lit halls and 20 years of grizzly green gloss leaded paint peeling from the walls. The metal gates that ran floor to ceiling and sealed one floor from the next were also a bit disconcerting. 1000 Kazah Som per person for a shared dorm on the 4th floor or a private room for two people for 2,500. We just have too much gear to bring off the bikes to risk leaving amongst a bunch of back packers we don’t know.

    With our bags now in the room and legs tired from climbing 4 floors, 5 times we sat on the edge of the sagging bed and looked about. We’d initially thought It not so bad. Who were we kidding! Now alone we could see this place for what it really was…’a shit hole”. John had kept saying “are you sure? Its not a nice place”….we had assured him we had had worse….but now looking around…had we..Im sure we had but this place in this moment was getting to us. The bed and sad blanket stank, there was old food and matted hair on the floor and a thick layer of bird shit and cigeratte butts on the window sill, inside and out. The shared toilet at the end of the hall was like a set from the Texas Chainsaw massacre. Old dark brown tiles on the wall and nicotine yellow paint on the roof and door. Broken mirror pieces were scattered on the floor, ruby red rust stains dripped down both sides of the only sink in the room, and as for the ‘bog’ in the corner. “Oh Christ’ I said out loud. Someone had recently rushed to the loo, ‘dropped trous’s’ and let go before actually getting their arse on the porcelain. It was like a shit gun had been fired across the back wall. The only thing worse than the sight was contemplating how ill this poor bastard must have felt before he let rip. Lisa’s toilet was worse she stated pretty firmly with a horrified look on her face.

    By late afternoon neither of us was feeling good and a dark mood had taken us both. Lisa just lay on the bed and closed her eyes hoping it would all go away. I needed to leave ths depressing place and so jumping on the bike I sped off to get my bearings and find the Kyrgyzstan Embassy.

    We ended up eating at a small but clean cafeteria used by the students of the local university.

    The 3rd dorm has a weird atmosphere and is giving us both the spooks.

    03-10-2009

    Let’s face it the maps in the Lonely Planet are a frigin' joke, they’re fucking awful. No scale whatsoever and a few of the locations are simply dead wrong. It took us two hours of walking to find Coffedilla, a trendy upmarket coffee-hole with wi-fi where Alamtys new money comes to rub shoulders and compare their latest purchases. We were both more than a little nervous about how many emails had built up.

    We’d been in contact with Kazak Dan, an English lad with a passion for bikes who posted a few times on Horizons Unlimited and who we’d arranged to meet at 7:00pm for coffee.

    After an entire day of web work, checking photos, writing diary and prepping for the next leg. Meeting up with Dan was breath of fresh air. Dan’s cheerful outlook and easy going nature was just what the doctor had ordered. Dan had picked up a teaching contract in Almaty whilst his fiancé worked a high powered job dealing with property. Conversation soon turned to bike trips and adventures and before we knew it we were chatting like old friends.

    As the evening darkened and the Almaty lights twinkled to life we saw out the evening at one of Dan’s favorite eateries, the 3 of us chugging ice cold beers in tall elegant glasses and slurping delicious bowls of spaghetti Cabanara. We wanted to carry on talking as much because of how much we were enjoying Dan’s company as putting off going back to the 3rd Dorm.

    We climbed into bed with our thermals still on as much for protection from the cold air as from whatever else was occupying the bed with us.
    4 to 5-10-2009
    Back at Coffeedilia, for work, internet, Visa prep and emails.

    06-10-2009

    I’d headed down int town and easily found the BMW dealer in Almatay and by mid-day I was shaking hands with Dennis (after sales manager) and Sergie (General Manager) and been escorted around the back to the workshop. I was in for a full day and BMW Almaty moved heaven and earth to help out and support us.

    The biggest job ahead was fixing Lisa’s F650’s cockpit frame which had badly cracked and needed welding. We’d had the same problem with her old cockpit which had simply cracked and fallen off whilst riding out of the Amazon I disassembled the screen and electrics and easily found the complete break in the metal frame that holds the entire cockpit and instrument cluster together.

    To my delight and complete surprise, Dennis ordered one of his tech’s to drop what he was doing, grab the welding gear and then he repaired and strengthened the frame. It was all done in two hours. I then spent the rest of the day servicing and sorting Lisa’s bike. Light bulbs, oil change and trying to fix Lisa’s headlight in place. It had fallen out weeks ago.

    By 5pm I’d got to most of the jobs but hadn’t touched the 1100 at all.

    Before leaving we were introduced to Patryk the regional boss from Germany BMW who looks after Central Asia and East Africa. We felt it best to turn down the kind invite to dinner as we wanted to spend time with good friends with whom we were staying. No names…;-)

    07-10-2009

    I left Lisa at our friends and headed back down to BMW where I changed the rear tyre and brake pads on the 1100GS. Headed back up to Lisa ready to meet John at 1:30pm at Moronno Ross café, he didn’t show. Back at our friends we just crashed for the night.
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  2. #2

    Kyrgyzstan

    Kyrgyzstan

    08-10-2009

    We’d heard a plethora of horror stories about leaving Kazakhstan and entering Kyrgyzstan. Heavy rain provided us a wet and cold start to our day, although getting out of Almatay had been easier than we’d thought. Mind you we’d hit the street by 6:00am.

    Well, we’re literally breezed out of Kazakhstan and only barely got off the bikes to get into Kyrgyzstan. We’d been tense and concerned about crap at he border unnecessarily.

    We were in Bishkek by 2pm and had even dumped our bags in a hotel Baytor. The chances of camping were slim to none. Hotel Baytor can be found at GPS: N42 51.049 E74 36.900

    09-10-2009

    Lisa writes:

    Still in Bishkek in the Hotel Baytor.We found the Tajikistan Embassy at GPS: N42 50.861 E74 37.752. What a hassle. No one knew where the embassy was. It's actually in a residential area down half a dozen back streets.

    It's Friday and the young girl at the embassy was very polite and the paper work all very straight forward. We were told we could collect it on Monday. $50 USD + 50 som. (44 =$1)

    With that little job sorted we headed (as that was all so quick)into the centre of town. The pouring rain made for a somber entrance into the city.

    We've needed for some weeks now to arrange to get some passport photos taken, especially for me, as I need to be covered for the photos that I'll hand to the Iranian Embassy. We found a great photo shop where we could get some more passport photos done.

    Photos in hand we then wandered around the big department store TSum. Loads and loads of mobile phones. And pirate copies of DVDs! Decided to buy a couple (few dollars each).

    Went to the café Fatboys (at GPS: N42 52.544 E74 36.567) and bumped into the two New Zealanders that we met in Almaty outside the Kyrg embassy. We stayed and chatted with them for a while before then going back to the room to work on diary and photos etc. nice room. Food is good and cheap.
    Taxis are cheap. Weather is still atrocious.

    10-10-2009

    Baytor. Saturday – so we had a lie in. breakfast delivered to the room. Went to the beta-store and picked up a cooked chicken and some nibbles to eat in the room. Today was a day for watching DVDs!

    11-10-2009

    Lisa Writes:

    Baytor.

    We had planned on exploring the Osh bazaar but changed our minds at the last minute and headed back into town and back to Fatboys – not because its that good but we'd hoped to be able to get some wi-fi connection there. We've been having lots of problems with the connection at the hotel. As we were just ordering our coffee how should walk in but the Canadians that we had stayed with in Almaty! We had thought they would have already have been and gone – but after hearing their tales of woe – we all had a cooked breakfast (their treat!) and together headed on out to the Osh bazaar.

    They had a driver and guide so we all went in their car. Great market place! Spent the afternoon at their guest house and then all went out to the Metro for dinner. It was great to see them again! .
    12-10-2009

    Lisa Writes:

    Baytor.

    We had to be at the embassy for 10am. The ten minute walk gave us chance to stretch our legs. However after knocking on the door repeatedly and ringing the bell with out success we finally gt seen by a somewhat annoyed official and are told that no – not 10am but 2pm! Good job that we had decided to stay on another day as we had contemplated checking out and turning up fully loaded to them get on the road straight away. Typical!

    So – had a walk back through the local shops and found a great little café before heading back to the hotel.

    Went back to the embassy on the bike and collected them at 2:30pm. The girl we'd seen on Friday even apologized for not being there this morning!

    13-10-2009

    Wow!

    We’d switched from rough track to potholed tar and then to silky smooth asphalt. All in all it had been a long day and we’d not made the distance we’d hoped.


















    We’d managed to cover 348 bumpy pot-holed miles and by nightfall things were getting dangerous as we passed into the small town of Kockkor-Ata. Drivers in beaten up Ladas were swerving over the road, mostly drunk we guessed. Livestock was meandering along the edge of the road and could have walked across our paths at any time. This was silly.

    With a decision made we u-turned and headed back into the small town we’d left just a mile back. With the help of some overly enthusiastic kids I’d found a hotel, well that’s a polite way of calling it. Tired as I was, the small room and the decay was too much. I’d rather be in my tent. Lisa and her bike had already gathered a small crowd. 4 policemen were taking it it turns to hug her, sit on her bike and swap their over sized police hats for her helmet. She seemed to be enjoying the madness of the situation.








    Speaking to a local builder, I’d hopped in his car and we’d found the “Richman Hotel’. A square unimpressive and somewhat depressing building built in soviet style. “Yeah, it’ll do”, I thought. Asking the price I braced myself for what I’d guessed was going to be $30-40. It was only worth $10-20. When the disinterested girl behind the counter told me $90 I actually burst out laughing. That didn’t endear me further. I explained in English that this must be a joke. She wasn’t laughing. “Impossible, impossible” I said out loud, signaling to my new friend that we should go. Back in his car we both had a laugh at the optimistic price they’d asked.

    With broken English of around ten words and hand gestures our new friend came to the rescue. He was a local foremen on a construction sight, building a lavish new home for a wealthy Russian business man. The work was still underway but one of the rooms had a floor and windows and we were invited to use it as a base for the night. It seemed an utterly bizarre scenario and fitted perfectly with what we’ve now come to consider ‘our norm’. I ran the idea past Lisa before accepting.

    Two large metal gates swung open and I parked both our bikes between a huge pile of sand and the concrete mixer to the right. I barely managed the feat, it was tight. 9 men all covered in building dust, paint and concrete came out to inspect us; the odd looking guests.They were all Muslim and so not a beer in sight. ? Sat around a red rug laid out on a bare concrete platform we tucked into a communal bowl of rice and small pieces of…nope, I’ve not got a clue what kind of meat it was. The sweet tea washed it all down perfectly.

    Conversation for a good hour centred around the fact that Lisa is older than me by 8-years, which in their world just didn’t seem possible. Not one of them could understand why a man would marry an older woman.

    All these hard men couldn’t have been sweeter or more gracious if they’d tried, even going as far as running a long electrical extension cable and new light bulb into the room when they’d seen there was no light.









    The room had simple white wash on the walls and the wooden floor just sanded that night, so everything we owned was covered in ultra fine sawdust in seconds. It didn’t matter. Once again we were at the receiving end of the most wonderful and spontaneous type of hospitality. Not given for any kind of gain, other than they simply could! A bizarre scenario based on the most humbling of situations. We couldn’t have imagined our day ending like this, when we set out this morning, but then again that’s why we’re still traveling, every day is an adventure.

    Sleep came all too easily.
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  3. #3

    Kyrgyzstan

    14-10-2009

    We sat crossed legged around a huge and tattered Persian rug, sipping on hot sweet coffee and eating the nan style bread that had been laid out for us. I was loving this madness, here we are with a bunch of builders, inside a locked building site, not understanding a word and munching down stale bread and pieces of fruit, all the while the strong smell of concrete hanging in the air.

    Before we headed off we paid our thanks and feeling indebted we wanting to show our gratitude we handed over the two pirate DVD’s we’d bought earlier. Transformers II and Crank 2 seemed to go down well. We took half a dozen photos of our new friends around the bikes. We both felt a little sad as we pulled away. Yet again we’d expected nothing and received everything. We would have loved to have got to know them better.

    By mid-day we’d ridden a strange route south east around the low lying Fergana mountains and then south west and had entered the city of Osh. Market stalls selling all manner of items from flash lights to goat heads. This felt so familiar and so very Moroccan. A few domed mosques dotted the city’s skyline and gone were the flashy cars of Almaty. Now we were back to lada’s and a few newer Daewoos. People were stopping to stare as we passed; our cheerful waves of greeting were received without a response. The blank looks were making me feel uneasy, I’ve no idea why. Pulling up on the side of the road we’d spotted a small café and 20 minutes later were tucking into a bowl of rice flavored with mutton fat. The fruit at the end of the meal was the highlight. We’d watched dozens of locals simply stop and stare and then crack open a huge smile when they’d passed the bikes, all unaware that we were watching their reactions.







    We needed to get a move on if we were to cross the 3615m high Taldyk pass before reaching Sary Tash before nightfall. Out of Osh the rough tar picked up where we’d left it. That was to change just an hour on and at the start of the major road works. With Chinese money and support the length of the lower M41 is being torn up and replaced. It’ll be great in a year but right now it’s nightmare. As we ride into the mountains proper the gigantic earth moving trucks send up huge plumes of impenetrable dust clouds from the immense wheels. Overtaking is a pure gamble but staying behind them is choking. Tall craggy peaks hemm us in from both sides. We ride towards sheer orange cliff faces; seemingly the route leads nowhere, only to turn 90 degrees at the last moment leading us into another gorge that funnels us deeper and deeper into this remarkable landscape. Occasionally we see small wooden hand built bridges that led across the fast running water of Kizil-Suu to our left. Each bridge leading in turn to a tiny footpath no more than 2 feet wide that then vanishes into the rocks.



    Out of the claustrophobic gorge we rode the wider valley floor into the late afternoon. Stood up on the pegs doing our best to ride the mixture of tumbling large rocks and loose soil we rounded a large bend and our progress was brought to a sudden halt as workers flagged us down. We parked behind the two now familiar Russian jeeps in front. Off the bikes the scene down in the lower valley in which we were about to cross was biblical. We simply hadn’t imagined the scale of the earth moving works being carried out. Dozens of huge trucks and JCB’s cut, tore and then moved mountainsides. Where the trucks couldn’t drive the JCB’s simply pushed the earth 200 feet over and down the mountain where a truck on the temporary road would scoop it up. The combination of black belching fumes and dust made the view post apocalyptic.





    The half-hearted flag bearer gave us the sign to move on, our mouths still wide open as we carefully negotiated our route around these massive machines.

    Past the dust clouds and debris we were suddenly transported back to northern Argentina, the rugged landscape turning orange, yellow and blood tangerine. The tall peaks of the ‘not so’ distant Pamirs brought out in sharp relief by the royal blue sky. We’d stopped to grab a few photos by the side of the road but rushed them knowing full well that we needed to get to Sarry Tash and our time was running out. The idea of riding down to ST from 14,400 feet at night was concerning and simply terrifying Lisa.



    Concerning or not as we started the ascent we knew we’d lost, although neither of us admitted it to each other. Snow was now packed down either side of the road and the tight muddy switch backs required all our concentration. Each time we thought we’d reached the summit we’d realize it was a false summit and have to push on. Miles down below we could see the small lights of distant villages sparkle to life as their small generators were kicked into nightly action. The temperature had plummeted and was now -9. It wasn’t even dark yet. Towards the top I looked left to see the last glimpse of what was an incredible view of the serpentine track we’d just ridden. The mountains around us were now turning a soft pink in the last moments before the sun set.



    Our first glimpse of Sary Tash in the daylight.

    Beautiful as this was, we knew this was bad. We were at the top of the pass and night was descending fast. We rode as quickly as we could, fully aware that one mistake or lapse in concentration would have severe consequences that we would with no doubt be considering for a full 3-4,000 feet as we plummeted through thin air before being smashed into the rocks below. Mmm, nice!

    Lisa was battling; her eyes have never been good at night and at dusk her eyesight almost fails her completely. The biting cold air made it harder to relax and stay loose on the bikes. The trucks still on the road hadn’t slowed their pace and their headlights blinded us as each approached. Lisa pulled up beside me and I could see the real terror in her eyes. As many of you know Lisa doesn’t scare easily but she was beginning to freak and I wasn’t far behind her.

    Stopping again, we pulled up short of a huge JCB and next to a vast pile of earth. There was no way past! Had we taken a wrong turn? Had we missed a detour sign? Had they closed the road and we’d not known? Trucks were now lining up behind us and wailing their huge air horns and flashing their lights. It was pitch black and I could see no solution and/or route. After another long blast of a horn, I shouted ‘yeah, yeah, so your bloody horn works well done, what d’ya want a medal”. This was getting me frustrated as much because of the predicament as because I could see Lisa’s anxiety increasing.

    The JCB swung into action again, but this time scooping tons of earth and depositing it elsewhere. As I ran back to my bike it reversed several times flattening the pile of rock and road material still left. We’d not gone wrong, not missed detour, this is simply how it’s done here. They work on the road when it’s in use, simple as that. Day or night! We scrambled over the rough track and carried on into the dark.

    7-miles down in the distance we could see the faint lights of tiny Sarry Tash and the end of today's ride. By the time we reached the first of it’s buildings we were freezing - literally.

    With a few directions asked we lucked out and by some miracle found a small home stay, at the end of an unlit mud and rock track and past two water crossings that I’d gone barreling into and not seen until it was too late. The GPS for the home stay is N39 43.348 E73 15.157. You won’t find it without it.

    Without electricity we greeted our host and painfully peeled our stiff bodies from the frozen bikes. We were exhausted and now frozen and wet. The small white washed walls of the room looked like a heavenly sanctuary lit only by candlight. Against one wall our host pulled down half a dozen old rugs on which we’d sleep. We’d already pulled our sleeping bags from the bikes.

    The two voices coming from the adjacent room sounded English but turned out to be Israeli guys. We washed down boiled rice with mutton fat sauce and the last of the cheap vodka we’d bought two days prior.

    OK, that’s enough. Lisa’s fast asleep beside me, wow she’s done brilliantly. My eyes are closing and sat against the wall my back is now in knots. I’m sure there’s a gazillion spelling mistakes in this, especially as I can’t see the keyboard. The candle’s not that big.

    Night, night.





    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  4. #4

    Tajikistan

    15-10-2009

    I’d left Lisa battling to escape from the 20 blankets that she’d covered herself with last night. A bright shard of yellow light that had split the shabby curtains had woken me at 6:00am. I knew what I wanted; 30 minutes with my own company and my camera. Everyone we’d met who traveled this way had given us the same description. ‘A wall of mountain seemingly without end. I wanted to see this ‘wall’.



    The cold air stung my face the moment I stood outside and the bouncing black mutt that had greeted us last night was around my feet. Across the roof tops of the low white washed buildings, I cold see the jagged peaks of the heavily glaciated Pamir Alay Range.



    “This is it” I said to myself “this is the Alay Valley. I’d been reading about this wide expanse of valley and of it’s beauty for years. We’d always known that this was one of our few choices for entering Tajikistan from the North. Now that I was actually here the location was suddenly quite over whelming. Daft as it sounds, the solitude and beauty of this place really hit me full force.

    I walked for a 20 minutes towards this wall of vertical rock, all the while looking for any signs of a track or a road through and over them. My hands were numb with cold as I fiddled with the camera. My lungs took in a full measure of the cold air. I could feel the smile I wore. The Alay range is a 500km long seam of mountains that separate Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and apart from a few nutty bikers is normally the exclusive turf of trekkers and mountaineers. Getting to here is a feat, let alone mountaineering in this giants playground.

    I took as many photos as I could, changing the settings from time to time and hoping that just one of them would do this incredible sight justice, but in truth I knew none would.

    I tried to lye on the ground and shoot the golden grass as a forefront to the mountains, the black dog thought it was a game and started biting my arms and trying to play. I spent as much time trying to push the playful mutt off me as I did take photos. Great fun and 10 minutes I’ll treasure for a while to come.

    Back at the home-stay Lisa was already deep in conversation with the two guys from Israel. The warm tea and fried eggs a great way to start what we knew was going to be a long day.

    With the bikes loaded up we headed back up the track we’d ridden last night and filled up both bikes with as much fuel as we could. The bikes felt heavy as we trundled the 3 km down to the easily seen left hand turn, that would lead us to the Kyrgyzstan immigration compound. We were literally riding towards the Pamirs, the 90 degree angle making our route seem utterly impossible. The route vanishing into rock and thin air.



    Inside the compound we easily found the porta cabins and dealt with the exit stamps in the passports and the usual custom nonsense.

    The thick covering of ground snow had me concerned. We had the Taldyk pass ahead to cross at 3,651metres (14,000 feet plus) and we still had to clear Tajikistan immigration that was somewhere ahead and at altitude. We read countless stories of the severe weather in the region even in summer, and here we are with winter closing in around us, literally. Traffic is scarce along this route and year round the track can be closed down due to snow or heavy rain storms, which can appear without warning. You can tell that we were giving this range the full respect it’s due. Two tired Brits without cell or Sat’ phones could easily get in trouble up here. I’d read the the lonely Planet chapter on this region last night after typing the diary. Now as we rode higher one paragraph kept coming back to me. “The Pamir Alay Range is one of the most remote and rugged parts of central Asia – this is one place where you can’t just head off with a 1970’s soviet map and a handful of snickers bars.















    The Tajikistan compound came into sight as did half a dozen young bored soldiers. Not my personal favorite, they’re unpredictable. Each of them with the mandatory Kalashnikov slung over the backs. I couldn’t feel my hands as I dismounted the bikes and searched for my papers. Two large oval fuel containers had been re-welded and were now in active duty as the passport offices. A rusting metal containers, this time the usual oblong shape acted as the customs office. We were beckoned inside the cramped quarters. A small tv hissed and buzzed in the corner. The roof was 8 foot tall and they’d somehow squeezed a set of bunk beds and a desk in here. These guys work and live in this tiny space for 8-months of the year and are then cycled out to active duty somewhere else. The small iron furnace was belting out heat from behind the door. This was weird. I was sat on the lower bunk bed with one of the customs guys who was still wearing just his thermals…”OK… god! They’re going to cavity search us I thought”. We trapped in here and we can’t get out. I couldn’t help but stare at the longest set of yellow toe nails I’d ever seen. They belonged to the soldier who was siting on the bed and to my right and sticking out of the holes in his woolen socks. “Don’t stare, don’t stare” I told myself. It was too late.

    All in all it took us 2-hours to clear the border. As usual a waive of excitement over took us both at the prospect of a new country. Round a long low set of mountains in late afternoon, the view ahead had left us dumb struck. The scene, a ‘white-out’ except for the vast icey blue lake lay before us: Lake Kaorkol.. Our route was ahead but how could it be? As far as we could see the land was covered in snow. Check out the photo and you’ll see what I mean.



    We skirted lake Karokal (the highest lake in Central Asia ) as the afternoon came to an end. Unbelievably the tar road had stayed clear of snow. As we approached the town of Karokal I knew I needed to stop, even with all the heated gear we have on full bast we were freezing and our concentration was now suspect.



    The sight of a lone cyclist coming towards us was reason enough to stop. Ben from the UK looked as sorry for himself and cold as we felt and after a brief chat about the conditions ahead we called it a day. With the conditions ahead described by Ben, we knew we weren’t going to cross the pass before night fall.





    A quick scan of the small dusty town revealed a hand painted sign, which simply read ‘home stay’, and 20 minutes later we were parked up in the yard having slipped our way across deep snow and hard packed ice.

    The rest of the evening was spent in the main room, with easy conversation we sat crossed legged around a low table and swapped information about each others upcoming journey.

    The home stay cost us $12 and you can find it at GPS: N39 00.650 E73 33.57
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  5. #5
    Fantastic photos and it looks much colder than when I was there!
    KEA

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
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    Sensational... An inspiring read - and much useful info...

    I head off through the area next April and really appreciate the insight and the co-ordinates you have posted...

    Thank you for taking the trouble to write it all up...

  7. #7

    Tajikistan...continued

    16-10-2009

    By 7:30am we pushed back the half a ton of bedding and managed to escape the bed. Lisa had been awake most of the night with a splitting headache. Worryingly she was now showing the symptoms of early altitude sickness. Waves of nausea were coming thick and fast. I’m genuinely worried about her. The main reason for this is because there was little or no time to acclimatize. One day we were in the lowlands the next over 13000 feet.

    The temperature inside our room according to Ben’s thermometer it was -2 in the room. We got dressed quickly. With a few good mornings exchanged with our host we headed outside only to be face slapped by the frozen air. Within seconds bare skin was icy cold, it was -10. The visit to the public loo was an unpleasant experience, not good at the best of times but when you’re that cold getting sensitive body parts out, whilst you fight the gag reflex which is working over time due to the acrid stench of ammonia and piss.

    A thick layer of frost covered both bikes making them glisten in the pristine morning air. We headed back inside and took our places at the low wooden table, our legs crossed underneath us. Steaming bowls of ‘shir chai’, were served, (salty soupy brew of tea with goats milk, salt and butter). After the first sip I knew I couldn’t finish it. Lisa did her best but didn’t fair much better, whilst Ben forced it down with thick bread. He simply needs the body fuel.

    With a few cups of normal tea downed we all headed outside and down to edge of lake Kara-kul, the highest lake in Central Asia. A glistening lake of icey blues, the waters lapped the shores. Farther out the perfect reflection of the snow covered peaks are easily seen. Even with layers of gore tex, and thermals, gloves and hats, we knew we had to be quick if we wanted to get some photos. Apart from our hands freezing up, at these temperatures the cameras weren’t going to last log either. We managed to shoot for about 20 minutes before being forced back inside. Shit it’s going to be a cold ride today and ahead of us the Ak-Baital pass (which means white horse) at 4,655 metres (15,300 feet).



    Ben's was already getting packed up when we tried to start the bikes. The 1100 protested a little but then sparked to life. Lisa’s 650 was going to be a different story and after 40-minutes of key turning, push starting and finally jump started with jumper cables we got her machine started. It was now gone 12:00pm. We paid $25 for the night which included dinner and breakfast, which sounds expensive but saved us from a low of -22 last night.

    To our left tall snowy mountains rose steeper and steeper, the snow coming right up to the broken tar for which we’re so grateful for. 50 feet to our left a seemingly endless fence of wooden post and barbed wire marked the Chinese border, well, actually it doesn’t; the border a few miles away and it’s a sneaky land grab by the Chinese. It’s the closest we’ll get to China on this trip. So close we could literally touch it. To our right the aquamarine blue water of Lake Karokal glisten, we’ve been on the road for 15-minutes and already our eyes are straining to take in the the surreal beauty of this incredible landscape.


    the long razor wire fence at the Chinese border

    We both feel uneasy with the sheer amount of layering we’ve had to use. Two sets of thermal leggings, a t-shirt, a heated Jacket (on full) and then our riding suits. We’ve brought out our winter BMW riding gloves and even the BMW balaclavas to cover our faces. The wind chill is indescribable.

    Higher into the mountains the switchback require all our concentration, the tar finished 30-minutes ago and now we’re up on the pegs and riding rough over ice encrusted muddy shallow streams and loose rock. The snow is now drifting onto the track and we’re doing our best to avoid it. The whole landscape seems overwhelming. This is truly a giant’s playground and we really are just specks passing through. Where the snow has slid from the steeper mountain faces or melted the earth it’s a delicious mix of caramels and coffees, the shadows deep mauve not black. Even with sun glasses and dark visor the glare from the snow is painful.



    Three kilometers from the summit of the pass our progress is halted, the track covered in compressed icy snow. To the left thicker virgin snow. Lisa’s feeling worse and a mistake here, a moment’s loss of concentration could see her over the edge. I haven’t told her but her lips are now a scary blue and all I want to do is get her over this pass and down in elevation. I waive down a passing Russian 4X4 and explain my wife is unwell and ask if they can give her a lift to the top. With Lisa inside and heading up the track I ride one bike at a time a 500 metres and then return for the other. Short of the summit, the track is clearer and Lisa’s stood waiting. My lungs are fit to burst, god know how far I walked back and forth to ride one bike and then the next. The taste of blood in the back of my throat was pretty unpleasant and more than a little concerning

    We stop for the briefest of moments at the top the pass as much to take the view as video the gps screen which read 15,309 feet. We desperately wanted to take a dozen photos but we were just to cold.

    The Chinese border fence kept us company to the left and all around the mountains demanded our attention. The road a mixture of broken tar and gravel washboard that jarred us to the core. We were both thinking the same thing – what if we just stuck our hands over the fence….then we could say our hands had been in China – the thing is – there might be a distinct possibility that our hands would remain in China if we stuck them over the fence cos you never know who's watching – with guns!

    By late afternoon we had entered the outskirts of Murgab at 13,576 feet and with a few directions asked easily found the Ibragim guest house. Ben had stayed a couple of nights ago and recommended it.


    Murgab market place

    With the bikes parked up in the small dusty compound we headed down to the sad little bizarre in search of water and somewhere to exchange dollars for someone. Dozens of small stalls, line a single street, some small wooden stalls but most are old shipping containers or the backs of 4X4’s, basically any kind of ‘shell’ that can be used to sell from. A ramshackle mix of old cloths, twix and snickers bar with the occasional bottle of shampoo make up the bazaar. The gusting wind that had picked up was blowing thick street dust over everything and making already sore eyes worse. Back the the guesthouse we handed Anaja (guest house girl) our passports which she promptly returned with the registrations stamps now inserted.









    I’m typing fast as the laptop is running low on power and I’m recharging from an ancient looking generator, which I’m sure will stop any second.
    I spent some time this evening reading to Simon the history of Tajikistan. Amazing to think that it has had such terrible struggles so recently. The inhabitants of the Pamirs have had a hard time – their lives are really really tough. It has been a great eye-opener staying at home-stays over the last couple of nights. Not something that we would normally do – but quite literally they are life-savers with the temperatures getting so low.
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  8. #8
    07875 304772
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    South Leicestershire
    Posts
    12,671
    Thanks for taking the time out to post

  9. #9
    Hey,

    thanks Bryn, and all others for the kind words.

    ...appreciated

    I'll post more soon

    All the best
    Simon
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  10. #10

    Tajikistan...continued

    17-10-2009

    We’d asked directions several times, as we tried to find some fuel, each time we were directed with a degree of certainty in the opposite direction from where we’d come. This continued until we found ourselves almost back at the Ibrahim guest house. The young man in the beaten up 4x4 was emphatically pointing at the locked metal gates painted in cream. We were all of 300 metres from where we’d slept last night. Hearing the bikes an older man appeared, took one look at the bikes and turned away, returning a few moments later with a 5 litre jug of what we hoped was gasoline. We explained that we needed 30 litres and understood that the fuel was 80 octane. Well that’s what he told us. Judging on how the bikes felt later we’re guessing it was more like 60-70 if that.

    In the freezing wind I did my best to help funnel the precious liquid into the bike, whilst Lisa played with and entertained a group of youngsters who’d come to see the tourists. Smiles and the sounds of innocent laughter make a nice sound track to the morning. Lisa takes photos of them and then they all take turns to look at the screen, shrieking and giggling.

    Paid up and on the road, we’re brought to stop just a mile later on the outskirts of town. The large red and white metal barrier across the road seems pretty emphatic.



    The low mud wall either side of the barrier making it impossible for us to skirt around it. Three men appear from the low brick building to our right and waive me inside. “What now” I was thinking. Nothing in our books or research had mentioned this stop. Inside I was feeling uneasy as 4 more men looked up at me from a low table as they each dipped into a communal bowl of rice and mutton. I can’t put my finger on why, but I was feeling uncomfortable and more than a little vulnerable. I counter my nerves my launching into a full on round of handshaking, making sure to look each of them in the eye and shake their hands more vigorously than I would normally. I threw myself back onto the dirty bed in the corner of the room and acted as nonchalant and carefree as I could. 3 of the men were looking unsure. Good that’s what I wanted. As the boss looked through my papers I could see that 3 of the men were whispering conversations between mouth full’s of food and breaths of air. The occasional snatched glance towards me suggested I’m the topic of conversation. Standing, I made a move closer to the door, only to have it shut before I reached it. One of the men had me by the arm and firmly, in English suggested I sit and have some food with them.

    Everything I’d experienced in the last few years was telling me “something is wrong”! They’d not asked for anything, my papers seemed of little interest to them and they’d not asked a single question about the bikes. Everyone asks about the bikes?

    I’d declined their offer of food and standing over them explained that I was the scout for 8 tourists who were following closely behind me. I could see they understood. A murmur of conversation passed between them and then the man that had originally led me inside 15 minutes earlier stood and demanded that I pay the ‘eco tax’. Feeling I’d got the upper hand I did my best to protest, but it was clear that I was going to pay something. I handed over $16 and to my astonishment even got a stamped receipt. Outside, I explained to Lisa what had gone on.

    Now on reflection I may have simply been having an attack of cynicism or paranoia but I don’t think so. After all this time on the road we’ve come to trust our gut instinct and I knew something was off. I just can’t tell you exactly what! We rode away feeling that we’d got away from a situation that could have ended badly. You be the judge.

    Any negative thoughts were soon forgotten as we sped into the rode into the wide and vast Madiyan valley, the patchy tar snaking around the lower caramel hills to our west. Down to our right a fast flowing creek carves its swollen path.



    The sky was a creamy blue and in the distance only the patchy cloud gave any hint of the true scale and size of the taller peaks. The cold air was making the light seem a little crisper. The M41 was the ambitious and official name of this thin line of broken tar and rough rock track that we were now following. History and legend know it better as the cross-roads where the ‘Silk Road’ and Bam-i-Dunya (roof of the world) meet.



    The soviet military had carved this insane route between 1931-34 to facilitate troops, transport and provisioning to this very remote outpost of the Soviet Empire. This whole area had been off limits to travelers until recently. After all the research and reading it was now sinking in; we were actually riding the extremely remote high altitude road we’d first heard of as legend.





    We were in the Pamir proper, riding Tibetan-style high plateaus and then wide remote valleys. Bolivia, almost 4-years earlier had been the last time we’d ridden this high and felt this utterly separated from the rest of the world. Lisa had read that the Chinese called the mountains the Congling Shan or ‘Onion Mountains’, now I could see why. We weren’t riding a single mountain range but rather a complex series of ranges separated by high altitude valleys. Again, Lisa words from last night came ringing home, “most of the Pamir’s are too high for human settlement”. Riding here was hard enough, living here was unimaginable to me.





    By mid-afternoon we’d raced a snow storm across the Alichur Plain that had pushed in from the south. A wall of freezing air and heavy snow that had threatened to catch us before our route had taken a westerly course. We’d stopped by the roadside as we needed to warm our hands and take a few photos at least. The heated grips and thick gloves had felt like they were having little effect and our surroundings so over-whelming that we’d simply forgotten to take photos. Checking the LP guide book had confirmed we were on the shores of Tuz-Kul (Salt Lake), we’d passed Sassyk-Kul (stinking Lake) earlier, the fact that there’s no smell just makes the name all the more strange. The absolutely still waters of the lake had mirrored the mountains perfectly. The lower chocolate smudge hills fading back into flanks of pink and then dark grey peaks. The photos will do the view more justice than my words.

    http://www.2ridetheworld.com/gallery...ama2_simon.jpg
    A great panorama taken by Lisa



    We needed to push on if we’d hoped to reach Khorog by nightfall. We’d passed several huge Chinese trucks all barreling in the opposite direction. The large statue of the Marco Polo sheep should have been reason to stop again for more photos, but like so many times in the last few weeks we knew that the fading daylight was against us. “How much farther”, Lisa yelled over the noise of the bikes. Too be honest I wasn’t even sure where we were. A snatched glance at the GPS confirmed we were at the half way point and in the Pamir Plateau. The grey and light coffee coloured lunar landscape unlike anything we’d seen or ridden before and that’s saying something. Cliché as it sounds it felt like we could touch heaven if we just reached out our arms in this high altitude desert. I wanted to grin but my face was now aching from the cold. It was going to get colder. Under heavy clouds the patchy tar had contorted into a wave of undulating and twisted tar before completely disappearing into a mud and rock track. As the afternoon disappeared we rode the switchbacks to the top of the Koi-Tezek Pass at 4,272 metres (14,097 feet). As beguiling as the landscape had been we were now painfully focused on just how cold we’d become. Much like our time in Norway we could feel our concentration wander and wane as our blood internalized to protect important organs. My hands had been numb for too long, my heated grips had stopped working some weeks earlier.

    As if on cue the dark clouds cleared and white bright light illuminated the downward track. We’d crested the pass and not even known it and were heading down at last. In the distance we could see the impressive vertical peaks of the Gunt Valley.







    We’d upped our speed now racing the daylight. As twighlight set in we knew we were close, we’d passed a dozen small villages in the fertile valley, a fast wide flowing river keeping us on track to our right. 6-miles from Khorog we breathed a sigh of relief, we’d made it. The relief was short lived. At the passport and GBAO permit check point an officer had stood in front of the low barrier and ordered us to stop. Pulling up to him, I’d applied the brakes and stopped by his side, much to his great offence. He immediately launched into ‘one’ - a full on hissy fit that had taken me completely by surprise. He’d not liked the way I’d stopped!? and I’d no idea as to why. He was demanding I follow him with all the documents into his brick office. I was gutted, 20-minutes later and it was pitch black outside and the 3 officers were now yelling at me to pay the fine. All the while I was trying to smile through my anger and protest that I’d done nothing wrong, caused no offense. The officer had told me to stop and so I’d stopped. The friggin barrier was down, what other choice did I have, stopping was mandatory. After almost an hour we were no farther along and I was close to losing my rag. The idiot cop outside kept opening and closing the swinging barrier and banging it into Lisa’s stationary bike, with her still sat on it. We’d stopped on a decline so pushing it back wasn’t an option. From inside the tatty office I could hear Lisa shout. “ Will you stop hitting my bloody bike, or I’ll hit you….God”! They’d now given up any pretence of a fine and resorted to simply…”you give money”. We were now so tired and cold that for a split second I even considered it. Out of the blue they got bored and in disgust dismissed us. Lisa deliberately farted her bike in disgust and protest as she belted out into the blackness. I’d not even managed to get my helmet on yet.

    It was another hour before we’d managed to negotiate the steep turns of the Khorog valley, getting lost twice, asking directions 4 times until finally finding the Pamir Lodge with the help of an escort.

    We’d parked up and hauled our bags into a room. I was so tired I could barely remember my own name. We’d not eaten all day and the police nonsense was the last thing we needed. We’d been up since 6am this morning and on the road for 14 hours it feel like we’ve ridden 1000 miles in reality we’ve only covered 200.

    Ah well, tomorrows views will be a nice surprise
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  11. #11
    Finding the Pamir Lodge is not as the Lonely Planet describes is it

    You stayed on the Pamir Highway all the way and missed out the Wakhan Valley?
    KEA

  12. #12
    Senior Member
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    Nov 2008
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    1,486
    Awesome, awesome read.

  13. #13

    missing the Wakhan valley

    Yeah - we were very disappointed to have to miss out on the Wakhan valley - the snow had been chasing us all of the time we were on the Pamir Highway.
    The route over to the valley had a heavy snow storm hanging over it and so it just didn't seem like a good idea as we were running so late in the season.
    A real shame to have to make the decision - but in the end we think it was the right one.
    We knew that we still had so far to go ie through Uzbek- Turkmen - Iran and Pak where winters can be tough. As it was when we travelled through Iran (story up here soon) we had heavy snow to contend with in the north.

    We realised a long time ago, that as much as we'd like to, you simply can't visit every place that you'd like - so the Wakhan valley will be a destination for us to explore in the future when this trip is eventually over........whenever that may be!
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by simon thomas View Post
    Yeah - we were very disappointed to have to miss out on the Wakhan valley - the snow had been chasing us all of the time we were on the Pamir Highway.
    The route over to the valley had a heavy snow storm hanging over it and so it just didn't seem like a good idea as we were running so late in the season.
    A real shame to have to make the decision - but in the end we think it was the right one.
    We knew that we still had so far to go ie through Uzbek- Turkmen - Iran and Pak where winters can be tough. As it was when we travelled through Iran (story up here soon) we had heavy snow to contend with in the north.

    We realised a long time ago, that as much as we'd like to, you simply can't visit every place that you'd like - so the Wakhan valley will be a destination for us to explore in the future when this trip is eventually over........whenever that may be!
    I was thinking about this overnight as when turning south off the Pamir Highway towards Afganistan and the Wakhan valley the sense of isolation increases futher...if that's possible!!

    There was a storm brewing on the pass when we turned south although it came to nothing, I guess it was much colder for you so a good decision...... like you say, "next time"

    Keep it coming, it's a stunning report
    KEA

  15. #15

    Uzbekistan...welcome to country 64

    15-11-2009

    ..can't write much, hands are too cold!

    Got a good and early start and walked past the Registan and headed for the market, bought Lisa a Pashmina scarf for $8 before heading into the market itself.

    Walked around market bought some pomegranates and then bought two more silk scarves from a shop on the posh street. Very out of keeping with the rest of Samarkand.




    Headed back to room so cold, downloaded photos and then ate with the Germans at 5:30pm and then headed to room as so cold.
    Went back out to photograph the Guri Amir mausoleum – wow.



    *******************


    We're both down this evening we’re both feeling low and so very tired. Been back on the road 5-months and we’re questioning if it’s what we want to do?

    16-11-2009



    The warmth we’d enjoyed over breakfast with Daniel and his family in the main room of the B&B, was now draining from our bodies in the sub zero temperatures of the morning. We’d ridden the short 3 km east out of town fuelled up the bike and handed over a large sum of cash 93,000 som. I was on fumes and had squeezed into the big GS 39.8 liters. Past the Registan for one last time we turned right at the lights and dropped straight onto the M37 which would take us all the way to Bukhara.

    Good tar mix with, broken patchwork concrete slabs made for a relatively easy ride, although our hands were lumps of ice after the first 10 minutes.

    Note of the day: For the first time in Uzbekistan we past a police check point and didn’t get waived over, frustrating as it is I was actually a bit sad to have broken our 100% pull over ration. Even the second check point just waived us through until on the outskirts of Bukhara we were finally directed to halt and produce our documents.

    Bukhara is a labyrinth of streets and alley ways so pulled up at the side of the road we waived down a taxi gave him the details of Sasha & son B&B and followed him through the backstreet of what resembled a medina in Morocco. Dirt/clay street, pot holes and open drains thrown in for good measure.






    With 2,000 som paid we headed inside and were instantly transported to some exotic and luxurious place. Daniel had said it was nice but we hadn’t expected it to be this plush and well appointed. Inside room number 3 we stowed our bags in the corner and just stared in disbelief at the intricate decorations hand painted onto every surface. The tall wooden beams of the rood struts painted a muted moss green and the decorated in gold paint. Delicate silk covers each window on the inside whilst heavy ancient looking blinds cover them from the outside.




    Flowers and vases all hand painted cover every surface of the inside of the room and…it’s warm. Two large modern radiators heat the space and we felt the room embrace us as soon as we entered. Tonight is the first time in a while we’ll sleep naked. It’ll be great to get out of the thermal gear.

    Dinner was courtesy of a small grill just across the road. Two great fresh salads, two shashlyk (one lamb and one beef) and two beers set us back $5 each.

    To be warm feels sooooo gooood!!!

    17 to 18-11-2009

    Spent the last few days playing tourist, catching up on sleep and sorting out the thousands of photos we've taken.
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

  16. #16

    Turkmenistan

    19-11-2009

    Our time in Uzbekistan has gone but all too quickly and if truth be told we’d love to stay for longer but with our Turkmen visa dates fixed in stone and only being a 5-day transit we have no choice but to leave. We were both anxious about the border crossing into Turkmenistan.







    We tucked into the breakfast and coffee served up in the food room at Sasha and Sons and on the bikes with the help of the GPS found our way out of the labyrinth that is old Bukhara. We’d paid a taxi 6,000 to help us out of town whilst at the same time finding us some good fuel. We needed to top up the crap we’re using right now with some 91 octane.

    South of town we followed a beaten up orange Lada and rode on patchy tar out of the suburbs and into farm land. Swaths of tall marshy yellow grass to our left are pushed by the biting cold wind, their movement rhythmical, swaying back and forth like waves in the sea. The steel grey sky does little to remove the anxiety we feel as we ride closer to the border. A large hand painted sign in white wash on a wall simply reads ‘Turkmenistan’ and a large arrow directs us left at a junction. The border is a mile ahead but to our right the long low hillside is covered in heads tones and mausoleums. Thousand of plaques and now decrepit brick structures stretch as far as we can see. As if on cue from a movie director a shaft of orange sunlight bursts through the clouds and lights a small part of the cemetery. We can see 20 or so people attending a grave, heads bowed and some holding hands. We momentarily forget just how cold we are.



    At the border we easily checked out of Uzbekistan and nervously inched towards the Turkmen side. The Uzbek customs control guard didn’t want to be bothered with searching us and so just asked us to point out what we had were (that was a relief!) and after double-checking how much cash we still had on us we were able to leave. (note: never never get your money out to actually show them how much you have on entry or exit!)

    ON the Turkmen side our passports were quickly scanned by the young looking guards in their tired hand me down uniforms.

    Past them we ride on another 50 feet, large slabs of cracked and now tilted concrete make up the road and the compound looks bizarrely familiar. And then it hits me, it’s a disused fuel station. A few low wooden shacks that once held tools acts as the vehicle inspection area and the larger squat tin building that sits under the heavy looking lofty roof was once the cashier’s room.

    An outstretched arm from a Kalashnikov-toting guard points us towards the small dirty shack to our left. Old glass had been set in the wooden frames with concrete and layers of what was once paint peels off the decaying chip board walls. Inside we again handed over our passports and with a round faced official in civvies we started to complete the process of fee calculation. Like so many before him his set about his task with all the deliberation and concentration of a president signing a peace accord. It’s fucking painful to watch as he checks our documents and then fills in the necessary information, his hands leading his eyes from section to slow section and all the while we’re thinking, “shit and this is just the first, he’s got Lisa’s bike to do yet, we’re going to be here for hours”.

    Fuel in Turkmen is dirt cheap, heavily subsidized by the government, but at the end of the first slowly completed process we were issued very clear and official documents which listed the fees in Turkmen and English. Here’s what we paid as listed on the vehicle entry permit:

    Vehicle disinfection - $1
    Entry and transit passage - $15
    Compensation of fuel coast - $24
    3rd party liability insurance - $15
    Processing documents - $5

    Total - $60


    An additional $2 was paid for processing

    Over at the passport control we handed over our passports and were directed to the small kiosk which acts as a bank. At the kiosk we paid the $60 for the vehicle plus the $2 fee and then $10 per person for entry plus another $2 bank fee total paid $74 per person

    OK, expensive when you consider that these fees are on top of the monies we’ve already paid for the visa’s but still a lot less than we heard and expected.

    Walking back to the bikes a few shouts from guards directed us to the low grey metal container that now housed ‘vehicle customs’. Inside we shook the warm hands of the official and set about repeating all the information we’d just gone over with the vehicle permit issue official. At least the small welded furnace was making us warmer.

    We thought we were done and so donned our helmets and gloves, preparing to mount the bikes a long loud “yo” caught our attention and the waiving arm of the soldier half leaning out of the only building we hadn’t entered corrected that misunderstanding. Another customs division, well, I say division, 3 bored and tired looking guards in a blank white washed room with a poster of the president hanging from a wall. The bright guilt frame so out of place in this drab environment.

    We’ve learnt that age is an important social factor in Central Asia, especially when it comes to the age of you wife. Flicking through our passports and noting our respective birth dates, the guard pointed at Lisa speaking to me and said in English “shister, shister”. “Nyet, nyet” I replied “id already explained twice pointing at my wedding ring that Lisa was my wife. “Nyet Jheena, wife” I continued. The guard looked incredulous. He and his colleague then counted out the year’s difference between our birth dates on their fingers and then looked back at me for further confirmation of what I was saying. Men here simply don’t marry older women. Why would you. You must have a young wife to look after you and bear you many children. I’d been told weeks earlier in Kazakhstan. “Here to marry an old woman (he’d meant ‘older’ women) is impossible.
    Lisa catching the looks on their faces – smiled and said ‘yes, I’m 7 years – ‘sem’ – older’. They looked at us both incredulously.

    We were through by midday and headed south.



    Patchy and rutted tar warped and battered by weather and heavy trucks lasted for 30 miles and then .bliss. Unbelievably wide smooth and new tar was to keep us company for the next 200 miles. We really couldn’t believe it. The poor condition of the road that had left the border was what we had expected for the entire trip across the Karakum desert.









    As dusk set in we took a small sandy track that would lead us 4 miles out to the Darvaza gas craters, after riding a mile and finding the sand getting thicker and deeper and the light fading fast, we called it a day. Riding in thick sand in the pitch black just sounded daft. We were tired and experienced enough to know better and so finding a clearer area off the track we pitched the tent and slept fitfully, the heavy trucks bumping close by went on through the night.

    20-11-2009


    Lisa was really disappointed not to have reached the craters yesterday but we had a decision to make. Do we take the whole day to ride and then wait for night to come before we can fully appreciated the gas craters…..a whole day out of our very precious transit visa…or do we just say…we must get on and get to Ashgabat? We had to weigh up what could happen in the thick sand and taking out a full day and our limitations of time. We decided to be practical and get back on the road. Lisa was very disappointed but agreed. With only 4 days available to us in Turkmenistan we had to be sensible and we still have some research and ‘cultural’ preparations to do prior to getting into Iran.
    Ride Far, Ride Safe...

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