We planned to stay in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, for just a couple of days: time enough to visit its sites and pick up our Kazakstan visa. Someone cleverer than me has called Dushanbe the waiting lounge of Central Asia however, and we were to be trapped there too. The Kazak visa wasn’t ready till ten days later, after five visits to the embassy. It was only ready then because Kath turned on her feminine charms (cried) and the guards let us in. We were lucky however that a few other cyclists were stuck in town too, waiting for parts and visas, and so we spent our days camping on the lawn of the Adventurer’s Inn, making jam, lolling around town in the 43 degree heat, swimming in the nearby reseviour, and fighting diarrea. Though we’ve not found the food of Tajikistan as bad as we were led to expect, the food hygine is evidently pretty awful as we’ve both been sick a number of times.
I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in Tajikistan, and actually being there didn’t clear things up too much either. I think most of us have some picture of what France, or India, or Thailand, is like before arriving, and in my experience those places broadly live up to expectations. But Central Asia as a whole is a mystery, and wandering the streets of Dushanbe didn’t help to understand it. Later, on the Pamir Highway, seeing a high plateau freckled with yurts and yaks, surrounded by snow-capped peaks, I finally got the idea that this was what Central Asia looked like. Dushanbe was apparently struggling against corruption though:
Anyway, it was with some relief when we finally got going. Our idle time in Dushanbe meant that we had to take a 4WD for the first section of road to make sure that we could leave the country before the Tajik visas finished, so we started cycling right on the Afghanistan border at Kalaikoum. We rode for four days (plus one sick day), watching Afghanistan over the river, often being watched equally incredulously by Afghanis. The road was good, the weather was hot, and what turned out to be giardia reduced me to around 4kg, and that is with my shoes on. Happily the diet in the Pamirs of bread and yak butter has me back up at normal racing weight of 36kg. The people were super-hospitable, stopping cars to give us apples and bread, racing to give us apricots, and competing to invite us inside for a cup of tea. This despite the road being a popular cycle touring destination with a few hundred bikes going through every summer. We were always happy to oblige. I still remember a few words of Russian from having studied it some years ago, and Kath quickly learned those words and a few more, so we were able to have the most rudimentary conversations with the friendly locals.
We then reached Khorog, start of the Pamir Highway proper, about which Kath will write soon.