The Awesome foursome set off from Dushanbe towards Kalaikhum, taking the Northern route over the … pass. Beth was still recovering from being ill in Dushanbe and Richard was having some mechanical issues, but we managed to maintain our 50km/day average which we needed to ensure we got out of the country in time.
We remained together for the first three days but then the time came for us to say goodbye to Cliff and Richard. There visa was ending before ours and they snuck off in the early morning as we slept, apparently bored of being our alarm clock. Not really, but we did get back into bed! Back to fending for ourselves then…
The road deteriorated and it was hard to believe we were cycling on an international motorway! Our bikes really took a bruising as we tried not to fly over too many rocks on the occasional downhills. The evening that we arrived at the foot of the big climb up the pass the weather began to deteriorate- it began to rain just as it was getting dark and we thought we should ask a lady in her yard dressed if we could sleep inside.
Climb day! 50km to the top. All going well until…One puncture and a snapped chain later… Fending for ourselves was not going so well. But at least Beth was on coffee morale boosting duty. In need of a Snickers!!
It took us two days to reach the summit – we thought we had it in the bag on the first day but as the sunset we realised we still had another 700m of vertical climbing to go. We camped at the edge of the roadside, making sure that the risk of mudslides was minimal and that we wouldn’t fall over the edge! That night it started to rain, and it did not stop raining! Reluctant to get out of bed we stayed where we were finishing off the 6th Harry Potter book! It was almost midday when we slowly emmerged, cold and damp. We thought there was only 5km to the top – but even now we have no idea how far it was.
3,252,8m altitude (record!). It was 5pm, getting dark. Snowing, freezing… Minor disaster ensued.
The exurberation of finally reaching the top after 3 excruciating days of climbing lasted a whole 10 minutes before we remembered the cold and imminent night time. At the top of the pass we encountered 2 Hungarian tourers: Adam and Marcus. All four of us sped down the steep mountain road, sliding in mud and rattling over rocks and debris, as the weather drew in. With everything wet and the sensation in our hands and feet lost, we strove to go 15km to the nearest village in search of warmth and food.
But alas, although we pushed as hard as we could and as long as we could (there were tears) no village appeared. We were surrounded by harsh inhospitable rock face. Finally we chose to set up camp in a small bay at the side of the road. This is where things went from bad to worse. The tent poles were missing. Our only explanation is that they slid out unnoticed from their location on Beth’s bike as she thundered down the mountain. We were so thankful to have met Adam and Marcus as they kindly lent us one of their tents for the night!
The weather was still yuck in the morning, clothes still wet and bikes were bruised! We tried to get a lift up to the top of the pass to locate the poles only to find that the pass was closed in a snowstorm. Only 20km more of ice cold pain, worse than either of us had ever experienced before, until we would arrive in the small town of Kalaikhum.
Week 27 – Update (Bukhara – Samarkand – Tajikistan)
We are here in Dushanbe, the city of Monday!! One of the places we’ve always imagined when planning the trip and can’t quite believe we are finally here!
After a couple of days rest in Bukhara we left for Samarkand. A difficult stretch. On the second day we stopped at 5.30pm and sat down to eat at a restaurant. Not only was it the best lagman we had had so far but it cost less than $3 for two salads, a non bread and a bowl of lagman each. We looked at each other across the table, there was no way we could go any further that evening and asked the boy who worked there if we could sleep in one of their rooms. Unsure what was happening he returned in 10 minutes and ushered us into a room. Heartened by the sight of a bed made up in a secluded room on top of their tea tables we fell asleep before 8!
We finally made it to Samarkand and recoupourated. We explored the medrassas and mosques and even sneaked into the Registan through an unmanned gate.
In order to make up some time we had to hitch to the Tajik border. It took a bit longer than expected but ended up in the company of a convoy of three lorry’s heading towards the last Uzbek town Denov. We were dropped off 25km from the town in the dark. We asked a lady and her son if we could sleep in their courtyard.
Beth had said earlier that all she wanted was some Plov, a toilet and a bed. She got her wish… A death-trap toilet, sloppy Plov and we got to share a bed with a crazy old lady (she was completely bonkers).
Anyway we cycled the remainder of the way to the border and spent our first night with a restaurant owner, his wife and two Tajik Policeman who in uniform drank their way through 7 pints each before driving home – glad to see the law enforcers leading by example!