We are so impressed with Tajikistan so far. It is a Muslim country but is very moderate. We have seen few mosques and the the president has banned the Call to Prayer perhaps in an effort to reduce fanatical muslimism. Women do not seem oppressed and not all wear head scarves. It is presently Ramadan but it does not seem to be strictly enforced.
People are smiley and welcoming. The children rush out onto the road and with big grins want to score a hand slap from cyclists cruising by, rather than the cry for pens or lollies as happens in other countries. We have many invites for tea as we cycle past (translates to break out a table cloth with bread, yoghurt, tea, maybe soup, maybe biscuits – similar to an English high tea for the queen!). We feel safe and we can leave our bikes alone without fear of them being interfered with.
Our long journey alongside the Panj river which forms the natural border with Afghanistan, begins in Kalaikhumb. We are continually looking across the river to see what is happening there. The road is in poorer condition and we see mainly motorbikes or people on foot or donkey, whereas on our side of the river it is predominantly cars with occasional flurries of large trucks carrying supplies up valley tho’ they tend to travel at night because of the narrowness of road.
When the Russians pulled out of Tajikistan the immaculate paved roads they built were no longer maintained to a high standard. On rough sections cars don’t travel a lot faster than us. Villages appear where water runs out of side valleys and are green oasis in the dry rocky landscape. Our first day is cut short by a rockslide that covers the road so we camp early and by evening a digger has arrived and cleared it.
Our next day is long. The river gorge is climbing steadily and the rough road undulates alongside and there are longer stretches between villages
We hear loud booms and luckily it is roading explosives that the Afghans are using to blast a route thru rock walls to form a continuous parallel road to ours.
That night we are reminded that we shouldn’t be camping on the river side of the road when a strong torchlight is shone on our tent by passing foot soldiers patrolling the river bank – oops.
To get to the good sized town of Khorogh we had to do 100 km the next day which was an intimidating thought as we dragged our tired bodies out of camp and but soon found we could keep up a steady 15km/hr because the gorge had widened and the flow reduced immensely. The road surface had also improved.
We made it to Khorogh before 3 but took a while to find the Pamir Lodge where we planned to rest for a day or two. It is a popular lodge for travellers and is very comfortable.