Thunderstorms, a lost tent and our final pass – Tien Shan #5

The second thunderstorm of the afternoon is hot on our tail and I am keeping an eye out for somewhere to stop and pitch the tent before it is too late. My gaze drops and I am horrified to NOT see the tent strapped to my handlebars as it has been for the last 2 months – holy crap I have dropped the tent, I yell to Alan. An unimpressed silence as we both contemplate riding back through the storm looking for a dropped tent. In our favour is the fact that … Continued

Cool Son Kul – Tien Shan #4

As we pedalled past Ugut we reflected on the last time we were here after following a very muddy shortcut in the pouring rain with Katie, and the amazing hospitality of the two sisters who invited us in and fed us. This time we were dry and clean and had just 17km of repeat road before the turn off at Aktal and across the bridge over the Naryn river. This would lead us back into a forested mountain gorge and an amazing zigzag road up the southern route to the well known … Continued

Naryn to Baetov via Tash Rabat – Tien Shan #3

We finally tore ourselves away from Nomad Cafe after stalking the place for 2 days and headed off up the paved road that eventually led to China via Torugut pass. Refreshingly the road was not busy and from the pass there was a good view of the At-Bashy range of mountains, through which the Silk Road caravans passed to the 15th century caravanserai of Tash Rabat, where we were headed. We coasted downhill for 30kms to the drainage of the huge basin we were in, then started the very gradual climb up … Continued

The Tien Shan Traverse – part 2

Our tent was frosty white when the sun hit it before 6 in the morning. We were looking forward to a big downhill day but sad to be leaving the high country. Switchbacks dropped us quickly to the long Burkhan valley. We sped quickly along this beautiful valley thru grazing sheep and goats, cows, yaks and horses, never a fence to be seen. Our feet never had a chance to dry with the continual dousing in sidestreams. We met 3 Spanish cyclists we had met months back in Tajikistan. They had accessed … Continued

Following the Tien Shan Traverse – part 1

Last summer a small group of bikepackers put together a route that traversed a huge variety of Kyrgyzstan landscapes over 1000km from Lake IssyKul to Bishkek. We were planning to finish our 3 month ‘Stan bike oddesy by following this route they named The Tien Shan Traverse*. Having just completed the first third we can say that the last 6 days biking have been some of the best ever, phenomenal even… the photos below do not even do it justice From our homestay in Kyzyl Suu, it was 5km on the highway … Continued

4 passes to Issykul

Kyrgyz men drive like they are on a race track and they don’t leave a lot of room for cyclists. It was 60km uphill on a busy paved road from Naryn to our dirt road turnoff so we treated ourselves to a 40 min drive. It was worth avoiding and so much more pleasant to be spinning up a small quiet road after the drop off. There were permanent farm cottages in the lower section of the valley, abandoned temporarily for the summer jailoos, or higher grazing lands. The winter stockyards are … Continued

And then there were three

We ended up spending a few days longer in Osh than planned as tummies went on strike again. When we left we organised a taxi ride 200km east to avoid some hot, boring riding out of the Osh basin and to gain 2000m up to the top of a pass – lazy, I hear you say! For this leg to Naryn we were joined by Katie from Durango in the US, who we met in the arrivals area of Dushanbe airport on day 1. She is a super strong cyclist and was … Continued

Stuck in No Man’s Land

We are in a small cold corrugated shed that is the Tajikistan border immigration office. Looking out the small dirty window we watch the snow falling heavily and inside the immigration officer is clearly very uncomfortable with the fact that our printed evisa sheet of paper does not have a Dushanbe (Port of Entry) stamp. He keeps showing us his pile of tourist evisas that are all dutifully stamped and he cannot see how he can let us go. To his credit he is not asking for a bribe, he is just … Continued

Bound for the border

Despite the strong tail blowing us to Murghab, we were not quite so lucky heading away from Murghab. It was the first time I considered putting music on to deal with the long straights climbing ever so slightly and with the tedious head wind. Alan was struggling with the day until after a restful lunch by a clear creek. We were aiming for the last known water source about 20km before the highest pass of the trip, Akbitail Pass at 4600m. When the river we were following dried up we turned back … Continued

A kefir bomb and rejoining the Pamir highway

We met cyclists coming in the opposite direction with tales of the worst road ever. Some had pannier racks being held together by cable ties, one had major disintegration of his wheel and some opt for a taxi ride to avoid the terrors of the Wakhan road and Kargush pass. We were peddling along waiting for the road to deteriorate. We did have the advantage of fatter tyres, and we were not carrying the kitchen sink, and we have a high benchmark for what constitutes rough as we tend to seek out … Continued

The Wakhan Corridor

From Khorog we followed a route along the edge of the Wakhan corridor. The corridor is a thin strip of land belonging to Afghanistan which separates the former USSR ruled Tajikistan and the British Empire ruled Indian sub continent, specifically what is now Pakistan. The river forms the northern border of the Wakhan Corridor and the mighty Hindu Kush mountain range the southern border. At its skinniest the Wakhan Corridor is about 20km wide – end of today’s geography lesson! For the first 2 days we ascended slowly thru gorge country to … Continued

Maysara Pass, return to Khorogh along Pamir Highway

‘Hand on the heart Tajikistan’ sums up one of the lovely gestures we get as we ride along past people. The right hand is placed over the heart as a sign of respect. We experienced it early on from children and wondered if it was a ‘respect for elders’ gesture but no it works for anyone to anyone. I guess it is a stronger statement than a small nod of the head and it is easy to reciprocate while riding. Back to the Shakdara story… It was a cruisy ride back to … Continued

Breathtaking and breathless up the Shakdara Valley

We had our eye on a 5-6 day loop out of Khorogh that few cyclists do and would take us under the high peaks of Karl Marx (6700m) and Engels (6500m) and over a 4100m pass. A friend Pat Deavoll had climbed both peaks on a climbing trip in the area last year and recommended the trip up the valley as well. The Shakdara river flows into Khorogh so from the Pamir Lodge it wasn’t far to where we started peddling up alongside its continuous whitewater. There were many villages alongside the … Continued

To Khorogh and a pleasant break

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 … Continued

Biking the closed northern route to Kalaikhumb

There are 2 routes to Khorog- the southern route is 100km longer and goes thru lower hotter countryside. The northern route is presently closed to cars because of 2 bridge washouts and goes through the mountains, but it was not guaranteed we could get through. We liked the sound of another closed road so we headed that way. As is our MO we were cycling out of Dushanbe before 6. The day got hotter and windier and we only made 50km before we gave in to the climatic conditions and found somewhere … Continued

First taste of Tajik peaks

17 hours on a plane was a record for both of us. That got us to Dubai and then we had 17 hours on the ground before our flight to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It was near 40 degrees in Dubai and riding the air conditioned public transport helped kill some time. We were blown away by how built up the city is, tall towers all trying to outdo each other in height and architecture. The tallest building in the world is there, a spire reaching higher into the sky than … Continued

Riding the Stans..

We are off to pedal two of the ‘Stans in Central Asia, formerly USSR. We fly into the capital of Tajikistan and out of the capital of Kyrgyzstan 3 months later. Part of our route is along the border of Afghanistan, a mere river crossing away. We expect dry, desert conditions in Tajikistan, with high mountains, ¬†high plateaus and passes over 4000 metres. In contrast Kyrgyzstan (the Switzerland of Central Asia) will be a lot greener whilst biking in the Tien Shan mountain range. In contrast to previous trips communication will be … Continued