Friday 26 April 2013

Tajikistan - In Depth

Blog posts can be a struggle. Sometimes I cheat by putting a load of photos into a slideshow with some emotive music and feel pretty happy with myself but most of the time I have a strong desire to really enable you, the reader, to get a sense of what it's like living alone on a bicycle in these parts of the world.

Photos and music are effective when all there is to show are golden sunsets and  free-wheeling descents down mountains but in this post I'm going to try and enable you to get a sense of what it's really like cycling in such a strange country as Tajikistan in the middle of winter.

Before we begin, I have updated the map of my progress so far. Every icon represents a place where I slept and how I got there (usually by bicycle, of course). I am now in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. This current part of the journey will be written about once I arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal; the last stop before India!

Before Tajikistan I cycled and travelled in Afghanistan. You can view that entry here for a bit of context

I've made these pictures pretty big so, again, I recommend you hit the F11 key on your keyboard and go full-screen.

View England to India in a larger map
Waking up on my fist morning in Tajikistan. It's not a special photo but it means a lot to me as I was finally in the country which gave me the idea for this trip. The map of the Pamir mountains, which I cycled in the east of Tajikistan, was the first thing I bought in preparation for this journey when I was still in London.

A local shepherd kid. I gave him these glasses which I found in a house in Afghanistan.

He and his older sister managed the flock. In the background is Afghanistan.

The first shop I came across - I didn't have any Tajik Somoni but they allowed me to pay in US Dollars at a fair rate and gave me some crucial Tajik change.

I quickly realised that I had a new challenge ahead; learning Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet used in most former USSR countries.

On my second night I tried to sleep in an empty building in the middle of a field but the farmer found me and insisted I slept in his barn.

I've learnt over the course of this trip that the number of billboards showing a country's leaders is inversely proportional to the freedom of the people. There are many photos of the President around Tajikistan. Tajikistan is a very strange country, not dissimilar to the surrounding "Stans" and having visited there I can say that I understand from where Sacha Baron Cohen got his inspiration. An example of the way these corrupt leaders, seemingly disconnected from any global norms, operate is as follows. Tajikistan doesn't have too many energy resources, apart from some hydro-power utilising its many mountains and rivers. It's neighbour to the west, Uzbekistan, has a lot of oil and gas and as such provides Tajikistan with 100% of its gas supply.  It makes sense. But what if the two presidents have an argument? Well the logical thing to do if you're the Uzbek president is turn off all the gas to Tajikistan. Thanks to this, the whole time I was there, even in the capital, nobody's stoves were working. 
A feast laid on for me by my hosts in Dushanbe. Also, struggling to sit cross-legged.

"John" is in the Tajik army. He spoke very frustrated English, often starting his sentences with "Jude, listen to me...". He spotted me on the road to Dushanbe and told me to call him when I arrived. They did have a 2nd, younger daughter but she was too scared of my beard to stay in the same room as me.

It's hard to express just how happy I was to slip into this custom-made bed having spent many nights in my tent and the often filthy beds of Afghanistan.

I had some time to kill in Dushanbe while I waited for a parcel to arrive. The ticket for this game cost around 60p. I was hoping that, seeing how this was a former USSR country, there would be some Russian style thuggery but I was severely let down. The "support" consisted of people booing when the ball went down their end and squealing when it went high in the air, all the while young teenage boys filmed the crowd on their phones to show off to their friends what an experience they had. I left at half time. 

Simply the nicest cheese in the world, made in the mountains. 

My "I come in peace" message written in Dari which I still had on top of my bag from Afghanistan

King Solomon statue. There is a policeman who stands by this everyday asking anyone who takes a photo for $10.

It was a real shock coming from Afghanistan, where I really felt that I'd gone a long way east, and then seeing streets like this in Dushanbe. Rudaki Avenue is pretty much the only street like this, the rest of Tajikistan is very poor. Consider it a façade.

While waiting for my parcel I went for a 1-week round trip north into the mountains. This was the night I learnt that sleeping on snow will cause you to have a cold bum all night.

I tried to get over Anzob pass, now disused as a tunnel has been built underneath it. This is the result of no tarmac, lots of rain and bitty earth.

Taken at the point where I decided that enough was enough. Every local I'd seen in the final village a few hours before had gestured to me that the pass was closed but I had to find out for myself.

This man found me while I was looking in empty buildings on the side of the road for somewhere to sleep. This method of making sure that people can see you while you scout and assess a not very nice option A is very likely to prompt any observers to offer you a nice option B. It works for accommodation, hanging around dirty rivers with empty drinking bottles and so on.

Don't ask because I don't know

A bit of DIY with an empty noodle packet to keep my head lamp up.

In winter I obviously wear more layers but as the sun comes out and in and the snow stops and starts I often find myself with a lot of clothes needing to be stored somewhere where they can be easily accessed. Unrelated, a few minutes earlier a rock flew off the mountain above me and missed my head by less than a metre

The 5 KM long Anzob tunnel. Unpaved, full of pot holes and puddles, water dripping from the ceiling, rocks falling from the ceiling, unlit and unventilated.

Taken with the flash on. That's not rain or snow, it's dust.

After the tunnel.

I was pleased with myself at this moment as my map, written in English, showed that I had to cross the river when I reached Narvad, as this sign indicates in Cyrillic.

A ghostly shepherd figure who watched over me from high up the mountain

This wall was meant to protect the road from landslides. Instead the road itself had fallen down the valley and I now had to cycle on the unprotected side.

As I climbed this path I really got a great sense of going somewhere very far away from anyone else. It was incredibly steep and there were no more settlements.

Near the top I met some men who were out hunting. They gave me bread (appreciated), some meat they'd shot and slightly cooked (it's the thought that counts) and 3 full cups of vodka (this resulted in my most dangerous night camping to date)

After they insisted on topping up my vodka twice they left me to cycle downhill to Lake Iskanderkul, now in the dark. I didn't want to bother putting my tent up as I was quite intoxicated. As I'd been in Iran and Afghanistan for almost 3 months I was pretty intolerant of the vodka. It snowed on me in the night so I tried to wrap my tarpaulin around me which didn't really work. Note the empty can of baked beans, my emergency food which I've always carried with me, which I'd woken for in the middle of the night.

Not too cold, unless your sleeping bag is soaked.

These two kind men invited me into their house. I felt stupid as in my drunken paranoia the night before I went to great efforts to avoid their torches when they heard me. They pointed out that there was a spare bed in their room that I could have had. The bread that we ate was so stale we had to dunk it in the green tea for 30 seconds to make it chewable.

The stove on which I burnt holes in my gloves - still not with it.

Lake Iskanderkul - the perfect hangover cure. Relax, listen to the gentle swell, drink from it, swim in it...

After a few hours of taking it easy, and two 2-egg omelettes later my thoughts turned to home. My grandmother, Nanny, as I know her, was very ill and being looked after in St. Margaret's Hospice, as she had been for a long time.  I don't know what happened in my now sober mind but the next half hour was spent teary-eyed rushing around the sides of the lake trying to pack my stuff together. I decided I wanted to see Nanny one last time even if it meant breaking my trip. I wrote in more detail about this crazy change of plans in this post so I won't go on about it here.

I got back to Dushanbe so late that I couldn't find any locals to stay with. I slept in what I reckon is the equivalent of Trafalgar Square. 

Another perfect example of Central Asian politicians thinking, ahem, "differently", is this, the largest flag in the world. So large it takes a gale to get it in the air

Flying from Dushanbe to Istanbul

Back with Nanny in St. Margaret's Hospice.

And back again - Dushanbe by night
It's hard to describe the strange feeling of going from 6 months on the road to having Christmas at home with your family and then back to the way of the locals. Plov, the local staple food.

This is my Scrubr, my dishcloth I had been using for 6 months. As you see, it's done its job very well and hasn't worn out at all. Going home gave me the opportunity to pick up another and I was shocked by this "before and after" since the change had always been gradual to me.

The odometer showing my 10,000th kilometre from England. Below is a video of me anticipating and then celebrating this event in a not very safe manner.

On my first night out of Dushanbe it snowed about 50 cm. I was sleeping in a barn with no door and had to keep moving my air mat back to stay dry.

A truck struggling to get back on the road after spending the night on the side.

I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this suddenly transformed landscape but it was extremely hard to cycle; I made about 30 KM that day, much of it walking and pushing the bike through the soft snow.

After what was a long day I stopped in a small village. There were a few empty buildings which I would have been happy to sleep in but at the same time I initiated the method mentioned above and asked a local if I could sleep in the empty building. He told me that the building could not be slept in and pointed me down a long path being dug by locals in the snow to the mosque where I was treated very well and fed.

I had the mosque to myself for sleeping. The wood burner would soon extinguish leaving me rather chilly under the blankets.

It was also a very good opportunity to let all the snow and ice melt off my bike.

No later than 5 am this man came into the mosque, flicked the lights on and voiced a loud prayer out the window to wake the village and summon the elders to the mosque

As is often the case in poor countries, breakfast was left-overs from dinner.

This was a bitterly cold morning, around -12 Celsius. I remember spilling a few drops of water on my trousers only for them to freeze in place instantly.

The road was truly enjoyable as it climbed up the steep mountainside. The snow was also much easier to ride on as it had been compacted by many vehicles.

By this point I had cycled over 10,000 KM and yet I'd only fallen off my bicycle once. That was in Luxembourg on a small and wet roundabout when I was going too fast and leaning too much. I wrote about that day in my poem-thing How To Slay A Hill. Today, all that was going to change as I fell off 3 times. On this occasion, I felt my front tyre hit a patch of ice and I knew I was coming off. I laughed as I landed as, while falling, I managed to make a small leap from above the hard road and into the soft snow on the side (in this photo my bike has been moved from where it landed). You can see where I landed.

This part was nothing but ice. After I stopped for this photo I had a lot of trouble starting again

My clothes hanging up in my 2nd mosque in a row. They are the only possible shelter in such small villages.

The communal food is made by tearing up huge pieces of bread and then adding what is best described as a soup of potato and mutton, presumably prepared by the women of the village.

There was actually quite an art to the way they scooped the meat and potato with the bread that I wasn't very good at.

By now I was getting better at cycling on snow and could tell if a certain patch was cyclable or not by its appearance. There must have been over a dozen different types! Below is a video taken on the same morning in this beautiful steep valley.

The video ends abruptly as I needed both hands to brake.

Icy spokes are fine but when you get ice on the inside of your brake pads you have a problem!

Every now and then the mountain road would take a hard left then a U-turn as it turned towards a stream running down the mountain side

It wasn't too deep but it was quite daunting as I knew that the ice I was walking on could break at any moment.

My 3rd night in a mosque in a row

On these snowy days I was probably sliding  off my bike between 10 and 20 times a day. Not crashing, but just feeling the back wheel slide out and having to quickly put one foot down and lay the bike on its side. Unfortunately this happened one too many times and the clips on my pannier broke off. I felt pretty smug though as not 20 minutes earlier I passed a shop and bought some rope as I thought it could be a useful item to have. And besides, I can't consider myself a true adventurer if I don't carry rope. Mind you, the kitchen knife doesn't do much for my adventurer status. 

That word in the top right of the banner is pronounced and transliterated as UNICEF.

I'd now come high enough into the mountains that the river had frozen.

After a long day and about an hour spent clearing the snow for my tent I had my reward; food.

My tent is a 3-season tent. I don't know much about tents but I read somewhere that one of the main differences between 3 and 4 season tents is that tents not designed for winter will often let much more wind in. To combat this, when I went home in December, my mum masterfully crafted this silver wind-break to cover up the huge mosquito netting panel.

This photo doesn't really do justice as to just how much snow I had to shovel with my feet and hands in order to pitch my tent.

A more suitable form of transport on the same road that I was attempting to cycle.

The first sign I saw for Khorog (to the right). For days and days now locals had been telling me that the road ahead was closed. I assumed that they didn't really know what I was capable of (not like that, I mean only that it is possible to cycle on a bit of snow). Some people even told me that the Pamirs, the mountain range I was aiming for, was under 20 metres of snow. Thankfully I know the Pamirs to be a desert region. I have found that unlike in Europe, local advice is often the worst advice.

By the time I'd crossed the river and headed up towards Sagirdasht Pass the snow had become so thick that I could barely push my bicycle. When I arrived in this village the first reaction of the villagers was to gesture for me to turn around and go away. In the end I met yet another extremely generous local who provided the above and below for me. No one has ever asked me for money in these situations. It's a great experience getting to know someone without speaking the same language. This man was an athlete. I think he said he'd been to Africa to compete in some races, although it's hard to believe considering just how remote his home village is.

Drying out my sleeping bag from the night before.

Again, absolute heaven when someone makes a bed for you like this. Beds, made of frames with mattresses, don't exist in Tajikistan and many surrounding countries.

Alas, I finally had to admit to myself that the road over the pass wasn't going to be possible. Dismissing the stories of bears and wolves that will eat me alive (which I've heard in every country since Albania), the snow was clearly too high. I joined a shared Jeep back to Dushanbe and broke my golden rule of always having at least one wheel on the ground. In the car I studied the back of my map and read that this pass is always closed until summer. I should have done more thorough research.

An old-school USSR map back in Dushanbe. Notice how Stalin seemingly drew the borders to these countries with his eyes shut; there are many parts of one country entirely within another. This was now my 4th time in the miserable city and I wanted it to be my last.

On the 2nd day out of Dushanbe. This would have been the greatest sign I'd ever seen had it not been for the road condition.

I learnt that there was one other route to the Pamirs that is open all year round, via the city of Khulob.

Morning fog.

This is what happens when you cycle in the snow in the mountains for weeks on end; constant braking on every hill quickly gets through the rubber. I seemed to have left my spares in Dushanbe and so I cycled without front brakes for 2 days.

Russia still has many military bases in former USSR countries. These two guys, clearly Russian just by being a foot taller than everyone else, stopped their truck to take a photo of me and give me a radio.
Every night for the next week I carefully adjusted the dial until I could pick up the BBC World Service. What a joy being able to listen to good-old British propaganda way up in the mountains. I later gave it away to a police officer who bizarrely asked for an entire pannier of mine "as a gift".

In case you are wondering; nope, it is not possible to cycle here. This day was one of my hardest ever as I worked my way up to the top of a high pass in gale force winds so strong that I couldn't control my front wheel as it, along with the panniers on it, would catch in the wind and try to steer me off the mountain. It's not fun walking with a fully loaded bike in the snow.

Landslides galore

I'd finally made it to the Panj Valley! The Panj (meaning "five" in Tajik, Dari (Afghan) and Farsi) is the river which for over 1,000 KM forms the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. From every photo from here on, the land on my side of the river is Tajikistan and the other side is Afghanistan. Here you can see a watchtower on the Tajik side. As I've said before, Afghanistan produces 90% of the world's heroin and opium, the majority of which is taken to Europe via Tajikistan. It's not hard to see why smugglers choose this route as it's very remote and poorly guarded (the watchtower was empty).

A "friendship bridge", as every bridge built between two struggling countries seems to be called.

Thank you Iran!

Felt both clever and stupid that it had taken me 8 months to learn how to keep the "door" of my tent open. Warranted a photo.

I was camping under a bridge of the only road in the very narrow valley so I wasn't too surprised when I was found by the local border patrol. If you think they look young it's because at the age of 18 many men in Tajikistan are kidnapped and taken to the army where they are often underfed and live in very poor shelter. This was semi-confirmed to me when I offered them 2 packets of instant noodles, simply out of politeness, and they accepted. No one has ever accepted a gift from me, the travelling guest, since I arrived in Muslim countries.

Another sneaky photo as they walked away. I would be visited and asked to move on every night for the next 4 nights. It would normally go something like (using body language and pronouns only) "You do realise that's Afghanistan, just over there, right? There are snipers in the mountains". Of course, there aren't snipers in the mountains and I knew from my time and research done in Afghanistan that, in terms of Taliban, it was a relatively peaceful area. I would always tell the soldiers that I would leave at 6am which of course I never did. My hair is slightly red at this stage as the henna I used to dye it black in Afghanistan is slowly disappearing.

Every day was an incredible insight into just how differently the two sides live, Tajikistan being as poor as it is. To put it simply, anyone on the Afghan side living in villages to the right of this picture has to walk along cliffs like this if they want any contact with the outside world. There simply is no other way. I truly believe, from what I saw, that many of fthe villages function in a very similar way to how they must have done hundreds of years ago. That includes no electricity.

Meanwhile on the Tajik side, the Iranians had literally bombed their way through the mountain.

This truck was really struggling to not fall off the edge. The road in this photo doesn't receive any sunlight all winter and as such is pretty icy. As I was about to pass the truck a few minutes later the driver blew the horn at me and I stopped. It then backed up 2 or 3 metres so I did too. Less than three seconds later a few dozen rocks the size of fists came hurtling off the mountain above and smashed onto the road. One even hit the roof of the cabin of the truck. Little did I know before, that struggling truck certainly saved me.

My chain oil which I'd carried with me all the way from Bournemouth was finally finished. It served me well.
It's funny how when cycling alone for a long time I grow very unusual connections with inanimate objects such as this. It's probably because I would see it most days and so it is a constant. Similarly, I will be far more upset (extremely upset) if I lose something such as a glove or Allen key which I've always carried with me than if something "terrible" happens to me like I fall and smack my head or get extremely wet and cold at night. These items seem simple but I know that they are of a high quality, serve a very distinct purpose (otherwise I wouldn't carry them) and are impossible to replace in almost all of Asia.

That said, I wasn't too said when my water bottle from Iran fell down a drain as I'd decided just that morning that it was inefficient as I could carry a bottle of twice its capacity in the same bottle cage (I didn't put it down the drain on purpose though).

I was aiming for Khorog first, then Murghab.

After my brake pads wore down a few days earlier I'd been lucky enough to stumble across a bicycle bazaar in Khulob. Costing £0.12 each I bought 8. I should have equated that a cheap price means poor quality. And as Tajikistan borders China I shouldn't have been so surprised by either. Again, it was the icy and muddy long descents down mountain passes that did this as I would have to keep both brakes on constantly. I actually wore through to the metal of the brake pad which in turn dug a groove in the rim of my wheel. As I initially bought 8 pads, it wasn't a disaster to start with but within a few days I was rotating pads and cycled down more than one pass brake-less dragging my feet on the floor and cycling into the mountain side to stop myself.

Green chewing tobacco - very popular in rural Tajikistan.

Small shops are often easy to find in small villages in Asia, but they will never sell bread. Having made friends with a few men in one village I asked where I could buy bread. I had a feeling they would be kind and give me some bread for free but I never thought it would be this large (these two are folded in half).

The only bridge across the Panj river wasn't big enough for trucks.


I was invited into what I was told was a traditional Pamiri house, built by the father (in the black hat). Pamiris are people who live in the Pamir mountains. They will tell you fondly how they are not Tajik and have many differences in culture. They are also Shia Muslims, whereas the rest of Tajikistan are Sunni Muslims. In some parts of the Pamirs, one can literally find a different language in every valley.

What was truly unexpected about this stay was that the husband offered for me to have his bed and bedroom while he and his wife slept by the fire. They did in fact have a real wooden frame bed and a huge plasma TV in front of it. I slept very well.

A very kind sending-off gift.

Tajikistan and Afghanistan

A blizzard came down just after I took this photo and within a few minutes I also had a puncture which I had to fix.

When the air temperature is well below zero my breath condenses on my beard and then freezes. This was one of the most troublesome conditions I had ever cycled in as it was snowing, the air temperature was a bit below zero but the road temperature was just above zero. This meant that the snow would fall, melt to water on the warm road, spray up off my wheels onto bike and then freeze again. My brakes and gears all froze solid. My boots would also stick to the pedals if left for more than 5 minutes.

Osh, Kyrgyzstan, was the first city I hoped to encounter after the Pamirs in Kyrgyzstan

Breath + Snow. This was taken in Khorog, a medium-sized town on the edge of the Pamir mountains. I cycled around in the snow but no one offered me a place to stay (I wonder why?) so I went for a cheap hotel. Within a couple of days I'd picked up an extremely painful 'something' in my stomach.

During the days I was always fine but then every night, around 10 pm I would feel what I thought were stomach cramps, if stomach cramps are the most ridiculously painful think you can possibly imagine. I would wriggle around in bed every night desperately trying to find a position to ease the agony just for a few seconds. I would go to the toilet several times a night to see if it would help but it never would. I have a very strong memory of sitting in the freezing cold wardrobe of a toilet rocking back and forth like a crazy-man while thinking of nothing but suffering. It was strange, I was in a lot of pain and all I could think of was all the desperately poor children I'd seen in Afghanistan. I kept imagining what it must be like to be a young child living in a mud hut while having some excruciating pain. What could they do? What possible solution could there be? I think this was the point; I was desperate to find a way out of this pain. It couldn't go on for ever. And yet it did.

On the 3rd night of endless trips to the toilet I must have woken the man in the room next door as he summoned someone from the hotel who asked, not in English, if I wanted to see a doctor. I hastily agreed. 20 minutes later and two matrons arrived carrying a toolbox. At least that's how it appeared to me. She did some checks, feeling my stomach here and there. After 5 minutes she opened her steel toolbox and got out a needle and gestured "do you want this injection?" I had no idea what it was but I was lying on my front with my pants down before she had even prepared it. I recall half-jokingly hoping that it was morphine. In fact, I really hoped it was morphine. But surely morphine can't be handed out just like that. Mind you, maybe she realises how severe my pain is. And this is Tajikistan, after all.

Alas, it wasn't morphine and the injection made no difference although it was fun having a group of people stare at my hairy white butt (for some reason, I'm guessing as I'm a foreigner, this situation drew a crowd. In my hotel room. In the middle of the night).

A couple of days later I went to the local hospital, if you can call it that. I got some generic stomach medicine which may or may not have worked and 3 days later I was better. The night before I'd started texting my dad about possible flights home. The relief came just in time; I'd really had enough.

This pain in my stomach had kept me in Khorog for 10 days and I no longer had time enough on my visa to cycle all of the Pamir Highway. I was bitterly upset as it was this exact road that had made me want to get on my bike and travel well over a year ago. I caught a ride in a Jeep to just over halfway along the 'highway'.

The Pamir Highway!

How thoughtful.

On my first day cycling in the Pamirs I camped at 4,300m; my highest altitude ever. Do note the "negative" symbol before the temperature!

Dropping fast!

This was the worst case of ice/snow in my tent I've ever had to deal with. No it didn't snow last night. Similar to what happens with my beard, my breath condenses on the cold fabric overnight. Every time I move in my sleeping bag more ice falls from the tent onto my face. Thankfully the Pamirs are so dry (close to 0% humidity) and so cold that the ice never melts and can be easily swept off later.

-30.8 Celsius, the minimum temperature, recorded just before sunrise. That night I wore 2 pairs of extremely thick mountaineering socks, cycling shorts, thermal leggings, tracksuit bottoms, North Face wind-proof trousers, thick skiing trousers, a thick woollen jumper wrapped around my legs, a thermal top, two t shirts, a polartec fleece, a down jacket, a woollen head-band and polartec gloves all while in my sleeping bag which is rated down to -31 Celsius (that's the "extreme temperature", the coldest temperature at which an average male could survive naked in the bag for 6 hours) and I was still cold. But I was happy as I was only just cold and managed to get a little bit of sleep. My days never seem to be affected by having a poor night's sleep. In fact, I sleep poorly most nights in these parts (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tibet).

4655 metres above sea level; my highest pass ever. I would have been a bit more excited if I wasn't so out of breath, peeing every 5 minutes (apparently one's body does that to avoid wasting energy heating up liquids. Some mountaineers make use of this by peeing in a bottle and using it as a hot water bottle) and knowing that I had no brakes to do down my biggest pass ever.

When it gets really cold even the inside of my balaclava freezes to my beard; painful.

This is what we cyclists call "washboard" or "draining board" surface. It's caused by the suspension of trucks and it's an absolute nightmare to cycle over.

Trying to get the neck of my bottle low enough on top of a frozen river.

On the right of the fence; China. Tajikistan ceded hundreds of square kilometres of land to China in 2008 and now the border comes right up to the road. This fence runs for several hundred kilometres but is entirely unguarded.

Before Karakul (Black Lake)

My 11,000th KM

An opportunity presents itself to pop into China.

Front wheel and left foot in China, back wheel and right foot in Tajikistan.

As soon as the sun stopped directly shining on me the temperature would plummet. 

The police officers at the checkpoint by Karakul offered for me to stay in their Russian military tent. Little did they know, the permit I had to be in the Pamirs (required as it is an autonomous region with a slightly troubled recent history) was made by me in Photoshop. 

Karakul town.

Sweat evaporating through my fleece and then freezing.

Islands in the middle of the frozen Karakul

I love my tiny camera but it has one flaw, especially for the lone cyclist; its self-timer is only 10 seconds. This was a test shot. I thought it would be really cool to show how steep this road up the pass was by having the horizon be above my head in the shot.

In Iran I bought a tiny flexible tripod for $1. I set it on some rocks in the middle of the road (I saw about 3 or 4 other vehicles every day so I knew it would be ok). I would press the shutter button and then leg it like a mad man and try to get into a pose with my arms in the air, all within 10 seconds.

The closest I got. Missed it by about half a second.
More terrible road. It always looks better on the other side but it never is.

While stopped to eat some bread I noticed how gorgeous my bicycle is.

In places like this I really got the feeling of being on the roof of the world. When there's nothing above you and everything below you and you've come a long way through a lot of nothing only to get to more nothing, just a bit higher up, it's a great feeling of being somewhere special

Another gap in the fence to China. This time I went for it as there were some tracks to follow. I went about 3 KM in. Some people may not understand, but it was one of the most exhilarating feelings I've ever had. A whole new country, a new frontier, a new land to explore. And one that I'm not allowed to explore! How could it be any more perfect? Honestly, and I don't know if this sounds good or not, but the only reason I didn't continue is that I knew my parents were expecting a text from me and if I went down that valley there wouldn't be any signal or civilisation for days or weeks.

The valley next to the road as I climbed my final pass of the Pamirs

When I see buildings like this, in such incomprehensibly remote places, I can't help but think "who lives there"? And why? It's fascinating

360 degrees put together in Photoshop

The Tajik side of the border with Kyrgyzstan at the top of Kyzyl-Art pass, over 4,300m. One of the policemen I'd stayed with in the checkpoint by Karakul told me to shout for him when I got there. I was going to stay the night at the top, even though my visa expired that day. I got my visa stamped even though I wasn't going to leave until tomorrow. Then I noticed something horrible. A flat tyre. But worse than just a flat tyre. A flay tyre on a split rim. There just happened to be a small and empty minibus about to head into Kyrgyzstan that I could hitch a ride in. I'd now have to hitch-hike almost 1,000 KM to Bishkek to get a brand new wheel.

And so my journey into the next country begins...

If you've enjoyed reading about my antics in Tajikistan then please consider donating to St. Margaret's Hospice. It takes a very long time to put these blogs together (it's 5am here) so your support is greatly appreciated.

I chose to ride in aid of St. Margaret's before Nanny was ever treated by them but on her recommendation as she knew so many people who directly benefited from their never-ending help and support. It was only by great coincidence that the charity I want to help by cycling to India also helped Nanny.

My target, which I am determined to reach but a long way from is £25,000. So far I have raised just over £3,500 including gift aid.

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  1. Wow. I read a lot of travel blogs but this if by far the most incredible I've come across in a good while. Good luck!

  2. You, good sir, are amazing.

  3. Jeeez , that's the way to travel !

  4. I have thoroughly enjoyed the vicarious trip through Tajikistan. Living in Moscow, I know what -20 feels like and I certainly wouldn't want to be sleeping in it! If you ever make it here, I've got a couch for you!

  5. Thoroughly amazed. Your pictures and stories are incredibly fascinating, and are simply inspiring! I've traveled a lot myself, but never completely solo, and never via bike. Makes me giddy with excitement, thinking that maybe I could do something like this too...

  6. Amazing photos, Good Luck!!

  7. Really enjoyed this - thanks for taking the time to put it online. It somehow brought disconnected memories of cycling at -30C, travelling in the former USSR and using the Persian language together into a single vicarious experience :)

  8. This is absolutely amazing. Just happened to visit your website since I was googling around a bit to get inspired for this summer. Suddenly I realized that you're on the road at the moment. I almost feel like I am participating your trip a bit.

    I might contact you later on since I plan going to Central Asia sometime soon.

    Enjoy your journey - I will follow your blog in the meantime!

  9. You are living my dream. I've always wanted to embark on an epic journey in this part of the world and I hope I can use you as inspiration one day. Congrats on your success.

  10. home, sweet home.

    you have balls of Greek God, imho :)

  11. That's amazing pal

  12. Very inspirational. GIving me ideas.

  13. Great story and great trip! Makes me feel ashamed, cause living in Tajikistan for over 30 years I havent been in Pamir yet... Going to make it my next vacation :)

  14. It is really a great adventure for you to travel in Tajikistan of Central Asia. The worth of meeting the local people and the experience their culture. I can relate with the excitement for that.

  15. Amazing. Impressive pics and an unbeliveable trip. Thanks for sharing your adventure.