In leaving Dushanbe me and Guillaume have been joined by another French cyclist, Sebastian, and we pedaled together for the first few days along a landscape not very different from Uzbekistan, just the weather being, if possible, even warmer. But not far from Kulab, after having visited our last bazaar for a long time, a big climb brought us straight into something completely different.
Looking for a good camping spot.
You don’t always need to cross an official border to enter a completely different area and this is particularly true in Central Asia, where borders are quite artificial and it is not rare to meet, for instance, Tajik people living in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyz people living in Tajikistan; this coexistence not always being pacific, as in the Fergana valley where riots between Kyrgyz and Uzbek people are not rare. Back in Turkey no signs welcomed you to Kurdistan, but things slowly changed while proceeding East, with people dressing in a different way and speaking a different language. Other times an official border crossing coincides with a geographical border crossing, the border between Turkey and Iran being a perfect example of that: exiting a tunnel you have a big downhill in front of you, the snow disappears together with the winter and you find yourself in a new country, changing culture and language, as well as weather and landscape.
Camping at the top of the pass
After Kulab in Southern Tajikistan a 1000+ m climb brought us straight into a different world: we left the cultivated fields and the continuous villages with their bazaar and easy to-to-get food behind us to enter a much wilder land, basic shops with expired noodles and home-made bread became the norm and waving and smiling children greeted and waved at us at the entrance of every village. Already during the descent after the pass the asphalt disappeared; at the end of the descent we entered a valley that followed the Panj river, the river that marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan: another perfectly marked geographical border, made particularly hard to cross because of a big presence of mines, mainly on the Afghan side.
The Panj river. On the left of it Tajikistan, on the right Afghanistan.
Finding a good camping spot was generally easy, nights were very silent and every morning we woke up watching the snowy peaks appearing at the horizon and forming the valley we were cycling in. It was not rare to see, less than 100 m away, Afghan villages, with their mud-built houses, and all connected by a tiny and unpaved road, mainly used by donkeys, with a very few motorbikes making some rare appearances. We spent a lot of time thinking about how life in these very rural and remote villages might be, but all of this remained on a very abstract level; crossing the river was of course not a possibility, so our thoughts moved on the absurdity of this border, with people watching the other side of the river for their whole life without never finding out how it actually is.
An Afghan village.
It took us 10 days to arrive in Khorog, much more than we initially thought, a lot of exhausting ups and downs on unpaved road made for very slow riding and Sebastian and Guillaume didn’t realize how slow and lazy I can be, with Guillaume asking himself how I ever managed to write a full master thesis if these were my usual rhythms. Khorog is the biggest town in the region and we managed to find what we wanted, an internet connection, a good place where to rest and some proper food, before heading for the wild and remote Pamir plateau, something we’ve been long waiting for.